By Preston Wilder
For your viewing pleasure this week we have Kung Fu Panda 3, the only new release in Cyprus cinemas. This is obviously bad news, KFP3 being a soul-crushing threequel that’s clichéd and predictable – but at least, in promoting a panda-like lifestyle, it affirms that there are worse things in life than being lazy, fat and fun-loving. In that spirit, we’ll therefore ignore Kung Fu Panda 3 (who has the energy to go to the multiplex, especially when it’s to see Kung Fu Panda 3?) and dedicate this piece to the couch potatoes, those valiant men and women sprawled, panda-style, on their living-room sofas.
One small problem: though we admire couch potatoes for their attachment to loose-fitting clothes and TV dinners, it’s nonetheless true that they tend to watch rubbish, wasting time on reality shows and bingeing idly on the buzzed-about series du jour. This is a shame, since we live in an age of unprecedented bounty – especially now, in this no-doubt-transitional period when Big Business hasn’t yet managed to clamp down on the internet – and all kinds of excellent films are available, one way or another. Here, then, as a public service to encourage people to stay home and behave like pandas (while avoiding the likes of Kung Fu Panda 3), are six recommended alternatives to the big screen – the only criterion, as on other occasions when we’ve run this feature, being that none of them have screened in Cyprus cinemas.
ANOMALISA. The best-known film on this list, having been Oscar-nominated for Best Animated Feature (it lost to Inside Out) – but this isn’t a cartoon for kids, indeed it may not even be a cartoon for young adults. Middle-aged men are probably best-placed to appreciate its mordant parable of mid-life crisis, our hero being a burned-out writer smothered by the sameness and mundanity of everything. On a business trip he encounters a girl called Lisa who’s not very beautiful or smart, quite the contrary, yet she just sounds… different (literally so since every other character, whether male or female, is voiced by the same actor!). Did we mention that everything in this sour, downbeat comedy – including a startlingly graphic sex scene – is done with puppets?
COURT. India is so vast and full of culture, it’s surprising that its film industry seldom goes beyond the garish bounciness of Bollywood – but here’s a superb Indian drama, made by a neophyte writer-director called Chaitanya Tamhane. He’s only 28 yet his film is richly observed, based around the trial of a troublemaking folk singer who’s accused of incitement to murder. He’s a “people’s poet” being harassed through the justice system – but in fact the justice system is itself a collection of people, each one with their life outside the courtroom, a bittersweet irony that smoulders with quiet anger. A tale of modern India, still struggling to become post-colonial; entertaining, formally confident, and wise beyond its maker’s years.
THE FORBIDDEN ROOM. A film like no other? Well, yes and no – because it’s a bit like the other films made by its amazing director, Winnipeg-born Guy Maddin, whose forte is the visual phantasmagoria in a silent-movie style, blended with a zany sense of humour. The plot is a warren of gleefully melodramatic stories told in nested-doll fashion, each leading into the next (all are apparently based on lost films from the early 20th century) – but the plot comes second to psychedelic visuals and absurd intertitles like the following: “Pancho and some other ex-boyfriend of Margot’s, now both blackened banana figures squatting atop her bed, hector the confused girl”. You what?
JAMES WHITE. Christopher Abbott is troubled twenty-something James White, Cynthia Nixon (Miranda in Sex and the City, though also a distinguished stage actress) is his mum, battling serious illness. Leonardo DiCaprio and Alicia Vikander are all well and good, but these two should’ve been last year’s Best Actor and Supporting Actress – especially Abbott, who brings out James’ intelligence, terrifying violence and vulnerability. Every moment of his performance has to feel alive for the film to work (he’s in every scene), and every moment does.
VICTORIA. I don’t necessarily love this German novelty item – somewhere between action and drama – but it’s quite unique, for a very simple reason: the entire film, all 138 minutes of it, was shot in a single take, the camera following Victoria (Laia Costa) as she meets a guy, flirts with him, agrees to take part in a bank robbery and tries to survive the messy aftermath, all taking place over two hours (and 18 minutes) of an early morning in Berlin. The logistics boggle the mind – and in fact it’s more than just a stunt, the absence of cuts creating a vivid physicality. The actual plot is patchy, but you can’t have everything.
WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAY. Enough of all this heavy, arty nonsense! A surprisingly enjoyable British comedy by the guys behind the popular sitcom Outnumbered, set around a family gathering. Grandpa (Billy Connolly) is on his last legs, Mum and Dad are secretly divorcing – but the three young kids are the main attraction, bringing down the wrath of the tabloids in between coming up with adorably zany kid humour. The scene where bad-tempered, filthy-rich Uncle tries to explain his City job as a “short seller” to the small fry – no, it doesn’t mean he sells shorts! no, no, not a “short sailor”! – is worth a rental (or illegal download) by itself. Sprawl on your sofas, little pandas, and enjoy.