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Lady Susan is a fairly obscure, early novel by Jane Austen written around 1794. Never submitted by the author in her lifetime, it was later published in 1871, well after her death. Given that background, you might think this is inferior Jane Austen. Compared as written works to Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice, that is undoubtedly true. However as a production in the hands of Whit Stillman, it becomes a superlative rumination of Regency manners and mores.
Love & Friendship is a period piece that concerns the widowed Lady Susan Vernon. The woman is a bit of a coquette. She seeks a second marriage that will be beneficial for herself. She has set her sights on Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel). Meanwhile she attempts to push her less polished daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) into a relationship with wealthy idiot Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). The central role is a most peculiar creature — a woman to despise for her scheming but also to admire for her perseverance. She possesses a societal reputation for flagrantly manipulating men regardless of marital status. The Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearain) has benefited from her company. In the hand of the beautiful Kate Beckinsale she is a devious flirt. The actress, all too often found in skin tight leather gear, gets a chance here to actually act and show her formidable talent. Her sister-in-law Catherine Vernon, as played by the excellent Emma Greenwell, sees through her charade while her brother-in-law Charles (Justin Edwards), does not.
Love & Friendship is a wonderfully crafted story that will charm Austen fans with its wit and sparkling wordplay. The script is a marvel with pleasantries and barbs doled out in equal measure. The individuals Jane encounters are sophisticated, educated and polite, but overly mannered to the point of being finicky, almost uptight. Director Whit Stillman exploits an erudite segment of society that other filmmakers would relegate as side characters for comedy. Yet Stillman, like Woody Allen or Wes Anderson, brings them to the fore. He has such love for these people. Even when he is making fun of their foibles, there is a palpable admiration for their temperament as well. That makes his comedy less hostile and more satisfying. The age of Jane Austen is perfectly suited to Whit Stillman’s aesthetic. His The Last Days of Disco in 1998 was a period piece set in the 1970s. Regrettably, the director has never made a costume drama from the 18th century until now. It’s about time he did. The era suits him to a T. Let’s hope he returns.
Disney has long been a force to be reckoned with – a studio with a laudable history that invented the idea of a full length animated film. I am a fan. A career resurgence began in 1989 with the release of The Little Mermaid and continued on through the ensuing decade. Since 2000, the Mouse House has released respectable work of various highs (Big Hero 6) and crushing lows (Chicken Little) but nothing that has really pushed the medium to the next level. As great as beloved titles like Tangled and Frozen were, they were still a reworking of traditional princess fairy tales. Since 1995, Pixar has taken on the mantle of raising the bar. Now with Disney’s 55th animated feature film, they have done something innovative. They’ve brilliantly captured the political zeitgeist and manipulated it into an entertaining adventure involving the police, race relations, and diversity. A lot of people contributed to Zootopia. Jared Bush and Phil Johnston wrote the screenplay but a jaw dropping group of eight writers receive story credit. That’s usually cause for alarm, but their vision remains surprisingly focused. That the achievement feels effortless and light is an amazing balancing act that deserves kudos.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is one message, but the narrative is rather astonishing in its ability to a tackle a seemingly simple moral with utter depth. It’s the tale of an anthropomorphized animal kingdom starring one “dumb bunny” Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and one “sly fox” Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). But those nicknames aren’t who they really are. This concerns how each must transcend the stereotypes that they are beset with. Predator vs. prey is the line that divides them, but this is a new age. In Zootopia, predator and prey exist side by side. They have learned to set aside their differences and co-exist in peace. The smartly crafted story has a distinct moral. This thriving metropolis separated into distinct communities. Like New York City, Zootopia is a dazzling municipality divided into boroughs.
The filmmakers have fun with these settings. The fantastic world designed is a character in and of itself. The breathtaking depth to which they have created a fully realized world is impressive. The districts feel like living breathing environments. Each habitat sustains the climate required by the animals that live within. There’s Little Rodentia, a neighborhood that caters to mostly tiny rodents. Polar bears live in freezing Tundratown. Desert mammals like camels exist in hot Sahara Square. Jaguars, otters and sloths live in Rain Forest District and then there’s Savanna Central which is the downtown central hub where everyone converges.
