Wednesday, August 6, 2008


"Why don't you just kill us?"

"You shouldn't forget
the importance of entertainment."

* * *

we rate films on this site. each of us rate films with a certain number of something-or-anothers out of five - five being the highest grade awarded. and i think that all three of us here at hockey mask, inc. have proven that we are not (necessarily) film snobs. we three enjoy a wide range of cinema across many genres. however, each of us do possess a unique rating system. last night, the wife and i watched a film that forced me to revisit and rethink my personal rating system. and after much deliberation, i think mine looks something like this.


1) REACTION - i like big reactions to art. i like to be blown away. even more important than my own opinion of the message or the piece itself, i value huge internal reactions. the films that really stand out to me are the ones that force themselves inside and set off some kind of explosion - be that joyous or disturbing or inspiring.

2) MEMORABLE - give me mashpotatoes and gravy, people - give me films that stick to the ribs for days on end. i love films that make me squirm or laugh or gag in my mouth three days after the viewing. if i'm done dealing with a film by the next day, it was never worth my time in the first place.

3) STORY - if there ain't no story, there ain't no reason to stay here. stories trump gimmicks. good stories trump our definitions of genres and categories of art.

4) TALENT - i love films that allow all parts - cast and crew and writers and directors - to shine in their roles. i'm inspired and moved by people doing what they do best.

that's them right there: the four characteristics of a five star rated film. and these characteristics apply to all films - campy numbers from the 80s, asian horror remakes, high brow artsy cinema, summer blockbusters, the evolution of jason vorhees. all films pass by this panel of four judges to receive my awarded level of approval.

and so, with all that said, i believe FUNNY GAMES meets the highest caliber of film. i mean, wow and double-wow. this film demands enormous reactions from its audience. for the life of me, i cannot imagine anyone enjoying FUNNY GAMES, which may be the filmmaker's point. this film is not meant to entertain audiences; it's purpose is to preach harsh messages to people who are no longer easily moved. brutally and intensely sadistic, the violence in this film achieves a level of psychological torment that makes the physicality of eli roth's films look like the dr. phil show. on par with the great social commentary of george romero's zombie flicks, FUNNY GAMES tackles issues of our modern society such as abundance of wealth, loss of morality, fascination with violent exhibitionism in media, sexual deviance, lack of faith in God, and the inability to separate reality from entertainment. and while many films today strive to make these points or preach these messages, many get caught up in the mixing of metaphors, overcomplication of artsiness, or gratuitous torture-scenes. FUNNY GAMES cuts the crap that gets in the way. FUNNY GAMES addresses these issues through a simple story that never feels forced or relenting. offering no room to breathe, every message is painfully large and overally graphic. the images and sounds of this film promise to ball up in the pit of your stomach for weeks on end.

the performances in this film are beyond superb. i have loved tim roth since the first time i saw PULP FICTION. this guy is one of the most underrated names in hollywood, and his performance in this is just brilliant. likewise, naomi watts may have finally won me over. i've never been too keen on the naomi watts. i've always felt that she overacts or pushes the point a bit too hard. however, in this film, the overacting pays off. roth and watts' combined ability to communicate and hold high levels of intensity throughout the entirety of this film is a testament to their genius. where are the awards, i ask you? this film belongs to its two stars.

the reality of this film is magnified by exceptionally long camera shots. there are moments, because of the length of single shots, when this film feels more like live theatre than cinema. perhaps this is one reason the messages of the film ring solidly as opposed to skipping like a broken record. i have never encountered a film that felt this real, that felt so much like pure perverse voyeurism. it's one thing to create a violent message; it's a completely other thing to invite the audience into its delivery. i think this is the place where many audience members will bail out. it's hard to feel that intimate with another person's terror. however, it is that proximity to the action and to the fear that sets this psychological thriller apart from its predecessors. FUNNY GAMES plays in a league all its own, one that it alone created and that will be emulated in many films to come.

there is nothing beautiful, redeeming or hopeful about this film; yet, i actually walked away feeling like there was something very important about FUNNY GAMES - or, at least, about my own viewing of it. do not consider this review a recommendation. in fact, i do NOT recommend this film (except maybe to john barber). however, i must give FUNNY GAMES 5 busted eggs out of 5. this film achieved everything it set out to achieve... and maybe a little more.


myleswerntz said...

I know of the Tim Roth, but I for one have never seen the light. As soon as I saw him in the previews for this, I didn't want to see it, despite the fact that I do like Naomi Watts. Maybe I should drop my guard and give him another try.

John Barber said...

It's really funny that you reviewed this, and even funnier that you mentioned me in it. I saw this one a couple of weeks ago. I probably would have given it one golf club to the hamstring out of five.

To me, this was a similar film in intent to NO COUNTRY, but instead of using the Coens' subtle knife, Michael Haneke used a bloody sledgehammer. NO COUNTRY was brilliant in that it used form to convey meaning, in the same way that a great sonneteer uses rhythm to convey meaning. FUNNY GAMES tried to do the same thing, but in a remarkably sophomoric way. I get what the guy was trying to say. I get the themes of American vapidity and fascination with violence. I get that he never shows the payoff. I get it all. I just think it's stupid.

A movie like this one does nothing so great as to shine a light on the truly visionary filmmakers out there. That's why I gave it one golf club. It probably deserves zero.

Oh, and Naomi Watts and Tim Roth are pretty good.

the hamster said...

john - you're a toad.

John Barber said...


the hamster said...

i think the intents behind NO COUNTRY and FUNNY GAMES are too vastly different to compare the two films. it's like weighing the new INCREDIBLE HULK up to TEEN WOLF because there's massive shape-shifting in both films. they're completely different works of art exploring similar shape-shifting themes in various ways. their difference is part-of their value.

with that said, just because NO COUNTRY was freakin' brilliant doesn't mean that FUNNY GAMES is - oh, what was that word you used: stupid. again, that's like refusing to listen to drink cherry coke because you loved red kool-aid so much as a kid. it doesn't compute. it's crazy backwoods arkansas logic.

you're comment reeked of banjo sounds on dirty rivers.

Seth said...

I like kool-aid.

the hamster said...

seth - don't tell anybody, but i used to eat the kool-aid straight out of the package. i'd rip it open and pour it in my mouth. good stuff. major sugar rush.