VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN: Another failure of Abby Normal


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Victor FrankensteinScreenwriter Max Landis and director Paul McGuigan would recognize that tip of the hat to Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, but then they do that themselves in the course of Victor Frankenstein, their take on Mary Shelley’s classic tale that is part horror, part sci-fi/fantasy, part black comedy, part romance and part Victorian era buddy picture. For a while, McGuigan is able to keep all his balls in the air and this reimagining of the Frankenstein legend that is told from his assistant Igor’s point of view starts off as fresh and funny. But perhaps he and Landis should have paid heed to the lessons imparted by Dr. Frankenstein’s hubris. This monster of a movie is simply grafted from too many parts and escapes its makers’ control, falling flat in its last act when it morphs into yet another genre, a tired action movie. Ultimately, the experiment fails.

Daniel Radcliffe plays a nameless circus clown known only as “Hunchback,” an abused object of scorn who possesses a physical deformity and a brilliant mind. His is a life of misery, relieved only by his crush on aerialist Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay) until the day Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) visits the circus. Victor recognizes Igor’s intelligence as well as the nature of his deformity. He rescues the young man; takes him into his own home; lends him the name of a long-absent roommate, Igor; and reinvents him as a young dandy. There is a price to be paid for this kindness as Igor becomes Victor’s partner in his reanimation experiments. Lorelei and Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott), a Scotland Yard police detective convinced Victor is up to no good, warn Igor against his new friend. Igor himself has misgivings about the nature of Victor’s work in bringing the dead back to life, if not Victor himself, but he is also loyal and grateful to Frankenstein for all he’s done for him.

This is a gorgeous film with handsome cinematography by Fabian Wagner and sublime production design by Eve Stewart that is a magnificent evocation of the sleazy glamor of the circus, the bustle of Victorian London, the clutter of Victor’s digs, and the madness of his laboratories.

Landis’ screenplay, is also a plus, a novel take on an old story—at least until it all falls apart. It is a shame that neither he nor McGuigan knew what to do about that third act, because Victor Frankenstein wastes two wonderful performances from its stars. Radcliffe once again proves that he’s an actor up for anything, playing his opening scenes in ghastly clown white face, nearly bent over double, and moving about with a halting, almost crab-like gait, while McAvoy captures Frankenstein’s arrogance, a monomania that verges on madness, and a surprising kindness and generosity toward Igor. Together, the performers are quite the double act with a warm chemistry that lends conviction to Igor’s decision to go all in with his unstable friend. Radcliffe and McAvoy are fun to watch, even as the movie collapses around them, which only makes Victor Frankenstein’s climactic fail that much more hard to take.—Pam Grady

PEANUTS: Familiar and as irresistible as ever


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The Peanuts Movie is probably the most delightful unnecessary movie you’ll ever see. It’s delightful in the way it echoes and reflects the many beloved Charlie Brown TV specials and unnecessary for that same reason. The fact that it’s coming out smack dab in the middle of a fall season in which It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966), A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973), and A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) all make their annual appearance on television only underlines the fact that while The Peanuts Movie at times is magical, it’s borrowed magic. But what it lacks in a genuine reason for being it more than makes for in sheer amiability.

Everything you ever loved about the TV specials makes its way into the movie: Charlie’s crush on the little red-haired girl (which provides the film with its story arc), Lucy the psychiatrist (still only charging a nickel!), Snoopy vs. the Red Baron, Pigpen’s clouds of dust, Schroeder performing classical music miracles on his toy piano, Linus’ attachment to his blanket, the kids’ anarchic dancing, and more. Wisely, the screenwriters, which includes late Peanuts’ creator Charles Schulz’s son Craig and grandson Bryan, leave well enough alone when creating the characters’ world. There are no cell phones, computers, or Nike swooshes on clothing. There is a blue recycle bin, but that’s as far as it goes toward referencing the modern world. Instead, it’s all charmingly retro and all the more timeless for it.