According to Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons), “In Zootopia, anyone can be anything.” The cast is a splendid collection of characters each imbued with a captivating personality that uniquely enhance their visual design. Particularly memorable are Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) as the blustery head of the Zootopia Police Department (ZPD) and Assistant Mayor Bellwether (Jenny Slate) a sweet sheep, sympathetic to Judy Hopps plight. Judy wants to be a cop but no rabbit has ever done that line of work. The ZPD is run by large mammals, such as rhinos, elephants and hippos, and lions. Through sheer determination and an assist by the diversity program Judy achieves her dream. There’s a lot jokes that use scale as a way to highlight how challenging it is for these various animals to co-exist in the same world. When Judy Hopps became the first rabbit on the police force, you truly appreciate why her accomplishment is so commendable. Conversely watching Judy pursue a suspect around Little Rodentia, it gives you an appreciation for how tiny this district really is. She’s initially assigned parking detail but soon circumstances intervene and she’s on a real case to help Mrs. Otterton locate her missing husband.
The fun is in the way Disney employs the DNA of pop culture to produce this massive homage. Inside jokes abound that will require multiple viewing to catch them all. Previous Disney films that appropriate animals with human qualities are inspirations. The Jungle Book and Robin Hood are obvious influences. Nick Wilde could be Robin Hood’s fox twin. Like that feature, the animals are completely anthropomorphic. They walk upright, wear clothes, drives cars and converse with one another exactly like people, yet still keeping their bestial behaviors – like a twitching nose – intact. Some individuals recall other cartoons as well. Officer Clawhauser (Nate Torrence), a police dispatcher, is a cheetah that suggests Snagglepuss’ upbeat temperament. I was getting Pete Puma vibes from a laid back yak named Yax (Tommy Cong). His scruffy mane covers his eyes while flies buzz around his head. Far out man. But the pop culture allusions don’t stop with animated titles. Some personalities even cite live action. A diminutive mole Mr. Big is a mob boss straight out of The Godfather. A drug operation is run by two rams named Walter and Jesse. Even some adults will miss that as a Breaking Bad reference.
Zootopia manages to address racism, the crack epidemic and how authorities use scapegoating to supplement their power by instilling fear of marginalized groups. Whew! No it’s not subtle, but it isn’t heavy-handed either. What makes the lesson so palatable is in the details. Visually it’s a marvel and if it my review were based solely on spectacle, it would be enough. Zootopia goes deeper by catapulting the ongoing discussion of prejudice to the front and center of a Disney cartoon. There’s so much subversive wit. Calling a bunny “cute” is not acceptable, unless it’s coming from another bunny. Judy finds Nick “articulate” but he finds the remark more condescending than complimentary. A characters can’t refrain from touching the woolly sheep’s hair. The way the observances are manipulated into the animal world is funny and incisive. It’s difficult to be both.
For all its ability to undermine established stereotypes, the film isn’t above exploiting them as well. There’s good natured ribbing at the expense of clichés of the zoological kingdom. Faraway rural Bunnyburrow is affected by a wildly expanding population. Wolves can’t resist baying at the moon the second someone howls first. The sloths are slow and work at the DMV (Department of Mammal Vehicles). The “sly”fox is indeed a con man. Oh but he wasn’t always this way. He transcended that stereotype as a child but ultimately succumbed to it thanks to overwhelming societal pressure to be anything more. Disney’s most politically motivated movie ever is a trenchant reflection on diversity. No the predator vs. prey allegory doesn’t stand up under intense scrutiny. What then do the carnivores eat if not other animals? That is never addressed. It’s easy to get bogged down in how the symbolism to our world doesn’t hold up. The fable is better appreciated as a morality tale that addresses topics very much in the zeitgeist. Living in harmony is possible. Our strengths and weaknesses can complement each other. The takeaway is – respect your fellow man.
