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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Juan Gaspard

99 Homes (2015)

Don’t ever trust a landlord.

As soon as the crash of 2008 occurred, everyone in the United States was left without a paddle. One such person was Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a single father who, after much fighting and arguing with the court, gets evicted from his Orlando home. Seeing that he has lost his family-home, Nash sets out to do whatever he can to get it back – even if that means having to join up and work for the same man who kicked him out of his house to begin with: real estate broker Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). Carver has certain practices that aren’t what some would call “ethical”, or better yet, “legal”, but the money’s so good that Nash doesn’t care. Eventually though, Nash begins to move up the ladder, which takes him away from working on the homes, and brings him now to actually having to interact with the tenants who are in the actual homes. This mostly involves Nash posting notices on doors, warning tenants of being vacated, and, as time rolls on, even having to kick some tenants on his own. Clearly this is something that Nash doesn’t feel comfortable with, but once again, it’s all about the money and the prospect of getting his family back in order to the way they once were.

Message!

So message-y!

Have you ever been stuck in a lecture at all in your life, whether it be with your parents, a teacher, or one of those Jesus-nuts from off the street, and not want to leave? Instead, you hold on to every single word that they say, even though you know the end-point? You know that they’re not going to start off by stating something like, “Gay marriage is bad”, and then end with, “Well, you know, you can do what you want.” The lecture is, most definitely, going to start with an agenda, continue on with that agenda, and, you guessed it, end with that same agenda. And yet, something about the lecture is just keeping you on your toes and surprisingly interested.

That’s how I felt with 99 Homes – a long lecture about the housing crisis and all the evil-doers behind it, yet, I never wanted to turn away or leave.

Eventually, that time did come around, but that’s not till later, so just wait dammit! Listen to me lecture about stuff now!

For one, Ramin Bahrani seems to know what he’s talking about here. Clearly, he’s put his heart and soul into material that, for a good majority of people out there, will not find an easy way to handle. It will, most likely, hit too close to home, hard, and re-open old wounds that were probably still healing. However, Bahrani seems to be interested in what these wounds still hold. Are they sadness? Are they grief? Or, are they wishes that something better occurred?

Well, 99 Homes is, in a way, that fantasy being played-out. One thing is certain about the movie, and that’s that it’s not totally a drama. I mean, yes, it’s most definitely a drama that’s emotional, sad, and for a good portion, filled with lots of interesting talking-points, but in all honesty, is really a thriller. Once we see Garfield’s Dennis Nash start picking up work as one of Shannon’s Rick Carver’s lackeys, then it’s balls to the walls from there. This Nash fella is taking away pools, air-conditioners and handing out eviction notices to people who have no clue just what the hell kind of storm has hit them dead-on in the face. While, at the same time, he’s making all of this money and seeming to be loving it.

Sure, he’s morally-conflicted by the fact that the person he’s getting rich off of, is the very same person who got him kicked out of his house, but because the money’s continuing to come in and the dreams seem promising, he lets it all slide by. And you know what? It’s hard to watch this and not want him to, either. Dennis Nash, as he’s presented to us, is nothing more than just your average, blue-collar dude who, like many others just like him, was short-shifted when the crash of 2008 came around and had no idea of what to do next with his life, his family, or his career. All he knew was what he was good at and tried to go where the money went.

That’s why, when we see Nash get thrown out of his house, it’s disturbing and visceral. Many people had to go through the same ordeal he’s going through and it was most definitely 100% more tragic to them. And that’s why, when we see that Nash is clearly pleased with himself making all of this cash money, it’s great to see him happy and enjoying himself. After all, he’s just a normal dude who isn’t under normal circumstances, so why continue to act normal? Why not try something new and go with that from there?

"When you said, 'movie with Spider-Man,' I thought you meant Tobey Maguire! Who's this damn kid!"

“When you said, ‘movie with Spider-Man,’ I thought you meant Tobey Maguire! Who’s this damn kid!”

Clearly, Rahmin Bahrani thinks this is a bad idea. However, his movie proves otherwise.

Bahrani has crafted a nice little thriller that takes you through everything one may need to know about the housing-crash, how it was operated, who was responsible, and those who were affected the most. But at the center of it all, is probably the most realistic character of the bunch, who also seems to be the most sinister: Michael Shannon’s Rick Carver. There’s no denying the fact that Michael Shannon’s a good actor, but here, as Rick Carver, he gets to stretch his wings a whole lot more and show, that even despite his character being a pretty despicable human specimen, there’s still something we want to watch and see more of him.

