RIORI Presents Installment #198: Vadim Perelman’s “House Of Sand And Fog” (2003)


The Film…


The Players…

Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley, Ron Eldard, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jonathan Adhout and Frances Fisher.


The Plot…

When Kathy falls behind on her taxes, the bank seizes her family home and puts it up for auction. She’s had a bad streak ever since her husband ran out on her and she doesn’t earn enough to keep things liquid. Now she loses her home as the final insult to her injurious dire straits.

Colonel Behrani is a retired military man from Iran, now a US citizen. He’s been looking for the ideal bungalow for his wife and son to set down some roots, as well as reminiscent of their beach house on the Caspian coast back home. He feels he’s found the ideal home for his family here in the Pacific Northwest: Kathy’s.

Despite that the Colonel’s intentions are good and his claim legit, Kathy will not lose the house she grew up in to some strange foreigner without a fight.

Legal…or otherwise.


The Rant…

Let me tell you about the house I grew up in. Both of them. All three actually.

I was born in Dallas, whisked away as a baby to Wilkes-Barre, PA on the fringe of the Poconos. My folks told me later it was a nice place to live. I had to take their word for it because I was 2 at the time and therefore my first home was a mystery to me. You can’t go home again it seems. Still, the fact that I lived somewhere before my childhood gives me pause; you never really know home until you’ve left it. Again, I was too. We can get all elegiac later.

Post potty training I was whisked away with infant sister to the Lehigh Valley. It’s one of the last places in this country where metro holds hands with idyll well and populated by folks who don’t appreciate that. This isn’t my usual cynicism talking. The LV is vibrant, both culturally as well as topography, unfortunately too many of its denizens are ardent philosophers about where the grass is truly greener. My response? About five miles down the road. Might be a dairy farm there. Moo.

Everyone likes farms, especially when they’re right around the corner. My current residence is adjacent to a corn field and an apple orchard (more on this later). The Interstate is less than a mile away and I can barely hear it. Yeah, the LV’s the best of both worlds, however redolent with fussy locals who’ve never been to Dallas, let alone ever consulted a road atlas.

There’s a theme brewing here, you understand.

My first proper home (from ages 4 to 18) I grew up was in Allentown, PA. It was pretty average, and nothing like the Billy Joel tune. For one, the steel mill was in neighboring Bethlehem and I only spent one summer on the Jersey Shore. In sum, A-town never painted a picture. It was there and there I was from pre-K to high school with all the mundanity at the ready. This might sound a lot like your home town, but more John Mellencamp than Bruce Springsteen if you follow. I’m more a Mellencamp fan, so there.

I was all but four when my folks airlifted me from outside Scranton by way of Upstate New York (don’t ask) into A-town into one of the many homes that transient Air Products families used and abused and sold all within a year’s time. Cutting to the chase and drugged out fantasy from the 60s became a garish reality in the 70s, especially home decor. I was four and explored my new home day one stem to stern. What the hell were the previous occupants thinking? The color scheme of everything was the typical Ford-era nightmare, all avocado green, burnt orange and baby sh*t brown. The wallpaper in the hallway was like gold lamé, like the color off Freddie Mercury’s onstage cape. Stucco ceilings, incongruous wallpapers in the bathrooms, and someone had lopped away the original wooden bannister and replaced it with a wrought iron one, like the kind that would be useful outside. And who the f*ck has wall to wall carpeting in the freaking kitchen?

I was four. Welcome home.

I mention all this is because no matter what condition your house is in it’s irrelevant to how one makes their home.

Here was the good stuff. I had my own room, whilst two sisters had to share a bedroom until I left for college. We had a big backyard with a jungle gym and a sandbox and eventually a small garden I tended to. Nothing survived, but it made me feel like I was manipulating nature to coax withered tomatoes, and that’s always worthwhile. We had a finished basement to play in, where I displayed my Lego models, and later my NES collection and console. The walls were real pine, and easy tack posters to. I ransacked every map from my folks’ monthly ish of NatGeo and turned the place into an atlas, both of Earth and the rest of our planets. Mom wasn’t too keen on it all, but hey, it sure beat all the Mad magazine fold-outs I used to have. What, she worry?

