The Death of the American Dream in 99 Homes

99 Homes

Michael Shannon’s character Rick Carver spouts some great lines in the tense and heartbreaking new film from Ramin Bahrani, 99 Homes.  At one point he tells his morally conflicted protégé in crooked evictions and house flipping, Dennis Nash (played by Andrew Garfield, raw but with a somewhat questionable Southern accent), “America doesn’t bail out losers.  America bails out winners.  It was made of, for and by winners.”  Yeah, eff the People!  No…what?  Wait a minute.  It was moments like that, where sitting in a near empty theater on the weekend of this indie’s wider release into multiplexes, I thought that a savvier studio would be playing the line in endless teaser loops and marketing this as the flip side to Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street.  Maybe that would’ve gotten more people into the seats.  But the wounds 99 Homes pours salt on are too fresh… and as successful as it is from a tactical perspective (well-written, well-acted, well-directed and timely), I don’t know if this could ever be a financial hit.

In the fall-out of the housing crisis, Florida-based construction worker/everyday handyman Dennis Nash suddenly has no new homes to build and loses the one he shares with his part-time hairdresser Mom (Laura Dern – the epitome of lower-middle class optimism and angst) and young son (Noah Lomax) to foreclosure.  Into his life steps the non-nonsense, slick-talking, worn down but looking up real-estate agent, Rick Carver, who evicts default homeowners and then runs crooked deals to flip the houses where he screws the banks and the government (and anyone else who he crosses paths with).  Carver offers Nash a helping hand, but it’s akin to making a deal with the devil, and he keenly warns Nash, “Real estate should never be personal.  Don’t get sentimental about a house.  It’s just a box.”  But it’s a box that represents the American Dream for so many, who through predatory lending practices, got screwed out of their homes after the housing bubble crash of 2008 that sent the US and the world tumbling into the Great Recession. Continue reading

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Duh, Winning! – In the Cinematic Doldrums

Despite last year’s anomalous presence of standouts like Shutter Island and The Ghost Writer, late winter and early spring are typically the cinematic doldrums, unless you like animated kid’s stuff.  This year seems even more vacuous than usual, probably due to the high quality of left-over “I’ve seen it already!” Oscar fare and the still fresh memories of last year at this time when things weren’t so bad.  But in a multi-media age, one need not look far and wide to find ways of “Sheening It” and winning, duh!  Here are three very different films (Cedar Rapids, Never Let Me Go and Carlos), available through different venues that, for better or for worse, all have tiger blood running through their veins.

In Theaters:

Anne Heche, your career was in free-fall? Don't worry, we gotcha!

Cedar Rapids – Successfully combining the “Dumb Guys Gone Wild” humor of films like The Hangover with the contemporary societal mirror-holding of films like Up in the Air while channeling it all through the gentle “family is whoever you want it to be” humor of Springtime quirky-indie comedies ala Little Miss Sunshine, Cedar Rapids quietly fires on all cylinders and wins.  Continue reading

The Social Network

Yeah, this douchebag was totally p-jammin' it to a business meeting.

Dismissing The Social Network as “that Facebook” movie is like calling There Will be Blood “that milkshake” movie.

Choosing not to see The Social Network because it’s about the internet is like not watching The Shining because it’s about hotel management.

Darn – these are sounding more like Tweets than Facebook statuses — stati? — whatever.  Statements like these also over-sell the film’s appeal.  Wait – what am I doing writing in complete sentences?

Really good movie 🙂

Mark Zuckerberg = douchebag.  

Click to Like!

Okay – Quick – Ten Things You Liked About The Social Network In Ten Minutes: Continue reading

The Red Riding Trilogy

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…all good children go to heaven.”

You wouldn’t believe it at the start of the grim trilogy of films that aired on British television in 2009 and were released in art-houses stateside in early 2010 (and new to DVD this month).  Spanning almost a decade (from 1974 to 1983) and following a labyrinthine plot involving missing children, serial killers, conspiracy theories and corrupt police officers in northern Britain’s Yorkshire area, The Red Riding Trilogy is hard-hitting, trippy, convoluted stuff…the stuff of communal M-like nightmares.

The first thing that is so striking about the films is their look – dripping in period detail and directorial chutzpah that’s like Godfather-era Francis Ford Coppola as channeled through Danish Dogme ’95.  From a critical standpoint, the consistent tone running through all of the films is even more astounding when you realize each part was directed, edited, scored and photographed by different teams.  The first two parts were directed by Julian Jarrold and James Marsh respectively, and it’s only in the superior third part (1983, directed by Anand Tucker) do we see any kind of deviation, and that’s only in a few powerfully placed auteuristic flourishes involving flashbacks and voice-overs. Continue reading