I wasn’t going to review Daddy’s Home. I absolutely hated it. So much that I didn’t even want to ever think about it again. But then it became a hit. Since Dec 18th Star Wars: The Force Awakens has loomed large over everything else at the multiplex. That makes the success of Daddy’s Home even more incredible. While Oscar hopefuls like Concussion, Joy, The Big Short and The Hateful Eight all compete for an audience, this meager comedy outperformed them all with $120 million dollars. I can no longer ignore this. It has incurred my wrath.
It’s a sad coincidence, but Will Ferrell actually managed to co-produce the 3 worst movies I saw in 2015. No joke. Daddy’s Home, Get Hard, and Welcome to Me were the very dregs of everything I saw. It wasn’t always this way. Will Ferrell was once a favorite of mine. I consider Elf, Blades of Glory and Step Brothers to be among the funniest comedies of the 2000s decade. I even liked The Other Guys, the last flick he made with Mark Wahlberg – his onscreen co-star here. That makes his recent output all the more depressing. He can do better.
Brad (Will Ferrell) is married to Sara (Linda Cardellini). Right from the start we learn Brad cannot produce children of his own because his groin was subjected to x-ray radiation at the dentist. The script thinks it is important that we know he is infertile. The implicit-association is that he is defective and enfeebled. He is, nonetheless, a loving stepdad to her two young children. The children, who come across as ungrateful brats, hate him anyway simply because he isn’t their real dad. Megan draws a picture of Brad with “homeless man poop” on his head. However after 6 months of sycophantic behavior, Brad is finally starting to fit in with the family. That is, until the kids’ biological dad (Mark Wahlberg) decides to show up and re-enter the picture. Dusty is presented as a more handsome, athletic, macho dude that rides a motorcycle and knows the coach of the Lakers. He ingratiates himself back into their lives much to the consternation of Brad.
This is probably a good time to point out that that the entire narrative is based on a battle of egos to determine male superiority. Brad is unceasingly shown as not being able to measure up to stereotypical standards of masculinity. Will Ferrell has built a career on being an affable buffoon. He’s always been a passive milquetoast, a cloying entity desperately seeking approval. Daddy’s Home relies on those character traits, but here he amps up the obsequious sensibilities of his character to the point it becomes embarrassing. As his feeble attempts to win his stepkids’ love intensify, the more pathetic he seems.
I’ve never been a fan of comedies that derive laughs at the expense of a poor sap who is the obvious butt of jokes. It’s a very low form of humor because it relies on the degradation of another human being. Will Ferrell is a virtual whipping boy of ugly and mean-spirited humiliation. In fact, he’s emasculated to such a degree it becomes excruciating to watch. Despite the evidence that Brad is a nice guy, everyone comes to favor Dusty over Brad. This includes his boss (Thomas Haden Church), the handyman (Hannibal Buress), and the fertility doctor (Bobby Cannavale). Even his own wife (Linda Cardellini), who originally wanted nothing to do with the freeloader, is seduced by Dusty’s self serving ego-driven shenanigans. Here’s where the plot defies logic. Apparently Dusty thumped his chest the loudest.
Tonally Daddy’s Home is an unholy union of raunchy humor unconformably shoved into an account concerning children. Nowhere is this more disturbing than when Dusty improvises a fairy tale to the kids about the “real king” and the “step-king” in a way that paints Brad in a negative light, including the relative sizes of the men’s “swords”. I’m trying to figure out where the script hits rock bottom and I think sexual innuendos in a children’s bedtime story is the nadir. If this schizophrenic mishmash were only guilty of being painfully unfunny, then I could have dismissed it as just another lowbrow farce. Yet the screenplay has the unmitigated gall to tack on an inspiring coda at the eleventh hour that retrofits this dirty adult comedy with an uplifting moral. You see Brad’s fathering skills ultimately redeem all of his male deficiencies. That this appalling piece of filth eventually shapeshifts into a kid-friendly sermon makes the film too pernicious at which to even gaze. No one should see this vile film. Avert thine eyes!
