Ramin Bahrani

99 Homes

“It’s not your home anymore.” Director Ramin Bahrani has long been preoccupied with portraying the price of the American dream on the big screen – the theme is obvious in both At Any Price and Man Push Cart – but his 99 Homes finally fully capitalizes on that obsession to great effect. This time around, Bahrani is concerned with the bursting of the mortgage bubble, turning his attention to the swamplands of Florida, where regular people (oh, hey, just like Andrew Garfield‘s Dennis Nash) are desperately trying to hold on to their family homes, even as opportunists like Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) use their misfortune to fuel their own businesses. Dennis is already desperate when the film opens, mere days away from losing the Nash family home, effectively sealing that his inability to pay the bills has ruined his life, his young son Connor’s (Noah Lomax) life and even his mother Lynn’s (Laura Dern) life. Three generations of Nash are relying on Dennis, and he’s about to let down every single one (it must be noted that, while Bahrani is apparently intent on pushing the generational aspect of the film, Dern is underused and casting a mother as the sole female protagonist doesn’t make much sense). Dennis loses the house — Connor loses the house, Lynn loses the house — and a seemingly normal day is destroyed by the arrival of real estate agent Rick (who represents the various banks who own scads of unpaid mortgages), a pair of surly cops and a ragtag […]

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With his first few films, Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, and Goodbye Solo, director Ramin Bahrani put his focus squarely on the hardships that face immigrants when they come to the United States and try to build a new life out of nothing. But with his latest, At Any Price, Bahrani moved his focus to a group of people who have been in the land of opportunity as long as anybody, the bread belt’s farming families, and showed how they are just as vulnerable to the hardships that come from today’s economic climate as anybody else. His next film, 99 Homes, seems like it’s going to continue down that path, because according to a report from THR, it’s just cast The Social Network and The Amazing Spider-Man’s Andrew Garfield in its lead role, that of a man who has his life flip-turned-upside-down when he becomes the victim of predatory lending practices.

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Ramin

At Any Price is like a film someone stored in a time capsule during the 1970s, and we’re just now finally opening it. Influenced by Five Easy Pieces and other landmarks of that era, director Ramin Bahrani set out to make a rural drama that, despite popular belief, has an audience. He ran into resistance while seeking financing, and one might think that was because of the film’s unlikable huckster protagonist, Henry (Dennis Quaid). The trouble didn’t come from the anti-hero lead, however, but rather in the story’s rural setting. According to the money men, nobody wants to watch a movie that’s not set in a major city. Bahrani finds, understandably so, that belief to be ludicrous. And At Any Price has made its way to screen with its setting intact, a fact he is pleased with. The writer and director behind Goodbye Solo and Chop Shop originally had his eyes set on making a western, which didn’t come to fruition. Funny enough, At Any Price wasn’t much easier to get made, despite not being a part of what some consider a “dead genre”.

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At Any Price is truly a baffling film. At many times I found myself laughing, I found my mouth agape, I buried my head in my hands… And I hardly think that was the filmmaker’s intended audience reaction. It’s almost hard to believe that someone actually wrote this thing, that the film is even for real. This is especially surprising since the film’s writer/director, Ramin Bahrani (who co-scripted with Hallie Elizabeth Newton), has several good indie films under his belt, including Goodbye Solo and Man Push Cart. The film throws logic and caution to the wind, features an insanely campy performance from Dennis Quaid, flip-flops each character’s motivation with abandon, has zero regard for morality and never ceases to have a cheese factor that explodes through the roof. On the positive end (which is understandably quite narrow), the two race car scenes were shot well, as they were quickly paced and tension-filled. And Zac Efron is always a sight for sore eyes, especially during his two passion-filled sex scenes.

