Funny Games: The TV Years

When I first heard that Funny Games was being remade for the U.S. multiplex, I couldn’t imagine a more unlikely crossover between extreme European cinema and the American mainstream. But now this. Gosh. I know HBO is reputedly starving for new, edgy content. But really, what the hell is going on?



LOS ANGELES, April 1, 2008 – HBO, in conjunction with Halcyon Pictures and Tartan Films, is set to begin production on the 12-episode first season of the new HBO comedy-drama series FUNNY GAMES, it was announced today by Nicki Brand, executive vice president, HBO Entertainment. Michael Pitt (“The Dreamers,” “Last Days”) and Brady Corbett (“Thirteen,” “24”) will star in the series, reprising their roles from the recent Warner Independent Pictures feature film.

Slated to debut October 31, FUNNY GAMES is executive produced by Michael Haneke (“Cache”) and Ron Howard (“The Da Vinci Code”). Based on the 1997 film directed by Haneke, the show looks at a different ordinary American family each week as they cope with the arrival of the white-clad Peter and Paul, two unwelcome guests who enjoy sinister “funny games” that turn their hosts’ lives upside down.

“FUNNY GAMES is an intense, thought-provoking series that’s unlike anything else HBO has presented before,” said Brand. “The show undermines the creature comforts of the bourgeoisie and mocks the American television audience through telling moments of sadism and brutality in a way that broadcast TV can’t do.”

“We’re definitely going to push the envelope,” said Howard. “Michael’s brilliant films never found the audience they deserved, but I’m incredibly excited to think that, every week, the HBO viewing audience will have the opportunity to rethink its relationship to the thoughtlessly violent entertainment spectacles it craves.”

The show will also introduce a groundbreaking interactive component. Midway through each episode, viewers will vote via 900 number or text message on whether or not the family in that week’s installment should be allowed to survive. But, in a soul-shattering twist that underscores the relation between cinematic spectatorship and sadism, each installment will nonetheless end with the casual murder of each family member, as well as any pets.

“Since I first conceived it in the mid 1990s, FUNNY GAMES has always been my intelligent, passionate reaction to stupidly violent American cinema and the audience of shabby, knuckle-dragging cretins that thoughtlessly consumes this kind of naïve, morally destitute entertainment,” said Haneke. “Fuck you,” he added.



Michael Haneke’s latest shot across the bow of the bourgeoisie is a suspenseful yarn about a middle-aged French couple who find themselves under surveillance by person or persons unknown — videotapes start showing up at their doorstep, some of them accompanied by crude, vaguely threatening drawings that seem to make all too much sense to the husband who quickly attempts to take matters into his own hands.

This sounds like the kind of thing that would have delighted Hitchcock, and Haneke’s execution crosses one of Hitch’s riveting narratives with the forbidding clinicism of Kubrick. The result is almost spectacular in its pure showmanship and simultaneously devastating in its formal control.

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Radio Silence

Kirsten Dunst's nipples in Spider-Man

The extended silence you may have noticed at this site was me spending time in Hollywood and in Colorado. I answered some email and at least toyed with the idea of posting some Weblog entries, but wound up not having enough free time to think straight. I considered going to see Simone (or is that more properly spelled S1m0ne?) at some point, but didn’t get to that, either. I don’t much like this writer/director Andrew Niccol’s work, see, but I am interested in keeping track of what he’s up to. But, geez, did anybody like his new one?


I was amused to learn that Spider-Man was the feature on my westward flight from New York to California. I didn’t plug into the audio, but instead took in the visuals while I listened to assorted MP3s. I was pleased to note that, yep, the A- I gave it seems to hold up under scrutiny. This is a goofy, giddy superhero movie, and the purest embodiment of exactly what I hope to see in a summer blockbuster. The trick in this case is, I think, that the film was storyboarded extensively, with the result that the images play out in distinctly comic-book fashion. My main cavil is still the too-frequent replacement of Tobey Maguire by obnoxious CGI, but even some of the whiz-bang graphics have an exuberant appeal this time around, in a bet-you-didn’t-think-we’d-ever-be-able-to-show-you-that way. I did notice that, while the film’s frequent bursts of violence — including a final-reel impalement! — seem to have been left more or less alone by the airline censors, Kirsten Dunst’s naked-beneath-her-clothes nipples had been digitally removed from the scene where Spidey rescues her from a group of thugs. Good lord, the lengths to which people go to strip even the hint of sexuality from anything that they might have to watch with their children. (Ever wonder if the folks who run sites like get any particular jollies from their exhaustive cataloguing of explicit content? Here’s how they describe the scene in question: “Mary Jane shows some cleavage in various outfits in various scenes. In one scene, she’s caught in the rain and her wet top reveals that she’s not wearing a bra (the shape of her nipples can be seen).” Sounds pretty hot to me.) Makes me long for the good old days of PG-rated Swamp Thing and topless Adrienne Barbeau.

Since getting home, I have taken the time to check out the new Kino DVD of Code Unknown. I didn’t exactly avoid this one when it was playing in New York, but I didn’t make any effort to put myself in proximity to a theater showing it, either. This was due, I think, to my deep-seated irritation with Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, a film I felt was trying to hector me, start to finish. All that makes me a chump because, boy howdy, is this a terrific movie. I hope to write something about it. For now, I’ll just say it’s a shame Kino couldn’t do better than this version of the film. I suspect that the DVD is transcoded from a PAL master, partly because the details are kind of fuzzy and also because the frames flicker in weird ways when I try to step through them. In one scene that Juliette Binoche plays in long shot, her face is just a big pink spot at the center of the screen. I wondered if she was wearing a stocking mask, for all the detail I could(n’t) make out. At the very least, this should have been anamorphic widescreen instead of plain letterbox. But if you turn up the volume (a six-channel sound system will definitely help) and turn out all the lights, I suspect that even this version of Code Unknown works the way it’s supposed to.

Funny Games


An upper middle class family — mother, father, young son, and dog — travel to their country home, boat in tow. Soon after they arrive, their household is invaded by a pair of young men in tennis whites who hold them hostage and torture and degrade them, both physically and psychologically. Relentless in its vision of brutality, the film questions the sanity and sensibility of the audience that pays to sit through such a display of human crudity and baseness.

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