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On Blu-ray/DVD/VOD: THE ASSISTANT (2020) and GUNS AKIMBO (2020)

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THE ASSISTANT
(US - 2020)


A quietly harrowing, unsettling day-in-a-workplace drama that's rooted in the Harvey Weinstein scandal, but takes an abstract, minimalist, and at times ambiguous approach. Ambiguous in the sense that it doesn't specifically deal with Weinstein per se, but someone very much like him, and he's also never seen onscreen. He's heard on occasion, whether it's a muffled voice behind a closed door from which a browbeaten underling might emerge, or on a profane tirade over the phone. This figure is referred to only as "Him," and he's a high-powered movie exec in a NYC office that's a powderkeg of toxicity, bullying, enabling, and gaslighting. It's seen through the eyes of Jane (OZARK's Julia Garner, who's phenomenal here), a recent Northwestern grad who's one of three office assistants and, as the newbie who's been there for less than two months, she's the first one in and the last one out every day. She Ubers in from Astoria seven days a week, makes the coffee, turns on the lights, boots up the computers, makes the copies, gets the mail, books the flights and hotel rooms, signs the invoices, handles accounts payable, and does extra tidying that the janitorial crew might've missed. Things like a lone earring on the floor of his office, or scrubbing out an odd stain on the couch. The other two higher-seniority assistants--both men (Jon Orsini, Noah Robbins)--often treat Jane as their assistant, though it's arguable that their actions would be the same if she was a man. When she incurs his wrath, they're sympathetic and help her write the apology e-mail he demands, almost like they're giving her a lesson in how to placate him from their own experience.





Seemingly mundane occurrences all very methodically reveal a pattern of manipulation and abuse that's been heaped on everyone to varying degrees, and writer/director Kitty Green, a documentary filmmaker (2017's CASTING JONBENET) helming her first narrative feature, goes for an almost JEANNE DIELMAN-level of cold detachment and subtle screw-tightening. Things get really tense when a new assistant named Sienna (Kristine Froseth) arrives from Boise, where the boss recently attended a conference. Sienna is a waitress with no clerical experience, and Jane is bothered that she's been booked into a posh hotel while she gets settled. She takes her concerns to the company's HR head (Matthew Macfadyen) in a brilliantly-executed ten-minute nerve-shredder of a sequence that's one of the most troubling and infuriating scenes in recent memory ("Don't worry...you're not his type"), one that doesn't really sell you on trusting your HR rep in a workplace where everyone is trying to stay on the boss' good side, but also serves as the film's turning point that leads to Jane realizing her own complicity in what everyone at the office knows is going on (watch them all snicker when someone jokes "Don't ever sit on the couch!"). THE ASSISTANT is a film that sneaks up on you and has your stomach in knots, its intensity almost feeling like a horror film at times (the voice of the boss is provided by veteran character actor Jay O. Sanders, and he sounds almost gutturally demonic at times). It's a devastatingly merciless clinic on systemic workplace abuse and many online comments section detractors missed the point when they felt that Green pulled her punches by not going after Weinstein by name. It's not meant to be about Harvey Weinstein. It's about a mindset and a culture that allowed something like Weinstein to happen. And it's best film of 2020 so far. (R, 87 mins)



GUNS AKIMBO
(Germany/New Zealand - 2020)


Like a decade-late tribute to the collected works of Neveldine/Taylor, GUNS AKIMBO puts Daniel Radcliffe through the paces of a CRANK and GAMER mash-up with a touch of SHOOT 'EM UP and WANTED that feels like it was scripted by a Mountain Dew Kickstart thread on 4chan. In the dystopian near future of Shrapnel City, Miles (Radcliffe) hates his job coding for phone app games with titles like "Nut Bust 2," is routinely humiliated by his boss, and still pines for Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), the ex who dumped him. His life changes when he stumbles on an online underground snuff/fight club called "Skizm," which pits real people in kill or be killed situations, all captured by drone cameras and livestreamed to their rabid base of subscribers. After engaging in some anonymous shit-talking online, some goons show up at Miles' apartment, knock him out, and he wakes up with guns crudely bolted to his hands with an accompanying text message: "Welcome to Skizm. Your opponent is Nix." Nix is the introduced with the caption "This is fucking Nix," and she's a feral, unstoppable killing machine played by Samara Weaving, who's been so good in cult movies like THE BABYSITTER, MAYHEM, and READY OR NOT, and here looks like Klaus Kinski as a future noir Aguirre. As Miles tries to maneuver his way around with guns attached to his hands (cue shock value joke shot of Harry Potter's prosthetic dick flopping around as he tries to take a piss), Nix turns up everywhere tries to hide, derisively calling him "Fuck Boy" and leaving a trail of destruction and snarky bon mots in her wake ("Suck my clit!"). After a pair of Shrapnel City cops (Grant Bowler, Edwin Wright) try use him as bait to nab a fugitive Nix, Miles and Nix ultimately reach a tentative truce, forming an unholy alliance when Skizm mastermind Riktor (Ned Dennehy) kidnaps Nova around the time Nix discovers Riktor's been keeping a secret from her about her past.





There's a few clever ideas and legitimate laughs (Nix going berserk when a dudebro tells her "You should smile more"), but GUNS AKIMBO runs out of gas pretty quickly, opting to get more loud and obnoxious the longer it goes on. Even Weaving's crazy act, quite entertaining in the early going, wears out its welcome by the end, and before that, there's the requisite stupid needle drops, with action scenes set to aggro techno covers of Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" and Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz," plus Rick James'"Superfreak," and Stan Bush's "Never Surrender" from the 1989 JCVD classic KICKBOXER. As prefab cult movies go, you could do worse, but there's just not much here when it's all said and done. If GUNS AKIMBO is remembered at all--and it won't be--it's for writer/director Jason Lei Howden (DEATHGASM) having a pre-VOD release social media meltdown that saw him getting banned from Twitter and then launching attacks from Saban Films' official GUNS AKIMBO Twitter account instead. There's more to it than that, but honestly, who gives a shit? (R, 97 mins)


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