With everyone doing their part to help curb the COVID-19 spread we’ve all have extra time to spend binging streaming movies and TV shows. The fact that there are no new theatrical releases makes this type of entertainment all the more crucial in helping us pass the time. I caught three releases recently online The Assistant (Amazon Prime), Little Joe (Hulu), and Vivarium (Netflix). These will all be spoiler free mini reviews, the one element all these movies share is they must be experienced rather than read about, each viewer is going to get something very different out of all of these films. That is not to say any movie or book is like that, just these are so open to interpretation that you really need to make your own mind up about what you are getting from each one of these stories.
The Assistant (written and directed by Kitty Green) stars Julia Garner (Ozark, The Get Down). Ms. Garner is an absolute powerhouse in anything that she appears in and The Assistant is no exception. Her normal brassy and in your face performance gives way to completely different side in this movie however. She is stoically reserved and her acting confined to a narrow focus that gives this movie it’s acute discomfort. This isn’t the normal type of genre we review here, but given the strength of the talent behind this project I was compelled to write about it after watching. The backdrop is clearly inspired by Weinstein/ #metoo era Hollywood as Garner’s character Jane runs a daily gauntlet of trudging abuse as an assistant to a powerful producer. Director Green makes you experience he hopelessness along with the character by replaying certain tedious actions over and over. While this all may sound boring, and a lot of it truly is glacial, it gives the movie it’s mood and atmosphere in a way I hadn’t encountered before. You are forced to think back on all the shitty jobs you’ve had in your life, the terrible bosses, and unhealthy workplaces we have all endured. The most crushing moment comes when you just feel like Jane has found a way to break the surface and breath fresh air again. It is crushing when her story is repeated back to her and she is forced to see how anemic it all sounds aloud. I don’t want to say anything more, the supporting characters are all played well and are used more as a backdrop than real persons needed for interaction. The movie is a piercing look at the suffering so many of us deal with on a daily basis. It is almost horror like in the unrelenting anguish the main character is forced to endure. This one might not be for you, but if you give it a chance you will see a movie unlike the majority of drama fluff out there.
A horror movie about flowers? Didn’t M Night Shyamalan already bomb trying to make us scared of trees? Little Joe is a disconcerting look at the hazards of trying to do good, but in the wrong way. Emily Beecham (The Widow in Badlands) is unrecognizable as mother and botanist Alice Woodward. She sets out to try and bring light into everyone’s lives by developing a flower that makes people feel “happy”. While her initial progress is stunningly successful, it soon degrades into an uncontrollable journey that put her and everyone she loves in danger. Shades of Day of the Triffids meets Little Shop of Horrors, Little Joe takes a decidedly more subtle path into the horror genre. You find yourself sucked in by this goreless thriller with all the inevitable doom as a insect in a Venus fly trap. This film also owes a lot to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but not in the expected way. Again, as I said in the beginning, all these movies take unexpected approaches to their stories and that is what made me decide to include them in this one review. Little Joe is shot with a creepy pastel palette, big nod to Cinematographer Martin Gschlacht, Production Designer Katharina Wöppermann, and Costume Designer, Tanja Hausner who all were in complete harmony as to the aesthetic Director Jessica Hausner (Hotel, Lovely Rita) was shooting for.
My last entry in this triple header is Vivarium, starring Imogen Poots (V for Vendetta, 28 Weeks Later) and Jesse Eisenberg (Dawn of Justice, Zombieland). Directed by Lorcan Finnegan it is a bizarre tale that feels like an extra long Twilight Zone episode. Gemma and Tom are house hunting and after running out of options fall into a trap hiding in plain sight, the Yonder housing development…not too close, not too far away. This movie has a real Being John Malkovich feel to it, only it is explained even LESS than Being John M. ever was. If you can handle taking a ride without knowing where you are going, and still not understanding where you have been after it is done, this movie is for you. The claustrophobic detention is clothed in a mid-century soft-hued dressing. We’ve all wanted to have all of our needs met, but you realize you would give up all that comfort for your freedom once it is denied. Amazing and disturbing performances by Jonathan Aris (Sherlock: TV series, Bandersnatch) and Senan Jennings (Brute). It was well worth the first viewing and I want to give this a second watch as I feel there is a lot I may have missed.
I hope you find something you want to give a chance to here, we’ll keep you updated on all the online streaming treasures hiding just under Fast and the Furious 16: Hybrids from Hell and Transformers: Age of the Action Figure.