Later still I hooked up cable TV and a beater VHS so I could abuse to watch late night talk shows far away from anyone else as well as my odd, pirated/dubbed videos from the local Blockbuster. In retrospect I always wondered why the staff there never raised an eyebrow with I rented a VCP, the latest titles and a handful of blank cassettes. The FBI never came to my door. Funny what sticks. As for late night TV? I’ve always been a night owl, and staying up late back then to watch Conan on his first show was a good way to end the day. He always had the best musical guests.

Like most of you out there in the blogosphere it might’ve taken some time to settle into your digs. Betcha a bit of the above woolgathering might apply. All that’s not necessarily nostalgia per se, but after a few years your house gradually takes on the identity of your home, security, quirks, spoken and unspoken rules alike. And yes my parents corrected all the LSD-meets-HGTV phantasmagoria over the course of 20 years, especially including no more greasy-ass deep pile in the scullery (goddam burnt orange, the color of satanic eczema). That and the railing was restored to its proper wooden glory. Way easier to slide down.

Like I said, quirks. All homes have them. Even more so with my second home.

It wasn’t really my home. It wasn’t even the ‘rents. It was my grandparents’ summer rental on Fire Island. I touched upon the place way, way back in The Way, Way Back installment. My grandparents actually had two rentals. One was a friend of my grandma’s who had moved away to Massachusetts and had no interest in crashing there for any further summers. For like 10 years, me and my sibs spent every July there in the only slum in town. The place was a blight on the shiny cottages that made up the municipality. Neglected (I had to once one crawl up the roof with fence slats and bailing wire to replace a screen that was the foyer for the mosquitoes hovering over the above level septic tank. Good times) so much so that the master bath had to be upgraded in the late 80s to meet code, or else. I went from a kid to bathing in a clawfoot iron tub during the Cold War years to the then state-of-the-art plastic plumbing. I opted for the outdoor shower meant for after a day on the beach. Like I say again, quirks.

Despite its compact size the house was thoughtfully big. Its architect knew that this place was a summer home and demanded maximum space at an economical package. Wanna jam a lot of people on a summer rental for maximum yield? Right, lotsa bedrooms. Between me, my two sisters, mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunt, other aunt and uncle we we able to bunk up together without sharing a bed, and the only bedroom I had was the ignored one adjacent to the master bath. This summer home—called a “Coffey House” after its designer, a man known for efficiency and damn the zoning rules—was a place designed to invite family members to hang out, if only for a month. For good for ill.

No shock here, but most of it was for the good. I got away for many Julys to splash in the ocean, ride my bike, listen to my stereo at odd volumes (this meant both CDs and radio shows. I always picked up the good stuff from the City late at night), beachcomb, abuse my NES on a daily basis and abuse myself with caged booze and weed with friends on the beach with no full moon to rat us out. Far, far away from landlocked PA, with next to no traffic to avoid. None, actually. There were no cars in that little ville. It was oh so quiet when the HPS lights sputtered to life. Curfews were pointless. It was an island; where were we to go? I mean me and my then clutch of high schoolers on leave squatting on the pier and talking heady teenage sh*t well until midnight. Time well spent.

My summers at the grand ‘rents place was where I flex my mental muscles in a creative fashion. I made driftwood sculptures, read a lot of my fave books to this day, wrote stories on my dad’s laptop and discovered Van Morrison, which I punished my family with on my beater jambox 25/8. We both could do worse. It was that kind of rambling that molds one’s teenage outlook on life and what it could be, with no noisy cars around and a Discman spinning at around 9 PM playing REM’s Reckoning at mind shearing volume. “Harborcoat” escorted me to the pier. Nice that.

As of 2005 I live here, still in the LV. Bethlehem, the neighboring city to A-town where the actual steel mills were. It’s a very old farmhouse, built well before 1776 and had been expanded as late as 2007. It’s a tangle of local history. Many different families have lived here. To cut to the quick, my room is the whole of the loft that is the third floor. Lotsa room for a bed, a chaise lounge, way too many books, way too many DVDs, WAY too many retro game consoles (everyone by Sega, including a dead Game Gear), my clothes, this desk and this iMac (which contains all my writings as well as my obscenely large iTunes library). All bow down to arrested development.

The kids’ room is right below, decorated in a scheme we’ll call post-modern Goth. A giant collage dedicated to My Chemical Romance. Box spring and mattress on the floor, no frame. My old beater CD jambox with the prerequisite stack of Paramore albums at the ready. Make up station and her Precision bass and amp nearby. Way too many lightening chargers. I durst not touch any of it. Might ruin her system. Did I mention her color scheme is black and grey dappled with black? All hail adolescence.

