I CARE A LOT (2021)

(Netflix) I CARE A LOT is an overstuffed marvel; part huckster film, part heist film, part crime thriller, part courtroom drama, but all confidently shouldered by Rosamund Pike. Pike is Marla Grayson, a woman who preys on the elderly via an elaborate scheme in which she pays off a doctor to state in court that the elderly person is unable to take care of themselves and require a legal ward, then they suggest Marla. Marla then scuttles them off to a nursing home, sells off all of their belongings, milks their bank account until the person dies, then look for the next mark.

She’s a monster, and Pike revels in it. Just that premise alone could have carried the film but, it turns out that Pike and professional and personal partner Fran (Eiza González) end up abducting the mother of a crime boss, played with relish by Dianne Wiest (HANNAH AND HER SISTERS) and Peter Dinklage. Matters escalate, then culminate to what feels like a very unsatisfying Hays code-ish ending, but you can’t argue that you don’t see it coming.

While I could talk about the performances all day, director J Blakeson (THE 5TH WAVE) and cinematographer Doug Emmett (SORRY TO BOTHER YOU) also spend a refreshing amount of time with color theming, riffing off of Pike’s blond hair and ice blue eyes, to the point where there’s a shot where the color swatches are practically painted on someone’s tremendous heels. It’s a welcome change in this age of dull-sheen films.

HOTEL ARTEMIS (2018)

(hoopla/VOD) HOTEL ARTEMIS is about a hospital for criminals masquerading as a hotel. Sure, that may make you think about JOHN WICK. Doesn’t make me think about JOHN WICK, but I’ve only seen the first so far, and the design, style, and intent of HOTEL ARTEMIS seems completely different than JOHN WICK.

While it’s centered around a criminal-centric hospital, HOTEL ARTEMIS also takes place in the ‘not-too-distant future’ where folks are rioting about water allocation in LA and, well, really, the only way you can tell this is in the future is because all of the criminals have cool toys. The titular hotel is a gilded age throwback (inspired by LA’s Hotel Alexandria) featuring plenty of art deco flourishes and vintage wallpaper, resulting in an extremely attractive feat of production design, and again, the only way you can tell the hotel exists in the future is because of all of the cool toys The Nurse (Jodie Foster) has to help heal her patients.

I’d still recommend HOTEL ARTEMIS for the production design and all of its plot and character machinations, but they also wrangled a hell of a cast clearly loving their time at the hotel. Not only does the film have Foster adopting an awkward running gait (and donning surprisingly decent age makeup), Dave Bautista is the stern-but-kind-eyed orderly glue that holds the hotel — and the film — together, Sterling K. Brown is the sympathetic bank robber, Jeff Goldblum is a cheshire-grinning mobster, Sophia Boutella is the stylish assassin, and other surprises.

The ensemble, as well as the use of throwback needle drops, certainly gives off a whiff of Tarantino fetishism, but HOTEL ARTEMIS is more concerned with escalating tension, as opposed to luxuriating in its mood and dialogue.

The film doesn’t completely hold together — really, how many of the great heist films do? — and it ends on a whimper — how many of the great heist films don’t? — but the well-honed action, atmosphere, and charming performances made me forget those shortcomings.

“This is America. 85 percent of what I fix is bullet holes.”

THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY (2020)

(Starz/VOD) Adapted from detective fiction writer Charles Willeford’s novel, this film is oddly not much of a potboiler, and not terribly thrilling. It does, however, attempt to examine critic-as-artist and vice-versa, as well as the different masks one wears in order to operate in order to ingratiate yourself to others in society, which gives it the trappings of a prestige neo-noir.

To summarize: art critic James Figueras (Claes Bang) hooks up with an enigmatic woman named Berenice (Elizabeth Debicki) and the two of them go on a road trip to visit his friend/art dealer Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger — yes, Mick Jagger). James is handed the possibility to reinvigorate his career by scoring an interview with the reclusive ‘last great modern artist’ Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), who just happens to live on Joseph’s Italian estate. Plans misfire culminating with an end that you may or may not enjoy. (That said, the final realization is extremely satisfying and, I imagine, taken from the book.)

As this is a ‘prestige’ genre flick, director Giuseppe Capotondi takes it slow, giving you all the time in the world to revel in the fantastic backdrops and production design* while the characters talk circles around each other. It is a nice distraction because the mysteries and secrets aren’t terribly intriguing, and the characters are maddeningly paper thin. While the film is explicit about its themes of critic-as-artist/artist-as-critic/the many masks folks wear, the execution is rather facile, and rarely paid much more than lip service. For example: Debney bluntly states to Bernice that “It’s masks all the way down.”

It’s disappointing because novelist/screenwriter Scott B. Smith (A SIMPLE PLAN, THE RUINS) penned the adaptation, and he certainly has a tendency towards noir-like duplicity and the ramifications of distrust, but there is very little friction or underhandedness on display. It feels as if Smith couldn’t quite get a bead on how to approach the adaptation.

However! This film does scratch a certain itch for me and, despite the wasted potential of Bernice, Debecki wrings as much out of it as she can, and Jagger is a delightful surprising, turning in a restrained devilish performance that — as someone who has seen FREEJACK — didn’t think he had it in him. Worth a watch if your tastes are THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY-adjacent.

THIEF (2006)

(N/A) For some ridiculous reason, this amazing prestige mini-series has been unavailable to legally watch for thirteen years — it was never available to stream, and was never available via DVD. Finally, FX made it available when they brought their entire back-catalogue to Hulu earlier this year, but sadly, it’s disappeared again so find it however you can. I still covet my postage-stamp-sized torrent files because, for years, that was the only way I could re-watch the show.

THIEF aired during the apex of FX’s hyper-masculine antihero period — THE SHIELD was midway through its run and RESCUE ME was in its third season, but THIEF was very much its own beast. While THIEF is essentially a ‘height goes sideways, so how is this asshole going to get out of this jam?’ tale, it had an occasional emotional vulnerability to it that I’ve always appreciated. However, due to the fact that no one could watch it, I couldn’t recommend until now.

It also helps that the lead is Andre Braugher, giving it his all. I mean really, come on, you -aren’t- going to watch a show helmed by Andre Braugher?