REVIEW: “Funny Games” (1997)

funny games poster

Michael Haneke has a reputation for torturing the characters in his movies as well as his audiences. I’ve found this critique to be a bit harsh, but after seeing his 1997 Austrian psychological thriller “Funny Games”, it’s a little easier to see where people are coming from. Haneke’s signature style and filmmaking techniques are all employed here, but what separates this film from others of his I’ve seen is the gruesome and torturous ordeal that we have to endure. Granted, there are varying elements to this in many of Michael Haneke’s movie but nothing quite like this. But that doesn’t mean this is a bad film. It’s an unsettling but riveting movie that never let’s go of you. But be warned, it’s not an easy movie to digest especially for more sensitive audiences.

The movie begins with Georg (Ulrich Mühe), his wife Anna (Susanne Lothar), and their son Georgie (Stefan Clapczynski) heading to their lakeside vacation home. Upon arrival they greet their strange acting next-door neighbor who is accompanied by two unfamiliar preppy young men. The family goes on to their lake house where they begin to settle in. Georg and Georgie head down to the lake to get their boat ready for sailing while Anna prepares dinner. That’s when the two young men, Peter (Frank Giering) and Paul (Arno Frisch) show up and begin giving Anna a hard time. After Georg and Georgie return things turn really bad and Peter and Paul put the family through a hellish game of psychological torture that goes beyond cruel.


There’s no need to go further into the story because it would unquestionably spoil things. Let’s just say “Funny Games” evolves into a voyeuristic and often times uncomfortable experience. But to be honest that’s exactly what Michael Haneke is trying to create and it is most effective. I found myself squirming in my seat several times and Giering and Frisch are quite menacing but in a very different way that we usually see. Haneke and his two young actors are able to sell us on uncertainty and we have a hard time reading and a harder time predicting the actions of Peter and Paul. Frisch gives a stand-out performance as the more talkative and calculated of the two. Surprisingly his fantastic work didn’t lead to a bigger career. Giering is also very good as the quieter and seemingly more subservient Peter. It was at the time considered a breakout performance. Sadly he would die only a few years later after bouts with alcoholism and severe emotional issues.

I alluded earlier to Haneke’s specific filmmaking techniques including using still cameras and letting his scenes play out. It’s heartily employed here. So often Haneke strategically sets his cameras and then requires us to watch as his characters go through a variety of different situations. In “Cache” it was through the video camera of a mysterious and unknown provocateur. In his most recent film “Amour” we often times are forced to observe the difficulties and indignities of an elderly couple trying to manage a crippling illness. But it’s at an entirely different level in “Funny Games”. We watch a nice middle-class family being psychologically terrorized and in a sense we are enduring it too. It’s not an easy watch and there doesn’t seem to be an ounce of mercy coming from script or the camera.


But perhaps the most fascinating thing about “Funny Games” are the numerous references to movies, movie plots, and movie structures made by Paul and Peter. Then there is Paul’s obvious awareness that he is in an actual movie. I don’t intend to go any further because it’s something better experienced than told about. But these little additions do more to make the audience feel like observers which gets to the big point Haneke is making with this picture – the fascination with violence in the media. In fact there’s one point where Peter even says “We mustn’t forget the importance of entertainment”. The line fits perfectly in the situation, but it’s also directed at us. Haneke attempts to prove that very point by exposing the audience and I have to say he got me.

You certainly can’t call “Funny Games” a fun movie and its not the type of film that you’ll want to watch over and over. It’s a disturbing thriller that I found to be smart and compelling but also brutally painful and sometimes emotionally unbearable. As someone growing more and more appreciative of Haneke’s work, I did find “Funny Games” to be a mesmerizing film. Sure it’s unsettling but it intends to be and it does make some interesting points in very sly and crafty ways. I certainly wouldn’t call this a film for everyone, but its unconventional and unashamed boldness really impressed me. It’s another winner from Haneke. Just be aware of what you’re getting into.


5 Phenomenal Movie Vacations Gone Bad

movie_theatre - Phenom 5

It will be a light week here at Keith & the Movies as I am heading out on vacation with my family. We are keeping it in the States this year and heading to the Great Smoky Mountains. But I can’t leave without dropping a new Phenomenal 5 on you. In light of our travels today I’m going to look at movie vacations but with a darker twist. These five experiences of troubled travelers certainly started with happier intentions but things go terribly wrong. Now throughout film history there have been many movie vacations that have went south so I’m not going to call this the definitive list. But there’s no doubting that these five movie vacations go phenomenally bad.


