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Two FUNNY GAMES Reviews To Make You Chuckle!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. I respect the work of Michael Haneke so far, but if there’s one film of his that I outright loathe, it’s FUNNY GAMES. The idea of a shot-for-shot English-language remake of the film, with Haneke directing again, sounds insanely perverse to me, and I can’t imagine liking it anymore this time around, especially knowing that he has chosen to reproduce the film’s most egregious and offensive moment, a cheat that “makes his point,” but does so at the expense of the film itself. Anyway... we’ve got two reviews of the film today, which just premiered in London, and here’s the first:
Hey Moriarty – I was lucky enough to attend the official ‘World Premiere’ of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games remake at the London Film Festival last night – here’s my thoughts. For those that don’t know this is a remake of a ten year old Austrian movie, with the same name and same director – Michael Haneke (Cache, The Piano Teacher etc.). It focuses on a suburban family who are attacked and held hostage overnight in their holiday home. From the off I’ll say that this is not Funny Games ‘Americanised’ – this is Funny Games spoken in English language; that’s really the only noticeable difference. The setting, the pace, the shots, and yes even the atypical specifics – the sudden introduction John Zorn/Naked City trash metal soundtrack, the direct addressing of the audience, and the uber long shot following the first killing – are all present, correct, and identical. Other than NASCAR racing playing out in the background on the television set during a pivotal scene there is nothing changed/diluted/added/yankified to really make the remake worthy for casual fans familiar with the original. Haneke even seems apologetic about this. The title that appears red and large on screen to accompany the trash metal and freeze frames that bookend the film even states – “Funny Games U.S.” To call it a ten year old film with an English dubbing track would be doing an injustice to the performers onscreen, but you get the idea. The cast are generally superb throughout. Naomi Watts is particularly convincing in a physically and emotionally battering role. The two boys – the ‘villains’ of the piece so to speak - are suitably irrational, unpredictable and vile. While Michael Pitt’s pieces to camera are generally successful. The only piece of the jigsaw that didn’t really work for me was Tim Roth. Although he puts in a good performance, his casting just doesn’t fit, and it’s hard to imagine why Naomi Watts' Ann would be with him in the first place. George is left so pathetic and redundant as the head of the household that he really needs to be played by someone with a great authority of begin with. And although I’m a Tim Roth fan, I don’t think this is something he brings – either in bodily stature or intellectual clout. And to address certain concerns - Funny Games is not part of the increasing “torture porn” canon. As with the original, only after watching the film do you truly realise there’s actually very little violence shown (other the one shotgun scene that is ‘rewound’). If anything it could be termed ‘misery porn’, but if the idea of a battered and crying Naomi Watts thrills you then there’s probably something deeply wrong with you. But that’s really not the point and enjoyment, in the traditional sense, is not what watching a Haneke movie is all about. He’s trying to make the audience question whether we are complicit in the violence. If we can sit in a theatre and happily pay to watch the portrayal of a family being attacked and abused, then is it somehow are fault that this is happening to the fictional characters? But viewers of the original have already been asked those questions and so, artistically, Funny Games, as an exercise for its director, is niche, nothing, zip, squat, void. The reason for the remake is simply to spread the word, as the original film was seen by only a thousand or so folks in American cinemas on its original run. If enough people see it this time, and it sparks debate, then Haneke will consider the retread a success. If folks stay at home he will, perhaps rightly, reflect on this repeat as a waste of his time. Many audiences will take up issue with the pace in the middle section, and it does undeniably slow. Though it’s obviously an attempt to show us what other similarly themed movies do not – the aftermath – the futile immediate and material exertions that unfold after such an attack – it’s a shame that this is near identical to the original in terms of both pace and content. Many writer/directors would have used the opportunity of remaking their own ten year old film to hone and correct the flabbiness and mistakes of the original; even if to tinker just for curiosities sake. But not here … maybe Haneke thought his original was perfect. Elements that you may have disliked the first time are all present and correct – equally as frustrating as before (though that’s clearly the point). Having said all this – Funny Games is still the same great movie it was ten years ago, and if you’re keen to see this retread then you shouldn’t be disenchanted. But perhaps Haneke is having the last laugh after all – the fact that this is effectively a ‘repeat’ itself seems like further intentional commentary upon the output of American Cinema today. Cheers, but that’s your lot, ‘Alex’
Interesting take. I’m intrigued by the idea that Haneke would do a remake simply to stick it to the notion of remakes, but the notion of “sticking it to cinema” is what bothers me about FUNNY GAMES in general. If you’ve seen it, you know that it’s a case of wanting to eat your cake and have it, too. He makes a jet-black exercise in sadism, but he also wants to roast the audience for their willingness to watch that jet-black exercise in sadism. I think that’s a hard line to walk, and I don’t think Haneke really made it work for me. I can appreciate how hard it hits some viewers, but it just made me acutely aware of the film as a post-modern exercise, and robbed it of any power it actually had. Here’s another reader’s reaction:
Dear Harry Naomi Watts is in London this week to press the flesh in regard to the big festival opening movie, Eastern Promises. Her presence is also felt at this years LFF in the role of both producer and star of Funny Games, which played to a full preview house this morning, with an appreciative audience suitably silenced into submission. I’ve not seen Eastern Promises yet, but it’s unlikely that even anything Cronenberg has to offer can match the intense unease created by Michael Haneke with this remake of his 1997 Euro hit. Haneke states that with ‘Funny Games U.S.’ (to give it its full, on-screen title), he feels that his film has finally come home, given that in his view American cinema’s depiction of on screen violence has long left the viewer desensitised to it’s effects. His intention is to make his audience feel the consequences of the actions he displays, even to become complicit in them. And with this low key remake he certainly succeeds. For those who have seen the original, there are few surprises here as it in many ways a very faithful remake. That however doesn’t take away its sheer visceral power and profound discomfort. The plot is very straightforward as before – wealthy couple (Watts and Tim Roth), along with their son, arrive at their country house. They briefly spy their neighbours, who seem slightly uncomfortable, with two young men as their guests. Soon, one of the young men is at Watts’ door asking to borrow some eggs. It’s a simple enough moment, but already Haneke’s acute attention to detail and set up, lends the simplest of events a feeling of dread and suspense. This young man Peter (Brady Corbet) is unfailingly polite, even if the white gloves he wears do not seem to go with his tennis whites. They are soon joined by his friend Paul (Michael Pitt) – also all surface charm and white gloves. They seem OK, but with eggs broken, Watts is increasingly unsure. When she asks husband Roth to get them to leave, a four iron becomes a weapon and suddenly Roth finds himself with a broken leg and two very unwelcome house guests. What unfolds is, in the eyes of Peter and Paul (also known to themselves at times as Tom and Jerry or Beavis and Butthead) a game, one where they make the rules and force their captives to play. A sense of fair play is important to them – after all, they want their players to be involved. A brief aside to camera, shows how much the filmmaker wants the audience to be involved too, especially now that the odds have risen to a bet that the family will not make it through the next twelve hours. The main worry in bringing his movie to a wider audience was that Haneke would sacrifice the original’s bleak sense of nihilism. These are murderous characters who simply have no motivation. It’s not even hinted at that they might do this out of enjoyment or stimulation. They just do it. Indeed, the twosome even run through a list of potential motivations – childhood abuse, suppressed homosexuality, motherly incest – with darkly ironic abandon, willing to play by the conventions of the genre, the rules of their ‘game.’ It’s deeply unsettling stuff, and Haneke proves masterful at ratcheting up the tension. Practically nothing violent is shown here, what little action there is is confined to off-screen – a gun shot is heard as Paul painstakingly makes himself a sandwich in the kitchen, the aftermath of it unseen till minutes afterward. Indeed, one of the great strength in Haneke’s movie (as it was in the original) is the long takes he employs throughout. Even simple actions such as Watts preparing food in the kitchen early on, are drawn out to such a point that the sense of something about to destroy these moments becomes almost overwhelming, to the point where, as the film progresses, even the camera, with its view on the events unfolding, becomes a part of this sense of mistrust. As the increasingly distraught wife and mother, Watts is superb, playing most of the movie in her underwear, visibly crumbling away and losing hope as all she knows is taken away from her. Roth is equally fine, even though he has less to do. But in terms of performance the film really belongs to Pitt and Corbet, as the insidious country club killers, coming across almost as a variation on Cabaret’s ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’ Aryan poster child, the face of innocence and refinement masking the soulless killer beneath. By the end the film turns more openly meta-movie – there’s a very arch sequence involving a remote control that will either completely lose the audience or wake them up to the fact that this is a movie out of control of audience expectation and conventional demands. This is snuff movie dark and by viewing it you are involved. A sense of morality is present in Haneke’s movie, if only in its absence, leaving a film full of dark and unpleasant ideas and moments. Love it or hate it, it’s certainly brave and defiantly bleak. Holy Fool Redux

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