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Film reviews: Little Joe/ The Public/ Greed

A day in the leaf: Emily Beecham as plant breeder Alice

THE BIG RELEASE

Little Joe

(12A) ★★★★✩

THE week after the awards season finally ends is always a challenging time for new releases. With big beasts such as Parasite and 1917 still bestriding cinemas it’s left to smaller fry to attempt to nibble a bit of the box office by offering viewers something for different tastes. Like hypnotic, sort-of-horror drama Little Joe.

Emily Beecham won best actress at last year’s Cannes Film Festival for her coolly adept turn here as an ambitious plant breeder called Alice. A divorced single mother, Alice works in a lab alongside her shy co-worker (Ben Whishaw), creating new strains of flowers. Her latest invention is ‘Little Joe’, the world’s first ‘mood-lifting anti-depressant plant’. Essentially, if you sniff it, you feel happy.

‘Keep it warm; talk to it. It’s a living being, it needs attention and affection,’ Alice instructs her neglected teenage son, also called Joe, when she illicitly smuggles a plant out of the lab for him. What could go wrong? However, those expecting Gremlins meets Little Shop Of Horrors jollies will be disappointed.

Little Joe is the sixth feature by Austrian director Jessica Hausner (Lourdes, Amour Fou) and it’s more about trying to unsettle your certainties than making you jump ’n’ scream. An aesthetic triumph, the look of the film, with its irradiatingly clinical lighting, is as perfectly controlled as the narrative tone. Meanwhile, the weird experimental score, bristling with what sound like Japanese drums and bamboo flutes, adds to the disturbing, off-kilter feel.

As Little Joe’s pollen spreads, it turns all who inhale it into polite, ultra-calm and functional zombies, making this a contemporary take on Invasion Of The Body Snatchers — with more petals. A unique, stimulating examination of our quick-fix, happiness-hungry culture.

The verdict

Eerie, plant-based take on Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

The Public

(15) ★★★✩✩

In contrast to the, let’s say, ‘colourful’ activities of his brother, Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez has proved the quiet one of the 1980s Brat Pack, methodically getting on with his second career of directing, writing and producing well-modulated dramas for grown-ups.

The Public sees the Breakfast Club star back in the library. This time he’s a mild-mannered librarian stirred to activism when homeless regulars hit the news for squatting in the building as temperatures plummet to sub-zero.

Estevez has a strong ensemble, with fellow ’80s survivors Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin co-starring alongside fresher faces Jena Malone and Taylor Schilling, and Michael K Williams stealing the film as the group’s leader.

It’s all a bit old-fashioned and earnest but with US civil liberties under attack, it’s a timely celebration of humanity.

Greed

(15) ★★★✩✩

Steve Coogan is monstrously entertaining in this thinly veiled caricature of besmirched Topshop supremo Sir Philip Green. He’s Sir Richard ‘Greedy’ McCreadie, a retail billionaire busy planning a hubristic Fyre Festival-scale 60th birthday party on Mykonos, complete with Roman gladiatorial arena (and a real lion), to conquer all the bad press generated by his dirty dealings.

The devil not only wears Prada but gets the best lines in director Michael Winterbottom’s uneven fashion satire, which has a somewhat underwhelming script. Still, there are loads of sleb cameos from the likes of Stephen Fry, Chris Martin, Keira Knightley and James Blunt to distract you, sprinkled over a super British ensemble including David Mitchell as McCreadie’s official biographer. Isla Fisher (whose hubbie, Sacha Baron Cohen, was originally cast as McCreadie) joins them as McCreadie’s ex-wife.

Cartoonish fun for the most part, the credits clobber you with anti-sweatshop statistics. As a stitch-up of the one per cent goes, it’s not Succession — but Greed is good.