Does Masterminds carry the stench of death? Let’s go to the evidence.
This film has been on the shelf for over a year despite impressive comic talent, and that cast may be the only thing keeping the film from straight-to-video status. It finally opens this week, with little fanfare in a crowded field, and features a blooper reel that can’t wait to push the actual film out of the way and get going.
In other words, we doubt you laughed much for the previous 90 minutes, how ’bout some funny outtakes as you leave?
Strong case, counselor, but in the words of master litigator Jules Winfield, “Allow me to retort!”
Masterminds is not horrible.
It’s actually based on the true events of a 1997 bank heist that scored 17 million dollars (2 million of which is still missing). If you think the director of Napoleon Dynamite is an odd choice to direct this story, you’re correct, and Jared Hess delivers a very odd, haphazardly funny movie.
Zach Galifiankis is a trailer-park livin’ armored truck driver engaged to Kate McKinnon (their announcement shots are a riot) but pining for his co-worker Kristin Wiig, who becomes the bait in Owen Wilson’s scheme to get the cash. Once the job is pulled, Zach waits south of the border for Wiig to join him (“I had to get a disguise, I look like Gene Shalit!”), while Wilson dispatches hitman Jason Sudeikis to hunt Zach down in Mexico. Meanwhile FBI agent Leslie Jones looks for clues and a jealous McKinnon attacks Wiig with a giant tube of feminine cream.
Long stretches where you aren’t laughing are suddenly broken up by a randomly uproarious gag (see tube of feminine cream above), and the veteran cast always makes it watchable despite the extreme absurdity. McKinnon steals scenes with facial expressions alone while Zach and Sudeikis engage in battles of improvised strangeness.
So ladies and gentlemen of the jury consider:this film will sink quickly and quietly from the multiplex, then slowly grow once it hits the video and streaming market.
As Zach says, “Brace your boobies,” Masterminds may be a cult favorite in waiting,
The biggest problem facing Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is that the film is not nearly peculiar enough.
Tim Burton takes on director duties for Ransom Riggs’s popular young adult novel about how special it is to be special. Jake (Asa Butterfield) lost his beloved grandfather (Terence Stamp) mysteriously and visits the orphanage of his childhood looking for closure.
What he finds involves loops in the time space continuum, Burton-esque hotties, creepy twins dressed as scarecrows, and eyeball eating.
It’s impossible to watch this film without comparing it to both the X-Men and Harry Potter series, which means Peregrine has to be Goth enough to set itself apart. You would think, if anybody can Goth up a story, that body is Tim Burton.
Working again with cinematographer Bruno Delbonnell, Burton gives the film a lovely look that creates a nostalgic quality. He’s also made a couple of casting choices that elevate the effort.
Eva Green excels as the titular headmistress, giving the character just enough falcon-like characteristics to make her fascinating.
Samuel L. Jackson – working with some pretty weak dialog – still brims with more swagger than necessary to keep his villainous Baaron interesting.
Butterfield – so tender and wonderful in Scorsese’s 2011 Hugo – falls flat here. So, so flat. His awkward outsider, so weary with the ordinariness of his suburban Florida adolescence, is perhaps too convincingly flattened out by life.
There is a fun Ray Harryhausen-inspired fight sequence in the third act, but by that time you realize that the film has offered so little in the way of interesting visuals or action of any sort that it’s almost jarring.
Not as jarring as all that eyeball eating, though.
On first blush, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children felt like the perfect match of content and director. And Burton could use material that makes him work for it (Big Eyes), rather than just “Tim Buttoning” it (Alice in Wonderland). Maybe the most peculiar thing about the film is that he does neither.
Director Mira Nair has a long history of films told with respect to the cultural heritage of the story itself. Having begun her career as a documentarian, she also builds in an eye for authenticity that can be sorely lacking in underdog sports films – which, on its surface, does describe Queen of Katwe. In fact, those genre trappings tend to be the film’s only major flaws.
The film follows Ugandan teen Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga). A child of devastating poverty, Phiona finds escape – and eventually incredible success – in chess.
Nair periodically stumbles over her formula. Particularly effected are the talented David Oyelowo. As Phiona’s chess coach, Oyelowo’s lot is to be the comprehensively honorable, selfless mentor with little to do besides look heavenward as he worries over his students with the unflagging encouragement of his by-the-playbook supportive wife (Esther Tebendeke).