The rest of the place is just there. Kitchen. Bathrooms. A basement that has my washer, dryer and and my infeasible comic book library. Some back room with a fireplace that gets a lot of use in cooler months; that’s where I do most of my reading. It’s also where my turntable is, as well as my infeasible record collection. Also some porch screened in that gets a lot of use in the warmer months; that’s where I do the rest of my reading. Also where my the bird feeders are, just outside (as well as those stupid, hungry squirrels). It’s home. A (former) chef’s life is frustration incarnate, but pays okay, and the need to wind down into comfort is as vital as if you were criminal lawyer, a firefighter, a nurse or a misguided writer. I’m fortunate enough to even have a fireplace. Like my old college roomie claimed, “Home is where you hang your ass.”

Perhaps you may have gleaned from this rant’s tone that home is where you find it, if not mold it. Why am I telling you all this? Simple. a house is not a home until you stamp your mark on it. That garish tableau about my childhood home my parents sent into rehab became a fine place to live. That run down shack of my grandparents was a fine place to waste away the summer. My place now? Well, the Wi-Fi is spotty in places, but blame the stone walls. The mortgage is getting paid on time. We have ducks and geese in the yard since we’re so close to the creek, along with duck and goose poop littering the driveway. That and the driveway repaved last year. And permanent residence of a couple of Northern Cardinals who always swoop by the large bird feeder, regardless of which yard I plant it according to the seasons. It’s all fine.

All this claptrap makes a house a home. It’s an abstract thing. What you may consider hearth and home I may never approach without the aid of a service dog and a Geiger counter. Again, we could all do worse.

Or for the better. Wherever we grew up, the concept of home was informed by our presence. What we did there, what were learned there, what we ate there, etc. A house is not a home blah blah blah. We all dig that line, because it’s true. Regardless of knotty pine walls, bad carpeting, dry rotten screens, carpeted kitchens, wallpaper that Roger Daltrey might’ve used as a cape at Woodstock and who the f*ck carpets a kitchen? All in all, the quirkiness of your home makes it more than a house, right? And eventually when that house feels like a home, questionable decor and curious angles become like, well, family. Reassuring, as ugly as a home could be.

Now hear this: if ever you’ve moved away from your old home and old neighborhood, do years later you wonder who’s living there now? Can’t go home again and all that. Because there are new residents, well, residing in your old home. No way. That was my home. Did the new owners change things around? You know, to better suit their living? Like carpeting in the kitchen? Perish the thought.

But it’s not your home anymore. Hasn’t been for years. In truth it stopped being your home once you left it, either literally and/or metaphorically. All that is left are the memories, those tones of home. And you know what I’ve said about the myopic lens of nostalgia, and nostalgia is fleeting since it dwells in the past. Gone. But you in your present home do not dwell in the past. Right?

Do you? Don’t you?


The Story…

As it’s been said you can’t go home again. Especially when the bank puts up your home for auction and you get evicted.

Such is Kathy’s (Connelly) predicament. Her husband left her, as well as left a ton of unpaid bills and bank statements getting ever higher with each day. She’s teething her way through rehab, can’t stop smoking and can’t stand her surroundings. Not her family home. Place was built from scratch by her Uncle, perched high above on the Northwest cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Its a nice piece of property plagued by ghosts and overflowing ashtrays. Now the bank tells her to vacate or else.

Enter one Massoud Behrani (Kingsley). A former colonel in the Iranian Air Force, he decides to move to America to set down some fresh roots. After leaving his bungalow in disgrace, the Colonel’s been working odd jobs to pay for a new home. He comes across a notice of a bank seized property up for auction. Kathy’s place.

Kathy is kicked out with nowhere to go and the Colonel moves in. Finally a place to call home for his wife (Aghdashloo) and teenaged son (Adhout). It may not be on the Caspian, but it’s better than staying in a hotel. Kathy’s loss is the Colonel’s gain. There is all this paperwork to validate both efforts.

Kathy’s claim has all but evaporated. Her uncle built that house from tinder, and although she never liked the place at least it was her place. Hers.

Home is where you hang your hat. Or your face. Or the end of your rope.

Otherwise it is just property.