We know that he’s a baddie, but we also know that he, like many others, are just trying to get by with what he knows and what he’s best at. But what’s best about Carver is that he doesn’t try to make any excuses or apologies for the way he is – he just is. For instance, there’s a scene in the middle of the film where Carver laces into this tirade about how, “America was built on winners. Not losers.” It’s not just hard to take your eyes off of him because it’s literally just a single-shot, zooming in on his face, but also, because some of what Shannon is spouting on about is true. You may not want to believe it as being such, but it is and it makes this movie feel like a smart bit of preaching, rather than just preaching for the sake of it.

And don’t let me forget Andrew Garfield, because the man is great here! What with him being forced to play Peter Parker, it’s hard to remember that, at one time, Garfield was a very promising, young, and talented actor that seemed primed and ready for some very interesting material to come his way. Now with Spidey out of his way, Garfield seems like he’s enjoying some time being able to dig deep into characters that aren’t the kind you’d expect someone of his good-looks to play; you know, such as a middle-aged, middle-class single-father.

However, as good as Garfield may be, his character sadly falls prey to an ending that, honestly, came close to ruining the movie for me.

I won’t spoil much, other than to say that it felt like Bahrani, throughout a good majority of 99 Homes, was making a movie that wasn’t going to play it nice, sweet and kind, and instead, go for the gritty-realism that’s expected of source material such as this. However, he does the bait-and-switch and decides that maybe he wants some melodrama, messages, and red herrings thrown into the mix. I’ve already said too much, but just know, when the ending comes around, it may disappoint you more than please.

That may just be me, though.

Consensus: 99 Homes is a timely-thriller that gets by on the excellent performances, however, is a bit short-shifted by a weak ending that keeps it away from being a whole lot better.

8 / 10

Big houses. Big cars. Big women. The life of a real estate agent, yo.

Big houses. Big cars. Big women. The life of a real estate agent, yo.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Focus (2015)

All it takes is a few really good-looking people to make you forget about your Rolex.

Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) is a seasoned vet at the art of conning people. He’s been in it for so long, however, that he feels like maybe it’s about time that he starts to settle down and focus on the bigger picture: Actual life. But such is the problem with the life of a con man – you can’t be trusted, which, as a result, means you can’t trust anyone else. It’s pretty sad, but at least you have a lot of money. This all begins to change for Nicky when he meets young, bright, bubbly and downright beautiful grifter, Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie), who wants Nicky to teach her the tricks and the trade of pulling off the perfect con. Nicky has no problem with this, because he believes Jess is smart enough and more than capable, but has one major problem: He may be in love with her. Which isn’t just bad for business, but bad for him, as a person. And Jess may feel the same way, but the two never fully know until it’s all too late.

Movies about con men, women, people, etc., all suffer the same problems: They’re fun, flashy and twisty, but sometimes, they get a bit too over-the-heads and can end up becoming a convoluted mess that doesn’t fully add up. One of the rare exceptions to this rule is the classic-caper, the Sting, which definitely helped get through some of its slower-patches with its attention to detail and character, but still had enough twists and turns to fuel us up when we needed it the most, but never overdid it either. It wasn’t the large bed, nor was it the small one – it was the one, slap-dab in the middle that was just right.

How could say "no" to that face? Hot damn!

How could say “no” to that face? Hot damn!

Focus is not one of these movies, and yet, I have a hard time complaining about it much.

For one, it’s a very exciting movie. It’s quick, light-on-its-feet and hardly ever slows down, even when the characters do get to talking about their emotions and so on and so forth. Even then, though, these moments are still neat to watch and pay attention to, because you never quite know whether one is actually being themselves because they want to actually be genuine for once, or if they’re just putting up an act so that they can get what it is that they want. This actually happens during a couple of instances in this film, and it helps speed things along smoothly enough to where we’re not nit-picking every single mistake, or contrivance this movie makes up. Because, trust me, there are plenty to be had here.

There’s one sequence that takes place during the Super Bowl that’s not only the most memorable of the whole movie, but features some of the more tense sequences I’ve seen in something that doesn’t include much gun-play, car-chases, or violence, for that matter. What happens is that we see Smith’s character, Nicky, constantly throw down bets just to have a ball at the game, because he’s with Robbie’s character and, like most women (apparently), she doesn’t give a lick about the sport of football. The bets start off nice, sweet, and playful, like any good two pals would do, but then, once another party walks in on the betting-pool and realizes that they can have some fun while spending plenty of dimes, then the bets get more extreme, the money gets larger, and eventually, we’re left having no clue where the hell this is going to go, why, and who is going to be on the receiving-end of this bet.