The only sour note in an otherwise splendid production is the insertion of Meghan Trainor songs on the soundtrack. It’s not a knock against Trainor, but contemporary pop music does not belong in the Peanuts gang’s world. It’s distracting and more’s the pity, because the music is otherwise apt as the rest of the film. In particular, the decision to weave so much of the late Vince Guaraldi’s jazz, so familiar from the TV shows, was brilliant as well as an acknowledgment of exactly how integral that music was to creating those cartoon classics. Those gentle tunes that so came to define Charlie Brown’s world will come to be very familiar today’s children. For the rest of us, just hearing a few notes reverts us back to being small children enchanted by Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the gang for the very first time. That’s a beautiful thing and one of the things that The Peanuts Movie gets right. It’s a great film to see with kids, but it’s also a great movie to see to be a kid again. And a wonderful warm-up to the Thanksgiving and Christmas TV specials just waiting in the wings.—Pam Grady

All the rage: Bradley Cooper finds his inner angry man in BURNT


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BurntA few years ago over lunch at Waterbar in San Francisco, David O. Russell talked about how Bradley Cooper first came to his attention in The Wedding Crashers and what made him sit up and take notice, “I thought there was anger in him. That character was convincingly angry to me in an intimidating way.” Director John Wells must agree. In Burnt, he’s cast Cooper as Adam Jones, a burned-out Michelin-starred chef on the comeback trail and perhaps the angriest man in England. Adam is a diva with a nasty attitude, but luckily for the movie, Cooper also brings to it his other major attribute, his considerable charm. Burnt needs it.

A decade ago, Cooper channeled Anthony Bourdain in the sitcom inspired by the chef’s memoir Kitchen Confidential. This time he takes his cues from that foul-mouthed stroke-waiting-to-happen Gordon Ramsay, one of Burnt’s executive producers. Temper tantrums come thick and fast when Jones returns to Europe with the grand ambition of earning his third Michelin star after performing penance for blowing his first grand opportunity (and the one that earned him two Michelin stars) in New Orleans by shucking one million oysters. No one seems eager to see him, not Tony (Daniel Bruhl), the London hotelier with a restaurant that Adam expects to commandeer; not the old colleagues he recruits for his kitchen, including Michel (Omar Sy) and Max (Riccardo Scarmacio}; not Helene (Sienna Miller), a talented chef he’s eager to land who knows him by his sorry reputation; and certainly not Reece (Matthew Rhys), a frenemy who came up with Adam in the same kitchen in Paris and who now has his own restaurant.

Despite the romantic complications posed by Helene, Burnt’s focus is mainly what goes on in the kitchen as Adam works his way toward redemption. It’s not entirely convincing. Bumps along the way include the five-year-out-of-the-game Adam’s unfamiliarity with the latest trends—because apparently, there were no food shows, cooking magazines, other literature, or for that matter, fine restaurants to keep him up to date in New Orleans. Seriously? Then when he finally gets with the program, his big revelations are sous vide, which Adam seems never to have heard of before (really?), and presentation, as he begins plating his fare exactly the way food has been plated in high-end restaurants since long before he flamed out—gorgeous food porn made from tiny portions. Also, while Steven Knight’s screenplay tells us over and over again that Adam is one of the world’s great chefs—the one all the others follow, according to the jealous Reece—Burnt never actually demonstrates that.

The movie’s saving grace is Cooper, who finds that rage that David O. Russell noted so many years ago and plays it for all its worth. But if the film were simply 100 minutes of Cooper channeling Gordon Ramsay, it would be unwatchable. An egotist’s profane rants are not the stuff of drama, at least not for an arena with higher expectations than reality TV. It’s a fine line that Cooper walks. He has to be a horse’s ass, yet he also has to have qualities not so curdled sitting just below that turbulent surface. The arc of Burnt is the flowering of that humanity while the anger and arrogance gradually recede. It is a beautifully modulated performance and one that gives rooting interest in Adam’s quest for that elusive third star. Burnt is not exactly gourmet fare, but as cinematic fast food, it’s pretty tasty.—Pam Grady

