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Film Review

Five small screen alternatives

On a quiet week at the cinema, here are five choices for home viewing

To quote Margo Channing: fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night. No idea how it all got so dark, all we wanted were five films to recommend for home viewing on a quiet week at the Cineplex – but they all turned out to be a bit grim, for some reason. Maybe it’s the terrorists, or climate change; we live, as they say, in dark times. Even the Cineplex had its moment of real-life darkness the other week, when a bomb exploded (with no people around, thankfully) at the entrance to their Strovolos cinema.

I assume that’s why mindless entertainment is so popular, offering some relief from the bleakness – but mindless entertainment, as already mentioned, is scarce this week. Men in Black is the only new release at the multiplex (Nicosia viewers also have Rebelles at the Pantheon, which we weren’t able to view in time) – though of course there are any number of worthwhile alternatives beyond the multiplex, and indeed beyond the various film societies. Here are five you can watch at home, all more or less recommended (and available, one way or another), the only criterion for selection being that they haven’t played on the big screen in Cyprus. No idea why they’re all a bit dark, though. Maybe it’s all the muggy weather we’ve been having.

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? “I had such an urge to trip you just then,” says Lee Israel – trying to stifle a giggle – to a friend who’s tottering around with a cane. Given that the friend is dying of Aids at the time, Lee (played by Melissa McCarthy) is clearly not a very nice person – but misanthropy isn’t a fatal flaw in this superb semi-drama, not so much biopic (though Ms. Israel was a real person) as character study. Lee’s a writer whose biographies are no longer fashionable – so she turns her literary talent to forgery, her attachment to a near-forgotten past adding a welcome note of weariness and obsolescence. McCarthy is terrific, using her direct, earthy quality for a kind of grim comedy; Richard E. Grant, as her flamboyant friend, is even better.

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT. You want to talk misanthropy? You really want to talk misanthropy? Critics at last year’s Cannes were divided between those who found director Lars von Trier’s serial-killer movie sickening and reprehensible, and those who thought it a knowing, darkly funny masterpiece. Matt Dillon is Jack, the killer, a.k.a. ‘Mr. Sophistication’ – and the film is far more sophisticated than the haters claimed, interrogating Jack (and itself) ever more ruthlessly: he’s a narcissist, he’s a “broken jack”, he’s an artist, he’s a whiny male ego, he has no empathy, he secretly wants to be caught. “Don’t look at the acts. Look at the works,” we’re told, Von Trier implicitly fingering himself as another sadistic artist (or artistic sadist). Available in two versions, the ‘uncut’ one showing more of the most shocking scene, viz. the killing of children. You have been warned.

MINDING THE GAP. Forget all that killing, how about a nice documentary? Director Bing Liu filmed himself and two of his friends (one white, one black, Bing himself obviously Asian) in their depressed hometown of Rockford, Illinois over a number of years, taking them from teenage skaters to adults in their 20s – and the film is increasingly discomfiting, the young men telling of childhood abuse which, in one case, they appear to have passed on in their own relationships. Not as lurid as it sounds, a tender (if slightly self-indulgent) tale of coming of age in a rough environment – and the graceful skating scenes provide contrast, a promise of freedom from painful reality.

THE NIGHT COMES FOR US. Back to the killing, I’m afraid – though you obviously can’t take this ultra-violent Indonesian actioner seriously. Early talk of Triads and gangster-film clichés (two men, once ‘brothers’, now on opposite sides, etc) soon get hijacked by intense, splattery, outrageously grisly, incredibly choreographed fight scenes. Not entirely recommended, the violence being numbing as well as creative – but it’s definitely something you’ll remember. Best bit: the woman who discovers, mid-fight, that her pinky finger has been slashed and is hanging on by a thread – and irritably snaps it off like a loose tooth.

UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB. ‘Home viewing’ can mean many different things. I started watching this on TV and wasn’t very happy, straining to read the writing in the social-media posts that make up the movie – but then I realised my mistake, swiftly abandoned the TV and watched the rest on a computer, which is… an experience, since the whole film takes place on a computer screen. The effect is uncanny, like virtual reality only with a sense of being in another person’s skin, and the visceral unease for about an hour is inescapable; then it starts to get silly (like the first Unfriended) – yet even the silliness is interesting, our heroes faced with implacable, global crypto-forces with apparently infinite power. (Sound familiar?) And then you wonder why the world – like the Web – seems so dark…

 

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