I won’t say much more about it, except that it’s the most excitement I’ve had during a movie in quite some time and that’s because it’s unpredictable. Most movies of this nature definitely strive for that, but instead, seem so tailor-made to make sure that everybody has a big, happy smile leaving, so therefore, they’re going to get the pleasing solution to whatever problem may come into the protagonist’s way. Here, it’s never fully clear whether we’re going to get the happy ending, or the sad, dark, and depressing one.

And because of that, Focus hardly loses an ounce of steam. Even if, you know, there’s plenty that goes on here in it that seems to be wildly unbelievable and over-the-top, that it ever happening, or being as intricately planned-out as it is made out to be, hardly ever rings true. But that just shows you what can happen when you make your movie as fun and as exciting as this: You can have some of the biggest, widest, most gaping plot-holes ever seen on the face of the planet, and if you allow us, the audience, to laugh, enjoy ourselves, and come close to even crying, then don’t worry, all is well.

For the most part, that is.

Stop looking so fresh, Will Smith.

Stop looking so fresh, Will Smith…….

But where the movie really racks up the points in winning us over is with the pitch perfect casting of both Will Smith and soon-to-be-star Margot Robbie, in the leading roles. Though the age-gap between the two is nearly 22 years, that didn’t bother me as much here, as it does with some of Woody Allen’s movies, because the two have surefire chemistry that barely hits a false note. Sure, you could make the argument that even when the age-difference between the two spouses in Woody Allen’s movie hit almost 30, they can still seem believable and understandable because of good chemistry between the two, but here, it didn’t seem as creepy. Or, at least, the movie didn’t have it written-out to be that way.

For instance, once we see these two together, automatically, you can tell that there’s some sort of spark between the two. It could be all made-up for the con; it could be genuine attraction; or, it could be love. Whatever it is, Robbie and Smith seemed like they really enjoyed working with one another both in front of, as well as behind the camera, because every opportunity they have to make some bit of this feel heartfelt, they go for it. Even if you know Smith’s character is just messing around with Robbie’s to get her to do what he wants for a con, or whatever, there’s still a small feeling that he actually wants to be with her. As unlikely as that may be.

Which is to say, yes, Will Smith does wonders with a role that, quite frankly, could have been so corny and forgettable, had it been played by most other movie stars. But Smith, giving it all he’s got, fits into this role so perfectly that you believe him both as the calm, cool and confident smooth-talker that’s able to get through any con with the use of his fast-working brain, as well as a guy who sincerely wants to settle down in life and possibly even get out of the conning business, just for that reason alone. There’s a heart to this character that makes him worth watching, and it’s where Smith’s performance really takes hold.

But the one who really walks away with this one, is the fiery, the hot, and the engaging woman who is Margot Robbie. Most may know Robbie from the Wolf of Wall Street and while that’s a solid highlight of what she can do, here, as Jess Barrett, she is constantly taking this movie over. Not only does she use her unbelievably lovely good-looks to her advantage to get what she wants, but she too, just like Smith’s character, feels like an actual person that wants everything there is to offer in life. Sure, she wants to con people and make some money in the process of living that life of hers, but at the end of the day, she still wants to have a husband, a family, and even possibly, a life that she can feel safe and comfortable with living.

See, con men – they’re like you or I. Just with a lot more cash lying around.

Consensus: The twists and turns can sometimes border on ridiculous, but Focus always keeps its cool by depending on the engagingly fun and frothy chemistry between Smith and Robbie, while also giving them a fun movie to work all their sly moves in.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Another successful night at the bars for Will Smith. Of which I bet he has plenty.

Another successful night at the bars for Will Smith. Of which I bet he has plenty.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Left Behind (2014)

When the world’s in panic, trust in Nic Cage. Just make sure there’s no bees around.

It’s like any other normal day in the sweet lives of these few humans. A daughter (Cassi Thomson) oh so desperately wants the attention and love from her father that she hasn’t gotten since she was a little girl; the father, Rayford Steele (Nic Cage), is a bit of a dirt-bag in that he takes his wedding-ring off before every flight, only so that he can fool around and tell terrible jokes to young, blonde and busty stewardesses; and his wife (Lea Thompson), on the other hand, is at home, thumping the Bible and speaking the good Lord’s word. But this one day is all of a sudden turned right around for the worst when, unexpectedly, loved ones begin vanishing. Kids, adults, male, females, transvestites, everyone! It’s like some sort of “Rapture” that nobody has any explanation for, except that the Gods must be angry, or something. But the speculation can wait because Rayford Steele has a plane to land, and plenty of passengers to get on the ground safely and in one piece. That is, if they don’t already start killing one another off with their paranoid minds in the first place.