But fear not, because Lupita Nyong’o sets the screen ablaze with a performance that reminds us just why she won that Oscar. As Phiona’s mother, she depicts a survivor’s stubborn strength that belies deep, heartbreaking emotion. She’s magnificent.
Making her screen debut, Nalwanga also impresses, surrounded by a talented ensemble of young actors. The large, often loud group around her makes great use of dialog, argument and physicality, but Nalwanga expresses an enormous range of emotion with the slightest change in expression. Hers is a quietly memorable performance that easily carries the film.
There were so many ways this movie could have gone wrong. You can almost see it being told from the point of view of the white, American journalist Tim Crothers researching the tale and learning valuable lessons from the tenacity and noble sacrifice of its heroin. Thank God, this is not that movie.
Crothers’s book (based on his Sports Illustrated article) was adapted for the screen by William Wheeler. Wheeler penned Nair’s weakest feature, 2012’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, using exactly that “white reporter learning from a subject of color” framework that is so, so tired. So tired.
While he – and by extension, Nair – can’t quite break free from “inspiring sports film” clichés, those weaknesses are easily eclipsed by a set of magnetic actors and a true story that cannot help but move you.
With a nice throwback vibe, crackling tension and terrific ensemble acting, Deepwater Horizon is a surprisingly compelling package. Director Peter Berg, surpassing his similar work with Lone Survivor three years ago, is again all about making sure a tragic true-life tale is told with proper respect for the heroes involved.
This tragedy was the worst in U.S. oil .drilling history, as the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana in 2010, killing 11 crew members and exposing a scandalous gap in safety protocols from BP.
Berg, armed with a crisp, economical script from Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand, introduces us to the souls involved with a rapid succession of quick vignettes from their day, just hours just before boarding the rig. Mike (Mark Wahlberg, as good as he’s ever been) gets frisky with his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson), while Andrea (Gina Rodriquez from TV’s Jane the Virgin) can’t get her car started and has to hitch a ride to the airport from her boyfriend, and so on.
Snapshots of crew members’ lives crisscross each other, and the film needs minimal screen time to get us invested in multiple personalities. This is a roadblock for scores of films that Berg and his writers sweep away. They give us people to care about, and they increase the chance that events to come will resonate. Extra points for providing helpful primers on drilling practices in ways that feel organic, such as Mike’s daughter rehearsing a classroom presentation.
The tension builds steadily, with a single bubble of air escaping from an undersea drill line, and leads to a spectacularly staged string of explosions that engulf the entire structure. Berg has long shown his skill as a tactician, and here he gets us breathtakingly close to the chaos with an authenticity that’s refreshingly unencumbered by CGI effects.
You may be reminded of more recent movies (especially Wahlberg’s own The Perfect Storm), but Deepwater Horizon has a retro kinship with classic disaster films of the 70s, along with an in-the-moment humanity that salutes the real players whose lives hung in the balance.
Like the mournful soul that clings to poor bridegroom Piotr (Itay Tiran), Demon sticks to you.
Director/co-writer Marcin Wrona’s final feature (he ended his life at a recent festival where the film was playing) offers a spooky, atmospheric rumination on cultural loss.
The tale unravels in a single day. The British Piotr travels to his Polish fiance’s old family vacation home for a proper Catholic wedding. There he attempts to maneuver a new language, impress reluctant in-laws, and grasp wife-to-be Zaneta’s (Agnieszka Zulewska) heritage. Though Zaneta’s family is reluctant to embrace him, a wandering spirit is happy to.
Wrona sets the Hebrew folktale of the dybbuk – a ghost that possesses the living – inside a Catholic wedding, accomplishing two things in the process. On the surface, he tells an affecting ghost story. More deeply, though, he laments cultural amnesia and reminds us that our collective past continues to haunt us.
Performances are uniformly excellent, whether Tiran’s vulnerable groom, Andrzej Grabowski’s blowhard father-in-law, Zulewska’s tormented bride or any of the dozens of judgmental, drunk or ridiculous wedding guests. With their help, the story rides on an undercurrent of absurdist humor that consistently surprises as it injects an otherwise slowly building dread with energy.
Together with cinematographer and frequent collaborator Pawel Flis, whose sepia tones offer the look of a well-worn wedding photo, the filmmaker creates an atmosphere without a clear timestamp. It affords the film a dreamy quality that straddles generations and suggests that anything could happen.
