99 Homes: A Slice of Soured American Dreams – (Review)

Written and directed by Ramin Bahrani (an auteur who has been described as the new chronicle of US cinema) 99 Homes offers up a slice of the American dream that has been soured…

Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon living the sour American dream

Written and directed by Ramin Bahrani (an auteur who has been described as the new chronicle of US cinema) 99 Homes offers up a slice of  the American dream that has been soured by the banks, entrepreneurs and an economy designed to suck the life out of the lower-middle class.  Starring the powerhouse that is Michael Shannon and Spiderman reboot star Andrew Garfield (in a serious role not reliant upon Stan Lee’s web slinger or comic books) this film festival favorite is a disturbing look at how honest sweat and labor has been overwhelmed by deal making and double dealing. 

Garfield is “everyman” carpenter Dennis Nash who loses his family  home to the bank. The institution gives the single parent  conflicting information that allows him to fall behind with his payments.  House reclamation expert Rick Carver (Shannon) shows up to take the home way from Nash for the bank.  Later, Dennis begins working for Carver and gets swept up in the nefarious dealings of the dour repossessor for the inept financial institutes who has learned to play the system and earn big money.

Laura Dern plays Nash’s hairdresser mother Lynn and Noah Lomax plays Nash’s son Connor.  Bahrani takes the viewer on an uncomfortable ride where Garfield’s character becomes embroiled in the shadowy and illegal practices of Carver and his real estate company after being forced out of his home and losing everything he holds dear. 

When one of  Carver’s workmen steals some of Dennis’ tools, the man goes to get them back and ends up working pro bono for the repression agent.  Nash has an immediate goal of reclaiming his family home. Later, Dennis loses sight of himself and his own moral compass as the greed and loopholes in the fractured system allow him to succeed beyond his wildest dreams.

99 Homes is, at times, extremely uncomfortable viewing. Nash’s humiliation, from a  range of avenues; the court, the bank, the repossession agency, is complete and soul destroying. His fruitless search for work and  temporary living accommodations at a hotel full of destitute refugees whose homes have all be repossessed force Dennis to begin working full time for the very man who took his house away for the bank.

Garfield is brilliant as the single father whose home and, by association,  life  is “stolen” by banks whose employees are making a killing by repossessing houses. Dennis Nash is not the brightest tool in the shed but has an innate honesty and a good heart that becomes polluted by his circumstance and the awareness  that he is actually rather good at repossessing homes and making money on the side from it.

Nash’s journey is a revealing look at someone facing and then working for their own personal demon.  Shannon’s character is a predator who cruises neighborhoods for potential repossessions. His business plans include stripping the houses of air conditioner units and swimming pool filter systems, as well as gutting the place from the previous owners,  while playing both sides against the middle.

In Bahrani’s America shaky financing and loopholes allow sharks like Carver and Mr. Freeman (Clancy Brown in a performance of impressive stature, although for  a plot definitive cameo the part is of “blink and you will miss” him duration) the ability to milk the system as they make a fortune out of other people’s misfortune.

Carver is an e-cigarette puffing money-making machine who has no empathy for the individuals who bankroll his lifestyle.  The real estate agent lives in a mansion and has a mistress.  He also has no conscience.

Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski gives the viewer an unflinching look at the proceedings and Bahrani edits the scenes to allow the same uncomfortable experience to flow throughout the film.  The sound is a perfect blend of background ambiance; empty houses sound empty as does the dialogue taking place in them.

While the film is a “vehicle” for Garfield (who does turn in an impressively underplayed  performance full of angst, it is Shannon who shines as the man who angrily blames the banks, home owners and the economy for his success.  The real estate agent who is making a killing from the frailties of the economy professes discomfort at his success but the man, as they say, “doeth protest too much.”

99 Homes proves that Ramin Bahrani is the new voice of middle America or the blue collar worker’s chronicler as a new generational version of “The Grapes of Wrath,” a’la James Michener via the medium of film.

This is a 5 out of  5 stars vehicle for all concerned. Entertainment based upon not just the human condition but the societal ills that affect it.  99 Homes is a powerful film that disturbs and should be a movie that makes the audience talk about the very real issues behind this tale of greed and loss.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Like Being in an Awesome Video Game (Trailer/Review)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Like Being in an Awesome Video Game (Trailer/Review)

Watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was like being in the middle of one the world’s most awesome video games. Speaking to another “Spidey” fan two weeks prior to this advanced screening, we both agreed that the first of the Spider-Man remakes felt as though the filmmakers had taken a leaf out of the video gameMirror’s Edge. For those who have not played the game, it was the “first” first-person action/adventure platforming game and it was developed by EA Digital Illusions CE.

 

The Amazing Spiderman (2012): A New Beginning

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Like many other fans of Sam Raimi‘s Spiderman films, I was not just outraged at the news of a re-make, but shocked. In my mind Raimi is the King. I’ve been a devoted fan since his Evil Dead days. I felt that his pairing of Toby McGuire (who I admit would not have been my choice to play Peter Parker) and Kirsten Dunst with the memorable villains of each film were the pinnacle of perfection in the Stan Lee verse.

Tonight I watched the Blu-ray copy of Mark Webb’s The Amazing Spiderman and amazingly (you see what I did there) I was entertained. I can’t say that I loved Webb’s casting choices over Raimi’s (although to be honest once you get Parker out-of-the-way, the film focuses on his romance with Gwen Stacy who was, of course, pre-Mary Jane) but the pairing of  Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone  worked brilliantly.

