Friday, September 28, 2007

Funny Games (1998)


I mentioned this film briefly in a previous post when I noted the passing of Ulrich Mühe, the star of this film, as well as The Lives of Others. But I think the time has come to really delve into this one further.

What prompted me is that the film is being remade for American audiences, and I feel it would be better to go into my thoughts now before Michael Haneke's shot-for-shot remake of his own film comes out, either later this year or early next year. (The release date has been jumping all over the place, since I can imagine that Warner Independent has no idea of how to market it.)

While pretty much any remake is troubling for any variety of reasons, this one I think is a unique case. Quite frankly, I suspect that this film will be wildly misunderstood by many and worse, I think it will prompt a lot of vocal criticism from those who didn't understand it. (You know, those same folks who complain monthly about something or another without having first-hand knowledge of it.)

The basic premise is this: an affluent family goes to their lake house for some rest and relaxation, and find just the opposite when two young men come over under the guise of needing to borrow some eggs, yet, we learn they have something far more sinister in mind.


They play psychological mindgames with the family and prey off their worst fears, and taunt them mercilessly about the fact that the family will all die before morning. What transpires in the film is nothing short of disturbing. And quite frankly, very daring for American cinema. Yet, I suspect that the film will be demonized by folks claiming that the film glorifies and promotes violence, when in fact, the film is damning you for getting off on it. Yes, that's right. YOU are the one to blame for what the family is enduring.

Now, I will be the first to tell you that this wasn't immediately apparent to me upon first viewing it. It was only with time, reflection, and a little reading that everything came together.

And I think the reason why this message was obscured because it becomes evident through a usually poorly used cinematic device that was initially a distraction to me, but now I realize is very crucial to the film: In the film, the leader of the two young men, Paul, turns and speaks to the camera in various scenes. Usually, this is such a piss poor tactic, that my eyes had a Pavlovian response and rolled a bit. But in doing so, I missed the point originally. In another scene, when asked why they don't just kill the family, Paul says something in reference to it being for entertainment value. Again, it's significance didn't quite register correctly at the time.

Basically, Funny Games is a statement about how saturated our entertainment has become and how desensitized we've become in response. However, when you look at what Paul says during these comments to the camera, you realize that this family, who you've come to care about, is being brutalized for the viewer's entertainment.

In doing so, Funny Games actually resensitizes you to violence, and it is quite sadistic and harrowing. I've heard the film described as "one of the best movies I'll never watch again and never recommend to anyone." I can't say I don't recommend the film, because I think it is a very unique experience: a film that really almost defies you to turn away from the violence and gruesomeness and begs you to turn it off. I almost view it as the cinematic version of how a lot of parents, when they catch their kid smoking a cigarette, will make them smoke the entire pack to make them sick from smoking. Haneke is doing something similar here, I feel, but in this case, he is punishing you for your obsession with violence by making you overdose on it.

So, the best I can say is that if you are interested in the film, or if you are a Haneke fan, check out the original now before the remake. But be forewarned. If you are inclined to wait for the American remake, here is a
Trailer for the Funny Games remake

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Muriel's Wedding (1995)


It seems like whenever I come up with those lists about greatest films, there is a tendency to fill it with films that might establish some credibility. You know, those same old standbys like The Godfather, Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, and Citizen Kane.

But I don't know that I could ever be happy with such a list unless it had some sort of personal mark on it. Those films that may not be the most innovative or profound, but instead, the type of film I can pop into the DVD player in the throes of boredom and still enjoy. The ones when I flip through the channels and stop on if it happens to be playing.

So for me, any such list I might create would simply feel incomplete or fraudulent if Muriel's Wedding weren't included in some way. I can think of few other films that I get such pure giddy pleasure from watching. And while some cinephiles may be tempted to classify it as a guilty pleasure, I feel no remorse in proclaiming my love for this film. And accordingly, after looking over the films I've written about already, so many of them are so heavy, and mostly such well regarded films anyway, I felt like writing about this one, which seems to be all too easily dismissed for being lightweight.

I think it's a film that contains a lot of witty dialogue, an endearing cast, and characters you honestly care about. And I think in some ways, many can relate to Muriel. Feeling on the outside, wallowing in insecurities, social awkwardness in certain situations, and just a sense that you're somehow alien and don't belong. Dreaming of a more fulfilling life elsewhere and having the chance to start over.

It's set to a joyous soundtrack of ABBA songs (which, I will call a guilty pleasure), Muriel's Wedding even when it's not making me laugh, consistently makes me feel something inside while I watch it, whether it's empathy or hopefulness. Even though I've seen it more times than I can count, I have a hard time letting my attention drift from the film.

And I don't know that it would work if you didn't have the phenomenal Toni Collette in the title role, as well as Rachel Griffiths, as Rhonda, her former classmate that she reconnects with on an ill-fated vacation to Hibiscus Island. While this was the first I'd heard of either actress, both have subsequently gone on to critical success, Oscar nominations, and popularity. But the entire supporting cast is great in this film. In particular, Jeannie Drynan, who play's Muriel's mother, is so utterly heartbreaking in this film, I can't recall a character right now who I just felt so much sympathy for.

