99 Homes


These days a man's home is the bank's castle.

These days a man’s home is the bank’s castle.

(2015) Drama (Broad Green) Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Clancy Brown, Tim Guinee, Nicole Barré, Yvonne Landry, Noah Lomax, J.D. Eyermore, Cullen Moss, Jordyn McDempsey, Ann Mahoney, Judd Lormand, Deneen Tyler, Donna Duplantier, Wayne Pére, Cynthia Santiago, Juan Gaspard, Nadiyah Skyy Taylor. Directed by Ramin Bahrani

It wasn’t that long ago that the economy tanked in the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Homes were being foreclosed upon at rates unheard of since the Great Depression. Families were displaced, the rich got richer and in essence nothing has changed since then other than the banks are being more circumspect somewhat, but none of the regulations that had kept this from happening before have been reinstated.

Taking place in 2010, the events in 99 Homes are said to have actually happened although I’m unclear whether they took place in the Orlando locale the film is set in. Dennis Nash (Garfield) is a construction worker who discovers that the builders of the development he’s working for have run out of money and that the past two weeks he’s been working are going to go unpaid.

His childhood home, which he lives in with his mother (Dern) and grew up in is underwater and he’s several payments behind. The bank isn’t terribly interested in anything but foreclosure and his trip to court has left him reeling; the judge, overwhelmed with the number of foreclosure cases, simply rubberstamps the bank’s request and sends Dennis packing. Dennis is told he has 30 days to appeal.

A few days later realtor Rick Carver (Shannon) shows up at Dennis’ door and without so much as a fare-thee-well tosses him, his son Connor (Lomax) and his mom into the street along with all their stuff. He is forced to move them into a skeevy hotel which is mostly filled with other evictees, some of them who’ve been there two years or more. He needs to find work now more than ever but there simply isn’t any to be had, the construction business hit hard by the fact that banks aren’t making business loans so there is nothing being built.

When he discovers that some of his tools are missing, he goes back to Carver to demand their return. Carver, impressed with his moxie, puts him to work doing a particularly disagreeable job on a foreclosed home whose previous owners let their displeasure be known in a rather spectacular way. Carver, admiring Nash’s work ethic, hires him on to do odd construction jobs and then to snatch air conditioning units from foreclosed homes that the banks will pay Carver money to install “new” units, which of course Carver simply has Nash reinstall the old units. Shifty, no?

Eventually as Nash continues to help Carver do his dirty work, Carver puts him to work doing the work that Nash is most wary of – presiding over foreclosures. Nash is sympathetic to the victims but soon becomes good at it and continues to help Carver with his chicanery. He even helps Carver set up a deal that will make them both unimaginably rich.

The issue is that Nash has a conscience and it’s beginning to get pricked, particularly in the case of a particular homeowner (Guinee). And when it all comes to a head, will Nash choose money or conscience?

This is a movie that captures the Great American Nightmare circa 2015 (yes, it’s still the Great American Nightmare). It’s a story that’s all too tragically common and will hit an emotional resonance that will touch even those who haven’t had money problems in their lives.

Garfield takes a role that he’s really more suited to than the teenage costumed superhero that he has been playing most recently. He’s still not the commanding screen presence that he might be but he’s a talented actor in his own right. What shines here though is Shannon as the slimy real estate agent whose greed and cynicism are palpable. He has a speech in which he talks about America bailing out winners that sounds like something Trump would say. I daresay that the orange-haired Republican Presidential candidate would probably like this movie for all the wrong reasons.

Dern, who has become one of the best actresses that is always getting notice but never getting noticed if you catch my drift, is once again magnificent here. She is the movie’s conscience and there are few actresses who can pull it off without being maudlin but Dern accomplishes it. She probably won’t be more than an afterthought for a Best Supporting Actress nomination here but that’s more because the script goes off the rails at the end.

Yeah, the ending. Let’s talk about it. What bugs me about Hollywood endings is that you establish a character, establish their credibility and then as the movie ends suddenly they change and act a completely different way than they’ve acted throughout the film. That’s not the way real people act and audiences know that. If you’re going to be charitable through the first 85% of the movie, the audience is going to expect you to be charitable the last 15% too. You have to follow your own internal logic. This movie doesn’t do that.

Still, it’s a fine movie that for the most part covers an issue that faces all American homeowners even those who think they’re well off. Other than that 1% we’ve heard so much about, most Americans are only a single paycheck away from financial issues and once you’ve got those it can be excruciatingly difficult to climb out from under them. The game is rigged that way and nobody wants to talk about it. Thank goodness for filmmakers like Bahrani who do.

REASONS TO GO: Real life horror. Terrific performances by Shannon and Dern.
REASONS TO STAY: Inexplicably bad ending.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of foul language including some sexual references and a brief scene of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first time Garfield has worn facial hair in a film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/15/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Margin Call
FINAL RATINGS: 7/10
NEXT: All This Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records

The Goonies


The Goonies ARE good enough!

The Goonies ARE good enough!

(1985) Adventure (Warner Brothers) Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Ke Huy Quan, John Matuszak, Robert Davi, Joe Pantolliano, Anne Ramsey, Lupe Ontiveros, Mary Ellen Trainor, Keith Walker, Steve Antin. Directed by Richard Donner

Some movies capture a moment in our lives, one in which we were essentially happy or later convinced that we were. Perhaps we were children at the time, or just starting out as adults with our whole lives ahead of us. I was 25 when The Goonies came out. My father was still alive. I was single but at least I was (kinda) dating. I was working at my dream job as a rock and movie critic for a weekly paper. Life was good.

Life was good for a group of kids who called themselves the Goonies as well, but then it turned not-so-good. Greedy developers wanted to put in a high end golf course and housing development where their homes were. Most of their parents were struggling to get through but now their struggles appeared to be over and the battle was lost. Despite their best efforts they were all going to have to move and after this weekend they’d never be together again.

Mikey Walsh (Astin) is an asthmatic kid with big dreams. The rainy weather of Astoria, Oregon (where they live and where the movie was shot) doesn’t do a kid with his lungs too much good. His big brother Brand (Brolin) is tasked with watching over him while his mom (Trainor) takes the maid (Ontiveros) out to get some things they need to clean up the house before they leave.

In the meantime they are joined by Mikey’s friends Chunk (Cohen), an overweight klutz with a big ol’ heart, Data (Quan) who yearns to be the next James Bond and is constantly inventing new gadgets to make that come true and Mouth (Feldman) who talks a whole lot but only once in awhile has something to say.

Brand on the other hand has it bad for Andy (Green), a comely young cheerleader whose acerbic best friend Stef (Plimpton) keeps her head from getting too big; besides that she genuinely likes the people hovering around Andy with the exception of Troy (Antin), the son of the developer who is putting the Goonies out of their homes.

While looking about the attic where Mikey’s dad, the director for the tiny local museum has been storing some of the town’s artifacts, the klutzy Chunk knocks over a painting to which the glass shatters. Inside the painting there turns out to be a map. The map appeared to be the work of local legend One-Eyed Willie, a pirate who sailed the waters of the Pacific centuries ago and disappeared with whispers of a vast treasure hidden in the area – a treasure that’s never been found.

Mikey realizes this could be their ticket; their means of saving their homes. Of course, there’s another legend – that of Chester Copperpot, a treasure hunter who disappeared while looking for One-Eyed Willie’s treasure. Despite Brand’s strict orders to that he needs to stay inside, Mikey and his friends ambush Brand and tie him up, let out the air of his bike’s tires and pedal off madly for one last great adventure.

In the meantime, Jake Fratelli (Davi) has been broken out of jail by his mean ol’ Ma (Ramsey) and brother Francis (Pantolliano). They’ve holed up in an abandoned restaurant which as it turns out is where the entrance to the caves where One-Eyed Willie’s treasure is buried. They manage to elude the not too bright crime gang but there is a wild car – the brutish Sloth (Matuszak) whom they keep chained up. Now the Fratellis are hot on the trail of the Goonies with the treasure – and their very homes – at stake. Are the Goonies good enough to take the challenge?