A vote for women: A Q&A with SUFFRAGETTE’s Sarah Gavron & Abi Morgan


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Director Sarah Gavron and screenwriter Abi Morgan first collaborated on Brick Lane (2007), an adaptation of Monica Ali’s novel about a young Bangladeshi woman dealing with the constraints of an arranged marriage in contemporary London. The pair are partnering again for another story set in London, but this one set 100 years back. With Suffragette, Gavron and Morgan explore Britain’s early women’s rights movement and the struggle to gain the right to vote through the eyes of Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), a laundress, married with a young son. A sterling supporting cast that includes Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff, Natalie Press, Meryl Streep, Romola Garai, Ben Whishaw, and Brendan Gleeson, supports Mulligan, but the focus is never long off Maud as she evolves from a young woman shocked at witnessing acts of civil disobedience to one willing to risk jail and worse for the cause.

In the San Francisco Bay Area recently to attend the Mill Valley Film Festival where Suffragette was the closing-night film, Gavron and Morgan sat down to talk about how the story evolved and how an early 20th century laundress’ story might resonate with women today.

Q: Where did this start? Was it an ongoing interest in women’s rights, was it inspired by a particular person, or …?

Sarah Gavron: It was kind of a long genesis for me, because I wanted to do it for about 10 years. I grew up with a mother who became a local politician and I’d watched her agency in a very male world. We hadn’t learned about the suffragettes in school. We just learned this very sanitized version. We knew the Mary Poppins version, like everybody did. It’s not a widely known story.

People began talking about it. There was a really good TV series called Shoulder to Shoulder that made an impact. People were always discussing it, but there hadn’t been a big screen version of it. It seemed extraordinary and such a timely story and overdue in telling such a story, but it also seemed to resonate with the world that we’re in in so many ways. The two producers, Faye Ward and Alison Owen, it occurred to them around the same time, so they had a conversation, ‘How about doing a thing about this?’ It so made sense to us to talk to Abi, because she’d worked with us on Brick Lane and we had such a good collaboration.

Abi Morgan: I think from my point of view, it was just very exciting. I’d done biopics before, but this felt like a different way of looking at a biopic and, in a weird way, when we started to focus in and think, ‘OK, we could do the extraordinary life of Mrs. Pankhurst or Emily Wilding Davidson, but those women will at one point have a film about their lives.’ I hope they do, but actually when we started looking at the lives of the working women and honed in on those, there was just surprising detail wherever we looked: through the police surveillance records, which were only opened in 2003, where you’d see a tiny bit of an interview or you would read the testimonial of a woman that had been taken when she took the deputation to the House of Parliament or just a tiny news article.

You’d suddenly think, ‘Gosh, these women are really interesting.’ The jeopardy on their lives and what the vote would mean for them was so profound. So many of these women were being appallingly treated at work. Their working conditions were just chronic. They were trying to manage having working lives and children. They didn’t have wealthy husbands or family wealth. They were fighting for equal pay. They were dealing with sexual violence at work and at home. So many of these issues that they were dealing with felt so profound and so 21st century.

I think that’s when we started to think, ‘OK, so what would it be like if we took a woman who was outside of that, in a place of passivity, who didn’t realize just how downtrodden and difficult her life was and then through engagement with the movement, moves towards militant activism and change?’ We realized it was the ordinary women that change history. Then we thought, ‘That might be a story for us all.’ So I think that’s when we started to feel like this could be a proper movie.

Q: How important was it that the protagonist be kind of the whole package, be married, be a mother, be someone who has, up to the point, essentially accepted her lot in life and only gradually comes to see that it doesn’t have to be her lot in life?

Abi Morgan: I think those are strains that feel very familiar to us all. We were trying to create a character who was identifiable. I don’t think you have to have been a woman who was married. I think the point of the film is it’s about empowering women, say, in Britain in the 21st century—globally, we know there are these huge inequalities that we deal with.

