Here are a few more mini reviews for some recent streaming movies: the wicked satire “I Care A Lot” (for which Rosamund Pike recently won a Golden Globe), and two sci-fi films: “Bliss” and “Space Sweepers.”
“I CARE A LOT” (Netflix) It can be difficult to become invested in a movie with no likeable characters, but something about writer and director J Blakeson’s “I Care A Lot” demands attention. That something is primarily Rosamund Pike’s Marla Grayson, a court-appointed guardian who convinces courts that her elderly ward can’t take care of themselves, then sells their assets after placing them in an assisted living facility where they are cut off from the outside world and unable to do much about it. Marla pulls off these scams with the help of her partner and girlfriend Fran (Eiza González), and other members of the system, like Dr. Karen Amos (Alicia Witt), who informs Marla of potential patients she can exploit. But when Marla tries to take advantage of a woman called Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), she gets way more than she bargained for when the woman’s son, a mafia boss named Roman (Peter Dinklage), comes looking for her. The first hour of “I Care A Lot,” which really builds up the intrigue surrounding Jennifer and Roman, is the strongest, but even after it becomes increasingly ridiculous as it spirals into a more action-fueled thriller, it’s still really engaging. Viewers will either like or hate the way the film backs Marla—whose despicable scheme ought to garner immediate hatred—into a protagonist we should root for, while simultaneously giving her the moral comeuppance she deserves in the end. But it really is hard not to become invested in Marla’s life and her schemes, thanks to Pike’s performance. With her severely cut bob, impeccably tailored suits, and cool demeanor, Pike turns Marla into someone we can marvel at the lengths she will go to to achieve wealth and fame, while disliking everything she stand for at the same time. Her relationship with González is great to see, even if it isn’t particularly well-developed, and Dinklage is a wonderfully nasty second bad guy, his calculating manner and determination to get what he wants matching Pike’s performance perfectly. Blakeson doesn’t always remain in control of the tone of the film, which vacillates between dark comedy and tense thriller, but “I Care A Lot” is still a wild ride that’s gripping from start to finish. Runtime: 118 minutes. Rated R.
“BLISS” (Amazon Prime Video)
“Bliss” is a movie that I know has something it’s trying to say in there somewhere, but that ultimately says nothing at all. This is thanks to a confounding story that presents us with a lot of different ideas, but never really develops them to the necessary degree; at the same time, it over-explains the pretty straightforward rules of the world it is set in. It’s in that world that we first meet Greg Wittle (Owen Wilson), a miserable man who is recently divorced, takes pills for a condition that isn’t ever made clear, and works a dull office job for a company called Technical Difficulties (a company that exists solely to help people with technical problems that clearly thinks it’s being clever but is way too on the nose for that). But Greg spends his days sketching images he sees in his dreams instead of working. After his boss (Steve Zissis) fires him, Greg accidentally kills him and escapes to a bar, where he meets a strange woman named Isabel (Salma Hayek), who is dress in stereotypical “we live in a dystopian society” garb. Isabel lives off the grid, and tries to convince Greg that they are currently living in a computer simulation, giving him pills that allow him to telepathically manipulate everything around him. The film is marketed as a sci-fi romance (even though the love between Greg and Isabel feels about as real as the simulation they are living in), but the relationship that’s really at the heart of the story is the one between Greg and his teenage daughter Emily (Nesta Cooper), who spends the movie desperately trying to reconnect with her father. But in the end, this movie that utilizes such tools as the thought visualizer (a machine that illustrates what a person is thinking, for some reason) doesn’t make its own ideas clear. Is it about addiction? Humanity? Learning to appreciate what you have? I think it’s a combination of all of those things, but I never took enough of any of those ideas away from the movie. And that’s about one of the worst things that a piece of media in the sci-fi genre—a genre that often looks to the future to reveal truths about our present—can do. Runtime: 103 minutes. Rated R.
“SPACE SWEEPERS” (Netflix)
“Space Sweepers” explores familiar themes, but it’s just different and fun enough in its look and characters to make for an entertaining time for sci-fi fans. Directed by Jo Sung-hee, “Space Sweepers” is considered the first South Korean space blockbuster, and it has everything you’d want from a space movie combined with the class struggle that is a consistent theme in Korean films. The story is set in the year 2092; Earth has become uninhabitable, and the UTS Corporation, led by James Sullivan (Richard Armitage) has built a space station orbiting the planet that mimics Earth’s environment and will serve as another home for humanity. However, only certain people are permitted to move to the station, leaving the poor and struggling on Earth to breathe polluted air and fight to make ends meet. The film follows a crew of space sweepers—those who collect space debris and sell it to UTS—on the ship Victory. Led by Captain Jang (Kim Tae-ri), the crew consists of former Space Guards Commander Tae-ho (Song Joong-ki), ex drug baron Tiger Park (Jin Seon-kyu), and android Bubs (Yoo Hae-jin). On a routine job they discover a little girl called Kot-nim (Park Ye-rin), who they believe is a wanted robot and weapon of mass destruction and arrange to return her in exchange for a large sum of money. Of course, there’s a lot more to Kot-nim’s story, and the crew soon grow to care for her. There’s a lot going on in “Space Sweepers” (the film probably could have been trimmed down a bit too), but the found family created by the main characters and the actors’ committed performances is even more riveting than the impressive special effects and space battles. The characters are all relatable; they’ve all faced personal tragedy, and they’re now just barely scraping by in terms of cash. As stereotypical as Armitage’s English-speaking bad guy is, it’s fun to root for these underdog heroes to take him down. The whole design of “Space Sweepers” is also just really cool: the upper class areas, like Sullivan’s office, are all sleek and high tech but cold, while the Victory and the ships of other space sweepers are grungy and messy but colorful and lived in. If you enjoy space movies, you can’t go wrong with “Space Sweepers.” It may be Korea’s first space blockbuster, but I hope it won’t be the last. Runtime: 136 minutes. Rated TV-MA.