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When you live in small-town Middle America, it seems that you have only three options. You farm, you drive a race car, or you leave. Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart; Chop Shop; Goodbye Solo) is a filmmaker who tends to look at immigrants in America who are trying to find a livelihood away from home. With his new film, At Any Price, he takes a closer look at the struggles of Middle America and how the shift in business models over the generations threatens the very fabric and moral pride of the people. Due to the bigger demand for more-focused growing, it’s become impossible for small farmers to survive on their own. As a result, these people become either antiquated and bankrupt or form progressive, self-made conglomerates. We then see the effect of corporate America and ask, “Is this great for the economy? The man? Both? Neither?” In At Any Price we see Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) as the farmer trying to be as progressive as possible. One of his first scenes puts him at another farmer’s funeral, offering to purchase land from the man’s bereaved son. Henry’s passion is his farm. He wants to make it into an even better business than he received from his father, so that he can then hand it off to his son. The problem is that he’s made some morally questionable decisions in the process of seeking to resolve his ambitions. And these decisions eventually come back to haunt him.

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Over Under - Large

You might assume that over the course of his forty-some year acting career, Al Pacino has probably won enough Oscars to stock a whole trophy room, but actually he’s only won once. It was for his performance as a blind, pissed-off, ex-military man with plans to kill himself after indulging in a weekend of fine food and fine escorts in Scent of a Woman. The movie was kind of a big deal back in the early 90s, getting nominated for a bunch of awards and winning everybody’s grandma and grandpa’s hearts in the theaters. Plus, Pacino had a catchphrase in the movie – “hoo-ah!” – which got referenced and quoted (to an annoying degree) for years after. In 2009, Ramin Bahrani made a movie about a similarly pissed off old white guy who has made a conscious decision and an appointment to kill himself called Goodbye Solo. It didn’t have any name actors like an Al Pacino, and it didn’t manage to win any awards that you’ve ever heard of, but it was really good anyway. So much so that I think it’s a shame that it never got any play with anyone outside of the movie snob crowd.

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Over the last few years Ramin Bahrani has slowly become one of my favorite working filmmakers, and just with the release of three features. I thought his 2005 effort Man Push Cart was an interesting story that showed a lot of style and managed to accomplish quite a bit while still taking a minimal approach to filmmaking; but it didn’t quite connect with me on a deeper level. In his second feature, when Bahrani took his unique form of small, anti-cinematic character study and pointed it at the young Alejandro in 2007’s Chop Shop, I found myself to be deeply affected by the characters introduced and the naturalist way that Bahrani is able to build emotion and intrigue by doing very little, and create beautiful imagery without being in the least bit showy. 2008’s Goodbye Solo was even better, a filmgoing experience that I found to be truly sublime. So what the heck is this micro budget indie filmmaker doing casting Zac Efron and Dennis Quaid in his next movie? Up to this point everything he has done has employed mostly unknowns, so seeing these two Hollywood names get attached to something he’s doing comes as a pretty big shock. Quaid I can kind of accept. If Bahrani is dipping his toe into the waters of making studio films, then Quaid is a performer who I can see him going after. Despite the fact that he makes a lot of crap, like The Day After Tomorrow, Legion, and G.I. Joe, […]

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The USA (United States Artists) is an organization that exists to continually support the work of emerging and established artists here in the United States. Every year, they dole out a grant of $50,000 to artists in several categories, including film. This year’s list includes the brilliant Ramin Bahrani (Goodbye Solo), Natalia Almada (The Other Side), Almudena Carracedo (Made in LA), Cherien Dabis (Amreeka), Anne Lewis (Morristown: In the Air and Sun), Tina Mabry (Mississippi Damned), and Laura Poitras (The Oath). We’re anxious to see what these talents continue to offer. For an interview with Ramin Bahrani, click in this vicinity.

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Plastic Bag

This week, Sunday Shorts is back with something very special. Have you ever wondered what the life of a plastic bag is like? From its birth in a grocery store to its late life in a landfill? Have you also wondered what the existential thoughts of said bag would sound like? Yes, they would sound like Werner Herzog. That was my first thought, as well.

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This week on Print to Projector, we dream cast the anthology masterwork of J.D. Salinger and enjoy some bananafish.

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The man who Ebert has called the “next great American filmmaker” took some time out of a busy schedule to talk about his latest movie, Goodbye Solo, the importance of showing the bad parts of life, and a giant pile of trash floating around in the Pacific.

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On the lonely roads of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, two men from very different worlds forge an improbable friendship that will change both of their lives forever.

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published: 12.23.2014
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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
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