Saturday, January 23, 2016

Real Estate Trouble: 99 Homes & Crimson Peak

The Brattle doesn't often get this cute with their double features, so I can't guarantee that as the folks there were putting their winter schedule together and looking at the movies they wanted for their "(Some of) The Best of 2015", they thought that the movie about foreclosures in 2010 Florida and the one about a haunted house in turn of the twentieth century England were thematically linked. But it's certainly fun to think of that scene. I certainly know that if I ever get to run a theater, weird double-feature themes would be one of my greatest joys.

99 Homes

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 January 2016 at the Brattle Theatre ([Some of] the Best of 2015, DCP)

If The Big Short is the movie that explained the mortgage crisis which would define the early years of the twenty-first century, 99 Homes is the one that chronicles what it's like on the ground. Filmmaker Ramin Bahrani does an excellent job of tying the two perspectives found there together, building a movie that really claws at its viewers.

The most sympathetic and sadly common perspective belongs to Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a construction worker and single father not only far enough behind on his mortgage that he's facing eviction from his family home, but seeing a site he's been working at abandoned without his getting paid. The man pushing him out of his house is Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), a real estate broker focused on acquiring houses cheap and flipping them quickly, and not averse to cutting corners or engaging in a bit of fraud while doing it. When Nash goes to try and get some tools he thought was stolen during his eviction back, Carver takes note of the guy and offers him a bit of work; then, impressed by Nash's determination, winds up giving him more responsibility.

Nash slides very believably from victim to complicit as he tries to recover his foreclosed house, in large part thanks to the work of actor Andrew Garfield. "Regular guy" is a deceptively difficult thing to pull off, but Garfield projects a simple friendliness that doesn't require overt attempts to charm the audience or particularly pointed acts against him to gain a viewer's empathy; he just seems to put a little bit more than the script decides in every scene. That's why his inching toward the dark side seems so easy to accept: He seems motivated enough to be pragmatic, and from there it's a believably short step to breaking a few rules if that's what gets him back in his family home. Garfield makes Nash seem true to himself whether or not the next step seems to torture him, and the way he plays off Laura Dern (as his mother) and Noah Lomax (as his son) creates a tether that the audience can hold on to even when they're nervous about the direction he's moving.

Full review on EFC.

Crimson Peak

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 January 2016 at the Brattle Theatre ([Some of] the Best of 2015, DCP)

On a second viewing, still showing the same issues that I had with it the first time: It's beautiful, with a decent cast (which includes the house of the title), but often clumsy, playing out familiar gothic tropes with just a touch too much self-awareness.

The finale is still pretty great, though, especially for how Guillermo del Toro is willing to let its too female stars actually fight, especially after spending much of the movie going with the old cliche of women being poisoners rather than violent killers. Indeed, a large part of what makes a repeated viewing fun is seeing a new audience gasp at just how stab-happy the movie becomes, a visceral reply to the decaying elegance they'd been sold.

Full review on EFC (from October).

No comments: