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Five small-screen alternatives

Joshua Burge in 'Relaxer'

We have absolutely nothing against The Angry Birds Movie 2, the week’s other new release besides It: Chapter Two. The title, admittedly, lies a bit – only one of the birds is angry, and even he isn’t angry anymore – but this is a cartoon where a flightless bird goes speed-dating, a cartoon whose avian characters launch into opera for no reason at all, a cartoon where a bird faced with thuggish villains is told to “take them out” – and we cut to a beer bar, where he’s ‘taken them out’ for a few drinks! Angry Birds Movie 2 isn’t perfect (it also has jokes about eating pig snot), but let’s just say it’s exactly the kind of film you’d expect from a director named Thurop Van Orman.

So much for birds, angry or otherwise. ABM2 is a pleasant surprise but it doesn’t offer much to talk about, beyond the unexpectedly surreal humour – and meanwhile the world beyond kids’ cartoons (even those with surreal humour) is so inexhaustible. One could easily compile a list of alternatives. i.e. recommended films to watch at home, just from the many hidden gems of world cinema – but instead we’ll stick with America, albeit not necessarily the Hollywood studios. Here are five suggestions for adventurous couch potatoes, the only criterion for selection being that the films haven’t played on a big screen in Cyprus.

CHARLIE SAYS. There’s never been a better time to watch this movie, given Tarantino’s rather one-dimensional treatment of the ‘Manson girls’ in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Here’s much the same set-up, Charlie Manson’s sinister hippy commune based at the old Spahn ranch – but director Mary Harron (of American Psycho fame) hones in on Manson’s confused, masochistic followers, the hive-mind that brainwashed away every scruple (“We all belong to Charlie”), and the way they too were victims, victims of exploitation disguised as liberation. Some might complain that the film glorifies murderers, but its compassion – and vivid sense of how a cult operates – shines through. The ending is different from Tarantino’s, obviously.

HIGH FLYING BIRD. Birds again – and I guess you could say they were angry, this thrillingly voluble drama (shot on an iPhone by the endlessly talented Steven Soderbergh) being not so much about basketball but “the game on top of the game”, the way (mostly black) NBA players are exploited by (mostly white) team owners. Sounds a bit worthy, but the film is too breathless to bog down in message-mongering, full of sardonic throwaway banter – “You’re wrong”; “About what, climate change?” – and dazzlingly smart cookies engaged in behind-the-scenes intrigue. As the smartest of those cookies, a sports agent whose motives may or may not be cynical, Andre Holland gives brazen confidence a good name.

PLUS ONE. I’m not sure I like this film, yet I’d recommend it to everyone. A conventional wedding rom-com with a twist, the twist being Maya Erskine as an outrageous heroine who tends to overshare and likes to pee in the shower; she joins forces with Jack Quaid – who’s rom-com royalty, being the son of Meg Ryan – as a couple of singles who agree to be each other’s ‘plus one’ on the stressful occasions when their friends get hitched. Predictable but funny, a candid look at the nightmare of weddings and especially their most cringe-making aspect, the best man/maid of honour’s speech – witnessed in a parade of thankfully brief snippets, though we don’t actually see the most disastrous-sounding one: “His entire speech was about how there wasn’t enough cheese at the wedding!”.

RELAXER. I do like this film, yet I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone. A useless young man (played by birdlike, permanently nervous Joshua Burge) sits on the sofa playing video games, ‘challenging’ himself not to get up till he’s reached Level whatever – and meanwhile the days pass, and the world outside grows increasingly apocalyptic. Initially annoying but it grows on you, a low-budget oddity juxtaposing elements of Robinson Crusoe, superhero movies and dystopian sci-fi over one guy rooted (by the end, literally) to his couch; never mind being upwardly mobile, this non-working working class isn’t even mobile. The antithesis of multiplex fare, for better and worse.

UNDER THE SILVER LAKE. When they look back on the films of 2019, this shambling puzzle will appear as a time-capsule movie – a mirror of our mixed-up, conspiracy-minded world, with Andrew Garfield as a slacker investigating a girl’s disappearance in a sunny (yet murky) LA. There are trinities of women, a singer named Jesus, a homicidal comic-book phantom called the Owl’s Kiss – but the film also makes some deeper points, that the search for a larger pattern is a delusion (“Have fun, f**k, be free,” our hero is told, urged to enjoy this “tiny little window”) and that the ultimate truth isn’t spiritual but political, the one per cent screwing the rest of the world as usual. It’s enough to make you angry, birds.




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