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"House of Sand and Fog"

Directed by Vadim Perelman.
Written by Vadim Perelman and Shawn Otto.  Based on the book by Andre Dubus III. 
Starring Ben Kingsley, Jennifer Connolly, Shohreh Aghdashloo and Ron Eldard.
Release Year:  2003 
Review Date:  1/15/04 


Executive summary:  I loved “House of Sand and Fog” for everything that was NOT in the trailer.

I thought that after seeing the commercial for this flick, this was a pretty cut-and-dried operation.  Girl (Jennifer Connelly) forgets to pay taxes, gets evicted.  Middle Eastern man (Ben Kingsley) sees notice for house in paper, buys house, moves family in.  Girl, housebroken, tries to get house back.  Family, citing “American Dream”, fights to keep house.  Somebody dies.

The beauty here—especially for me, since I can’t read and therefore haven’t read the book—is the different layers of things going on in “House of Sand and Fog.”  So much drama!  I really enjoyed the way we are shown the plight of Kathy, as Connelly doesn’t play her as a necessarily bad person, even IF it is her fault that she has lost her house to back taxes.  And, the Colonel and his family aren’t the bad guys either, even IF their good fortune has left someone else literally living in her car.  As Kingsley plays the Colonel, even a truly spiritual person could see in his heart to leave somebody out in the cold, especially a dumb American that doesn’t truly appreciate the good fortune that his family has struggled to find since coming to America.  So then imagine my surprise to see that the third arm of this story, featuring a cop (Ron Eldard) that takes up a relationship with Kathy, was so deep as well!  Maybe the most devastating scene of the film comes when the cop sees his wife and children in the parking lot of the police station where he works; the family is working through acknowledged problems but where does that leave their children?  I actually wanted more out of this part of the story; it was probably much more significant in the book, but for time purposes was eliminated from the movie version.  Damn, I hate that.

But even what is left is quite powerful.  Connelly is great, but Kingsley just does it again and again and again, and his Colonel just has more to do in “House of Sand and Fog.”  The subtleties—like when the Colonel is washing his shirt before dressing up just to go home and convey to his family that he has a swanky day job, when he really is digging ditches—that Kingsley gives us are great.  I would think his role here is a long shot for an Oscar, but it would be cool to see it get recognized.  I thought the part by Shohreh Aghdashloo, as the Colonel’s wife, was amazing as well.

Not a bad thing to say about “House of Sand and Fog”, and who doesn’t love seeing that Golden Gate Bridge in movies?  Good stuff, good stuff indeed.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09