With just a hint of Kubrick – never a bad place to go for ghost story inspiration – Wrona combines the familiar with the surprising. His film echoes with a deeply felt pain -a sense of anguish, often depicted as scenes of celebration clash with unexplained images of abject grief.
Demon aches with loss, surprises with humor, and marks an artistic voice too soon lost.
Are these the worst movies ever? Hell no – most of the are actually quite good. This is a list of films that can’t live up to the accolades and high expectations that come with them. When we think of films that people just love too much, usually they are impressive on some level – just not impressive enough to merit all the commotion. Here’s our list of the films that best fit that bill. (And when I say “ours,” take that with a grain of salt. George highly disagrees with one choice, in particular.)
5. Saw (2004)
Did you see Saw? Because if you saw Saw, there’s really no need to see Saw 2 (or 3, 4, 5, or 6).
Saw is the gruesome tale of a madman bent on forcing those unworthy of their own lives to acknowledge their internal ugliness. He carries this out in a most unpleasant way. Body parts are usually lost.
Saw would have been an altogether decent piece of grisly filmmaking were it not for the climax – a piece of cinema that was fantastic for the three seconds it took to realize it could never have happened. Coupled with Cary Elwes’s laughable whining and director James Wan’s dreadful grasp of pacing, the film turned out to be much less than it should have been.
My favorite thing about Saw is that, right off the bat, in the opening investigation, cops claim that Jigsaw is no murderer. How’s that? Well, it’s because his victims are given a test that they could, given the masochism and tenacity, survive. This is like saying the guy who pushed someone into the shark tank isn’t a murderer, the shark is.
4. Drag Me to Hell (2009)
An inspired Lorna Raver plays Mrs. Ganush, an old gypsy woman (here and almost everywhere else in the film, Raimi will never be accused of cultural sensitivity) who curses a meek bank loan officer (an uncharacteristically bland Alison Lohman). She will spend the rest of the film trying to break the curse. It’s a pretty slight and predictable premise, but the point is simply to allow director Sam Raimi an opportunity to string together as many body fluid sight gags and creepy set pieces as possible.
His film is gleefully over-the-top, and I wonder whether Lohman’s stiff performance resulted from the nausea she must have suffered. Never have we seen one actor subjected to so many instances of projectile fluids and/or insects in the mouth. Ever.
The film is broadly comical, utterly repulsive, often clever viewing. It won’t scare you in any lingering way – don’t look for any slow-developing dread or quiet creepiness here. From the word Ganush this film is giddy with bile and mucous and blood and worms and nastiness – all that stupid fun of the Evil Dead series, but with a budget. But the storyline itself – leading to the twisty climax – is far too predictable to be effective.
3. Don’t Look Now (1973)
Did we need to see quite so much of Donald Sutherland?
That’s not really our complaint. Nicolas Roeg’s visually stunning rumination on parental grief follows Laura and John Baxter (Julie Christie and Sutherland) to Venice where they’ll try to recover from the accidental death of their daughter. But grief doesn’t work like that.
Roeg’s film takes on the dreamlike logic and color motifs of an Italian film – not gaillo outright, Don’t Look Now is far too subdued and elegant to fit into that category. But there’s no denying the stylistic similarities between this and Mario Bava, some Argento, even maybe a touch of Fulci. Just a touch!
The director uses dreamy visions to enhance the mystery facing John Baxter. In its best moments, the film articulates the necessarily selfish nature of grief. Otherwise, it’s a slow and graceful mystery often punctured by garish flashes and a twist ending is so ill-fitting it leaves you dumbfounded – and not in a good way.
2. Suspiria (1977)
Italian director Dario Argento is in the business of colorfully dispatching nubile young women. In Suspiria, his strongest film, American ballerina Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) moves to Germany to join a dance academy, but the other dancers are catty and the school is staffed with freaks. Plus, women keep disappearing and dying.
As Suzy undertakes an investigation of sorts, she discovers that the school is a front for a coven of witches. But Argento’s best film isn’t known for its plot, it’s become famous because of the visually disturbing and weirdly gorgeous imagery. Suspiria is a twisted fairy tale of sorts, saturating every image with detail and deep colors, oversized arches and doorways that dwarf the actors. Even the bizarre dubbing Argento favored in his earlier films works to feed the film’s effectively surreal quality.
But it is tough to surrender the need for decent acting or coherent story in favor of the garish style.
