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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW---House of Sand and Fog

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#1 of 31 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted March 08 2004 - 09:25 AM

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House of Sand and Fog

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Studio: Dreamworks
Year: 2003
Rated: R
Film Length: 126 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French

The story is pretty simply and deals with two families both with a haunted past. Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) is going through a hard period. Her husband left her eight months earlier and she hasn’t gotten over that. Things take a turn for the worse when she is evicted from the house, which her father built and gave to her after his death. While being removed from her house she meets a police officer named Lester (Ron Eldard) who tries to help her by finding a place for her to live. He’s also going through personal problems with a wife and two children but soon he and Kathy find themselves falling in love even with all their problems.

The other half of the picture deals with Behrani (Ben Kingsley), a once powerful man who finds himself losing everything. Working two jobs to support his son and wife (Shohreh Aghdashloo), Behrani sees a wonderful chance to make one more stab at a life. He eventually buys the house formally owned by Kathy and plans to remodel the thing and sell it at a higher price. This here would send his son to college and take care of the wife. However, this would also destroy Kathy who soon shows up at the house demanding that he return it to her. As Kathy and Lester become more and more desperate, they attempt to get the house back no matter what but this here just leads to more heartache.

It should come to no shock that House of Sand and Fog went in and out of theaters very fast. It’s still rather shocking that people will flock to see whatever crap Hollywood throws at them yet they overlook a film like this that is so refreshing that I find it sad no audience located the film. Even with a couple Oscar nominations, this film still hasn’t gotten much buzz around it but hopefully that’ll change when it is released on DVD. Instead of watching a silly film about a cat and a hat, hopefully more people will check this film out because it’s one of a kind.

In most dramas made today, there is a good guy and a bad guy and in the end good prevails over evil and everyone leaves the theater with a smile on their face as they face the real world where this type of stuff doesn’t happen. House of Sand and Fog deals with many ugly issues and many of these issues are downright depressing but throughout all this ugliness there isn’t a single second that comes off as fake or forced. Instead of us getting good versus evil, instead the screenplay is smart enough to deliver good versus good. As in real life, something the good get so desperate that they make mistakes and sometimes these mistakes lead to tragedy but I think that’s the entire point of this film.

There are many instances where we could cuss and scream at the Kingsley character but instead, the director makes us realize that he’s doing nothing wrong and that the only thing he’s guilty of is wanting to make a better life for his family. The Connelly character does many stupid things throughout the film that hurts others more than herself yet once again, the director doesn’t make us hate this woman. Why can’t we hate these characters? Because the film is smart enough to keep its integrity, which is something missing from many films today. As much as we hate seeing what’s going on with these two families at the same time we understand them and love them because we can see what’s inside their hearts. No matter how mean and cruel things get we know deep down these people are trying to do what’s right but something being right isn’t the correct way to do things.

There is so much that unfolds in this film that I couldn’t possibly go into it without revealing spoilers, which I certainly won’t do. There are many fights, tears, blood and pain but through it all the viewer just sits there realizing how natural all of this is and not for one second do we feel something is being fed for us just for a certain emotion. The film has so many guts that it’s hard to believe something like this would be made by a major studio today. The ending, which is outright shocking, is something many people here will be upset about and think it’s ugly, but looking at the heart’s of these characters we can’t help but respect what happens. This ending isn’t forced on us nor is it thrown at us to make us cry. Instead the ending is given to us because the characters have integrity and certain mistakes will lead you down one road.

The highlight to the film is the wonderful performances, which certainly didn’t get enough attention. Ben Kingsley has always remained one of the best character actor’s out there and here he turns in what might be his best performance. The screenplay forces his character to play many emotions and go through many stages and Kingsley pulls them off without a hitch. There are many scenes in the film where it would have been easy to go over the edge but that never happens. Instead of seeing some wacky old man, we see a haunted man with a haunted past that will lead to more badness due to his good heart. Jennifer Connelly is certainly moving her way up the ladder of the best actresses working today. She’s played desperate and depresses characters before but here she must also show the heart of the character. There are many wonderful scenes but the best is where Connelly must try and tell her brother that’s she’s lost everything her father worked for. The way Connelly handles this scene is brilliantly done and should have gotten her another Oscar nomination. Shohreh Aghdashloo steals the show as the wife who can barely speak English yet she’s trying to understand why her husband is fighting with this strange woman. I’ve seen many films in my life but this here is without a doubt one of the most naturalistic performance in my memory.