On this, the last day of 2015, I reflect back on 365 days of movie watching and pick the films that were among my favorites. So now without further ado…
(Drum roll please)
It has been another fantastic year for movies, but it wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have people like you that share my passion. To all who read my blog, like my posts and keep the conversation going, I am grateful.
So thank you!
Wishing you a HAPPY NEW YEAR in 2016.
May it be your best ever!
It’s 2 Tom Hardys for the price of 1. That should be the tagline of Legend, the new biopic about the Krays from American director Brian Helgeland (A Knight’s Tale, 42). He also adapts the screenplay from John Pearson’s 1972 book The Profession of Violence. Twin brothers Ronnie and Reggie Kray were two of London’s most notorious gangsters in organized crime. Going from protection rackets and extortion in 1950s to West End nightclub owners in the swinging 60s, they mixed with celebrities and politicians alike becoming personalities in their own right. Legend is a fairly entertaining tale that recounts the rise and fall of the Kray twins. Thankfully our chronicle begins with the brothers already in power so we don’t have to suffer through some hackneyed stuff about their childhood. They’re a formidable entity right from the start, instilling fear into everyone with whom they do business. They’re even seeking to expand their bid for supremacy with some mobsters from across the pond.
Tom Hardy is hands down the MVP of the picture. He plays both brothers in separately shot scenes aided by the use of some digital trickery. Ronnie is an unstable gay paranoid schizophrenic and Reggie is his equally unstable, but much more suave and debonair brother. Reggie pursues pretty ingenue Frances Shea (Emily Browning), the sister of his driver. As the girlfriend, she is a pleasant girl who ultimately becomes his wife. However the decision to make her the narrator for everything that happens is odd. Having her recount their inner-gangland affairs is awkward since she’s rarely present during those events. It’s a simplistic style choice that trades on an overall lack of depth for beaucoup gloss.
Clearly the main selling point of Legend is a pair of gangster performances from British actor Tom Hardy. The scattered and superficial biography is sustained by juicy twin roles that impressively come across as two totally different people. The framework allows for him to really chew scenery in a compelling way. Reggie is by far the better characterization in terms of charisma. He’s a brooding, commanding presence. Impatient Ronnie, on the other hand, is a bit cartoonish. He tosses off intentionally funny one-liners that appropriately induce laughter but also cheapen the seriousness of the rest of the production. Hardy ‘s garbled elocution is actually reminiscent of his portrayal of the supervillain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.
A few of the Krays’ criminal dealings are depicted. For example, the murders of George Cornell (Shane Attwooll), a member of the rival Richardson gang, and criminal hitman Jack the Hat (Sam Spruell), do occur. Unfortunately all too often Legend focuses on the less interesting subject of Reggie’s marriage to Frances Shea. Certainly there is no derth of bloodshed. The account is indeed violent. It’s just that the narrative is fashioned around a triad of performances that occasionally veers into soap opera when it should focus on the twins rule of terror. In addition to the aforementioned Emily Browning, Tom Hardy is supported by an able cast including actors Colin Morgan, Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton, David Thewlis and Chazz Palminteri. They’re all great, but make no mistake. This is Tom Hardy’s show.
Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are back. The pair have a history of working together. You’re probably aware they have collaborated before as actor/director, but this is actually their fourth movie together. Saving Private Ryan (1998), Catch Me If You Can (2002), and The Terminal (2004) were the others. With Bridge of Spies, the two are truly in their element.
American James B. Donovan is an insurance lawyer. He’s appointed to defend Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a man arrested as a Soviet spy. His peers in the Brooklyn Bar Association have chosen Donovan for this thankless task. He assisted in the 1945 Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals so it’s not completely out of left field. The time is 1957 at the height of the Cold War and American hatred toward communists is at a fever pitch. Which is why now, more than ever, Abel must receive the appearance of an equitable trial. Donovan takes his responsibility very seriously much to everyone’s surprise. This includes the judge, the prosecuting attorney, his firm, even his own family. His efforts to seek acquittal are roundly greeted with anger and derision.
