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When I heard Michael Haneke was re-making Funny Games in America I
wondered why: what purpose could it possibly serve? The set-up to both
versions is simple in that a bourgeois family is subjected to a
torturous ordeal by a couple of ever so polite psychopaths. Moreover,
like the original the re-make is a cruel exercise in exposing our
fascination with the violence depicted in the media - the "our"
specifically meaning the middle classes, comfortable in our existences
and oblivious to the horrors of the world.
However, Haneke is on record as saying that he always considered Funny Games to be an "American story", as he regarded the use of violence as a form of entertainment to be a specifically American phenomenon. No matter that this is a bit of a flawed viewpoint: having the aggressors seem straight out of the O.C. gives the impact of their sadistic actions an even more discomfiting air. Michael Pitt (charismatic and barbarous) and Brady Corbett (seemingly dopey but utterly vicious) are both excellent, but their performances leave one feeling a bit um "seen it all before".
Which takes me back to my first thought: what is the point? Cosmetics aside this is exactly the same film, right down to the assumption that the well to do like to listen to classical music and that the audience may be unsettled by playing them some thrash metal. Haneke even has Pitt address the camera and manipulate the film, so re-using the trick about playing with reality and focusing the viewer on what actually counts as real. It is just that this playing around does not carry the impact it did 10 years ago.
In fact, due to the unconventional nature of the film and the vast disparity it offers with reality it's hard to care much at all. Yes what happens is horrible, but it does not feel at all real. I'm waiting for someone to point out that, that is Haneke's point, but frankly, I don't care. No amount of intellectualising can make this watchable.
You would think Haneke would know better too. His most recent film Hidden took a genre film and flipped it about to deliver one of the most surprising and intellectually challenging thrillers of the decade. By stringing the audience along and offering some sense of catharsis and understanding of character motivation he offered a way in. Funny Games U.S. offers no such intrigue or tension and is ultimately a big step backward. He may see it as an American story, but it worked better as a small Austrian film, set in anywheres-ville Europe.
Watching "Funny Games" is a bit like coming across a major accident on
the highway - you know you should continue driving on past the scene,
but you just can't keep yourself from slowing down and gawking at all
The premise of the story does not sound very promising at first, as the idea, or a simple variation of it, has served as the foundation for countless such films in the past: an innocent family of three is held hostage in their home by a couple of sadistic killers who systematically abuse and terrorize their victims for their own twisted pleasure.
So many horror movies are predictable and formulaic that it's a pleasant surprise to come across one that actually makes an effort to break free of its bonds and make its own way in the world. And, indeed, "Funny Games" busts through the horror movie conventions with an almost ruthless determination. In this Americanized version of a film he made in his native Austria in 1997, director Michael Haneke scrupulously avoids obvious camera setups and editing techniques, bypassing virtually every storytelling, visual or audio cliché endemic to the genre. There is no background music, for instance, to cue us into the scary moments, no screeching cats jumping out of the shadows, and no point-of-view shots designed to generate easy suspense. Unlike in most films of this type, the violence here happens in an entirely haphazard and random manner, making it all the more frightening in its unpredictability and plausibility. Haneke refuses to cater to the expectations of his audience, making them face the reality of the nightmare he's showing them rather than giving them what it is they may want to see.
Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet are cringe-worthy and terminally creepy as the smarmy psychopaths who get their jollies out of watching other people suffer, while Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Devon Gearhart engage our full sympathy as the hapless victims who have come up against the blank wall of two twisted minds they are woefully unequipped to even understand, let alone wage battle against.
This is one of the most memorable and artful horror films of recent times, but it is also one of the most unnerving and difficult to watch. The movie gets into your bones, no matter how much your better angels may be telling you to keep it out. It's depressing and disturbing and is certainly not intended for all audiences, but it is a movie that it is very difficult to shake off once you've given yourself over to it.