I think for Maud we wanted to create a woman who was not even yet engaged with how unhappy she was. This is a young woman who was institutionalized from an early age. She’s been abused by her employer. Her mother was most likely abused before her. The character of Maud has a scar on her arm. The nominal idea was she was there when her mother was burned at the laundry. You’re meant to realize this woman has a huge legacy that she has just suppressed and suppressed. An engagement with the movement, an engagement with a group of woman who say, ‘We are equal, you no longer have to deal with these conditions, your life can change,’ is the thing that activates her.

It was very important to create all those pressures that women today have. They have to bring in money. They have to raise their children. They have to deal with sexual violence or sexual intimidation. They have to find their voice, and the whole point of the film is give these voiceless woman a voice.

Sarah Gavron: And by looking at a marriage in the center of it, we were able to look at the politics of marriage in terms of the power balances and the parental rights issues and the lack of economic power within a marriage. I’m sure at the time there were many more women married because it was the convention of the day.

Q: It also raises the stakes so much higher.

Abi Morgan: That’s a good point. The film couldn’t work as just a political tract. It had to work as a piece of genuine human drama. We were trying concretize that jeopardy. That’s something Sarah worked really hard on.

Sarah Gavron: It connects with these people and their lives.

Abi Morgan: And the pace of those quite big action sequences. We sold this as an action movie. Things were going to get blown up and telegraph wires would be cut. There would be car chases.—Pam Grady





A brain-dead comedy apparently inspired by the documentary Afghan Star, Rock the Kasbah provides an opportunity for Bill Murray to sleepwalk through a movie and he seizes it. A muddled mess from Barry Levinson, the film is completely and utterly pointless.

Murray plays Richie Lanz, a down-on-his-heels music manager who becomes stranded in Afghanistan without money and passport. When he acts as a go-between in an arms deal between shady Americans Jake (Scott Caan) and Nick (Danny McBride) and Afghan villagers, he stumbles onto Salima (Leem Lubany), an elder’s daughter with a beautiful voice. Richie, who has always lied about at one time handling major stars, sees Salima as his big chance and schemes to get her on the talent program Afghan Star.

The material never even rises to the level of a bad sitcom. Mitch Glazer’s script is tone deaf and culturally insensitive and seems to have only a passing familiarity with that thing known as “humor.” The film wastes a large cast that in addition to Caan and McBride, includes Zooey Deschanel as Ronnie, a singer and one of Lanz’s deluded clients; Kate Hudson as Merci, a hooker aiming to make her fortune through brisk trade with GIs and warlords (one has to wonder what Almost Famous’ Penny Lane was thinking in taking a role that echoes it, reminding audiences that she was once up for better parts); and Bruce Willis, saddled with the role of Bombay Brian, a mercenary without an ounce of humor. There is also a large Arabic supporting cast playing a variety of cultural stereotypes.

Nearly 30 years ago Glazer wrote (with Michael O’Donoghue) Scrooged for Murray and he also co-wrote the actor’s upcoming ‘A Very Murray Christmas.’ Levinson had one of his greatest successes with another wartime comedy, Good Morning, Vietnam. Perhaps those factors convinced Murray to sign on to Rock the Kasbah, but he apparently realized early on that he had contracted himself to a turkey. His boredom with and contempt for the material is obvious. He generates the occasional laugh, but that’s Murray being Murray in a woeful excuse for a movie.—Pam Grady

Cold War thrilling: BRIDGE OF SPIES


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Bridge of Spies begins with a man, later revealed as Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance), using a mirror to paint a self-portrait. It is a simple image of an artist at work, an ordinary guy, but as he steps out of his studio in Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market area circa 1957, he picks up the first of several tails. Appearance can be deceiving. It’s a subtle and powerful start to what is Steven Spielberg’s most satisfying film in years, a Cold War thriller inspired by actual events.