Tom Hanks personifies the lawyer as a do-gooding crusader, not unlike Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, another idealist. The thing is, the government’s case against Abel is overwhelming and indisputable. The fact that the evidence points to the defendant’s guilt in this incident is kind of beside the point. Everyone deserves a fair trail. The noble campaign in defending an unpopular defendant is similar. Tom Hanks exudes dignity and class as an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances His unfailing commitment to doing the right thing, despite widespread opposition, is almost too good to be true. And yet he radiates such sincerity that Hanks captures our empathy where we warmly embrace this man. We champion his cause, if not his client.
Actor Mark Rylance inhabits the role of the Soviet spy as sort of an enigma. He doesn’t say much and what he does say is without a Russian accent. He displays a calm, even carefree demeanor.
James Donovan: Aren’t you worried?
Rudolf Abel: Would it help?
That straight-faced line gets repeated a few times, always to amusing effect. The screenplay penned by Joel and Ethan Coen along with Matt Charman crackles. Mark Rylance (The Other Boleyn Girl, Anonymous) is an English theater actor, unfamiliar to mainstream audiences. That is until now. This performance show get him some justified attention.
Now if that were the whole plot, it would still have been a good one. Except the saga isn’t over. That’s only half of it. A few years later in 1960, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is an American whose U-2 spy plane is shot down while flying a “reconnaissance mission” over Soviet Union airspace. The CIA sends Donovan abroad to negotiate the release our spy in exchange for theirs. The complications surrounding the tricky negotiations don’t rely on breathtaking action but they are fascinating nonetheless. Spielberg takes some liberties with events and reactions. For example, Donovan’s family did receive threatening letters in real life, but his home was never riddled with bullets by an angry citizen. I guess that is within the realm of dramatic license. Not too objectionable. Steven Spielberg directs with the confidence of a master. He has a fondness for historical epics (Amistad, War Horse, Lincoln). He takes what could have been a dull tale of governmental machinations and imbues it with the necessary amount of reverence and flash. This is compelling stuff but with a measured take. By taking a pivotal Cold War moment that was shrouded in secrecy, he deftly handles the problems of a perplexing storyline and distills it into something entertaining to watch.
It’s the turn of the 20th century and the Victorian era is coming to an end. Edith Cushing is a would-be author of ghost stories in Buffalo, New York. She hopes to get published. She meets a enigmatic English aristocrat who likes her writing and, by extension, her as well – naturally. Unfortunately her Father doesn’t approve of the man – naturally. One thing leads to another and Edith’s heart is broken – as you would expect. There’s a lot more but you get the idea. Crimson Peak is the latest from the mind of Guillermo del Toro, the artiste behind Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim. The chronicle employs spooky aspects but it hews a lot closer to the affairs of the heart than outright scares. You see the ghosts are a metaphor. Edith even explicitly tells us this point regarding her own work. The gothic romance is exquisitely ornate in atmosphere, but completely routine in story.
Reviewers are fond of tossing around descriptive phrases like “gothic fiction” to describe a film, but what defines “gothic” anyway? A personifying trait is the old foreboding mansion in a state of decay, a haunted house if you will, that harbors a terrible secret or serves as the sanctuary for a questionable character. The genre is generally traced back to The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole, but was popularized by authors including Ann Radcliffe, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe and Daphne du Maurier. Some of the great classics of 19th-century literature—Frankenstein, The House of the Seven Gables, Jane Eyre, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame partly reference the style. Horror elements are often present, but a sophisticated romanticism usually informs the subject. Movies like Rebecca (1940), The Innocents (1961) and The Others (2001) are the benchmarks in the cinematic world.
Crimson Peak aspires to those standards. It benefits from a first-rate cast. Although they’re all playing archetypes you’ve seen many times before. Mia Wasikowska is the quintessential woman in distress, as is de rigueur for a gothic romance such as this. She was the star of 2011’s Jane Eyre so she can plays this role in her sleep. Tom Hiddleston is the suitably mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe, the dapper stranger for whom she falls. Jessica Chastain is Lucille, Thomas’ overprotective sister. She’s a devoted devil in full tilt “Mrs. Danvers” mode. If Thomas’ odd behavior didn’t serve as a warning sign to innocent Edith, then Lucille’s creepy disposition should have been an outright slap in the face. Charlie Hunnam is a clean cut, prospective suitor that would appear to be the more sensible choice and Jim Beaver is Carter Cushing, Edith’s wealthy father.
