adventures, animated films, B-movies, bad movies, computer-animated, Daniel Craig, dark comedies, Edgar Wright, experimental film, Film, Film auteurs, Funny Games, German cinema, home invasion, hullaballoo, Indiana Jones, Michael Haneke, misanthropic, Nick Frost, Party of Five, SImon Pegg, Steven Spielberg, strange families, suspense, The Adventures of TinTin, The Butcher Brothers, The Hamiltons
Our quest to catch up now takes us to this past Saturday for another triple header. On this particular day, my viewing selections were tempered by the fact that I needed something to wash the taste of Funny Games out of my mouth: hence, the segue from that to Spielberg’s Adventures of TinTin. Now THAT’s the kind of counter-programming more festivals need to do!
Oy vey…talk about suffering for art…We’re all familiar with feel-good cinema: those gauzy, sweet, brightly colored bits of film fluff that usually posit nothing more challenging than a stubbed toe or a willfully spunky ingenue to shake things up. In a world that’s become increasingly cold and hostile, feel-good cinema can be the equivalent of a warm fire on a cold day, returning the essential humanity to an inhumane species.
Michael Haneke pisses all over feel-good cinema before burying it out in the desert. If the word “misanthropy” is defined as meaning, “the general hatred, distrust or disdain of the human species or human nature,” then Mr. Haneke may be one of the premiere misanthropes working in film today. Whether dealing with severely damaged, violent individuals (Benny’s Video, The Seventh Continent, The White Ribbon), the horrors of a violent society invading the sanctity of the home (Funny Games, The Time of the Wolf) or the erosion of life and love (The Piano Teacher, Amour), Haneke has never met a subject to dark or depressing to tear into. Despite his seeming disdain for people, Haneke has had a surprisingly successful career, achieving enough acclaim with his original 1997 version of Funny Games to warrant his American remake ten years later and culminating in Best Foreign Film and Best Actress nods for his most recent film, Amour.
I admit that I got to the Haneke party a little late, not jumping in until the remake of Funny Games. As a big Tim Roth fan, I took a chance, based on his presence, and was rewarded with something rather nasty and unpleasant. Nonetheless, I was intrigued and spent some time touring his back catalog, eventually arriving at his original version of Funny Games. Needless to say, I remember being thoroughly disturbed by the film and promptly sought to put it behind me. Flash forward many years and a lazy Saturday morning seemed like a perfect time to revisit the film and see if it still held any power. Short answer? Yes.
For those not familiar with the story, Funny Games is, ostensibly, a home invasion film. Three members of a family (parents and young son) are vacationing at their lakeside cottage, next to several other cabins and friends. The family is well-to-do, educated (while driving, they play a game of “Name that classical music concerto” and seem like nice enough people. Upon arriving at their cottage, they notice that their next-door-neighbors appear to be entertaining guests, a pair of young men dressed in tennis outfits. When one of the men appears at their doorstep to borrow some eggs, the family become trapped in a seemingly never-ending nightmare of violence, humiliation, torture and…well…funny games.
Part of the terrible, feral power of the film comes from how well-made it is. Rather than feeling (or looking) like a quickly dashed together bit of exploitation nastiness, Funny Games is an art film through and through. The opening, featuring an aerial view of their car driving through winding mountain roads, instantly reminds of Kubrick’s similar opening to The Shining. The film has a cold, clinical look that recalls Cronenberg’s early bio-medical chillers. The acting, particularly from the evil young men is impeccable and, at times, downright heartbreaking. The film has a terrific grasp of tension, feeding out just enough line to keep you hooked, then snapping it back ferociously when needed. Scenes play out for much longer than seem necessary, the camera rarely cutting once things start to get crazy. Unfortunately, watching the film is still about as much fun as getting buried alive.
If its possible for a film to be considered “mental torture porn,” than Funny Games would be the undisputed king of that ring. Although there is violence in the film, most of it occurs off-camera, leaving us to merely view the results. The horrible humiliation and psychological torture that the pair put the family through, however, is almost impossible to watch. During an excruciatingly long scene where the pair force the mother to strip down to her underwear in front of her family, I found myself asking the all-important question, “Why?” Not “Why are the bad guys doing that,” since the world is full of truly sick individuals but “Why are we being forced to watch this in such detail?” Like Pasolini’s Salo, Funny Games is a film that not only shows you the shit on the floor but proceeds to rub your face into it. Haneke doesn’t just want to make you aware of the evil in the world: he wants to make you suffer it, too.