The Review…

Here’s something for you. It’s considered one of the most major, forgivable plot holes in modern American cinema. And it barely relates to this week’s film. Check it out.

Unless you’ve being living in the Duggar’s family compound for the past 40 years or so, you’ve most likely have seen Raiders Of The Lost Ark. You know, Indiana Jones’ first (and best) foray into archaeological action and the problems messing with religious artifacts. The plot hole is introduced in the first act, kind of like foreshadowing. Indy recovers the golden idol with the mass of your average sand castle, absconding with it only to have his smarmy rival Belloq steal it away. All that trouble just to lose the fool thing, as well as Alfred Molina in the process.

The plot hole is thus: Indy never needed to be in the movie. The Nazis got the Ark in the endgame, despite Jones’ nosing around. So why include our intrepid albeit goofy sand-sifting hero in the first place? Simple. Indy was the lead, but he was also the audiences’ avatar. We saw and adventured through the movie through Jones’ eyes. He was the audience, or we were he. Without Harrison Ford, Raiders would come across as nothing more than a never-ending episode of The Mystery Of Oak Island. At least with Raiders we got to see some gold. And melting Nazis.

How does that classic globetrotter have anything to do with House Of Sand And Fog? The answer is more esoteric. Whereas with Raiders, Jones—our accident prone hero and tour guide—didn’t need be on retainer. With House we had no proper antagonist. House was a drama of duality, but neither party was on the side of the wrong or the right. Heck, the only possible sinister aspect of the film was Eldard’s misguided cop, and even he was an opportunistic ‘tard. No spoiler there, really.

Here’s another analogy I wish to drop. Yes, I figured Spielberg was a smart enough director to try and recreate the action and fun of those old Alan Quatermain shorts he adored in his youth. In sum, Raiders was a comic book adventure and us the readers as hero. Vicarious film fun at its best, duh. I feel that there is a twisted side of “going along for the ride” as with Indy and company. Cutting a film informed by what the director believes the audience wants. We don’t want to see an absence of a protagonist, nor do we want to be fed what a protagonist “should be.” I bring this little nugget to light as a response as to how harrowing House was. Who do you get behind?

Now for something completely different.

Not much of a surprise I’m an otaku. An anime fan, mostly of the s/f kind. I’ve seen many anime adopting a patch of a Western aesthetic, and I’m not talking about the bowdlerized yet venerated Gatchaman legacy. Disregarding the 80’s take on GoLions (AKA Voltron), which was wedged into American sensibilities, I’m going to talk about an action anime that was deliberately designed for Western audiences. Before I go there, allow me to riddle you this: I once had a co-worker who through her college studies got to spend a week in Berlin (she was a language student). I advised her that when offered some lemonade (in re: soda and/or pop) it was not likely going to be lemonade. The Germans refer to soda and soft drinks as limonade. Kinda like folks around Atlanta call every kind of soda “Coke.”

Point? Stuff can get lost in translation.

In any event, director Osama Dezaki unleashed the incredibly violent, incredibly stupid actioner Golgo 13: The Professional. It was about the ultimate hitman for hire, often hung up with distractions of unwanted vagina, unwanted money and anything that got in the way of offing unwanted wealthy people. Duke Togo (yes, that was his name) had the eye of a sniper blessed with zero pulse. It was one of the first anime designed directly to appeal to American audiences. And it was awful. Admittedly the minimal plot threads offered a keen twist, but the primitive CGI (even for 1989. Dire Straits’ 1985 “Money For Nothing” music video was more innovative) was as much an insult to American feelings as Beavis & Butthead was 20 some years ago. At least that brainless duo was funny. If you ever are curious to watch Golgo 13 all the way through, you can almost hear Dezaki shrug and say, “What?”

In sum, a director should never assume what the audience needs—not wants—to watch. Director Perelman is Ukrainian, once part of the “Evil Empire,” and please forgive the stereotyping. Russian literature—and by extension classic cinema—is inspired by failure, desperation and pining for the Earth to be engulfed by the sun ready to go nova and not leave fresh towels in the hotel bath. Doubt me? Here: what’s the inspiration for Tolstoy? Death. Dostoevsky? Murder. Gogol? Grotesquerie. Solzhenitsyn? Isolation. Russian artists have been given the short shrift for their muses, yet often a spade is a spade. Life can often be harsh so it’s best we talk about in frankly. For example, Ivan Illych died chasing a dislodged kidney as his endgame. Who’s hungry?

The Russian muse is a grim one. House was a very terse, bleak movie. I dare not question director Perelman’s motives since misery equals company. Like Golgo 13 his take on Dubus’ existential novel, nothing will go well, end well, let alone end well properly. Meaning a sense of full circle closure. By House’s raison d’être, that’s not the point. The movie was always about how the other half lives, as heartless as what that invites.

Let’s get this out of the way again. House is devoid of both protags or antagonists. Both primaries have very real, very honest motives for loving in the titular house. Yet the dynamic is all about a challenge, a conflict where both lines are drawn for the same goal: a place to live. And stay.

There’s a mystery there. A few actually. More on that later.

Besides the terse melodrama, I kinda figured out the message of House, and the polite discord it invited. Namely, families—regardless of size—are alike all over. It may have been the sole pinion that we as the audience could dance around. Like I spoke about earlier with my houses as homes theory, family is what makes a house a home. It’s based mostly on motive, meaning the desire to set down roots. In House, Kathy shouldered her “home” when it once becomes a burden. The Colonel spies her house as an ideal home to set down roots in America proper. It’s all an ideal, and always fading. Houses are physical, homes are ethereal. The responsibilities are equal with both. Again, families are alike all over.

Which my be the heart of how the tragic played out. Again, House had no antagonists. Just a pair of desperate people trying to live their lives for the good. Proper? Kathy was trying to get her sh*t together, battling booze, bills and a bailed husband. The Colonel just wanted to have a decent place for his family to live like back in Iran. Where was the adversary? None really. There was the theme of fleeing an unpleasant history afoot. It was not that overt, however, nor something corporeal wreaking havoc on our principals. It was some calumniator; an organic, all too familiar entity that ruins the lives of people all the time.

Red tape. Bureaucracy.

There may be spoilers ahead, but with House that might be a matter or interpretation.

Kathy lost her house due to red tape, unfairly and in error. The Colonel obtained her house thanks to the banks operating under false pretenses unbeknownst to Behrani. mentioned why not the two make a deal? Like Kathy be the landlady and charge rent to the Colonel while she took up residence in the guest house? A fair point, but then this might’ve resulted in more conflict, which the plot already had plenty of. No. Events unfolded in a way that there had to be a clear winner, which there would be none. Too many outside forces were inadvertently colluding against Kathy and the Colonel and the struggle was taken out on each other. If felt like divide and conquer where only the banks and the lawyers profited. Like I said, bureaucracy. At its finest.

Connelly was hot on the heels of her Oscar win for A Beautiful Mind. Her performance as Alicia Nash—the long suffering wife of a schizophrenic math genius—carved out a nice niche as a skill for playing both desperate and vulnerable. This may have not been lost on the esteemed scenarist Akiva Goldsman when the casting call came around for House. Here Connelly is a different kind of desperate. Unlike in Mind, she invited her predicament, wallowing in ennui, many empty wine bottles that should not be there and an ashtray that also should not be so convenient. She hates her house and all the history it contains and only comes to value it when the place gets taken away. Unlike Alicia Nash, Kathy is hard to sympathize with. I mean, if you were at the bottom of it all, wouldn’t you still be secure with a roof over your head? In essence, when Kathy accidentally punctured her foot it said it all for me. So little, too late.

Desperation worked both ways in House. Yes, yes. It’s criminal to lose one’s home. It’s often funny/tragic when it gets bought by new owners. Recall my ribald recollection of the fever dream of my first home. Took my folks maybe 15 years to correct all the design schemes cooked up by too much deep pile and low cut 70s cocaine. When it came time to leave I couldn’t even fathom any new occupants taking reign over my family’s “perfect” domicile.

Of course I was wrong. A house is a house, objective. A home is subjective, right? We’ve well established that. For the Colonel, Kathy’s house was more than a home. It was a retreat, a refuge. A fresh start, but from what?

If you paid attention watching House (as assured am I that you did after you reloaded the popcorn), it came quickly apparent that the story took place in the 80s. The cars, the tech, the fashions. K took note of the retro, glass Mountain Dew bottles strewn about Kathy’s place. All screamed Trickle Down theory, and equally beaten down. In early scenes we learned that soon after the Colonel earned his citizenship he had to work menial jobs to make ends meet—lightyears beyond his esteemed military career back in the Middle East. He kept up appearances for his family until the time was right to set down roots; Horace Greeley might have had the right idea. Here’s the itch: if the Colonel was doing so well back in Iran, why emigrate to the US with rocks in his lunchpail? Why was Kathy’s old house so damned the house?