I saw this at the London Film Festival and found it to be exactly what
I expected: an English-language facsimile by Michael Haneke of his 1997
German film of the same title. Not that this is a bad thing. It is a
testament to Haneke's artistic ability to replicate perfectly his
previous film shot-by-shot with equal effect, tension, and intrigue
even as one knows what to expect--although it might also say something
about Haneke's ego that he doesn't feel that he needed to change or add
new material for audiences who've already seen the original. The
performances are overall well-executed, especially by Naomi Watts, an
actress who has proved that she will still take risks despite the fact
that she has made it both in the art-house scene and in mainstream
Haneke wanted to replicate the original film for American audiences since he has considered the story closer culturally to American society. That is a noble effort, but I am not sure if it required him to remake an exact replica of one of his earlier works, nor am I sure that it will have quite the impact he wants since the American audiences he is targeting might avoid it all together (as it might be seen as too art-house or extreme) or be completely turned off by its content and artistic approach. Nonetheless, it is interesting to witness as an exercise in a film artist revisiting his earlier work, even if he didn't bother changing anything.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the hardest parts about reviewing an 'art house' type movie is
inherent in the genre's name: it's a lot like criticizing art. And if
you've ever tried to criticize modern art, or almost any art, you're
probably familiar with some brutal rebuttals and denials. The same is
true for these 'art house' type movies. It's a lot easier to give the
movie a good review and go, but bad reviews draw a lot more fire. This
is harder for me as well, because I typically love these types of
But I did not enjoy this movie--and I don't mean in the general 'it didn't make me happy' sense. I mean it in the 'had little value, emotionally or artistically' sense. Depending on how you're looking at it, there were many ways in which the movie could have gained merit--you could look at the performance of the actors, the entertainment of the plot itself, the tension or suspense, the message or theme. It tried very hard, but I don't think that it was able to live up to any of its expectations.
The most important aspect of this film when judging it is meant to be unconventional. It breaks film-making conventions and denies the audience's expectations over and over. For example, it breaks the fourth wall quite a few times--meant to be a punch in the gut for the audience as they are acknowledged as participants in the film. It denies the audience's expectation of gore by making almost all the violence occur off-screen, leaving only sound effects. Although the movie fulfills its aims in its unconventionality, what we are left with when all the conventions are broken is only the shell of a great movie. The over-the-top experience is gut-wrenching and terrifying, but that is the only real effect you are left with. The movie sucks one in by being unconventional, but the movie made a mistake in that it aimed to be unconventional without having a clear idea of what to do after convention was broken. The movie just seems to wander around, dragging a great premise through the dirt.
Another criticism of the movie comes from the intentions of the movie's plot. This movie--and its director, based on his real-life comments on his purpose in remaking a film shot-for-shot--is, in a word, pretentious. Haneke himself states that "It is a reaction to a certain American Cinema, its violence, its naïveté, the way it toys with human beings" (The Village Voice). Already there lies pretentiousness in the idea of remaking your own movie only ten years after the original, with practically the only change being the language. Already you're assuming that Americans will actually watch your movie just because it's in English, and on top of that, you're assuming that the bourgeois depiction of the 'victims' would be more fitting in American theaters. Then, you're saying that the violence message is more fitting in American theaters. I'll go ahead and dissect why all this pretentiousness bears no redeeming fruit.
First point: American cinema is more focused on and condoning of violence than other countries' cinema. This point is already rendered practically untestable by the fact that there is no movie industry in the world that is quite comparable to Hollywood. Most industries are much smaller, and even the most comparable industry in terms of size (Bollywood) is not a fair comparison due to drastically different genre and stylistic focus. The established industry of film in America has the negative side effects of allowing low-quality and low-standards movies to be produced and distributed on a massive scale, as long as it provides a hook to entice consumers. The amount of violence in Hollywood is highly overemphasized, and is inevitable in the industry due to its inevitable hook. Also, these movies do fairly well in other countries (in terms of box office), suggesting that it's not strictly an American issue.
Second point: The bourgeois characteristic of the characters is more appropriate in American theaters. Although there are plenty of yuppies, brownnosers, and bourgeois in America, I think it's unfair to say the bourgeois appearances of the characters are more of an American feature than German, or French, or English, whatever developed country you like. It's a common human attribute, a longing to move up in life, and enjoying a higher standard of living--not something I agree with, but everyone's seen it in action. Both this point, and the previous one, simply show a narrow-minded judgment on the part of the director.
And the most, MOST important point to why this film did nothing for me: The film delivers a message about violence, especially in regards to middle/upper-class culture. This movie said nothing of importance to me. If you want to find a message like this, look at Clockwork Orange. There is no denying that Clockwork Orange effectively conveys a message about violence and morality in the modern world. This movie was looking and looking to make a point about violence, something about how watching violence and indulging in violent movies is akin to the violence itself. It got halfway there in that it drew the audience into the experience and almost created a sense of guilt. But it was unable to go much further. It did not even justify a nihilistic view, because the way in which the movie was made, especially the semi-surrealism of the actual events and the 'rewind' feature, at least reveals intent in creating a point. It circles round and round and ends up no where at all.