1. Omen (1976)
Gregory Peck brought impenetrable gravitas to this film, making everything seem very serious and worthwhile. This could be no ordinary horror flick – not with Atticus Finch in the lead.
Peck plays Robert Thorn, a rising politician and best friend to the President of the United States. He agrees to a delivery room switcheroo when he’s told his own son perished during childbirth, but another baby born simultaneously was orphaned. He brings home the tot, his loving wife (Lee Remick) none the wiser.
This mid-Seventies Oscar winner is a bit over-the-top with its self-serious approach to the coming of the antichrist. Richard Donner – who would go on to direct a couple Superman movies, a bunch of Lethal Weapons, as well as the Goonies – made a name for himself as a director with this bloated and deadly serious bible thumper.
The film’s sinister elements – Mrs. Baylock, that dog, and Jerry Goldsmith’s intensely creepy score – combine with Peck’s elegant heroism to keep the film fascinating, but all would have been for naught except for Harvey Stephens’s impish perfection as Damien.
Disagree? Keep it to yourselves. NO! What we mean is, share that enthusiasm and any suggestions with us on Twitter @maddwolf, on Facebook @maddwolfcolumbus, or comment right here.
Five missing women. Five grisly murders. A town living in fear.
Hey, let’s put on a show!
London Road takes us to the sleepy English town of Ipswitch back in 2006, when a string of murders had residents looking at each other with growing suspicion. The tale is told not only through music, but more importantly through the words of the residents themselves, exactly as they said them in interviews.
Sing: “Everyone is very, very nervous….”
It’s a fascinating clash of material, as enthralling onscreen as it apparently was as a highly successful stage show. Director Rufus Norris and writer Alecky Blythe craft a film so inviting and original, it becomes exponentially more enjoyable as it continues to exceed your expectations.
While not exactly profound, what London Road lacks in depth it makes up in sheer artistic expression. Lines are repeated and repeated again, layered over each other in rising choruses amid elaborate choreography.
That what-am-I-watching face on the person next to you? You’re probably wearing it, too.
The cast (including a Tom Hardy cameo) is uniformly perfect, led by the always-welcome Olivia Coleman as the plucky Julie. Seeking to help her neighborhood recover from the murders, Julie organizes a gardening contest, then floors you as she cheerily describes the reason she’s grateful to the “Suffolk Strangler.”
Like some bastard child of Sweeney Todd, London Road is a thoughtful, darkly funny and melodic peek into blinding self-interest, and unlike anything you’re likely to see this year.
“Where do babies come from?” Multiple sources, apparently.
Storks have been out of the baby business for a few decades, and Junior is up for a big promotion at CornerStore.com. To prove he’s ready to be the head honcho, he simply has to fire Tulip the Orphan (and human). When Tulip accidentally makes a baby (at the baby factory, of course!) Junior suddenly finds a few more obstacles between himself and his promotion.
The plot becomes increasingly convoluted. The baby is destined for the Gardener family, comprised of two busy parents and one lonely child. There’s a bizarre pigeon character. The talents of Keegan-Michael Key (Alpha Wolf) and Jordan Peele (Beta Wolf) are utterly wasted in a wolf pack that has one joke and runs with it. And runs with it.
To be fair, this is a children’s movie. The children in the audience thought the wolves were hilarious.
Written by Nicholas Stoller and co-Directed with Doug Sweetland, Storks’ greatest strength is its self-referential humor. When Sarah Gardner (Jennifer Aniston) takes out a chimney with one swing of a hammer, she comments to the effect of “Wow. That is… that is not a well-made chimney. I mean, I’m a pretty small woman and that just came right down.”
It’s the talent of Andy Samberg (Junior) that elevates Storks from a middling animated film to something enjoyable. His impeccable comedic timing and improv skills shine through, making Junior complex and a little dark.
It’s hard to tell, with an animated feature, how much comedic timing is in the hands of the voice actors, and how much can be attributed to the animators and sound mixers. But, the general speed of dialogue overall is another defining quirk of Storks. Much of the repartee happens at breakneck speed, which gives the effect of wit, even if wit isn’t present.
Stoller and Sweetland take a stab at diversity that earns a light golf clap at best. In montage scenes babies appear in all colors, but also with an array of unrealistic hair colors (pink, blue, green). All the speaking characters (human), minor or major, are white.
