A few busy weeks led to almost a month without posts so here’s one I wrote around the middle of last week but didn’t get round to editing down. Things are a bit quieter now so normal service should follow:
Last week was pretty hectic workwise and I spent the weekend doing virtually nothing to recover. This meant I didn’t get around to discussing the previous weekend’s excursions to see Grindhouse and Funny Games. The latter was actually while killing time before going out on Friday evening, overcome suddenly by a desire for weird cinema. Funny Games is the first film I’ve seen for some time where I find myself apologetically defending it, a film which I almost invariably had to see alone as until I judged it myself I feared the premise may leave any friends accompanying me wondering just what manner of creature it was that invited them to such an experience.
The premise is simple: an all-American family’s holiday turns into a nightmare after two boys of about twenty years old take them hostage and start toying with, and eventually threatening to kill, them. More interesting however is it’s purpose. The film exists as a reaction to the recent glut of what can best be described as torture porn, an oeuvre encompassing Hostel, Captivity and the later Saw films.
European director Haneke is known for challenging cinema conventions, making a name for himself with Hidden. Rather than deriving enjoyment from the family’s torturous experience, the audience is made to feel intentionally uncomfortable right from the jarring death metal track that bursts through the soothing classical music of the opening credits. At one point as a member of the family breaks down and begs them to stop, one of the boys asks them, “do you think you’ve had enough?”. He pauses a beat before staring directly at camera and repeating the question, challenging the audience. And that is the point. So now in hindsight I feel it is safe to recommend, at least for those who can stomach it.
I nearly went alone to the Grindhouse showing which would have been a serious mistake. Fortunately Kirsten reminded me that Jehan was still around and he was keen. I had concerns about this project from the start since Rodriguez and Tarantino were intentionally creating a homage to the old low-budget exploitation films in their double-bill (a concept which is a throwback in itself). Their movies have always been influenced by their nostalgic love of these, and this is fine, but to actively recreate what are, essentially, bad films, can only at best result in another bad film.
My fears turned out to be half founded. Rodriguez’s instalment, Planet Terror, is simply hilarious and very very silly fun. The dialogue, action and everything else is cheesy, but all thrown together with such style that (at least with a friend) one cannot help but enjoy the carnage that ensues. The plot is essentially irrelevant and the main character development occurs in a “missing reel”, a jarring break which dumps the audience back in the middle of an action sequence with no idea what has transpired. This was followed by several fake trailers by a clutch of interested directors. The real treat was undoubtedly Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS, which Jehan and I would both be happy to see made. Nicolas Cage’s cameo as a maniacally laughing Fu Manchu gives you some idea of the intended vibe…
By contrast Tarantino’s Death Proof is a disappointment. Fun at first it never quite gels. For a start it is filled with the usual sharp Tarantino dialogue yet this feels totally out of place, with long chatty scenes that might work in his other films but not here. He seems to be attempting to modernise the exploitation concept, but decidedly fails to do so. Jehan said he enjoyed the full (standalone) cut of Death Proof so I may reconsider after viewing that. The real irony to me is that Kill Bill was unceremoniously slice in two (to its detriment) for being too long for audiences to sit through at around four hours of film, which is exactly how long we spent in the cinema watching Grindhouse!