Evil Dead

I may be wrong but I don’t think many people include demon possession, dismemberment, and death in their vacation itinerary. Neither did our five college kids in Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” but that’s exactly what they got. Ash (Bruce Campbell) and company plan on spending their Spring vacation in a small remote mountain cabin but their fun and relaxation is thrown aside after they unleash demonic forces via The Book of the Dead. Things couldn’t possibly go any worse for these friends as one after another meet their grisly end. For me this is a horror movie classic that still creeps me out even though it can seem a little dated. But if there’s one thing I have learned from “The Evil Dead” it’s that if I ever find an old book bound in human flesh while I’m on vacation, I’m leaving it alone!



I don’t often use movies this recent on my Phenomenal 5 lists but this one fit perfectly. Based on the true story of a family’s remarkable survival during the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, “The Impossible” captures the pain and raw emotion that such a devastating tragedy must bring. Many have harshly judged the film for downplaying the suffering of the locals and for using white actors to tell the story. I don’t buy into either of those criticisms. I think the film is respectful and powerful except when it gets a little too big at the end. This is a much more serious example of a family vacation that goes terribly bad but it’s one that deserves a spot on this list. Despite the popular criticisms, I found this to be a testament of the human spirit and of the bond of family.



I’m sure that college vacationers David Kessler and Jack Goodman had several concerns going into their backpacking trip across England’s North York Moors. I’m sure they weighed everything from sprained ankles to bad weather. But I wonder if they ever factored in a werewolf attack? That’s exactly what happens in this 1981 horror/comedy classic and lets just say the results dance between really funny and really gruesome. Visions of dead friends, graphic transformations, and a big finale in downtown London are things that certainly weren’t part of the vacation planning. But they are great moments for anyone who has seen this film. When it comes to movie vacations gone wrong, it’s hard to leave this one off the list.


The Descent

All vacations start off as well intentioned getaways. Some are for spending times with family. Others are for seeing new parts of the world. In “The Descent”, six young women go on a group vacation intended to not only serve as a getaway but also to bring these friends back together after a deadly tragedy. The ladies go spelunking in an uncharted cave and lets just say its a really bad decision. It’s bad enough that the caverns cave in and trap them. That alone is enough to make this list. But throw in carnivorous subterranean creatures and now you understand why it’s #2. Things go really bad here in this survival horror picture that I really appreciate. It’s unique in several ways and its a perfect fit for any bad vacations list.


Funny Games

“Funny Games” isn’t what I would call a horror picture but it is one of the most frightening and unsettling films you’ll see. It’s also a perfect example of a movie vacation that goes terribly wrong. Michael Haneke, a filmmaker I’ve grown to love, wrote and directed this discomforting story of a German family spending some vacation time at their Austrian lake house. The husband and wife, their young son, and the family dog have their plans turned upside down when two young men appear and take them hostage in their house. They terrorize and psychologically torture the family and Haneke sits us down and makes us watch it all. It’s brutally realistic and genuinely disturbing which is what really sets this film apart. It’s a hard film to watch but it shows Haneke’s great eye for filmmaking.

There they are – five movie vacations that I hope to NEVER experience. What do you think? There are SO many more that come to mind. Please take time to share your thoughts.

REVIEW: “Amour”

One of my most eagerly anticipated films to see has been Michael Haneke’s “Amour”. The 70-year-old Haneke is a director I’ve grown to admire even though I leave some of his films frustrated. He can seem infatuated with suffering and misery and his love for ambiguous endings can be testing. For example, after recently watching his 2005 film “Caché” I found myself growling at the open-ended finale. But soon after I found myself thinking more on the movie and what Haneke was going for. That’s when I really began to appreciate the film. Such is the case with several Michael Haneke pictures.