By now, you’ve probably seen the trailer where Tom Hanks’s character James B. Donovan avers, “I’m an insurance lawyer,” this his initial answer when he is asked to defend Abel after he’s arrested as a Soviet spy. The reality is not so simple. Donovan was on the prosecution team at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. He is also a crafty litigator. Pay attention when he debates definitions of an accident with an opposing counsel in an early scene, because his philosophy in the realm of car crashes extends to foreign policy. Donovan is exactly the right man for the job he’s been asked to do, but not in the way the people who recruit him to do it—including his law partner Thomas Watters Jr. (Alan Alda)—mean it. They simply want Donovan to give a respectable sheen to a done deal—see, in America, even a filthy Russian operative gets a fair shake in court, too bad he got the electric chair—but Donovan doesn’t see it that way. He maybe reluctant to take the case, but once he’s in, he approaches Abel like any other client in need of his services. One of the delights of Bridge of Spies is watching Hanks and Rylance together and watching that wary relationship change over time.

And if the Soviets hadn’t shot down pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) and his U-2 spy plane in 1960, Donovan and Abel’s place in history might have ended with his trial. But with each side holding one of the other’s agents and those men being privy to state secrets, a prisoner exchanges seems prudent. Donovan is once again pressed into service and sent to East Germany to broker the deal. He has his marching orders from the US government. The Soviets have their own expectations. But Donovan, like Spielberg, is a big-picture guy and he has his own ideas about the negotiations going in, turning a simple exchange into a high-stakes gamble.

The film could use a less of Thomas Newman’s saccharine score, and while the script—credited to Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen—dials back on Spielberg’s usual sentimentality, it’s still there, particularly in relation to Donovan’s family. Amy Ryan plays Donovan’s wife, Mary, and it’s always great to see her, but with little to do other than worry over her husband and beg him to put their family first, Mary is a thankless role. It’s easy to overlook those minor flaws, though, particularly when Donovan is in the heat of negotiations and the stakes seem higher than just prisoners gaining their freedom and getting to go home or in any scene with Donovan and Abel. Mostly, Bridge of Spies is tense and thrilling in a way that few films are now, the suspense arising not from pointed guns but from people talking—what they say and what they don’t. It’s almost a throwback to certain spy thrillers of the ’60s and ’70s and a welcome return.—Pam Grady

Down in the depths with CRIMSON PEAK


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Crimson Peak

Is this Rebecca or Notorious?” a friend whispered at a certain point while watching Guillermo del Toro’s new ghost story Crimson Peak. It’s a little of both, plus Suspicion, Psycho, Shadow of a Doubt, and probably more of the Hitchcock canon. Del Toro paying homage to Hitchcock and adding his own supernatural twist—think Devil’s Backbone—ought to be a glorious thing, but instead despite a thoroughbred cast, gorgeous production design, and exquisite cinematography, the whole thing collapses under the weight of its own silliness. Fans hoping for a return to del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth form are in for a disappointment.

The trouble with Crimson Peak is that it is one of those films that is entirely dependent on otherwise smart characters turning suddenly stupid. That Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a penniless baronet who comes to 1901 Buffalo, NY, ostensibly to raise funds for a new mining process to extract rich red clay from beneath his land, would turn Edith Cushing’s (Mia Wasikowska) head is understandable. He is handsome and charming and is the only person besides her industrialist father (Jim Beaver) and childhood friend, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), who takes her writing ambitions seriously.

But besotted as she is, it’s hard to fathom why Edith finds nothing creepy about Thomas’ possessive sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) or why—once the action moves to England—she would agree to stay in complete isolation in a crumbling house where she observes that it’s colder inside that it is outside. Evil doesn’t even have to be lurking. Edith is a literate woman. She’s surely read the Brontes and knows what happened to those women, and Allerdale Hall, the Sharpe family estate, has all the earmarks of a conduit to death by consumption. As it happens, something is amiss with the Sharpe siblings and their grandly decaying home, but even with ghosts crawling out of the walls and her growing suspicion that something is not right with Lucille, Edith stays put. She’s smarter than that and she’s a woman of means, so what gives?

