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99 Homes (2014)

March 1, 2016

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The film open with Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) surveying a bloody bathroom and a dead man. We then find out that the dead man’s home had been foreclosed on, and Carver was the one who was evicting him. Carver doesn’t seem to be phased by the death, or the widow or kids on the front lawn.

Dennis Nash’s (Andrew Garfield) is working on a job building a house but the foreman suddenly tells them the job is shutting down. The money for the project has fallen through and no one is getting paid. Later we see that Dannis’ home is being foreclosed on. He goes to court but he gets no help there. A man named Rick Carter (Michael Shannon) comes to the house and tells him he has to get out of the house in ten minutes ; the bank owns it now.

Dennis finds himself with his mom and his son in a seedy motel. When he goes to get some of tools back from the people who did the foreclosure, he ends up doing a job for Carter. One job leads to another and soon Dennis finds himself in the foreclosure business.

99-homes-4 hooman bahrani braod green picturesDennis seems to hate the work he is doing but he is desperate to get his mother and his son back in to the family home. Dennis later has to take part in a foreclosure on the father of one of his son’s friends, Frank Green.The bankers and Carter have rigged it so they illegally get the paperwork to foreclose Frank’s house, and Dennis knows this. Green cracks and is ready to shoot it out with the police, but Dennis intervenes and tells the police about the illegalities his company took part in.

Dennis gets put in the police car, but green’s son comes up to it and smiles at him.

The movie makes a very strong statement about the bankers, politicians and wheeler dealers who caused the housing crisis, and then profited from it. The only losers were the people whose homes went under. Dreams dashed, people on the street, but the Rick Carter’s of the world only cared about making more money for themselves.

 In De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, Antonio Ricci loses a job because someone steals a bike from him. Like Dennis, who also lost a job through no fault of his own, Antonio’s family is now in great distress. In their desperation Dennis ends up joining up with the people he despises and Antonio steals a bike. Both have taken on the roles of those who helped to ruin their lives.

In his earlier movies we saw Bahrani’s love for the neo-realist style, and here we see the neo-realist themes continued, commenting on society by looking at the life of one family.

A really good and very powerful and truthful movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Any Price (2012)

January 1, 2014

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And now for something completely different. Ramin Bahrani leaves the inner city and his cinema verite neo-realistic style and directs a drama about the American Dream gone bad.
Randy Quaid plays Henry Whipple who owns and works a large farm and sells genetically engineered seeds on the side. Henry inherited the business from his father and the mantra is get bigger or die. Henry knows how to play the game. He even stoops to attending funerals and trying to buy up farm land from the family. Henry has two sons: Dean (Zac Efron) who wants to race cars and Grant who is away climbing mountains. Henry, who is a flawed man, cheating on his strong wife, is anxious to pass the family business on to his sons, but it doesn’t seem he has any takers.
Henry is accused of doing some illegal things, and he may lose it all. When racing turns out bad for Dean he decides to join the family business, but his temper leads to the death of a family economic rival. The Whipple world seems to be be collapsing. But, Henry helps cover up for his son and Henry’s wife helps him get his act together. The family puts on a customer appreciation picnic and it seems that life will go on.
What is the movie trying to say? That you can cheat and even kill, and get ahead? That the American Dream is ending for the small business man? That the only way to get ahead in modern America is to abandon traditional values? That the rich can get away with anything – even murder? The movie raises some great questions and it leaves it up to the viewer to decide what is really going on.
In his four star review Roger Ebert (who was a big supporter of Ramin Bahrani) wrote:

“This is a brave, layered film that challenges the wisdom of victory at any price. Both of its central characters would slip easily into conventional plot formulas, but Bahrani looks deeply into their souls and finds so much more. He finds a father and a son who are both challenged to question the assumptions on which they have based their lives. Yet this is not a “message picture,” its theme is never spelled out, and it communicates by the most effective means, life experience. It evokes elements of “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Death of a Salesman,” and how it moves from one to the other is subtly persuasive.”

He goes on to say:

“None of Bahrani’s films are simple. They inspire reflection. When this film played at the Venice Film Festival, one British critic complained that the Efron character’s racing career “ultimately peters out.” That suggests the critic understood exactly nothing about the movie. If it had ended with Dean Whipple winning a big race and becoming a NASCAR champion, that would have signified that “At Any Price” was just one more simple-minded formula picture. But this film doesn’t wrap things up in a tidy package. It is a great film about an American moral crisis.”

This movie isn’t as highly rated as it should be. I don’t think most people like movies where they aren’t given the answers, but are instead asked to supply them for themselves. At Any Price is a brave movie, and like Ramin Bahrani’s earlier movies, shows you a slice of life, but doesn’t tell you what you should think about it. It is up to the viewer to decide what they should take away from the film.