In order to really love and care for someone, you must listen and observe them, taking the bad with the good. In this film, we are shown many characters and we must listen to them and look past all the ugly things going on to see the beauty that each of them hold in their hearts. Every movie fan out there must applaud Dreamworks for having the guts to make a movie like this and release it when I’m sure they knew there wouldn’t be much of an audience. Why a film like this gets overlooked each and every year is beyond me but hopefully more people will give this film the chance it deserves.

VIDEO---The film is shown widescreen (1.85:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. There’s no shock here but once again Dreamworks delivers a wonderful transfer, which is pretty darn close to reference quality. The film’s actual look is something incredible to look at and the transfer brings all of this out. The blacks are very deep without any noticeable problems and the contrast remains perfect throughout. Several scenes take place in the fog with a blueish tint to them and this is where the transfer really shines. There’s some minor edge enhancement in a few scenes but nothing major. I mainly noticed this in Chapter 13 but everything else is pretty much perfection.

AUDIO---We get a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, which does the film justice. This is a dialogue driven film so don’t expect anything too loud. The dialogue is crystal clear and mixed perfectly with the Surrounds, which are mainly used for the music score. The score is very aggressive throughout the film and minor sound effects are also perfectly handled.

EXTRAS---Up first are six deleted scenes, all shown widescreen and enhanced for 16x9 TVs. You’ve got the option to watch them alone or you can select the audio commentary option. Five of the scenes are very nice but like most cases, it was best to cut them out of the film. Up next is an audition tape for Aghdashloo, which is something I wish more studios would include. Her performance in the audition pretty much matches what we get in the final film so it’s clear to see how perfect she was for the role. Next is a still gallery, which contains some very nice photos of the cast among other things. Filmographies and production notes are also included. Next is a behind the scenes segment, which runs just over 24-minutes. This includes interviews with Kingsley, director Vadim Perelman and Andre Dubus. The interviews are very interesting and a lot of detail is given about the characters, the production as well as the novel. Finally we get an audio commentary with the same three people and this here goes into better detail about the making of the film. Strangely, no theatrical trailer is included.

OVERALL---Another brilliant movie that didn’t find an audience while in theaters but I really hope this gets another life on DVD. Dreamworks has once again delivered a wonderful disc with a remarkable transfer and very nice sound mix. The extras are all nice especially for fans of the film.

Release Date: March 30, 2004

#2 of 31 OFFLINE   Patrick Sun

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Posted March 08 2004 - 09:46 AM

A good film that deserved a bigger audience.
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#3 of 31 OFFLINE   Blu



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Posted March 08 2004 - 10:04 AM

I plan on getting it as quickly as possible! I've been anxious to see this one and a few others like Station Agent! I don't understand why My Life Without Me hasn't gotten more of a audience. It is a outstanding little film!

#4 of 31 OFFLINE   Marc Colella

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Posted March 08 2004 - 10:42 AM

Thanks for the review. I found it to be a decent/solid little film, even though I found the ending somewhat predictable and forced. The main strengths to this film are the performances. Ben Kingsley gives us yet another stellar performance (has this guy ever been less-than-stellar?) and Shohreh Aghdashloo really holds her own. Definitely worth a rental at the very least.

#5 of 31 OFFLINE   ThomasC


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Posted March 08 2004 - 11:00 AM

A fine film, but one that I don't plan to see again for a while, if ever.

#6 of 31 OFFLINE   Sam Davatchi

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Posted March 08 2004 - 11:13 AM

I will definitely buy this movie. I loved it and if it wasn’t for LOTR wining 11 Oscars (cheering me up!), I would have been really upset that Shohreh Aghdashloo didn’t win her Oscar!

#7 of 31 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted March 08 2004 - 11:33 AM

Depends on where you are. Here, it was in theaters for a good two months. However, distribution was limited. The film never played on more than 600 screens in the U.S. M.
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#8 of 31 OFFLINE   Eric Eash

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Posted March 08 2004 - 04:42 PM

excellent review! kingsley and connelly gave some amazing performances, and i'm surprised kingsley didn't win the oscar. eric
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#9 of 31 OFFLINE   Scott Wong

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Posted March 08 2004 - 05:36 PM

I definitely plan on picking this one up. Scott.

#10 of 31 OFFLINE   Bill J

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Posted March 09 2004 - 11:31 AM

This was one of the best films of the year. Thanks for the review.