Were Funny Games just a streamlined, brutal, unflinching home-invasion thriller, it would be a memorable film. Haneke, however, has something else up his sleeve. At one point, the lead psycho, Paul, is standing in front of his partner, Peter. He turns and winks directly at the camera, although our understanding is that Peter is there, off-camera. This makes sense, of course, all the way up to the point where Paul turns and directly addresses the audience, asking us if we think the family has been through enough. At once, we’re not just spectators but accomplices: if we didn’t want to see the family suffer so much, we’d quit watching and let them off the hook. No film, especially fringe and extreme films, can exist without an audience. In one fell swoop, Haneke indicts horror and exploitation fans, asking the all-important question: how normal is it to want to witness suffering? As a lifelong horror fan, I didn’t much care to answer it. Thanks, Michael: see you again when I’m feeling slightly too upbeat.
As a remedy for the massive feel-bad vibes presented by Funny Games, I turned to an old master of the feel-good film: the inimitable Steven Spielberg and his recent computer-animated feature, The Adventures of Tintin. I originally avoided the film due to the computer animation (I’m much more of an old-school animation fan) but I figured that only Spielberg could give me the 10ccs of food-times needed to wash away Haneke. Turns out, I was right.
Right off the bat, imagine my immense excitement when, during the fabulous credit sequence, I notice that Peter Jackson is producing the film. Alright…that’s interesting. Not half as interesting, however, as the fact that Joe “Attack the Block” Cornish and Edgar “Cornetto Trilogy” Wright wrote the film. That’s right, boys and girls: two of the best comedic horror/sci-fi writers in the biz collaborated on the script for a Spielberg film produced by Peter Jackson. Essentially, there was no way this would be anything but one big love letter to classical film and it did not disappoint.
Once I actually got into the film, any concerns about the animation style melted away: the animation was actually so realistic that it was easy to imagine this as a life-action film, versus a cartoon. In fact, there are so many visual and narrative nods to the Indiana Jones films that this almost felt like it inhabited the same world. The scene where Snowy pursues TinTin’s kidnappers through a busy street reminds me immediately of the Cairo chase in the first Indiana Jones film, right down to the way in which the pursued item is constantly kept in the same frame as the pursuer, despite their distance from each other: simply genius.
In all honesty, there were too many highlights in the film to count. The battle between Haddock’s ship and the pirate ship is absolutely stunning, perhaps one of the coolest nautical battles I’ve seen. The final duel with construction cranes is amazing and made me wonder why no one ever tried that in the past (hint: probably because it’s impossible). The voice acting, whether from Daniel Craig as the bad guy or Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the bumbling Scotland Yard duo of Thomson and Thompson, is top-notch and TinTin, Captain Haddock and Snowy make one hell of a team. Massively fun and technologically impressive, I can easily compare The Adventures of TinTin to Wes Anderson’s animated The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Both films showcase outstanding filmmakers boldly going where they (technically) haven’t gone before.
I’m not sure that mere words can do justice to the sheer awfulness that is The Hamiltons but I’ll try. Imagine, if you will, a torture porn version of Party of Five featuring hammier actors than Troll 2 and The Room combined. Intrigued? Let me finish. The family that we’re stuck with for almost 90 minutes features a stereotypical moody, whiny teen boy, complete with always-filming video camera; a straight-laced older brother that holds down a job, is polite, smart and kind, so is obviously a closeted homosexual; a twin brother and sister that chew through scenery like ravenous warthogs when they’re not busy sucking face and disgusting the audience with the most assinine, ridiculous display of incestuous union since whatever Troma film took on the subject; and a supernaturally strong, feral, beast of a kid brother that looks like…a normal kid.
On top of these obnoxious characters we get a story that blatantly rips off We Are What We Are before becoming something else (read: equally shitty) entirely, a primal-scream breakdown that must be seen to be believed and the actual line “I’m getting awful tired of your hullaballoo,” delivered with as much earnestness and integrity as the actor could manage when being asked to deliver something so obviously Shakespearian in origin.
But am I being a little too mean? Isn’t all of this a bit harsh for a film that probably just wants to be considered a decent little horror film? Absolutely not. The pair of idiot filmmakers behind this call themselves The Butcher Brothers and have already created a sequel. They must be stopped by any and all means necessary, before The Hamiltons becomes the truly shitty franchise that it threatens to become. If we do nothing, we may soon wake up in a world where the Butcher Brothers may continue to create unchecked, turning the world into the goofy nightmare land of Branded.
In short: I’m getting awful tired of their hullaballoo.