Chop Shop (2007)

December 20, 2009

The streets of New York have never looked so real. Ale is very ambitious and is always in on a hustle. Trying to sneak into the back of a contractor’s truck, selling candy on the subway of directing traffic into an auto repair shop, buffing the cars, sweeping, stealing tires, stealing hub caps : it’s all about making a buck.
In addition to all this work he also tries to take care of his big sister Isamar. When the movie starts Isamar has been away, but when she comes back Ale has gotten her a job and found a place for them to stay.
When Ale sees his sister prostituting herself he is devastated. She is trying to help make money so they can buy a food truck but you can feel Ale’s pain. Ale keeps on hustling and doing his best to take care of his sister.
The movie is so good that Roger Ebert named it to his list of Great Movies after it had only been out for two years. Rogers says : “In only 84 minutes, “Chop Shop” makes you feel you’ve been somewhere you may never have known existed — even if you’ve flown over it, or taken the subway through it, or sat in a nosebleed seat at Shea. As in Man Push Cart, Bahrani knows precisely how and when to strike the final note and leave it reverberating in the air. It’s neither upbeat nor downbeat, just right. And it sends you soaring.”
Ramin Bahrani is an American neo-realist. His movies join the ranks of great movies like Rome, Open City, The Bicycle Thieves, Umberto D, Germany Year Zero and I Vitteloni. The only American movie that I can think of that compares to his is Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1977). I hope Ramin Bahrani stays true to his calling of showing how the other half lives, in his own, unique American neo-realistic style.

Man Push Cart (2005)

December 9, 2009

The movie starts in the dark back streets as men load their carts at 3AM getting ready for the days work. A man, Ahmad,  pulls his cart down the city street. When he gets to his destination he puts on the coffee and puts out the donuts. After dropping off the cart he will peddle bootleg tapes on the way home.
The movie is beautifully filmed. As the cars and taxis whiz by you get a real feel for the streets of New York. Ahmad meets his father in law and is disappointed that he doesn’t have his son with him again. He hasn’t seen in three months. He starts working part-time for a fellow Pakistani, Manish, who recognizes him as a former Pakistani rock star and tells him that he will try to establish him over here.
Meanwhile Ahmad meets a girl, Noemi, who works at a news stand. He picks up a stray kitten and brings it home. But always there is the quick cut to the pulling cart. The predawn comes quick when you lead the life he does.
We find out that Ahmad had left home because of his wife. But now his wife is dead, she died a year ago. Information isn’t easy to come by in this movie. Ahmad doesn’t talk much. A quick scene and then a jump cut back to him pulling the cart (it should have been called Man Pull Cart).
When Ahmad goes to his in-laws to see his young son, his mother in law is furious. She says (in Pakistani) “He is not your son anymore! It’s your fault that she’s gone from this word, God rest her soul! It’s your fault!” He tries to talk to his son but his son walks away.
 The kitten dies and Ahmad buries it. He tries to kiss Noemi but he isn’t up to doing it. We see a daydream of his back to the days when his wife was alive, with the baby. He was alive then too. She helped him in the cart.
Ahmad leaves the cart for a few minutes to buy a present. When he comes back the cart is gone – stolen. His dream of making money and getting his son back is floating away.
The movie is really without a narrative structure. There aren’t three acts in it, there is just one long act. But is so much more like real life than your typical movie. It’s more like a poem than a movie, and is as beautiful, and it is tragic, as it unfolds. If I had to compare it to a movie I would compare it to City Lights (1931). It flashes from scene to scene and the scenes make sense and the viewer is deeply moved.
 A wonderful movie.

Goodbye Solo (2008)

December 6, 2009

Movies like Goodbye Solo are the reason I first starting watching “At the Movies” back in the 70’s. I saw so many good movies that Roger and Gene recommended, and no else I knew had ever heard of. As I watched this movie I was immediately reminded of that great Iranian film, A Taste of Cherry, which I loved and Roger hated (his review).
It’s hard to describe why this movie worked so well. There were not a lot of dramatic things happening. We are just observing two lives as they interact with each other. But as the movie goes on and we begin to know William we begin to hope, almost desperately, that Solo can help him.
The movie has a documentary feel to it : the way it is filmed, the truthfulness of the dialogue and the ability to make everyday scenes seem fascinating and real. I started hoping early that this was going to have a Hollywood ending and not be a tragedy. I usually feel just the opposite when I watch a film, but I really liked these characters and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to watch it again if things didn’t end well.
Solo, short for Souleymane, is such a good person. He is not perfect, he has his flaws, but he is the kind of person we should all try to be. He cares about people, even about people he doesn’t know very well. When Solo discovers the picture of the movie theatre ticket seller in William’s bag he suddenly know what is going on with William. He has had a grandson who he has had no contact with and he wants to see him and get to know him a little before he ends his life. When William punches Solo it almost feels like we are getting punched. But Solo is a great soul. When he approaches the movie theatre, even after all that William has done to put him off, you know that it is a really brave and selfless act that he is doing. He is a better person than anyone who is viewing the movie.
Goodbye Solo is a movie that really does not have much of a plot. But it was beautifully filmed and it somehow, almost magically, really made you care about its characters. A great, great movie. Roger Ebert really loved it too. He had a great line at the end of his review. “Wherever you live, when this film opens, it will be the best film in town.” No one can say things like that better than Roger.