To Stream or Not to Stream

There are good movie weekends and bad movie weekends. Though I haven’t yet treated myself to HBO’s An American Pickle, middling reviews for the Seth Rogen comedy and even worse for David Ayer’s The Tax Collector suggest moviegoers will be looking elsewhere for entertainment at home this week. You could do much worse than the three little pictures I’ve recommended below, all representing one of the better 2020 titles available on each of the big three streaming platforms.

NETFLIX: Banana Split

Netflix has been the preeminent streaming platform for the rom-com and high school comedy since Hollywood stopped making them. Banana Split is an interesting twist on the genre as it’s more about a female friendship forged over a boyfriend-in-common than it is a romantic film about young love. Hannah Marks and Cole Sprouse play the perfect long-term couple, until they’re not. They break up upon graduation, the girl sulks for weeks, the boy begins dating a new girl in town (Liana Liberato). Ex-girlfriend and new girlfriend meet each other, like each other, and secretly befriend each other, the boy-in-common none the wiser. Banana Split is a simple, sweet post-graduation movie about chicks-before-dicks. Hannah Marks makes for a relatable heroine and Luke Spencer Roberts, playing third wheel to all of them, is an amusing comic presence.

Grade: B

HULU: The Assistant

Intense, unnerving, and even a little bit claustrophobic, The Assistant is a day in the life of an executive assistant to a powerful Hollywood producer, someone in the vein of Harvey Weinstein, a man here who’s never seen, only heard. Tracking the minute encounters, discoveries, and micro-aggressions at her workplace, filmmaker Kitty Green has somehow fashioned a thriller out of uneventful material. Not much happens, but everything is happening behind closed doors. Waco‘s Julia Garner gives a wonderfully subtle performance as the title character, a young woman beset by her film industry ambitions in a world where the industry chews you up and spits you out. Nobody who finds such an opportunity as hers expects to find it so miserable in the end.

Grade: B

AMAZON: The Vast of Night

A terrific directorial debut by Texas native Andrew Patterson, The Vast of Night is both a nostalgic ode to the science fiction films of yore, specifically those of the 50’s, and a small budget, modern-day reinvention of the alien invasion film. Delving into small-town radio station minutiae and the friendly, fast-talking culture of that time and place, Patterson is utilizing classic tricks to evoke new feelings about the possibility of ‘what’s out there.’ There are two showstoppers here. The first is a one to two-minute speeding dolly take tracking essentially the entire space of this itty-bitty town in the west, moving from a dispatch outpost to the local high school where a basketball game is in progress, all the way to the radio station in question, a ramshackle ditty with a red neon sign for W.OT.W., a clear nod to HG Wells’ War of the Worlds. The second is a riveting monologue from an elderly woman with a story to tell. Played by Dallas actress Gail Cronauer, it’s a spellbinding turn and an ominous scene that cements The Vast of Night as the best science fiction film of 2020 so far.

Grade: B+

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