This is perhaps one of the classic movies of the 80s. It’s got Cyndi Lauper on the soundtrack. It’s got Steven Spielberg producing it. It’s got references that put it square in that remarkable decade. It’s got young actors, most of whom went on to bigger and better things in later years. And those young actors do an amazing job. You never forget for a moment that you’re in a group of friends, the same kind you had at their age. The kids you biked all over the neighborhood with. The kids you played videogames with on rainy afternoons. The kids you shared all your deepest secrets with.

Of course, a lot of kids in their 20s and younger reading this won’t have a clue what I’m talking about. Growing up was a whole lot different back then than it is now. You had a lot more face time with your friends who ALL lived in the neighborhood. You saw them in school, you hung out with them afterwards. That’s just the way it was.

The movie is perfectly cast and is fun from beginning to end. The caves of One-Eyed Willie are packed with fiendishly evil and clever traps. The pirate ship Inferno, the vessel of One-Eyed Willie, is magnificent in detail (the filmmakers actually built a working vessel; when you see it sailing near the end of the film, it actually is sailing.

This is perfect family entertainment; it’s got a little bit of everything and it’s never overbearing. Although Donner directed it, there are definite Spielbergian touches throughout and you never for an instance think that it’s anything but a Spielberg film. However, there are definitely things that are of Donner’s devising as well. It’s a theme park attraction waiting to happen (who wouldn’t want to ride a waterslide into a lagoon with a pirate ship floating at anchor?) and a great ride of a movie. If you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for? And if you have kids, get them off their cell phones and iPads and into the living room for a family movie night. It’s something your whole family will remember for a very long time to come.

WHY RENT THIS: A classic adventure and family movie. Delightful and clever.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If you don’t like Spielberg, pirates, gadgets, spy movies, 80s movies or fun, you might not like this.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few mildly bad words, some rude humor, a bit of violence and peril and a couple of disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When Jake Fratelli sings to Sloth an excerpt from Madame Butterfly, that’s really actor Robert Davi singing; he is a trained opera singer as well as an actor.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The Special Edition DVD includes music videos of both of Cyndi Lauper’s hit songs from the movie, outtakes and a video commentary track that periodically reduces the movie to a window in the corner; the commentators are Donner and all seven of the now-grown Goonies. The Blu-Ray edition has all of these plus a reprint of the official movie magazine from 1985, ten storyboard cards, a reprint of an Empire magazine article on the movie and a board game. That’s right, you heard me correctly – a board game. I’m gonna run right out and get this sucka for Christmas.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $61.4M on an unreported production budget; these are only the domestic box office numbers. The movie was a huge hit in its day and continues to generate income through home video, television and occasional theatrical showings.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Raiders of the Lost Ark

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Things We Lost in the Fire

Capitalism: A Love Story


Michael Moore is sounding a call to arms but is anybody listening?

Michael Moore is sounding a call to arms but is anybody listening?

Overture) Michael Moore, Wallace Shawn, William Black, Marcy Kaptur, Elizabeth Warren, Baron Hill, Elijah Cummings, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, Robert Powell, Sarah Palin, John McCain. Directed by Michael Moore

Shortly before the Presidential elections of 2008, the economy of America went through a meltdown. Greedy banks, whose regulatory agencies were hamstrung and de-clawed, had written mortgages that almost guaranteed that the homeowners would default. Even though the FBI had warned of an epidemic of fraudulent loans, nobody paid heed until it was far too late.

Filmmaker Michael Moore is often described as a gadfly, but here he is a crusader, going after the very heart of American wealth – the capitalist system. He skewers it mercilessly on the lance of logic and fact, showing indisputably how the system was set up to maximize the ability of the rich to increase their share of the wealth, and how those who should have been protecting the interests of average Americans were profiting by assisting those fat cats in pillaging our country.

