June 11th, 2008

FUNNY GAMES (2008) * ½


Two polite young golfers scheme their way into the vacation home of a rich couple (Tim Roth and Naomi Watts) and begin to play mind games with them before holding them prisoner and slowly torturing them.  The two Country Club killers beat them with golf clubs, kill their dog, make Watts strip down nude (to see if she has “jelly rolls”) and eventually murder their young son.  The killers leave the family alone only to come back later to… well… I don’t want to give anything away, but all I’ll say is that for a second there I thought I mistakenly rented Click instead.    


Michael Haneke‘s remake of his own 1997 film isn’t the first time a foreign director has remade his own work for mainstream American audiences.  Hitchcock did a remake of his The Man Who Knew Too Much way back in ’56 and it was especially en vogue during the 90’s when remakes of The Vanishing and Nightwatch flooded American multiplexes.  This wasn’t even the first time Watts starred in a foreign director’s remake of his own film as she was in The Shaft seven years earlier.


The problem with Funny Games is that it’s just not very good.  I’ve never seen Haneke’s original film and watching this crap, I don’t think it’ll find it’s way into my DVD player any time soon. 


Haneke starts the film out slowly and mundanely (he never really gives the main characters an appropriate close-up and relies heavily on static shots of their arms and legs instead), but since the film runs a too long 111 minutes, you pretty much know from the get-go that it will take awhile for the film to GET ON WITH IT.  Once the psychotic preppies arrive though, the abuse they dish out isn’t exactly as torturous to the characters as it is for the audience.  I’m not saying it’s hard to watch because it’s gruesome (it’s not), just because it’s so damn banal and tame. 


Speaking of Watts, she’s pretty good as the abused housewife but the usually entertaining Roth isn’t given much to do except sit around and bleed.  The tormentors (played by Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) are thoroughly bland and unassuming, which is a serious misstep.  What Haneke was going for was the whole “What you’d least expect to be scary IS scary!” deal, but it doesn’t really work because the duo never once displays any real sense of menace.  By making them preppies, Haneke is also trying to say “Hey look, senseless crime knows no class structure!”, but in a movie filled with one too many pointless “messages” (I’ll get to that later), it just comes off as lame. 


Haneke also thinks that by keeping key scenes of violence, torture, and nudity (no dice on seeing Watts’ goodies) off screen, he’s making things “scary”, but it’s kind of impossible to do when nothing else in your film is scary in the least.  Another mistake the director makes is that Haneke shoots the flick as if it was some half-assed art film.  His needless pretentiousness doesn’t do the movie any favors, which brings me to the film’s biggest dividing point: 


(Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to have the movie thoroughly ruined.)  


The third act reality reversal via RCA DVD remote control.  Even if this movie did suck, the ending was at least semi-clever, but again, Haneke botches things big time.  I understand completely what he was trying to accomplish with this scene.  Haneke wants the audience to cheer as the villain gets his comeuppance.  When the other dude uses the remote control to rewind back through time so he can save his pal’s life and efficiently murder Watts, it zaps the audience out of the Hollywood-ized version of what we’re used to seeing in incidents like these and thrusts us into the reality of the situation and say, “Okay this is what would REALLY happen in real life.”  The problem with that is, he hasn’t earned the ending yet.  The main characters aren’t especially endearing to the audience (although Haneke drew out their introduction scenes for FOREVER), and when Pitt uses the remote to alter things from a movie situation to “reality” it plays more like a WTF than anything else.  Having the two characters chit-chat endlessly about alternate realities doesn’t help any either.  By all the prattling about black holes and shit, Haneke ruins the whole effect by over-explaining his intentions.  If he had ended the film without all the incessant banter about pseudo-dimensions and let the audience figure out his message themselves; it would’ve worked much better.  Doing it this way dilutes the remote control Deus Ex Machina of it’s potential effectiveness and turns it into an annoying, showy and amateurish thumb-nosing of the audience.      


The film DOES have one awesome moment:  the excellent opening credit sequence that deftly mixes opera and punk rock music over the soundtrack.  After that though, it’s all downhill.  If you’re looking for a halfway decent home invasion thriller (one that won’t chastise it’s audience and actually entertains), check out The Strangers instead.


Toei Studios’ first entry into the Pinky Violence (exploitation movies featuring heightened violence and sex) craze of the 60’s and 70’s is a little tame for the usual genre standards, but has enough moments of sudden bloodshed to make it worth a look.


Junko Miyazono stars as Ohyaku, a beautiful tightrope walker who gets talked into stealing a cache of gold by her rugged boyfriend.  They are double crossed and her man gets his noggin cut off and she is sent to a prison camp where she gets a big ass tattoo on her back, courtesy of the warden’s nympho wife.  Eventually Ohyaku escapes utilizing her considerable tightrope-walking talents and sets out on a bloody quest for revenge.


Miyazono is just dandy in the lead role and is quite a beauty.  The action scenes are sparse, but there are enough guillotined heads, women hanging over hot coals by their hair and sword slashings to keep you awake.  Unfortunately the movie suffers from one too many lulls in between the action and nothing the actors have to say is half as interesting as the carnage they dish out.  The film shot in an effective manner and black and white cinematography is nice and crisp, but since it’s lacking the requisite violence and sex in these movies (no nudity is shown, and I could’ve stood to see a few more decapitated heads), it’s only recommended for die hard Pinky Violence fans. 


Miyazono returned for two more sequels.


AKA:  Ohyaku:  The Female Demon.



Junko Miyazono returns (albeit as a different character) in the second film in the Legends of the Poisonous Seductress trilogy… this time in eye-popping color! 


In this installment, Miyazono plays Okatsu, a famed female samurai.  Her father’s dojo is shamed because Okatsu is so good with a sword and her brother is completely worthless.  A scumbag government official wants to marry Okatsu, but her father refuses, so he rigs the local casino so that her brother will rack up a huge gambling debt and he’ll have to offer up Okatsu as payment.  Luckily, a spunky teenage drifter named Rui (Reiko Oshida) shows up and cuts down those two-faced sons-a-bitches.  The villain gets mad and kills Okatsu’s father AND brother and the sword slinging hottie must band together with her newfound compatriot to go out for vengeance.


I don’t know what all this has to do with the first Legends of the Poisonous Seductress film (although Miyazono’s character from the first film is mentioned in passing), but it’s a lot more fun than that flick.  The scene where Rui ferrets out the shifty dealings of the corrupt casino is the film’s standout action sequence and there are severed heads, stabbings, eye gougings, gory sword slashings, severed arms and spurting stumps aplenty.  While the story is a little bit more complicated than it really needed to be, whenever the flick forgets the plot and is all about hot chicks with samurai swords cutting the shit out of people, it’s Miller Time.


Miyazono returned for the third and final Legends of the Poisonous Seductress film, Okatsu the Fugitive later in the year.


AKA:  Quick-Draw Okatsu.