I would call this movie avant-garde if it actually made any impact on me. A film can seek to chase beauty, tell a story, delight viewers, convey a message, play on a theme, or invoke an emotion, but when a film does none of these it loses its value as a piece of art. And this is exactly where Funny Games ends up.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ann: "Why don't you just kill us?" Peter: "You shouldn't forget the
importance of entertainment." These two lines are the very base for the
message behind Funny Games, a stark, unrelenting look at America's
infatuation with violence and torture.
This is an English version remake of the 1997 German Funny Games, by the very same director Michael Haneke. Haneke wanted his original film to reach a broader audience, especially America since his inspiration for the film was his fascination with America's desensitized appetite for gore and violent torture. The premise is very simple: a well-to-do American family, George (Tim Roth), Ann (Naomi Watts), and Georgie (Devon Gearhart), arrive at their summer home for a relaxing vacation and are held hostage in their own home by two deranged young men, Paul (Michael Pitt) and Peter (Brady Corbet), who play a "game" with the family that consists of tormenting the family physically and psychologically.
Normally I would never have seen this film, as I have vowed never to see any type of slasher/torture-porn. However after reading about the director's vision of trying to show the audience how sickening the watching of graphic torture for entertainment really is, I knew I had to see it.
Unlike the hypocritical Untraceable or The Condemned, this film does exactly what it intends to do. This film gets in your head by giving the pretense that you will witness all the horrible acts, and then turns around on you by not showing anything! Everything is off-screen so you are left with only the sound effects. It is more disturbing as your imagination sets to work on the images off screen, and that in itself is more horrifying.
Haneke crafts a superbly intelligent psychological horror, but almost too intelligent as it almost falters on expecting you to know the philosophy behind the film-making and for someone knowing nothing about the film it might be confusing or frustrating.
I would not recommend this film to everyone as it will disappoint the Saw/Hostel audience and may confuse newcomers. With that aside, I greatly welcomed the dissection of violence, and someone who understands the point of the film and enjoys art house-style film-making will appreciate it.
One way to get the most out of Funny Games is to have your expectations
open before watching it. It's not a standard horror film aiming to
fulfill your needs as a viewer. It's about horror films and us, the
audience who gets pleasure from suffering as entertainment. It shows
what real horror might look like in an awful situation, and how it
psychologically debilitates and paralyzes the people involved.
Although this is almost identical and I liked this remake, I prefer the 1997 Austrian original version. It was one of the most disturbing and effective films I've ever seen. Here the acting is good especially from one of the best actresses out there Naomi Watts, but somehow the original works better. Maybe it was Arno Frisch, who played the main bad guy in the original, an absolutely ice cold character. Arno played it so well, there was a threatening menace underneath the polite and clean-cut exterior. Michael Pitt in this U.S. Version doesn't quite have that, but even so I still think he does well.
One possible flaw that I agree with others is the family seemed too passive. In the beginning the two bad guys are armed with only a golf club. Naomi Watt's, who is in amazing shape at 40, looked like she might have done something more to get out of it. However, an argument can be made that the family reacted realistically because they were portrayed as rich, docile people who listened to classical music and went boating. People who are not violent and erroneously think everyone, even these two sick guys, have a better nature they can appeal to by simply saying "why don't you just leave us alone and go?" They've been sheltered from people who are simply evil and lack empathy and just don't give a sh*t. Their comfortable existence has been shattered and they don't know how to react. We're so used to Hollywood b.s. where everyone is a hero and fights back and we all cheer and go home. Yeah that's entertaining too but we've seen that a million times already. Maybe some people would be paralyzed out of fear like this family. Either way, I was willing to put their passiveness aside because everything else in the film was done so well.
The original right now has a rating of 7.7 at IMDb and many glowing reviews, yet this U.S version is a lot lower at 6.4 and many b*tching and moaning 1 star reviews. Not to sound condescending, but maybe people who watch subtitled non-English films are more accepting of weird, offbeat films that don't follow conventional Hollywood style dialogue, plot and presentation, and they're more open to this movies style of direction, like the very long takes of people just sitting there in misery. I'm not stupid enough to say one has to like this film, I get annoyed at some indie type films and their quirkiness myself, but some of the 1 star reviewers sound like a bunch of crybabies.
