Film Reviews for 3-19-08

Mar 18, 2008 at 5:19 pm

‘Funny Games’ is no laughing matter

(Starring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart and Michael Pitt. Directed by Michael Haneke. Rated R; 1:52. LEO Report Card: B)

Writer and director Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” — a remake of his own 1998 film — stretches the patience and tolerance of anyone without a dark sense of humor. The violence is both plentiful and stylized, face-front yet often, paradoxically, occurring off camera and thus out of reach. The ugliness of the story teases the viewer. It amounts to nothing less than Warholian voyeurism in modern European garb, pushed to a frightening extreme.

Or maybe, as with “Saw” and “Hostel,” this is not an extreme but rather a logical conclusion. In any case, it is hard to deny that levels of cinematic violence have climbed a good bit higher over the last few years. Some of us laugh at this stuff as camp. “Funny Games” is definitely not camp. Some of us laugh a bit too hard (often uneasily) at screened violence, and some cringe and cry. Those in the latter category might want to pass on “Funny Games.” Like a mental (but not visual) rollercoaster, it will leave behind powerful memories both deep and unnerving. It is an excruciating experience — a few folks at the screening I attended couldn’t take it and walked out.

Things start out innocently enough when George and his wife Ann take their son with them to a country vacation home for some idle boating and bonding. Early shots portend tragedy, especially those of the two preppy strangers hanging with the neighbors. Things turn weird quickly as the strangers show up at George’s house, stylish and freshly scrubbed, wearing all white (including gloves), and commandeer the building and its occupants.

The intruders, Peter and Paul (maybe some symbolism there?), played by Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt, are suave and polished; the film tells us in a blunt way that they are the boys next door. In truth, they are clean-cut sadists fitting neatly into a continuum of such characters as those in Hitchcock’s “Rope” or Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho.” Both actors are suitably bland and unremarkably handsome, which somehow serves to make their subsequent abuses all the more horrifying. Corbet and Pitt do more than adequate jobs with their roles. They turn into ferocious monsters before the viewers’ eyes, and it all starts with trying to borrow some eggs (maybe some symbolism there?).

Films like “Funny Games” fit uncomfortably into a tradition of what I call “hostage dramas,” which, of themselves, are as diverse as “Desperate Hours” (both the Bogart and Mickey Rourke versions), “Dead Calm” and even “Dog Day Afternoon.” They ask the viewer to put himself in the victim’s shoes. “Funny Games,” like the others, retains the feel of unfolding in real time. The editing is superb, even if the overall pace is sluggish. Still, slow-moving films can work, especially if they aren’t too long. “Funny Games” runs a brutal hour and a half.

As Peter and Paul go further and further over the top in terrorizing the family (Tim Roth and Naomi Watts are outstanding as the parents), it becomes clear that “Funny Games” fits into another Hollywood category: the classic horror melodrama. These are scarefests with no actual otherworldly monsters. Think “Halloween” or even “Psycho,” but amped up to meet the bloodthirsty expectations of the 21st-century audience. —Paul Kopasz

‘Doomsday’ has lost its mind
(Starring Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Alexander Siddig, Adrian Lester and Sean Pertwee. Directed by Neil Marshall. Rated R; 1:45. LEO Report Card: B)

John Carpenter fans rejoice: “Doomsday” gives mad shout-outs to “Escape from New York,” right down to its synth-driven score and its eye-patch-sporting protagonist. “I’ve lost my mind,” says its heroine after planting a pick axe in an opponent’s skull. The same is true for the movie, which is unapologetically bat-shit crazy, to borrow a favored phrase of Film Freak Central critic Walter Chaw.

Director Neil Marshall (rent his undeniably awesome horror movie “The Descent” right now) strives for instant cult-classic status with his trash epic. This is a tricky bit of business. Marshall is self-aware to the nth degree, which trips “Doomsday” up occasionally and sacrifices the dread of “The Descent” for weightless thrills.

Robert Rodriguez pulled off a similar movie in his sublime half of “Grindhouse,” the zombie splatterfest “Planet Terror.” “Doomsday” plays it straighter, but this is still the kind of movie in which an automated gun turret decimates a bunny rabbit. There’s also a villain with a mohawk straight out of “The Road Warrior” who puts his girlfriend’s decapitated head in his passenger seat for the climactic road battle. The noggin takes a stray arrow. Welcome to the director’s sense of humor.

The plot involves the government quarantining the entire Glasgow population because of a flesh-eating virus. But the flesh-eating organism returns in London, and badass cop Eden (Rhona Mitra) scales the walls to find a cure so the shady politicians can look like heroes.

The story swerves into absurd set pieces that have the logic of a Troma movie. “Doomsday” features a cannibal burlesque show and a medieval-style showdown with a ball and mace. It only logically follows that your enjoyment of “Doomsday” is highly correlated with stumbling home from the bars at 3 a.m., turning on the TV, and pining for a female Snake Plissken. —Jamie Peters