#11 of 31 OFFLINE   Warren_Sc


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Posted March 16 2004 - 12:50 AM

Great movie but frustrating to watch. Get a comedy to watch afterwards.

#12 of 31 OFFLINE   Mark Bendiksen

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Posted March 16 2004 - 04:33 AM

The performances in this film are astounding. I'm beginning to think that Ben Kingsley may be the single greatest living actor. Anyone who can jump from playing diverse characters in Gandhi and then Sexy Beast and then House of Sand and Fog deserves a special honorary Oscar for that feat alone.

#13 of 31 OFFLINE   Bradley-E



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Posted March 22 2004 - 09:27 AM

Connelly is a cold and aloof actress. Could not give a damn about her.

#14 of 31 OFFLINE   Oswald Pascual

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Posted March 31 2004 - 02:33 PM

Connelly can perform with the best and is not afraid to break out of the hollywood formula movies and do her own thing. This is my favorite Connelly flick after Dark City!
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#15 of 31 OFFLINE   Mark Bendiksen

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Posted March 31 2004 - 02:57 PM

While we're on the subject of Connelly, something kind of freaked me out when I saw this film during its theatrical release a few months ago.

{Minor Spoilers Below}

Has anyone noticed that this is the third Jennifer Connelly movie that contains a pivotal shot of her standing on a pier? In addition to House of Sand and Fog, there are similar shots in Dark City and Requiem for a Dream. Very weird.

#16 of 31 OFFLINE   Oswald Pascual

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Posted April 02 2004 - 12:05 PM

Yes Mark I was thinking the same thing. Almost makes you feel like yelling DON'T JUMP! It's also weird that those three are my favorite Jennifer movies to, In fact Dark, City is in my top ten all favortie plus it's good DVD to use as a demo on a DLP FPTV to test the black levels and and watching it sweat! Posted Image

#17 of 31 OFFLINE   Patrick Sun

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Posted April 03 2004 - 03:38 AM

It's become a hallmark Jennifer Connelly shot.
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#18 of 31 OFFLINE   Haggai



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Posted April 03 2004 - 03:42 AM

Yeah, and it's getting really annoying. It took me out of this movie (which, aside from that, I thought was quite good) for a moment when I saw that shot--"oh, of course, another director's gotta put her on the pier looking out." Enough already, guys. It's about her acting talent and her beauty, not your cleverness in figuring out a way of putting her in that same shot in every movie.

#19 of 31 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted April 03 2004 - 04:11 AM

I watched this film last week.

I believe it was Peter Bracke at DVDFILE that
wrote a review of the film which basically poked
fun at how dopey and ridiculous the film was.

Well, after watching the film I completely
agreed with that reviewer's opinion. One one
hand, the events of the film were unbelievably
laughable. On the other hand, it had one of the
most depressing enmdings in recent memory.

Not in recent memory had I seen a film as
far-fetched as this one.....

....and then, the other day, someone tells me
that this film was based on a TRUE story.

I'd like to know if House Of Sand and Fog
is based on a true story as it would completely
change my overall opinion of this film.


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#20 of 31 OFFLINE   Jon Sheedy

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Posted April 03 2004 - 05:53 AM

Just finished watching House of Sand and Fog this morning. An extremely powerful film, which includes, without doubt, three of the greatest performances you'll see this year...or any other year. I haven't seen Mystic River yet, but it's difficult to imagine a performance that topped Kingsley's. Shohreh Aghdashloo and Jennifer Connelly are simply incredible as well. You just don't see this kind of work very often. I have to admit, that for the first time, I actually couldn't bear to watch the ending of a film. It started getting very difficult around the time Kingsley was running trying to find the hospital...and by the time he was up on the widowalk with his wife I had to get up and go into the kitchen. Just stood in there and listened till the end. This is the first time, in a long time, that film has had this kind of impact on me. Like a sledgehammer to the chest...it was just overwhelmingly depressing and harrowing. I think the main thing that made it so powerful and painful was the caliber of the performances.
For the life of me, I honestly cannot imagine how Peter and Ron could find anything about this film to be dopey, ridiculous, laughable or far-fetched. I really respect these guys opinions, as they most often spot-on, accurate and sincere. However, their take on House of Sand and Fog is simply incomprehensible to me. I consider this film to be one of the most exceptional I've ever seen. It's a shame that I couldn't bear to sit through this film again for quite some time, as I so much want to again witness the extraordinary performances of Kingsley, Aghdashloo and Connelly.
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