As one incident piles on another, Crimson Peak doesn’t just jump one shark, but an entire school of them. Any film that incorporates del Toro’s own supernatural obsessions and this much Hitchcock in it ought to at least be suspenseful. Instead, moments clearly meant to frighten an audience, invite howls of laughter. Casting Hiddleston and Wasikowska together only invites memories of Only Lovers Left Alive, and makes one yearn for Jim Jarmusch’s offbeat sensibility. One wonders what he might have done with this material. Perhaps Jarmusch would have been kinder to Chastain, who couldn’t be more cartoonish if she was playing Jessica Rabbit. Del Toro set the bar high for himself like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. In not reaching those lofty heights, Crimson Peak is a tremendous letdown.–Pam Grady

MISSISSIPPI GRIND: A winning gamble


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MSG_D11_0045_rgbMississippi Grind, the latest from Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (Half Nelson, Sugar), is getting a lot of props for the way it evokes the rhythms and naturalism of the best films of the storied ‘70s. And it does—and should, since it borrows so liberally from Robert Altman’s 1974 drama California Split, another tale of degenerate gamblers meeting over cards and forming a fast friendship. That doesn’t take anything away from Mississippi Grind, which is a sharp character study and a gift to stars Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds, but let’s give credit where credit is due.

The characters played by George Segal and Elliott Gould in Altman’s film were more up-market and could afford their addictions—at least, up to a point. The same cannot be said for Gerry (Mendelsohn), a down-at-the-heels real estate agent, and Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), a well-heeled drifter whose habit of ordering top-shelf bourbon masks a threadbare life. When they meet over a poker game in a Dubuque, Iowa bar—Gerry lives in the town, Curtis is just passing through—it seems like fate. Gerry, who is as addicted to a CD lecture on the subject of “tells” as he is to gambling, sees it as a sign that both of them are the only ones at the table who noticed a rainbow the day before. Subsequent events only confirm a cosmic connection between them in his mind and he begins to see handsome, strapping Curtis—who towers over his own diminutive self—as his personal lucky leprechaun. The pot of gold at the end of their personal rainbow is a card game in New Orleans with a $25,000 buy-in. Not that they have the money, but they figure they can earn it gambling their way down south in a road trip built on sheer bravado.

There is nothing that happens on Gerry and Curtis’s journey that could not be predicted. They are, after all, compulsive gamblers. Their greatest skill is in in self-delusion, but they are no slouches when it comes to lying or stealing to further their agendas. Gerry is the needier of the two, desperate to get out from under the mess he’s made of his life and buying into Curtis’s elaborate stories. These guys don’t just have a lot of baggage. They have great big steamer trunks of past mistakes, present disasters, and future cataclysms strapped to their backs, but despite that—or maybe because of it—genuine feelings form between them. One of the great joys of Mississippi Grind is watching that relationship unfold even in moments when one or the other seems intent on screwing the other over. Aussie actor Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom, The Place Beyond the Pines) and Reynolds, in his meatiest role since 2007’s The Nines, are terrific as two beautiful losers who’ve always been willing to wager on anything, now betting—for a while, at least—on each other.

As they demonstrated with Half Nelson and Sugar, Fleck and Boden have an unerring feel for mood and place and that does not fail them here. Bars, card rooms, racetracks, casinos, and the meandering Mississippi are Gerry and Curtis’s natural habitat. That milieu, exquisitely photographed by the directors’ frequent collaborator, cinematographer Andrij Parekh, itself speaks volumes about these men. The filmmakers may have started with an idea cadged from Robert Altman, but as they layer on detail after detail, they eventually transform the story into a tawdry yet somehow gorgeous portrait of these two men’s lives. Like Gerry and Curtis, they aren’t above a little larceny, but like their protagonists, their hearts are in the right place. The payoff is a movie as transcendent as Mississippi Grind. And that’s huge.—Pam Grady

Q&A: Andrew Garfield returns to his intimate drama roots with 99 HOMES


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99Homes_00014_lo“We are a sea of Willie Lomans, trying to be known, trying to be known in fucked up ways, in the ways that we’re told to be known through these really fucked up values,” says Andrew Garfield in talking about Dennis Nash, the desperate Everyman he plays in 99 Homes.