I can’t really complain about the change in the basic verse of Spiderman though. If Stan Lee can do a cameo in the film (and my goodness, it was brilliant) then he must not have thought too badly about the altering of Peter Parkers back story. I read the Spiderman comics almost religiously when I was a kid and I don’t remember any back story elements that included Pa Parker being a scientific genius. I may be wrong, but I don’t remember that at all.

Gwen and Peter in a "tender" moment.
Gwen and Peter in a “tender” moment.

Still the story works well for the film and apart from my being yanked completely out of the verse when I saw Sally Field  as Aunt May, I enjoyed the plots mechanisation’s. Martin Sheen  as Uncle Ben was an admirable choice as they obviously could not get Cliff Robertson. Sheen is as close to Hollywood royalty as you can get these days. It is probably my age that causes the Sally Field rift; I still remember her as Gidget and The Flying Nun, not to mention Frog in the Smokey and the Bandit pictures. She doesn’t look a whole lot older either.

It was really good to see actor  C. Thomas Howell in a “critical” cameo. The last film I saw him in was so far down the alphabet that it could not even be rated as a ‘B’ film. Great to see him back in a major motion picture where he belongs. Seeing the film on Blu-ray made me realise that I should have taken a chance and seen it in the theatre. The CGI looks brilliant and the stunts played very well, despite a little “ropey” wire work.

I was also pleased to see Denis Leary as Gwen’s dad. He’s looking older (aren’t we all) and still looks good on the big screen. All in all the cast was excellent and Rhys Ifans as Dr Curt “The Lizard” Connors rocked it. Again great CG on his ‘stump’ and his Lizard-man transformation. He managed to elicit sympathy as the man who so desperately wants to help mankind and regrow his missing limb.

Emma Stone doing what she does best.
Emma Stone doing what she does best.

Andrew Garfield as Peter “Spiderman” Parker does a great job. He has a sort of old-fashioned look to him. My daughter Meg at one point in the film said he made her think of Anthony Perkins. After a moment or two of watching him, I had to agree. Emma Stone continues to act her socks off and still look so damned beautiful it hurts. She’s making a career of playing the girl who is a Geek’s dream and she does it well.

I always count on how well a film has done if I feel euphoric or teary at the film’s end. In the case of The Amazing Spiderman, I felt euphoric. In fact I think that was my feeling about the film overall. It is well paced and damned funny in places. It kept me glued to the screen and my attention never wandered for one moment.

So I have decided that there is room for both Raimi’s Spiderman and Webb’s Spiderman. I’ll just think of Webb’s as a new beginning for the verse and set back, eat my popcorn and cheer for old ‘Spidey.’ Oh and continue to look for Stan “The Man” Lee’s future cameos.

Stan "The Man" Lee in his best cameo to date.
Stan “The Man” Lee in his best cameo to date.

The Amazing Spider-Man Returns…Again

With the 2002 release of Spider-Man with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst as ‘Spidey‘ and his love interest, I felt that Sam Raimi had done justice to Stan “The Man” Lee’s comic creation. Two more films quickly followed and a fourth was rumoured to be in the works.

Then, nothing.

The scuttlebutt was that differences of opinion between Maguire and Raimi was causing delays. It ended apparently with both sides leaving the ‘table’ and shelving Spider-Man 4 indefinitely.

Enter director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) with just the one feature film under his belt who was now going to helm the “new” Spider-man film.

With Toby Maguire admittedly being a bit long in the tooth to reprise Spidey at this late date, a search for a younger actor was launched.

Enter English actor Andrew Garfield, former gymnast and Spider-man fan. Good looking enough to set the ladies heart racing and athletic enough to do a lot of his own stunts.

With a new Spider-man, a new love interest was required. Kirsten Dunst was, like Toby, a bit old for the new, younger Spidey so they replaced her with the drool inducing Emma Stone. *Not as Mary Jane, but Peter Parker‘s first love in the Comic Verse,  Gwen Stacy.*

English: Emma Stone at the 2011 San Diego Comi...

The story line has been changed to allow a different take on the perils of Peter Parker. Deciding to focus on the ‘lack’ of Peter’s parents, it follows his journey to discover what his father did and who he was.

In a move that completely baffles me, actress Sally Field has been cast as Aunt May. Presumably because Cliff Robertson is no longer available, forever, they felt that a ‘name’ actor was required. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Sally Field, but I am having a hard time picturing The Flying Nun as Peter’s auntie. It also does not help that she doesn’t have the white librarian hair bun that May always sported in the comic.

They’ve also come up with a new villain. The Lizard  aka Dr. Curt Connors, who, I am pretty sure, does not exist in the comic book world of Stan Lee. But hey! Why not ‘make up’ a villain? You’ve already made up a dubious plot line for Spidey and friends.

**I have to stand corrected on the Lizard villain, he does indeed exist in the Spider-man verse, I just forgot him, quite understandable considering he was introduced in 1963 when I was five. I was not yet a Spider-man fan. Just goes to show there is a reason to do ALL your research.**

Stan Lee
Stan Lee (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

I know that a little detail like a non-existent search for Peter’s parents demise will not stop most of the targeted audience from attending in droves. It will be in the ‘new’ 3D, it will feature the ever beautiful Emma Stone and it will feature lots of web slinging, swinging, and splatting.

It looks to be witty (at least in the trailers it does) and very action packed. A perfect Blockbuster for the summer holidays. It opens here in the UK on the 3rd of July. I doubt I will be queuing up to see it.

I am slightly allergic to the demographic that will be in attendance and I really rather liked the ‘old’ Spider-Man. So I’ll most likely wait for the DVD. My Spidey-Sense is tingling and it’s telling me that, chances are, this might not be that great a film.