STREAMING REVIEWS: Quality street, Part 2 & less

Published February 17, 2021, 8:49 PM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

Here’s a rundown of two films that are getting serious awards season consideration, one that should have, plus one that just misses the mark. So you know what to try and catch, and what to skip.

Promising Young Female (on Demand, available on iTunes) – Written and directed by Emerald Fennell and starring the amazing Carey Mulligan, this is the crime thriller that works as the ultimate #MeToo revenge film. From the opening scene, we’re whisked into a dark world of strange motive, single-minded determination, and crazy resolution – all in the name of an incident that takes its sweet time in being revealed to us. Don’t worry, no spoilers in this review. If Mulligan was previously enjoyed in film outings as some meek, mild-mannered lead or support cast, she’s stuck in the very center here, carrying the film by taking on various personas, and shining in every one of them.

This is the film that even casts a shadow on the so-called ‘nice guys’ of the dating scene. And what I loved with Fennell’s screenplay is how she stays true to the character and circumstances. It’s not done vigilante, revenge fantasy; but using the revenge premise to bring home potent points about sexual relations, the advantages men have and exploit, and how even to this day, they’ll whine about how MeToo has spoiled the whole dating scene. Mulligan has been cited with Best Actress nom’s and I won’t be surprised if she takes home a couple. The film does have some lapses in narrative, so I won’t be predicting Fennell as Best Director or Best Screenplay; but this definitely is a film to watch! And enjoy.

I Care A Lot (Netflix USA) – In the genre of con men movies, this one will rank right there with the best we can think of. Rosamund Pike is Marla Grayson, amoral, ambitious, and ready to abuse her role as legal guardian to the frail and elderly. It’s a scam she excels in, conniving with doctors, real estate agents, and second hand furniture dealers. The gist of the film happens around what happens when Marla targets a seemingly dotty elder woman, who has her own deep and dark secrets up her sleeve. From that point on, the film becomes an incisive commentary on how these predators prey on the guileless, and what can happen when they have the means to strike back. Drops on Netflix February 19, 2021.

Thankfully, writer/director J Blakeson has more in mind than some simple linear comeuppance narrative. Grayson is no pushover, and rather than seeing her plans go awry, she takes it upon herself to give back as much as take, and an insidious cat and mouse game ensues – and just like in Tom and Jerry, the rat (metaphorically) doesn’t just surrender. Dianne Weist is truly wonderful in her scenes with Pike; and your enjoyment of this black comedy will rise notches when Peter Dinklage makes his appearance. Also look out for Chris Messina as a questionable lawyer. In true antihero form, it’s hard for us to truly sympathize with anyone; but leave it to Pike to turn in a smashing performance – she got a Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy Golden Globe nomination for this. 

Bad Education (HBO) – This is a true story narrative that’s excellently brought to screen life, and can boast of two stirring performances from lead stars Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney. The plot revolves around an embezzlement scheme that occurred around the Long Island public school system in the early 2000’s. It involves the Superintendent of Schools who, to his credit, made Roslyn a sought after school, that helped spike up the real estate prices of the locality. This is a real slice of modern day Americana, how schools make particular communities more desirable. What’s telling here is how convinced these white collar criminals were that they were justified in extracting some personal gain from what they were doing for the district.

What I really liked with this film is how Jackman immerses himself in the portrayal, reminding us of just how consummate an actor he is. Ever since Wolverine and X-Men, it’s been too easy to see Jackman as a Hollywood star, and forget the kind of performances he’s crafted through such films as The Front-Runner & The Prestige. Janney is just as impressive, blaming her family and their need for material wants, as the reason for indulging in her life of ‘crime’. The dissecting of how this all happened, and how it came to light, drives the insightful narrative. It’s one of my 2020 favorites, and it’s a shame it didn’t get more attention beyond the Emmy nomination for Jackman. Look out for this one!

Bliss (Amazon Prime) – A SciFi, Alternate Reality doesn’t do much for this film that pairs the unlikely duo of Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek. From the outset of the film, it seems we’re on shaky ground, and the terrain just gets worse. It’s muddled, miscast, and pointless. There’s a theme of drug dependence aching to explain some of the silliness that transpires, plus harping on the singular bond between a father and a daughter as the saving grace of this scenario. But unfortunately, it’s all mired in a narrative that has no idea on what it wants to be, where it wants to go, or how to get there.

It’s the Matrix or Inception without any of the action sequences or mind-bending special effects; so we’re left with a lot of emotional hogwash, strung by characters we don’t really care for. Maybe if Salma had played it campy or over the top, there might have been a comedic element to this outing; but both Wilson and Hayek seem to have been directed to play this all straight up and earnest – and honestly it just doesn’t work. The less said about this film, the better.