Funny Games slaps you in the face and taunts you and it rarely gives in to what you need as a viewer, and that may be frustrating at times but at least it's something different.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Funny Games US is a motion picture study of two young psychopaths and
the pain, suffering, and ends they inflict. In the end it gives just
one line that justifies what actually took place and that line was
unable to make me not feel like I had wasted 2 hours of my life.
The characters are cardboard. The length of the film is excessive. In the end you care about no one involved and you are left feeling the conclusion (though there really is none) is totally unsatisfactory.
The violence contained in the film is never shown though the effects of the violence and its remnants are displayed prominently.
My belief is that the director was trying to show how passé we now find violence and even goes an extra step to show bare sexuality (there is no nudity in the movie) against the back drop of the violence to allow the audience to judge their own "arousal factors" and how close they are to violence.
But no matter what the directors intention, the product was without merit. I would recommend not watching the film. Not even when suffering from extreme sleeplessness in hopes that this might lull you into a restful slumber - trust me it won't.
Tim Roth is wasted with very little dialog. Naomi Watts is wasted though she is able to show a great deal of emotion and is used for her looks as an arousal tool. And the best showing was the actor who played their son who showed a great deal of stage like visual emotion. Bravo.
I was being nice when I gave this two stars - Watch at your own peril and remember you'll never be able to reclaim the two hours of your life.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Back in 1997 director Michael Haneke made Funny Games, a disturbing and thought-provoking thriller that toys with the viewer's place as a voyeur. In 2008, the re-make, also directed by Haneke, debuts with an all new cast and this time in English. The problem is that it is essentially a shot-for-shot, line-for-line, verbatim re-shoot. This makes watching this film pointless if you've seen the original, or unnecessary to watch the original if you're planning on seeing the 2008 version. And despite those pesky subtitles that often upset American audiences, the original's authenticity and casting is surprisingly superior. Anne (Naomi Watts) and George (Tim Roth) arrive at their vacation home ready to enjoy some golf and sailing with their son (Devon Gearhart) and neighbors. As Anne is unpacking groceries, she is confronted by two young men, dressed in golf attire, and wearing white gloves. Thinking nothing of their politeness and harmless asking for eggs, explaining that the neighbors ran out of cooking materials, Anne immediately helps them. But when the two boys begin obviously antagonizing her, she realizes that their family is about to be taken hostage for a terrifying night of anything but "funny" games. The same opening overhead shot of a car (this time an SUV) driving down a desolate highway while the family inside plays a game of guessing opera tunes, opens the film. The same opera pieces are used, the same title sequence and the same ear-piercing abstract death metal. The film is undoubtedly disturbing, unique and white-knuckle suspenseful, but if you've seen the original, there's nothing new. The breed of dog changed, along with the style of phone (from mobile to cellular), but the house's white gate looks almost completely identical, and the kitchen and all of its seemingly random decorations are all a perfect match. Georg and Anna have been altered to their American counterparts George and Anne, and some of the original translations have been reinterpreted (such as fatty to tubby and cheeky to rude). What makes this remake only slightly more successful than Gus Van Sant's famously horrendous turn with Hitchcock's Psycho is that Funny Games was never that well known. Taking what many believe to be one of the greatest films of all time (Psycho) and re-doing it scene for scene is so utterly pointless, it's a wonder the idea was ever even carried out. At least with Funny Games the reasons are more coherent. Making a German film more accessible for American audiences through the use of English speaking actors isn't entirely inane. Devoid of an omniscient soundtrack and played out to feel like real-time, the events of this one freakish night is quite a distressingly entertaining ordeal. Regardless of the superiorities that are evident in the original, this version isn't without its shock value and thought-provoking commentary on voyeurism and violence. But with its unexpectedly appalling conclusion, bizarre plot twists and the unexplainable interference with the "fourth wall" (a.k.a. having characters talk directly to the audience), Funny Games may very well be a film that could never have been truly accepted by American audiences in the first place. - The Massie Twins
The masochist side to my personality saw both versions of Michael Haneke's "Funny Games" and like them. Well "like" may not be the right word but let me tell you that I couldn't shake those images out of my mind for days. It happened the same with Haneke's last film "The White Ribbon" as well as with "Cache" and in particular with "The Piano Teacher" I'm fascinated by Michael Haneke but I don't trust him. I'm aware of his brilliance just as aware as he is. There is a self consciousness about his work that strips it of any form of innocence. That's very disturbing. Luis Bunuel felt triumphant when people fainted or vomited during his films but, in his case, it was clear where he was coming from. Ingman Bergman's purity couldn't have allow him to do a film like "Funny Games", Haneke made it, twice. An artist or a con man? I think both but that in itself is not that unusual, what is unusual is that the con is so rivetingly perpetrated. The ending of his film may provoke in you the desire to throw something at the screen and curse, curse very loudly. But, and here is where the con really works, I found myself wanting to see his films again. What's wrong with me? I think the answer is that I love film and Michael Heneke revisits some of my favorite filmmakers and does to them what the home invaders do to the family of "Funny Games" Extraordinary in as many ways as it is appalling. "Funny Games is considered, by some, to be Michael Heneke's most commercial film, isn't that funny?
