The Magazine Reader

Box Office: Director KO'd His Critics

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Maybe Uwe Boll really is "quite possibly the worst filmmaker in the world," as Wired magazine describes him, but he has done something that every filmmaker in history has dreamed of doing but none -- not Fellini, not Spielberg, not Hitchcock, not Kurasawa -- has ever accomplished: He challenged his critics to a fistfight and then met them in a boxing ring and proceeded to . . . well, we don't want to get ahead of the story, do we?

Boll, 41, is a German director who makes cheese-ball movies based on popular video games: "BloodRayne" and "The House of the Dead" and "Alone in the Dark" and the forthcoming "Dungeon Siege," starring Burt Reynolds.

"His movies are haphazardly scripted, sloppily edited, badly acted and, most crucially, brutally received," writes Chris Baker in "Raging Boll" in the December Wired. It's an evaluation that is apparently much kinder than Boll usually receives. His films are brutally savaged by the kind of online critics who take video games and the movies based on them very seriously.

"Boll is destroying the childhoods and fond gaming memories of internet nerds across the country with each and every cinematic bastardization he produces," harrumphed an online site called Something Awful.

That kind of mean, nasty comment hurts Boll deep down in his sensitive artistic soul. So last summer, Boll, who is an amateur boxer, challenged his critics to meet him in a boxing ring in a casino in Vancouver. Needless to say, most of the critics wimped out, Baker reports in Wired, but four were brave enough, or crazy enough, to take him up on the offer.

"The first challenger: webmaster and CEO of Something Awful, Richard "Lowtax" Kyanka!" the ring announcer bellowed as the crowd roared.

Kyanka, the guy responsible for that "cinematic bastardization" review, climbed into the ring wearing red, white and blue trunks and waving American flags.

That didn't help. Boll hammered him to the canvas in less than two minutes, leaving the battered critic muttering, "You hit me in the face!" as if he was surprised at that.

"Our second con-test-aant -- film critic for Ain't It Cool News, Jeff Snei-der!" the ring announcer bellowed.

Sneider bobbed and weaved through the first round but Boll caught him in the second and pounded him to the canvas, twice. A few minutes later, the unhappy critic was vomiting and sucking oxygen from a medical mask.

The third critic, Chris Alexander, who writes for a horror magazine called Rue Morgue, arrived wearing bat wings, a silver mask and fake fangs. Striding the ring, he spouted Aliesque poetry: "We're gonna put him to bed for House of the Dead ! We're gonna feed him to the sharks for Alone in the Dark ! He's gonna be feeling pain for making BloodRayne !"

Alas, Alexander's poetry proved more Aliesque than his boxing. Boll popped him with a couple of vicious shots to the cranium and the critic surrendered.

Boll's fourth opponent was Chance Minter, a 17-year-old amateur boxer from Frederick, Md. Minter isn't a critic and he'd never written a word about Boll, but he volunteered to fight anyway. Boll pounded him in the guts while Minter's mom screamed, "Move around, Chance! Hit back!"

But it was too late. When the night ended, the record was: Boll 4, Critics 0, Kid from Frederick 0.

Boll grabbed the microphone. "[Bleep!] critics!" he bellowed. "I hit them so hard they have brain damage! They love my movies now!"

It was a great moment in the history of movies, though probably not such a great moment in the history of movie criticism. I like to think that The Post's illustrious film critics, Slammin' Steve Hunter, Ann "the Anvil" Hornaday and Desson "the Destroyer" Thomson, would put up a better fight. Hell, I'd pick any one of them in a mano a mano match with, say, Woody Allen.

Boll has fulfilled the fantasy of every auteur who ever shouted "Cut!" Shouldn't he get some kind of special Academy Award for this? The poor guy will never get one any other way.

Down in the Dumps

In July 2000, a huge mountain of trash collapsed in Payatas, a 50-acre dump near Manila, killing several hundred people who were working there, scavenging for items they could use, or sell, or eat.

It was one of those horrific Third World tragedies that come fleetingly to our attention as a tiny newspaper story or a sentence crawling across the TV screen while some talking head is yapping about something alleged to be more important. But Matthew Power remembered the incident and went to Payatas last winter to live with a family of three generations of professional scavengers. His long, disturbing account of what he saw there, "The Magic Mountain," appears in the December issue of Harper's.

Every day, trucks dump 1,300 tons of garbage at Payatas and thousands of scavengers immediately dig through it, looking for aluminum cans or pieces of metal or plastic or, best of all, computer parts they can sell.

"As trucks dump each new load with a shriek of gears and a sickening glorp of wet garbage, the scavengers surge forward, tearing open plastic bags, spearing cans and plastic bottles with a choreographed efficiency," Power writes. "The ability to discern value at a glimpse, to sift the useful out of the rejected with as little expenditure of energy as possible, is the great talent of the scavenger."

These Filipino scavengers are as varied and interesting as folks in any other profession. Powers meets a 73-year-old grandmother named Nanay Remy, a cockfighting aficionado named Bobby who grows tomatoes near the dump, and a "striking transvestite" who calls himself Camille. They are all part of a trade plied by hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people.

"Household and industrial trash has become for the world's poor a more viable source of sustenance," Power writes, "than the agriculture and husbandry that has supported civilization since the first cities sprang up in the Fertile Crescent."

This is a deeply depressing article, but if you dare to read it, you will at least be inoculated against the tendency to feel sorry for yourself when Santa fails to bring you all the trinkets you desire this Christmas.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company