Ramin Bahrani’s (Man Push Cart, At Any Price) latest drama is one of the best films of the year, an evocative portrait of the fallout from the 2008 economic meltdown that left so many homeowners with underwater mortgages or facing foreclosure. A construction worker at a time when all construction stops cold, unemployed single-dad Dennis loses the house he grew up in and that he now shares with his mother Lynn (Laura Dern) and his young son. The devil in the form of e-cigarette smoking, amoral realtor Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) offers him a form of “salvation” by giving him a job working on foreclosed homes, assuring him that he’ll earn enough to buy back his. But Dennis is smart and personable and soon Carver recruits him to help him with his main business: repossessing homes and evicting homeowners and their tenants on behalf of the banks. It’s something Dennis believes he has to do in order to take care of his own family, but as he meets more and more people like Frank Green (Tim Guinee)—whose circumstances are similar to Dennis’ own—he begins to question his role in adding to so much pain.

For Garfield, 99 Homes is a return to the kind of intimate dramas he made before the Spider-Man franchise made him a household name. Like the paroled child murderer in Boy A, the reporter trying to expose the crimes of the powerful in the Red Riding trilogy, or the boy born for organ-harvest in Never Let Me Go, Dennis Nash is caught in an impossible circumstance with limited options. On a recent visit to San Francisco, the 32-eyar-old Brit talked about the film and offers some words about working with director Martin Scorsese on his upcoming film Silence.

Q: It struck me that this relates to a lot of work you did earlier in your career, even something like Never Let Me Go, which is an ostensibly dystopian drama—

Andrew Garfield: As is this!

Q: Well, yes, but this is something actually happening. So far, no one’s been born to give their body parts away. But it is kind of the same thing where there are the have-nots that are meant to serve the haves. I was wondering if that theme particularly resonates with you.

AG: Yes, as it obviously does with you. I’m heartbroken, to be honest. Yeah, I’m heartbroken, because there are people that are being born to be sacrificed for someone’s Porsche or yacht or gate around the gate they already have with the barbed wire on top. It’s insidious and it takes real vision to be able to really see it and then what do you with that vision? What the fuck do you do?

I think I feel that split in myself. It’s personal, because it is. I have a friend going through it right now. I have a friend who’s fighting eviction, unlawful, in London right now. She lives in a progressive community in London, which has been there since the ‘50s or ‘60s. And there’s a guy that’s been there for 50 years. That’s his life. That’s his livelihood. That’s his community. That’s his home. This new private housing group is attempting to steal, ostensibly steal their homestead. There’s such inhumanity in it. There’s such distance and separateness and looking down their noses at these people from on high.

I’m not saying anything, apart from I feel it in a very deep way and I don’t know what to do about it. Apart from tell a story, which part of my job here, in this life, is to tell a story and maybe move the conversation forward in a way. In a baby-step way, just as being a part of telling a story.

Q: Can you talk about working with Michael Shannon and Tim Guinee. The three of you are just amazing and I think Tim Guinee is one of the most underrated actors around.

AG: He’s a great actor and such a lovely man, such a good man. I’m glad you said that. Thanks for saying that. Again, with Tim, I had so much fun with Tim. He’s so fun to be with. That nature of the relationship we had to create was really deep. We had to feel like brothers. I had to feel like he was my brother.