His latest movie is “Amour”, a French language drama that has blown critics away and garnered 6 Academy Award nominations. Haneke is no stranger to critical acclaim but make no mistake, he deserves every ounce of praise he has received for this stirring and often times devastating masterpiece. Like many of his pictures, it’s not a movie you can say you thoroughly enjoy watching. “Amour” deals with some depressing but very real subject matter and Haneke’s ability to express it all is astounding. He was able to get me so emotionally invested that I cared about every single thing I was seeing on the screen.

But the film would never work without its two phenomenal lead performances. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play Georges and Anne Laurent, a happily married couple, both in their eighties, living in Paris. We see some beautiful scenes of them together as they enjoy a night out at a concert and share conversations at the breakfast table. I instantly knew that these two people had been in love for a long time. But it’s at that breakfast table where Anne suddenly goes quiet and just stares straight ahead for several minutes. It turns out that she has what appears to be a stroke and after surgery she’s left paralyzed on her right side.


Georges brings Anne back home to take care of her and promises that he’ll never take her back to the hospital or send her to a hospice facility. This doesn’t sit well with their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) who has a few clashes with Georges over the decision. Sadly Anne’s condition worsens and Georges has to face the reality that his wife may not get better. This is difficult but reality-based stuff and the film never pulls any punches in dealing with it. We see the simplest of things become increasingly difficult for Anne and we see Georges right by her side through it all. We watch them go through something that so many others have experienced and that ability to relate is one thing that makes this such a powerful picture.

I hinted at the great performances by the two leads. Well with all due respect to every other female performance of 2012, and that includes Oscar front-runners Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain, no one gave a more stunning and committed performance than Emmanuelle Riva. She took my breath away. She gives this performance everything she has and that’s a key ingredient to making it work. There was never a moment in the film where I didn’t believe in what she was doing. And then there’s Trintignant who has a much different role but an equally essential and compelling one. He offers that same authenticity as Riva and for me watching him handle this material was a huge part of my experience.

I also have to take time to talk about Haneke’s technique. I loved how he opened the movie. We get one brief scene that sets the table for everything to come. In a sense Haneke shows his hand before playing his cards. But the true power of this film is in what follows and the opening scene allows us to put our focus where it should be. There’s also no musical score at all. This frees the movie from any potential emotional manipulation that music can sometimes bring. Haneke brings every ounce of his emotion from the characters. Now personally I would have liked a smart and subtle score but it’s absence does nothing to detract from the film.


You’ll also notice that almost the entire movie takes place inside their Paris apartment. With the exception of the early sequence where they go to a concert, we spend the entire time in the apartment with them. During that time I felt I knew their home as well as they did. I know where their living room is. I know how their kitchen is laid out. I know their foyer, their halls, their bathroom, and their bedroom. This did a couple of things for me. It gave me a sense of place but it also relays the confinement they now experience. Anna’s illness has restricted them to the apartment where they even depend on good neighbors to get their groceries for them. Haneke also uses his familiar technique of setting his camera and then watching things unfold. Often times he’ll extend his shots which force us to take in some of the painful moments while at other times enjoying and appreciating the peaceful ones. I found this to be very effective.

And then you have the ending. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, anyone familiar with a Michael Haneke picture has to be prepared for the ending. Sometimes they’re nice and tidy but other times they can be abrupt and ambiguous. In “Amour” he ends it just right, well almost. There’s an incredibly moving moment that felt like the perfect ending to this film and essentially it is. But then he tacks on an extra minute-long scene. Now this brief final moment does carry some weight in itself and it does nothing to undo the previous scene. But it did have me wondering where it fit in chronologically. For me, he could have trimmed this scene and still have a near perfect ending. But it’s such a minor thing considering how incredible this film is as a whole.

Speaking of perfect, “Amour” is the perfect title for this film. This is a story of true love – a love between a husband and wife that only grew stronger through the many years they experienced together. It’s a love that’s taken for granted today and it’s often times treated so flippantly. But Haneke shows how precious it is and even in the face of this particular heartbreak it’s that love which shines brightest. There is an examination of cruelty and of suffering and there may be a bit of trickery going on. But for me it all came back to the deep love between this couple. I’ve thought a lot about this film since seeing it. I’ve thought about my marriage and growing old with my wife. I’ve thought about that cherished relationship that we share. Then I thought about Anne and Georges. They help us understand and appreciate the loyalty and self-sacrifice that comes with such a beautiful relationship. That my friends is amour.