The presentation is meticulously detailed, employing a veritable smorgasbord of gleefully elaborate costumes, lush set design and a strings-infused score by Fernando Velazquez. They dress up an R rated production that occasionally falls victim to excess. The up-to-the-minute digital effects sometimes distract from the sumptuous proceedings, rather than assist them. The inky floating specter of her dead mother repeatedly pops up to warn her to avoid Crimson Peak. Wouldn’t you know that’s exactly where she ends up. Go figure. The screenplay by del Toro and Matthew Robbins won’t win any awards in the originality departement. The surprise is that the plot is indeed conventional right through to the end. I was shocked by how utterly derivative the story truly is. Was that the twist? My eyes were delighted however and I suppose that counts for something. The house is bewitchingly decrepit. More questions. Why is non-stop debris constantly falling through the ceiling in Allerdale Hall? Why doesn’t someone call the roofer? Don’t think. Just watch as the fashion, music and mood gorgeously feast on a feeble script. Crimson Peak is all beauty, no brains.
Aaron Sorkin is an amazing writer. The Oscar winning scribe behind such beloved titles as A Few Good Men, The Social Network, and Moneyball has an ear for dialogue and Steve Jobs, the movie, is no different. The author fashions the story as a play in three acts. Just don’t call it a biopic. The screenwriter has openly acknowledged it as “impressionistic”. The production is more of an imagined portrait as directed by Danny Boyle. We follow the titular icon backstage at the presentation of three key unveilings in his life: the introduction of the Macintosh computer in 1984, the debut of the NeXT computer in 1988 and the launch of the iMac in 1998.
Structurally it’s quite innovative. The narrow scope gives the drama a core with which to delve into the personality of the man. But at the same time that fixation is rather limiting too. It’s an isolated misrepresentation. The screenplay is adapted both from Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs as well as interviews conducted by Sorkin. The dialogue isn’t based on actual conversations but more of an imagining of what might have been said, given what ultimately occurred. For example, Steve Jobs has a histrionic shouting match with Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) right before the iMac introduction. This happens publicly in an auditorium with many apple employees looking on. Given Steve Jobs’ carefully orchestrated persona, this publicly embarrassing scene doesn’t even have the ring of truth. To make matters worse, we’ve already heard this same complaint from Steve Wozniak before in each of the previous two acts.
Which brings me to my next point. The feature is repetitive. Their open argument concerns Wozniak’s desire to have Jobs publicly acknowledge the Apple II team and their contribution. Every time Wozniak shows up, it’s to whine about the same agenda. In the first section, it’s engrossing. In the second, it’s mild déjà vu. By the third it’s tedious begging. He’s like a broken record. Ditto the interactions between Steve Jobs and Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), former girlfriend and mother of his child, Lisa. Chrisann drops in at inopportune times to plead with him. She rightfully wants him to support his biological child. “Your Apple stock is worth $441 million dollars, and your daughter and her mother are on welfare.” It’s kind of unbelievable how many people freely tell this powerful guy off. Yeah, he’s not a nice guy and the script doesn’t pull many punches. This is Steve Jobs the jerk. A brilliant manipulator of people, but still a jerk.
The first act is a fascinating, albeit cold, conversation between people. These include Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman. In real life she was a marketing executive but functions more as a personal assistant here. There’s Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), one of many engineers on the original Apple Macintosh development team. He is given center stage when the computer won’t say “hello” in a robotic voice. Steve Jobs bullies Andy Hertzfeld into submission. The scene is amusing but it feels apocryphal. There’s also Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), a mentor of sorts who dispenses wisdom like a father figure. The verbal sparring between the two is a high point.