So, if you didn’t already know by now, this movie is a faith-based one, in the sense that it’s centered towards the kind of crowd who goes to these types of movies where they can go to hear and see about all sorts of God-like things that they can’t consume all at once on Sunday morning. That, or they just want to see Nic Cage doing a movie, that’s already a remake of something starring the almighty Kirk Cameron.

"Nice! Wait till HuffPo gets a load of this!"

“Nice! Wait till HuffPo gets a load of this!”

And yes, you heard me right on that people: Nic Cage is starring in a movie that was originally written with Kirk Cameron in mind. It’s kind of a shame really, but seeing where Cage’s career has been as of late, I can’t say that I’m too surprised. Actually, that’s a lie, cause I’m totally shocked and I honestly have no idea why the hell Nic himself would get involved with such propaganda like this! Let alone, a movie that’s really terrible.

However, with most of the movies he does, Cage finds a way to make the most terrible-aspects, the least bit entertaining, or somewhat interesting, in his own, Cage-y way. He yells, breaths heavily, smiles oddly, makes weird faces and just all around, over-acts like the king that he is. The problem is that this isn’t really the kind of movie where he can get away with that, because not only does the material hardly ever call on him to be all crazy and such, but even he himself seems tired and lifeless, as if he’s just totally in this for the paycheck and nothing but. That could rightly be the case, but when I see my movies with Nic Cage, paycheck-gigs or not, I want to see some effort, man!

Here though, Nic himself is sort of sleep-walking through a role that could have been played by anybody and quite frankly, doesn’t really need him. Or anybody for that matter. In fact, if I really had to go down deep into this movie, I’d say that it was a piece of garbage. And no, that’s not because I’m some sort of atheist that hates anything having to do with God, his word, or his holy followers – I just am not a fan of bad movies. And this here, my friends, is a bad movie.

But it’s not the kind of bad movie you and your buddies should sneak out to late one night, drunk/high, and expect to have a great time with. Because yes, even though there are plenty of laugh-out-loud scenes here where the typically insane occurrence will show up on screen, only to go away a second later without hardly any rhyme or reason, the movie’s messiness just ends up ruining any bit of fun that could have been had here. Not saying that the movie had to be a joke from beginning to end, but there’s a point in which your film ends up being more than just silly, and just bad. And such is the case here: It’s bad, and sometimes laughably so, but not enough to where I’d say go out there and see this one with glassy-eyes.

In fact, just don’t bother seeing this. Sure, to its audience, it may have the right message and it honestly may make them feel all warm and gooey on the inside, but for the others that may actually want to pay a couple of bucks to see the next Nic Cage-starrer and seemingly have no idea of what they are getting into, they’ll be pissed. They’ll be bored and though they’ll get plenty of chances to just point and laugh at the screen, it’s not enough to justify seeing this.

Even the whole angle of this being a faith-based movie doesn’t even come into play; there are mentions of God and faith in heavy-handed ways, but honestly, you could look at this as another, run-of-the-mill disaster story that has the ill-chance of taking place on a plane practically the whole time. Add on the fact that every character is terribly-written and the performances from some of the actors playing them are, honestly, even worse. I’ve already talked enough about Nic Cage, but the rest are just pitiful, almost to the point of where it makes sense why they were cast in this movie in the first place: They probably didn’t cost much to begin with, and it pretty much shows.

"Ah! Please don't crush me, New Testament-quote!"

“Ah! Please don’t crush me, New Testament-quote!”

Though I wasn’t expecting much out of him to begin with, Chad Michael Murray is god-awful as the “investigative journalist” that, for one reason or another, every spectator treats him as something of a celebrity. I’m assuming he’s being made out to be the next Anderson Cooper or something, but to me, it seemed hard to believe that ladies panties would be dropping just for some dude who stepped on foreign soil and covered a story. That stuff, my friends, are stories of the past, I’m afraid to say.

But Murray isn’t the only whose bad, Cassi Thomson is awkward and her one scene with Cage is probably the best, only because most of his manner-isms come out and make the scene better. And that’s pretty much it for the whole film really: Cage makes it better. But even then though, he’s sort of there just to service a script that doesn’t deserve him. It’s all bad, from beginning to end, and it makes you wonder just why exactly did Cage sign up for this in the first place. Especially after doing something as wonderful as Joe.

Oh, Nic. Your mind truly is a mysterious one.

Consensus: Irate, laughable, and over-the-top with what it’s trying to get across, Left Behind is another faith-based drama that wants to be about something important and meaningful, without ever really allowing us to be entertained in the first place.

2 / 10 = Crapola!!

Only one man to save humanity....

Only one man to save humanity….

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images