If you've never had the opportunity to see this one, I really can't recommend it highly enough. Although I've seen this more times than I can count, I have no doubt that this one will continue to be a favorite for years to come.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Up Series

Trailer for 49 Up

This is such a spectacular achievement, that I really cannot recommend strongly enough. This is one of the most important films you could spend your time with.

It's hard to try and take 49 years of 14 different people's lives and try to say something that would wrap everything up succinctly, nor would I want to spend too much time detailing what transpires to any one of them since I feel that would kill the journey.

I think it's the whole product that makes this series what it is. I think everyone will have different interviewees they find more interesting and one certain segment more interesting based upon our own personal places in life at the time you watch the films and with whom you relate to more. And in a certain respect, I don't know that 7 Up on its own would really have been that interesting really without the subsequent programs to follow it up. It's the evolution with each interviewee as they get older, get married, have children, get divorced in some cases, watch their parents die, feel the transition from the child to the parent, and then trying to help their children navigate through the choices they had to make. While 7 Up isn't necessarily interesting taken on it's own, in my opinion, I think it works wonderfully as an entry point into these children's lives, which helps you care about them later as many of them sort of retreat from the level of openness they had has children. And I'm glad they packaged 7 Up and 7 Plus Seven together on a single disc, since witnessing those changes was what really gripped me the most.

Introspection is such an important element to this film, not only in terms of watching these people reflect on where they are now in life, but also reflecting back at who they were in the previous films. And in turn, I couldn't help but look back at who I was at 7, 14, 21, 28 or ponder who I would be at 35, 42, 49, and beyond when subsequent installments of this series (hopefully) come along.

Beyond that, I think it was, for me in any case, also a really interesting look at English culture that I never really understood or even really recognized beforehand. They provide an intersting cross section of children from a wide variety of backgrounds. And because of that, I think I got a bit of an education on the class system that exists, and which, to some degree, may be slowly eroding. The different regional accents, the political beliefs, the social development of England (and elsewhere, as some have emigrated). It was all very interesting to see that as well.

It's interesting to see how these 14 ordinary people who mostly lead mundane lives that may even seem boring to them could be made into such a fascinating film series. I really hope more people take a look at this series. I had put it off for a while since it can seem daunting to take on a series of seven films, but the first two are so short that it's easy to watch them in one sitting, and once I got started, I had a hard time looking away. I couldn't wait to see what happened in the next film once I got started, and I really hate that I have to wait until 2013 to see what happens next. Highly, Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What Lies Ahead...

Typically, fall is the time of year that gets me excited for movies. The sprng just seems like a hodge podge of nonsense with an occasionally interesting movie thrown in the mix.

The summer offers a lot of movies that I don't like, but I like that it does. I don't like crowded movie theaters, so it's kind of like dangling something shiny to distract your dog while you enjoy a filet mignon. It doesn't happen all the time, but I prefer to keep the riff raff at Transformers, and keep the good films quiet while I go check them out.

I'm still a little disappointed with the year as a whole thus far, and in looking over the fall movie preview of Entertainment Weekly, I'm not getting the cinematic boner I usually do. Every year there seems to be at least one film from a director I adore. But this year's crop features mostly directors that are hit or miss. So while word of mouth is good for some films, I'll make the final determination for myself.

But in some way, I think the fact that I'm going into fall with minimal expectations is a good thing. over the past few years, had you asked me on paper what films I was most looking forward to, a handful delivered, most were ok, and some outright sucked.

Yet, had you told me what my favorite fall films would end up being, I wouldn't have guessed it. And there inlies the beauty. Hopefully, something will come along that will shock the hell out of me and I never saw it coming, which is usually my favorite type of film.

For Those Who've Been Reading...

First, thanks for keeping up with the site, despite my little lapse in posting.

I've been trying to think of films to write about, but I keep realizing that for many films I love, it has simply been far too long since I've seen many of them to where I could write anything worth reading.

As far as my viewing habits as of late, I just can't say I've been impressed with much of anything, whether commercial or arthouse. Since Tampa has become a cinematic wasteland over the past year or so, a lot of films I wanted to see have thus far passed us by, so I think I'll just have to wait until Netflix releases them.

The only thing worth a damn in theaters right now is The Bourne Ultimatum, although I also enjoyed The Valet a good deal. On DVD, I've been catching up with some film I've always meant to see, but haven't quite gotten around to. Currently, I'm knee deep in The Up Series, which I am enjoying so far.

If you haven't already seen them, I would recommend The Lives of Others and The Lookout on DVD, as well as Ten Canoes, which is being released on the 25th, according to Amazon.

I hope to have something up by the weekend, but no promises, and until then, it seems we can skip the theaters for awhile and get caught up on some good DVD while we wait for something worth the time and effort.