If I had screened this film at home, I probably wouldn’t even raise the issue. Instead I sat in a theatre filled with families and their children infinitely more diverse than those on screen. A little black girl, no more than four, shuffled past me with her father to go to the bathroom, and I wondered “Does she see herself as a background character?”
You can point to Disney’s Home (2015) or The Princess and the Frog (2009) for black lead characters, but two versus a genre isn’t much. You can point to even less for Asian Americans, Indian, Native American etc. The white kids own the industry.
It’s not that an all-white cast is necessarily unrealistic; it’s unnecessary. Only a quarter of the children in the theater were truly represented on screen. In 2016, this makes me very tired.
Parents won’t find Storks hard to watch alongside their children. But, Storks lacks the mastery to rocket into the all-star league with contemporaries like Finding Nemo (2003), Zootopia (2016), or even the same studio’s Lego Movie (2014).
What if women, traumatized veterans, blacks, Asian Americans, American Indians, Mexican Americans and whatever white men we have left with a conscience exerted their inalienable right to govern a country that belongs as much to them as to anyone?
Or, what if Hollywood injected these themes into an old Western and hired fewer white guys playing Mexicans?
I give you, Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven.
Denzel Washington anchors the septet as Sam Chisolm, bounty hunter. Newly widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) approaches him with a proposition: Rid Rose Creek of its evil despot (Peter Sarsgaard, wearily evil) in return for everything they have to give.
He’s been paid a lot before, but never everything.
So, Chisolm gathers a group of amiable rogues and heads to near-certain doom in the name of justice – like a Suicide Squad that doesn’t suck.
Based on John Sturges’s 1960 adaptation of Kurasawa’s 1954 classic Seven Samurai, Fuqua’s attempt is already three steps removed from originality. More than that, it’s tough to reignite the spark that made a 50+ year old story fun in the first place.
Not that Fuqua doesn’t take some liberties. Riding alongside Chisolm is as diverse an array of gunslingers as you’re likely to find.
Byung-hun Lee’s efficient knife expert, the solitary Comanche (Martin Sensmeier), and Mexican lawbreaker Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) join haunted Confederate Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawk, voted coolest name), Chris Pratt (playing Chris Pratt) and Vincent D’Onofrio as something else entirely. As Pratt’s Faraday describes him, “That bear was wearing people clothes.”
The film’s multicultural, multi-gendered slant, while appealing, is also jarringly anachronistic. Aside from a handful of good-natured barbs from inside the posse and a bit of stink eye from some of the dodgier locals, there’s nary a racist whisper. In America, circa 1867.
Let’s not even talk about Bennett’s cleavage.
Obvious flaws aside, you can’t argue the cast. D’Onofrio’s a freak (I mean that in the best way), Lee is quietly fascinating, and Denzel has the inarguable gravitas and wicked charm to pull the plan together.
For those of you afraid that Hollywood was about to turn your favorite old Western into an action flick with one liners – I give you…
Seriously, though, Sturgis’s film is more charmingly nostalgic than it is classic – like a toothless Wild Bunch. Fuqua respects the film that inspired his, and works in affection for many of the Westerns that define the genre.
He proves again his capacity to stage action, and the film’s final hour is a mixture of genre odes and glorious choreography as explosions crash, bullets fly and projectiles project.
Which would be great – given the cast, it might even be enough – if Fuqua understood the element that separates Westerns from other genres. It’s not a gatling gun, a saloon or a lonesome street itching for a shoot-out. It’s the haunted heartbeat of the damaged gunslinger. The Magnificent Seven, though fun, is too slick and superficial to find that rhythm.
When aren’t vacations a horror show? Remember that time the car a/c broke and your dad wouldn’t let you roll the windows down because the wind made his hearing aids whistle? God, that sucked. But our research had led us to believe that there are worse miseries than driving cross country with Mark Madden. Hundreds, actually – traveling abroad, camping, boating, island adventures. Here are a handful that will make you want to just stay home.
5. Wolf Creek (2005)
Using only digital cameras to enhance an ultra-naturalistic style, writer/director Greg McLean’s happy backpackers find themselves immobile outside Wolf Creek National Park when their car stops running. As luck would have it, friendly bushman Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) drives up offering a tow back to his camp, where he promises to fix the vehicle.
If this sounds predictable and obvious to you, rest assured that McLean has plans to burst every cliché in the genre, and he succeeds on almost every level.