With Michael, it was interesting, because obviously I had more time with Michael and there was this deep love and respect that we had for each other. Even as characters, I think, even though it’s never expressed—it got close to being expressed—during the scene on the dock where we’re both a little bit confessional. Working with Michael is always so powerful. He’s got such powerful energy, so I had to make sure that I could match it and kind of crawl out of it somehow or beat my way out of it. That was an awesome challenge, because not only is his stature so big—he’s got big physical stature, but internally as well, he has power. That was a great challenge for me to match and to make sure I was a match for him. Then with Tim, it was just trying to find that deep connection and love and feeling of community.

My favorite times in my life while working is with other artists who are just there and you kind of don’t know where they’re going to go. Thank God, both of them have that ability, so I could follow and then I could lead and then I could follow. We could just dance. That majority was improvised. What I said to Ramin was, ‘I love the script and I love the essence of the journey. If I’m going to do it, I want it to feel found.’ Because as I read it, I knew there were all these vignettes of me doing evictions and me doing cash for keys and all this stuff. And I knew he was going to hire non-actors and I was like, ‘I want to be a non-actor as well. I don’t want to have any baggage. I don’t want to get it right. I want to get it wrong over and over and over again.’ He was really up for that for the most part. I’m lucky. I’m so lucky that I get to—so the short answer is I’m so lucky that I get to work with such great artists.

Q: Do you have a favorite role or is it what you’re working on right now?

AG: Every one is necessary, I think, so far, has been necessary for me to do. I don’t know if I can say a favorite. I can say that some experiences—no, every experience gave me something that I needed to get or that I needed to know. The thing that I just did, this film, Silence, with Martin Scorsese is some kind of rediscovery of how process can be with someone who knows exactly that they don’t know anything. His process is so intuitive and spontaneous and he’s so confident in his roaming and rambling and then he’ll go, ‘OK, no, it’s this. I know exactly what I want. Heheheh.’ Then another scene will come by and he’ll be, ‘I don’t know what this is. How do we do this? OK, what do you think?’ ‘Well, I’ll just do it and you can tell me.’ Then he’s like, ‘That wasn’t really it.’ I’ll go, ‘OK, well, what is it?’ ‘I don’t know.’ I’ll go, ‘OK, how about this?’ ‘That wasn’t it, either. Just keep trying.’ That’s real creativity. It’s not like you hit this, you hit this, and then you hit that. It’s like, ‘Let’s fucking get lost and scared and be in torture and agony until something real happens.’

That’s who he is and that was very fucking special. I think that kind of confidence comes with—not to use the word genius. Genius, I think, in our culture suggests only a few people. Actually, the origins of the word are that everyone has one. We all have the archetype of the genius within us and it’s just a case of finding out what that is individually. Obviously, his genius is filmmaking, storytelling, and that’s where his love and his passion live. So I think it’s possible for him to be in that free-flowing space, because of his genius and because of confidence in his genius to be lost and to roam around and to collaborate and to be open to whatever things are coming.

That’s the kind of creative process that I want to keep practicing as opposed to this rigid, I know I have to get it right, get it right, get it right, fucking nail it. I hate that. ‘You fuckin’ nailed it, bro!’ No! I fuckin’ want to make some wrong hits and then maybe one ‘Ping!’ And then a bunch of wrong hits. Ramin said a very beautiful thing to me when we first started working together. He said, ‘You know, the Persians, the Persian rugs, these really beautiful things, these beautiful, perfect things. They make these things and they turn them over and they get a knife and they slash the back, just so they know that nothing is ever perfect, as a practice, to go perfection is the enemy of the good.’ –Pam Grady




First look: Eddie Redmayne in THE DANISH GIRL


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After utterly transforming himself (and winning the Oscar for it) to play Dr. Stephen Hawking last year, Eddie Redmayne does it again to play pioneering transgender painter Lili Elbe in The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper’s latest. The drama world premieres, Saturday, Sept. 5, at the Venice Film Festival. But for now, here’s a tantalizing look at one of the most anticipated films of the fall season.


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