First things first, I have not seen the Michael Haneke's original 1997
Funny Games, however, according to every reviewer, I do not need to
(I'm still going to, though). Apparently this American version of Funny
Games is a shot-for-shot remake of the original, but with different
actors and in English. Also, before seeing this (a year late, as us
Australians get most films later) I had read plenty of articles and
reviews detailing how dark, powerful and disturbing Haneke's film was.
Well, they were damn right. This is a brutal and abrupt film, with no
happy endings in sight throughout the majority of the film.
Beginning with a wealthy family: George (Tim Roth), wife Ann (Naomi Watts) and Georgie (Devon Gearhart), driving to their holiday home by a lake. Upon arrival a young boy, Peter (Brady Corbet), knocks on their door asking for eggs. A simple task turns into something a bit more complicated, which frustrates Ann and causes her to ask him to leave. However, Paul (Michael Pitt) also enters the scene. Soon the situation loses control as the family as held hostage by the two sociopaths and subjected to cruel and sadistic games.
This seemingly overdone home-invasion scenario is the set-up for Haneke's hard-hitting social commentary (and the reason he remade the film for American audiences). Violence is present everywhere in society, through books, games, films, television and music. Although I do enjoy violent films and games, it is not hard to see the public are slowly becoming desensitized to violence. Sometimes we may not even notice what we are watching or reading is violent (the news, the papers and even cartoon shows aimed at children). This is the film's target, and this is why Haneke remade it for the U.S., as he believes that this is mostly an American culture. Unfortunately, there is a flaw present in this way of thinking. I believe most people know that when they are watching something like "Hostel" or "Die Hard 4.0" it is all fake, all special effects and it is only there as a form of escapism from one's life. It is interesting to note that this film is not that bloody, with almost all of the violence occurring off-screen, the camera focusing on the witnesses reactions instead. Funnily enough, this annoyed a few reviewers on this site, which kind of proves the director's point. We are hungry for violence in our films, we want to see it all.
"You shouldn't forget the importance of entertainment." States Peter when Ann asks them to kill them so the pain can end. The director turns film conventions on their head, as Paul breaks the fourth wall and addresses us, asking us questions. (In this way the film is somewhat pretentious and self-aware, Haneke kind of knows he is making an arty film and it is slightly annoying). Paul knows almost everyone is rooting for the family to survive, for some miraculous way out for them. However, Haneke knows that more often than not, the cavalry never come and the bad guys usually do win.
Upon pointing out Haneke's fault, the man can direct with incredible style. The egg scene is an interesting one, as almost nothing happens, yet he constantly increases the tension every second. And that is just the beginning. There are numerous tracking shots, which add to the atmosphere and frustration. In an eight minute scene, we witness Ann trying to escape her bonds and through this silent scene we feel her anguish and it works very well. However, the direction is supported by some of the strongest performances by an entire cast I have seen all year. Naomi Watts is an incredible actress and her performance as the polite housewife turned heroine is riveting. She goes through a heap of crap throughout the movie and she is convincing 100% of the time. Tim Roth is excellent support, his father (who is crippled at the start of the games) is a tragic character. Usually the father character is the macho hero, but here he is a broken man and Roth portrays this with perfection. Michael Pitt is eerie, charming and sadistic as well-spoken Paul, he is the 21st century Alex (from Stanely Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange"). I am confident he will be a big star in the future. Brady Corbet is more timid, but equally menacing as Peter, the seemingly simpler, but more erratic and violent one. He puts forward an interesting and breakthrough turn and as mentioned before, should be a star to look out for.
Although I will probably not revisit this again, it is definitely well-made and challenging film. It is not a pleasing or uplifting film, and although not gratuitous in its violence, is quite stressing nonetheless. It raises some socially relevant issues and as far as remakes go, it is heads and shoulders above the rest.
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