That Macintosh section is captivating. The NexT computer portion, decent. But the iMac launch is where the narrative becomes exhausting. The primary gist throughout Steve Jobs isn’t business. It’s his relationship with Lisa, the daughter he refuses to accept. She pops up repeatedly, played at different stages by Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo, and Makenzie Moss. Their bond forms the climax. The chronicle has so little to do with the successes of his profession. In fact his most celebrated gadgets (iPhone, iPod, and iPad) aren’t even mentioned), Neither is the Pixar company. Steve Jobs became a multi-billionaire as its majority shareholder, after the Walt Disney company bought it in 2006. Sorry this movie ends in 1998.
Steve Jobs benefits from a crackerjack screenplay. The lightning fast dialogue, particularly in the first two acts is quite mesmerizing. It’s a veritable inundation of words, a theatrical tour de force for its star Michael Fassbender. Despite his lack of resemblance, he gets the driven spirit of the character. Who cares that little, if any of these conversations really happened, right? The attitude behind what he did is rooted in fact. I won’t fault the script for inaccuracy, but I will fault it for entertainment. The center of attention is a man who must make amends with his daughter. For a man so admired for the things he created, it is a regrettable misdirection of focus. The climatic discussion invented for the dramatization. For most of the runtime, Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue zings. Characters exchange words back and force with the crack of a whip. It’s a masterfully composed conceptual play. I easily admire it for that. It’s the artificiality and narrow focus that is difficult to love.
It’s always a treat when a thespian has the opportunity to really act. Andrew Garfield hit the big time with a supporting part in The Social Network back in 2010. The attention he drew got him the lead in The Amazing Spider-Man reboot as well as its sequel two years later. I didn’t care for those movies. They were little more than CGI fests and they did nothing to show off the talent he displayed in his earlier work. Now he’s back to his indie roots with this well made production about the housing market crash of 2008. I suppose the same could also be said of Michael Shannon. He starred as the main villain in 2013’s Man of Steel. The difference is that the Superman picture was sort of an exception to the sheer number of indie films (Revolutionary Road, Take Shelter, Mud) he normally does.
99 Homes is a social issue drama concerning Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) and his family when the bank must foreclose on his home. The blue collar single dad, his young son (Noah Lomax), and his mom (Laura Dern), are suddenly without a place to live. The setting is Orlando in the wake of the 2008 subprime-mortgage crisis. Real estate developer Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) is in charge of the eviction. He takes advantage of these foreclosures by swooping in and buying up these homes at a profit. He is an opportunist who is insensitive to, even critical of, their plight. “Dennis, you borrowed $60,000 and didn’t’t pay it back — ain’t that stealing?” he chides.
Michael Shannon clearly has the juiciest role. As a hissable villan, he gives the individual life, relishing in his personality where compassion is a weakness. His “greed is good” ethos would make him a good buddy of Gordon Gecko in Wall Street. “Don’t get emotional about real estate, ” he warns. They’re boxes. Big boxes, small boxes. What matters is how many you’ve got.” Indeed he tosses off words of wisdom that deserve to be oft-quoted lines. He’s the proverbial person you love to hate. But is he truly the villan or is the system itself? The temperament of Andrew Garfield’s Dennis Nash isn’t as extreme, but his construction worker has the most compelling character arc. His sweet, gentle demeanor is engaging for the opposite reason. But his decency has a price. As his desperation increases, he caves to darker impulses to provide for his family.
Together Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield provide a captivating study of personalities that interact over an ethical and moral divide. This harrowing chapter of recent history mines socio-political themes for genuine human drama. Director Ramin Bahrani co-wrote the script with Amir Naderi from a story by Bahareh Azimi. The director rachets up the tension and takes what could have been a dry subject into a powerful narrative. Things get intense and watching people lose their homes can be pretty uncomfortable to watch. There’s a surprising amount of suspense in the simplistic but well acted character examination. Unfortunately the ending lacks the punch of the rest of the film. While it entertains, it also informs, giving us a window into how reckless monetary policies contributed to the the financial recession of 2007–09. Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon portray the human and often painful side of what happens when the economy fails. 99 Homes is the intimate side to an epic saga.