20 years after Roger and Me, Moore again takes on the captains of industry but he has widened his scope. No longer confined to the misery of Flint, Michigan, he shows how the elite of our banking and political institutions have conspired to turn the entire country into Flint. He shows hardworking families being forced to leave their homes because they can no longer afford to pay mortgages at the outrageous interest rates the banks were charging in their Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM).

He shows blue chip companies taking out life insurance policies on their workers so that they might profit should they die unexpectedly – without the knowledge of the families of those workers. He talks to congressmen who were bullied and railroaded into passing the bailout of the banks three weeks before they were up for re-election without giving them time to study the ramifications of these bailouts – and without knowing that the Treasury Secretary had inserted a clause that protected those banks from any sort of oversight or court challenge. That’s your tax dollars at work – paying the bonuses of executives at A.I.G. and Bank of America, and buying luxury private planes for Goldman-Sachs.

He shows how Goldman-Sachs essentially staged a coup d’état after their executives were appointed to key positions in the White House, and then sent out hundreds of billions of tax dollars to preferred corporate recipients.

It’s enough to make you want to pick up a pitchfork and a torch and lead an angry mob to a corporate headquarters. However, Moore also shows instances of people standing up united and defying injustice masquerading as government authority. He shows the Republic Glass and Window Company’s workers refusing to leave the building after being massively laid off and not paid the money due them. They staged a sit-in there in late 2008 and refused to leave until they got the money they were owed. Although some media coverage is shown, quite frankly I don’t remember the story at all.

A few people come off as heroes; Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur from Ohio, who from the House of Representatives floor urged people not to leave their homes if evicted and demand that the evictors show them a copy of their mortgage which they would be unlikely to have. Whistle-blower Bill Black, who helped bring the Charles Keating S&L scandal to light 20 years ago, weighs in on the current crisis as well.

Moore’s sympathies are certainly with the working class, and he tends to focus in on how the crisis is affecting them. He does spend some time with a few middle class folk, but largely it is those who work blue collar jobs that get his attention. Also, as Moore is prone to doing, he grandstands an awful lot, going to various financial institutions trying to make citizens arrests of their CEO’s for fraud, placing crime scene tape around the stock exchange and so on.

Moore has a wicked sense of humor and it comes through in unexpected places. I was laughing out loud at some of his cracks, as well as the judicious editing that juxtaposes ancient Rome with modern America.

This is a serious subject that has rippled through the lives of virtually every American. Some of the material here will make you want to go and string up a few of these arrogant pricks by their genitals. It should be required viewing for every high school senior and college student in order to understand how economics work…or don’t work, to be more to the point.

Moore definitely has an agenda and a political stance, and he makes no bones about it. Right-wingers are going to absolutely hate this movie, especially since he characterizes capitalism as evil and urges that we drop it as an economic system. Capitalism is a sacred cow that we have been brought up to revere as the centerpiece of our American freedoms, and it isn’t lightly that we would consider such an act, but given the abuses that we have seen with our own eyes and are portrayed here, that kind of consideration may just be warranted.

REASONS TO GO: A marvelous indictment of the modern political and economic system in America. Well-reasoned, it explains exactly how we got into this mess and also illustrates very clearly how we can get out of it.

REASONS TO STAY: Those who disagree with Moore’s politics aren’t going to like this at all. While he doesn’t say it overtly, he tacitly advocates socialism over capitalism which might not go over well with the Christian right.

FAMILY VALUES: Some language issues and some difficult adult subjects. Should be required viewing for all high school seniors and college students.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Detroit premiere of the movie was in a theater located in the same building that houses the World Headquarters of General Motors. Moore was initially denied entrance to his own premiere until he came in without cameras or press hours later.

HOME OR THEATER: This has no epic scope other than that it is all about the issues that face every one of us. Conceptually, it should be seen on the big screen but from a sheer viewing standpoint, home video is fine.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day