History lesson. Number 2 pencils only.

The aforementioned was implied in the movie, and only in a fart-and-you’ll-miss-it scene. It spoke volumes to me. Moving on.

If you remember when Coke changed its formula to Pepsi’s or the Sega Master System being rival to the NES you might also remember Oliver North on trial implicated in the Iran Contra Scandal all over the major networks. No? Help is on the way.

Back in the bad ol’ 80s, it came to light that the US secretly sold weapons to Iran as quid pro quo to sell contraband weapons for the uprising in Nicaragua. In sum, a global village designed to pay Peter by robbing Paul. This was illegal, by the way, and way too much money changing went down. Needless to say, many in the Iranian military wanted out before this turned into a very hot potato. Many in the Iranian took flight, claiming sanction in the US, their bestest of besties.

In the movie, when the Colonel’s son insists to his dad the really didn’t sell those jets, the man looks away and says something sardonic. Like it was just a necessary business decision. Or it may have been done for the greater good. Or for him. It was a throwaway scene, but it wasn’t. Small wonder why the Colonel and his family fled Iran in such a desperate, haphazard way, Especially when Nadi got so pissy about their new digs. noted “Why make changes to the house if its only temporary?” That was another part of the puzzle regarding the Colonel’s intentions about what should be just so. Also, why was Nadi always left out of the loop?

Get it now? No? That’s okay. Pencils down.

also noticed there was a lot more not being told. She commented background noise. True. She’s sharp and was correct. The drama generated essential tension, but rather removed from the dramatis personae. This story was a about a house, the main character, the pinion. However both principals had waffling reasons to own the house, but had no sincere investment. It became an existential pissing contest. A matter of control, but of what? Neither protags were set up to gain anything, and the actual house was nothing more than a chess piece. The plot circled around loss. All was a very thorough exercise in futility. No one cares to care. Dire.

Okay, let’s chat about our leads. This being melodrama, as well as dual character study there were two sides. Overall, their impetus was fear. Insecurity was the watchword, and since home and hearth always means stability, Kathy and the Colonel’s regard to the house was the total opposite. Did I mention that? As mentioned, Connelly excelled at desperate, but here only after her ambivalent home was taken away. She vacillated between indifferent and afraid of her place. She always had this wide-eyed gaze expecting the inevitable, but also denying that time would ever come. Until it does, then it’s all shock and awe and how the hell did I get evicted from my uncle’s house that I despise? Being kicked out on the street invited reality right quick.

Now let’s chat about Kathy’s backstory, a matter that always informs the first act. She’s been abandoned, teething through sobriety, “not smoking” and always shuffling through a pile of bills that aren’t addressed to her. And she always has an excuse for all of it. Sad, and there’s another aspect of Kathy’s denial that is very potent as well as explanatory for her circumstances. Recall her blankness. I figured the word “drink” had a dual meaning.

Sure, escaping the grip of booze is very hard, but Kathy’s station was twisted. Most folks who attend AA are trying to get their sh*t together, clean up and get real. Kathy was stuck (and was documented at length in the book), and that sense of stuck oozes from Connolly’s performance. Hell, she doesn’t even like her house, but it sure beats her car. Throughout the story, Kathy would simply not give up the ghost, perhaps because the house was where everything…stopped, as did her “life.” It’s often been said that living in past is damaging, but what about a damaged past that one wears like a sign of strength? In her endgame, her attitude about her tenuous grasp on life is akin to the child who breaks their toys so other kids can’t play with them. No one else—especially like the “upstanding” Colonel—gets to ruin her home. Petulance, if not fast out brattiness was Kathy’s motive.

It goes without saying that Sir Ben Kingsley is an esteemed, versatile actor. If you have any doubts—of which you shouldn’t—check out the Thunderbirds and/or The Physician installments, or just watch Ghandi or Dave or Sexy Beast. I always took note that KIngley’s features are also very versatile. He was born in India when under British rule, therefore has a certain refined cadence in delivering lines that always sound natural. His lineage also may contain Russian and Jewish stock, so, yeah diversity. How an actor delivers their lines are just as important as their motion and subtle facial action, and Kingsley rules with that. His skill of nuance was essential in spinning House‘s story.