His first triumph is in the acting. Jarratt’s killer is an amiable sadist who is so real it’s jarring. You find yourself hoping he’s an actor. His performance singlehandedly shames the great Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven, whose backwoods horror films relied so completely on caricatures for villains.
A horror film this realistic is not only hard to watch, but a bit hard to justify. What makes an audience interested in observing human suffering so meticulously recreated? This is where, like a true artist, McLean finally succeeds. What is as unsettling as the film itself is that its content is somehow satisfying.
4. Eden Lake (2008)
The always outstanding Michael Fassbender takes his girl Jenny (Kelly Reilly) to his childhood stomping grounds – a flooded quarry and soon-to-be centerpiece for a grand housing development. He intends to propose, but he’s routinely disrupted, eventually in quite a bloody manner, by a roving band of teenaged thugs.
The film expertly mixes liberal guilt with a genuine terror of the lower classes. The acting, particularly from the youngsters, is outstanding. Most impressive, Jack O’Connell’s performance as the young psychopath is chilling.
There’s the slow boil of the cowardly self-righteous. Then there’s this bit with a dog chain. Plus a railroad spike scene that may cause some squeamishness. Well, it’s a grisly mess, but a powerful and provocative one. Excellent performances are deftly handled by the director who would go on to helm The Woman in Black.
Don’t expect spectral terror in this one, though. Instead you’ll find a bunch of neighborhood kids pissed off at their lot in life and taking it out on someone alarmingly like you.
3. The Descent (2005)
A bunch of buddies get together for a spelunking adventure. One is still grieving a loss – actually, maybe more than one – but everybody’s ready for one of their outdoorsy group trip.
Writer/director Neil Marshall begins his film with an emotionally jolting shock, quickly followed by some awfully unsettling cave crawling and squeezing and generally hyperventilating, before turning dizzyingly panicky before snapping a bone right in two.
And then we find out there are monsters.
Long before the first drop of blood is drawn by the monsters – which are surprisingly well conceived and tremendously creepy – the audience has already been wrung out emotionally.
The grislier the film gets, the more primal the tone becomes, eventually taking on a tenor as much like a war movie as a horror film. This is not surprising from the director that unleashed Dog Soldiers – a gory, fun werewolf adventure. But Marshall’s second attempt is far scarier.
For full-on horror, this is one hell of a monster movie.
2. Deliverance (1972)
Nine notes on a banjo have never sounded so creepy.
Deliverance follows four buddies staving off mid-life crises with a canoeing adventure in southern Georgia, where a man’s not afraid to admire another man’s mouth.
James Dickey streamlined his own novel to its atmospheric best, and director John Boorman plays on urbanite fears like few have done since. Dickey and Boorman mean to tell you that progress has created a soft bellied breed of man unable to survive without the comforts of a modern age.
The film, while steeped in testosterone, also mocks modern man’s desire to conquer nature. It does so by viewing the manly weekend through the eyes of four different types of men: Burt Reynolds’s alpha male, Ronny Cox’s open-hearted optimist, Jon Voight’s introspective intellectual, and poor, doomed Ned Beatty’s smug businessman.
Solid performances, particularly from Voight and Reynolds (this is the guy you want on your zombiepocalypse team), and startlingly effective photography fold perfectly into Boorman’s harrowing tale. This raw, unsettling authenticity helps Deliverance sidestep a hixploitation label, but you’re not likely to look at rural Southerners the same way again.
1. Funny Games (’97, ’07)
A family pulls into their vacation lake home. They are quickly bothered by two young men in white gloves. Things, to put it mildly, deteriorate.
Writer/director/genius Michael Haneke begins this nerve wracking exercise by treading tensions created through etiquette, toying with subtle social mores and yet building dread so deftly, so authentically, that you begin to clench your teeth long before the first act of true violence.
The teen thugs’ calm, bemused sadism leaves you both indignant and terrified as they put the family through a series of horrifying games. And several times, they (and Haneke) remind us that we are participating in this ugliness, too, as we’ve tuned in to see the family suffer. Sure, we root for the innocent to prevail, but we came into this with the specific intention of seeing harm come to them. So, the villains rather insist that we play, too.
His English language remake is a shot for shot repeat of the German language original. In both films, it is the villains who sell the premise. Whether the German actors Arno Frisch and Frank Giering or the Americans Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt, the bored sadism that wafts from these kids is seriously unsettling, as, in turn, is each film.