I just saw this movie called “Funny Games”. It looks like this.
The movie is written and directed by Michael Haneke, the guy who delivered the brutally tense Cache a couple years back. You could say that Funny Games is a little more upbeat and coherent than that film, but let’s not go crazy. Funny Games is demented. It has some of the most horrifying imagery I’ve ever seen on film. That being said, it’s also one of the best thrillers I’ve ever experienced. It’s as psychologically manipulative as Silence of the Lambs but decidedly more intimate. Haneke’s long-shots suck you in and refuse to let you blink, leaving you to cringe in anticipation for the torturous events yet to unfold. I watched it once yesterday, horrified the whole time, then recommended it to bada friend and ended up watching it again today. I’ll say this– it’s not as scary when you know what’s about to happen, or if you fail to take the full leap into Haneke’s world. But it is still a well-shot captivating thrill-ride of a movie. And I highly recommend it to anyone over sixteen with a pulse.
Speaking of thrill-rides, I also caught Pineapple Express earlier today. Apatow’s done it again. I don’t know how he’s cornered the market on comedy, but he keeps nailing them out of the park (Drillbit Taylor excluded). Pineapple Express is an action/weed/buddy-comedy that simultaneously nods to and demolishes the conventions of its predecessors. It’s the American Hot Fuzz, but more compact and less reverent. What’s nice about Apatow’s universe is that his characters defend their unique senses of morality against conventional standards. Knocked Up is about the beginnings of an unconventional family. 40-Yr Old Virgin is about a character whose unconventional behavior causes an outrage amongst his friends. In Pineapple Express the questionable content ranges from Seth Rogen dating an 18-year old girl to the copious amounts of marijuana smoked by both Rogen and co-star James Franco. While the movie makes a fairly hilarious case for the dangers inherent in both of those sweet sweet vices, it never openly condemns them. Rather it takes the apathetic and easy-going stance of all the moral lessons in the Apatow universe: as long as nobody’s getting arrested and everything is chill, there’s not much to complain about.
I can’t recommend this movie enough. It’s a stunning homage to all buddy cop comedies, but mostly it’s a love song to bad 90’s blow-em-ups. There was a surprising amount of violence in the movie (maybe tying it with Funny Games??!) but the tone is mostly amicable. David Gordon Green directs in a compromise between Apatow’s point-and-shoot method and the over-the-top melodrama of 90’s gun movies. The result is non-stop laughs and a decent amount of pseudo-gay male bonding.
I caught Pirates of the Carribean 3 earlier too. It sometimes gets maligned for being on the butt-end of a trilogy (a common and pitiable fate shared by the cinematic triumph Spider-Man 3) but I think once you get past the first hour or so of exposition, it delivers in a major way. Gore Verbinski has a talent for crafting incredible computer-generated effects that feel real and interactive. The vividness of the imagery he uses is almost tactile. Regardless of the setting, Verbinski’s chief skill is his attention to detail in the mise-en-scene, to the point where every shot is sensory. It’s what helped make the Ring so creepy and made the Pirates universe such a fun place to visit. That’s a notoriously difficult task. Think how many terrible horror movies are ruined by bad visual effects, bad lighting, poor storyboarding. The only real downfall I ever have with the Pirates universe is that when the characters are taking themselves too seriously, it sometimes becomes less fun to imagine yourself in their shoes. It’s part of the reason I think the Star Wars prequels are less engaging than the originals. The audience wants to see characters having fun in ridiculous surroundings, not sorting paperwork. Not that a Pirate Council isn’t immensely more fun than a dry-as-prohibition Jedi Council meeting, but for God’s sakes, I came for adventure! Not conversations about adventure. By the third act, once all of the plot pieces are in motion the visuals take hold and collide in some brilliant and spectacular ways. Everything from Davy Jones’ tentacles to the explosive sea storms look authentic and mesmerizing at the same time. I hate it when I can tell a CG-effect isn’t practical. It takes me out of the universe to recognize that everything but the actor is digitally added, even if it’s an interesting shot. Verbinski blends reality and fiction so well visually, I can’t tell where the ‘real world’ begins or ends. That’s impressive.
Similarly visually impressive was Tim Burton’s recent musical Sweeney Todd. Although most of the effects in that movie are practical, and as far as Burton’s design style goes par for the course, it’s still an engaging and morbid romp powered by its performances. I know a lot of musical snobs give the movie shit for not using trained singers, but if any of them can fault the brilliance of Sasha Baron Cohen’s performance, they’re mental. The movie is consistently dark and funny, which is nothing new for Burton, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else handling the material better. Mostly I was intrigued by the story structure. Most musicals are so sugar-coated and jazzified that they fail to understand compelling narrative. Sweeney Todd is beautiful and tragic and extremely well-structured. No character is unnecessary and everything falls neatly into place. In less skilled hands the whole thing could be insanely campy, and I am thankful that Burton embraced the story’s darkness rather than poking fun at it.
All in all, a pretty good crop of movies these past few years. Yup, yussir. Looks like I’ll keep seein’ em.