Kingsley’s Colonel, at first, comes across a dignified man. More like stiff. Later working odd jobs to earn enough capital to buy Kathy’s bank action house, he comes across as at ease, albeit a bit—how could I say this?—slimy. Ulterior motive haunts this man, but for what end? Just as Kathy’s death spiral takes hold, the Colonel attains a death grip stiff up lip. I’m just buying a house; nothing to see here. Recall what I said about Iran-Contra above? There’s nothing wrong. This is fine. Look at the view! Enjoy it while we have it because we must move on. The ulterior matter. It’s just a house at an opportune time. A home may lie elsewhere. May, which is a calculated lie. Kingsley comes across as knowing, but really just a different color of insecurity like Kathy’s. She didn’t want the home but needed it. The Colonel doesn’t need the home but wanted it. Kingsley’s rigid, confident, worldly manque belies fear. Fear being uncovered. Kingsley’s stiff upper lip comes across as a desperate man, and his latest property purchase was nothing more a prop, a canard. He once was a decorated soldier, but not anymore. Not since the jets his son implied. Kingsley’s stalwart perform and was both proud accessory and unyielding pride. The man was great. And scary.

Here’s the last part of the cast’s trifecta. Ron Eldard crashed onto the scene way back in the 90s as the traffic cop who pulled over a “blind” Al Pacino in Scent Of A Woman. A former Coast Guard sailor, and all that matters. This was Eldard’s best dramatic role. Maybe his true first. I felt that his Lester was the true “bad guy” with House. Lester carried himself as very immature as well as opportunistic, much worst that our principals. Regarding Kathy’s predicament was keen to take note of there’s always flirting if they’re just “friends.” K also commented about trust birthed from despair (my sentence, her insight). Aren’t cops (ipso facto) trained to follow the law, no matter how cling…no excuse. How desperate was Kathy to set up digs with an unfaithful father, husband and cop? Misery loves company—invites it. It was the best invitation Kathy had had in forever.

As always, pacing is my red-headed stepchild. House‘s pace was smooth and creeping. Although we learned about Kathy and the Colonel’s ulterior motives regarding the property, there was that mystery afoot. The aforementioned theory about a flight from the Iran Contra mess. Why did Kathy’s husband leave her holding the check? Neither of these questions were adequately answered, and that may have been the director’s aim. Sh*t rolls downhill, regardless of direction. In sum the final act kept you guessing. Not exactly nail biting, more rather unconsciously poking at that sore tooth with your tongue.

This was a very difficult installment to write, which is why it took so long to post. In my cinematic memory I can’t name many films where the resolution is bittersweet and there are no clear winners. Or clear losers, for that matter. RashomonDog Day Afternoon, The Third ManTime Bandits and almost every movie in John Carpenter’s filmography ends on an ambivalent down note, House was no different, considering the James Joyce-esque touch where the end is the beginning is the end. A breathless cycle of loss and gain and loss. If there was any carp I had with House is was that there was too much melodrama, namely anytime Eldard entered the picture. He was good, but oily, and his taking advantage of Kathy’s vulnerably was the stuff of mid-level soap operas. It was some forced drama got injected just to hold our attention. Patchwork. We already learned that this caper would not end well. Pummeled into minds was more accurate. Scenes like those tasted like being led by our noses. That being said, House was lean and mean, but to make the story better it needed to be a bit leaner.

K commented that so much was wrong in the name of right. No memories were worth all this trouble. Well said, kid.

This is why you can never go home again. It’s not there.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? A mild relent it. House was a good movie, no argument. However it was so tragic and bleak that repeat viewings would just be an exercise in masochism. Once and done, I say.


The Stray Observations…

  • “Things are not as they appear.”
  • It was only matter of time for the racism factor to appear.
  • ‘Boycott Grapes?’
  • Don’t drive by the house. Never get out of the boat. Never rub another man’s rhubarb…
  • “There’s no one to call.”
  • Lester sure has a lot of friends.
  • “They’re already at home more than I ever was.”
  • That stupid dripping faucet.
  • “I just wanted things to change.”
  • Wait. Super Nintendo?
  • “I feel found.”

The Next Time...

Super spies Tom Hardy and Chris Pine are both vying for the affections of Reese Witherspoon. Of course you know This Means War.