TYLER WILSON: High-profile streaming oddities

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  • AMAZON STUDIOS Rihanna and Donald Glover in a scene from "Guava Island."

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    NETFLIX Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson in a scene from “Unicorn Store.”

  • AMAZON STUDIOS Rihanna and Donald Glover in a scene from "Guava Island."

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    NETFLIX Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson in a scene from “Unicorn Store.”

Fans of “Captain Marvel” and specifically the pairing of Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson can get more of the two dynamic performers in “Unicorn Store,” the bizarre and fanciful directorial debut from Larson now streaming on Netflix.

Shot before “Captain Marvel,” Larson stars as Kit, an art school dropout struggling for purpose after moving back in with her parents (Bradley Whitford and Joan Cusack). Kit grew up loving bright colors, sparkles and especially unicorns, and while she tries to “grow up” by taking a temp job at an advertising agency, the sudden appearance of a literal Unicorn Store brings her back into the world of childhood whimsy.

The store is operated by the “Salesman,” played by Jackson in colorful garb and one of the more atrocious wigs of his career — and that includes the white hair he donned in “Jumper.” Kit is set to receive a real live unicorn, but first she must make preparations. Those include building a stable for the creature, as well as some more abstract character work.

Larson’s direction is solid and spare, and she brings more to the character of Kit than seems to be on the page. The script, written by Samantha McIntyre, reaches for some interesting thematic ideas, specifically the inherent selfishness that comes with “refusing to grow up.” Most of these ideas, however, lack the necessary exploration, and the movie spends too much time on a stilted subplot involving Kit’s boss at the ad agency.

With a runtime around 90 minutes, “Unicorn Store” seems trimmed down from its original concept. Still, Larson’s scenes with Whitford and Cusack work well enough, and the Larson-Jackson spark from “Captain Marvel” exists here too. The two have a friendly and addictive dynamic, even when they’re speaking nonsense about the eating habits of unicorns.

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There may not be another show on television as good as “Atlanta,” and that’s only a fragment of writer/producer/star Donald Glover’s artistic pursuits. He’s also a celebrated and dynamic performer under his stage name Childish Gambino, and his latest project available on Amazon Prime bridges the gap between his two primary mediums.

“Guava Island” is a musical feature directed by Glover’s longtime collaborator Hiro Murai (“Atlanta,” the Childish Gambino video for “This is America”). It stars Glover as Deni, a DJ and musician living on the fictional island on the eve of an all-night festival. The island is controlled by an authoritative business magnate, Red Cargo, and there’s concern Deni’s concert will result in a lack of productivity the next day (the people aren’t allowed days off on the island). Rihanna co-stars in the film as a factory worker with romantic ties to Deni.

The movie is filled with Childish Gambino music, including a remix of “This is America,” and Glover’s magnetic presence as a performer serves as the highlight of “Guava Island.” (Rihanna is good here, but she unfortunately never sings a note).

Clocking in at 55 minutes, “Guava Island” tells its story of oppression and the communal power of music efficiently, though the project could have easily found opportunity to reach full feature length. It debuted ahead of a Childish Gambino performance at Coachella before its sudden release on Amazon, and Glover likes to buck traditional artistic methods. The logic might be, “Better leaving people wanting more,” and that certainly applies to “Guava Island” in its current form.

Now, Donald, how about jumping into that possible “Community” feature film? Glover may be one of the most in-demand artists of 2019, but it’s always worth requesting #SixSeasonsandaMovie.

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Tyler Wilson can be reached at twilson@cdapress.com

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