Reviews of Region 2 discs from Ultimate DVD #09

THREE KINGS
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL

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THREE KINGS • Back to top Rated: 15
A perfect desert storm

The Movie

If there’s one thing better than enjoying a superb movie with a great story and great cast, it’s absolutely relishing every single frame of the film, constantly wanting to freeze-frame moments and plaster them all over your walls. To Hollywood’s detriment, films like this – contrasting action against emotion, humour against sadness and bleak visuals against great cinematography – are far too few and far between.

At the outset it seems like a simple story: Gulf War soldiers Archie, Troy, Chief and Conrad stumble across an Iraqi map hidden in a soldier’s ass, a document which could lead them to a fortune in stolen gold. So, they set out on a hush-hush mission to recover the booty, only to become embroiled in the inland skirmishes between rebel soldiers and Saddam’s oppressive army.

For a film which was never supposed to be a commercial success, this certainly contains all the essential ingredients of such: heart-stopping action, visual flair, irreverent humour and an incredibly charismatic cast (Clooney in particular scoring a near career-best performance). What it also contains is a heart and soul, deftly inserted by one-to-watch director O Russell, who hallmarks this film with his trademark quirkiness and intensely individual style.

Three Kings, five stars5 stars - Digital Dynamite and one hell of a movie!

The Extras

A benchmark example from which all other DVDs should follow: an unexpurgated look at the entire creative process from start to finish.

There are the commentaries, one by director David O Russell, and the other by the producers Charles Roven and Ed McDonnell, both of which are exceptional in explaining the ins and outs of the production, although Russell’s is best due to his affinity with the story and film in general. Further helping to set up the background story is a neat documentary featuring the usual sound-bytes from cast and crew, which would be average fare if the production and intricate sub-plots of the film weren’t so interesting.

A tour of the Iraqi village care of the production designer, again, helps you to envision what went into the production, but it’s David O Russell’s personal video diary which blows the added value completely out of orbit. Fascinating doesn’t cover it. Thank the lord for experimental film-makers who keep everything on film as O Russell shows us video footage dating back to the first phone call from Warner expressing interest in the script. We then see meetings with Clooney, Wahlberg (clearly not comfortable with the camera) and Ice (just call him) Cube, as well as a surprise meeting with Spike Jonze and the Hollywood première. Tremendous.

Oh there’s more too; four deleted scenes, narrated by the director (or not), cast and crew bios, production notes, an interview with Newton Thomas Sigel, the director of photography, photos and trailers. Not forgetting Ice Cube and Spike Jonze’s fantastically irreverent An Intimate Look Inside the Acting Process where Cube relates straight faced 5 stars - Digital Dynamite“I’ve done theatre you know.”

Grant Kempster

Credits
Three Kings - Buy this at Black StarBlackstar

Cast
George Clooney
Mark Wahlberg
Ice Cube
Spike Jonze
Nora Dunn
Jamie Kennedy
Mykelti Williamson
Director • David O Russell
Year • 1999
Duration • 114 mins
Screen Ratio • 2.35:1
Anamorphic • Yes
Audio • Dolby Digital 5.1
Chapters • 31
Languages • English
Subtitles • English Arabic, Romanian, English for hearing impaired
UK Release • Sept 18
Distributor • Warner

 

Highlight

Chapter 19 – Precision Cut
Iraqi interrogator to Troy: “What is the problem with Michael Jackson?”

Three Kings and I

Mark Wahlberg talks about the Three Kings DVD in this issue!

 
 
 
 

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from Ultimate DVD #09

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL • Back to top Rated: 18

1959 horror classic gets a stylish update

The Movie

The delicious remake of William Castle’s 1959 original finds theme park ride inventor Stephen Price (Rush) offering five strangers $1 million each to spend the night in a haunted house.

More unpredictable and unconventional than you’d think, House on Haunted Hill expertly combines gore-drenched chills with spot-on humour, particularly in the hilarious repartee between Stephen and his vicious wife Evelyn (Janssen). Sadly, by the final reel it degenerates into the usual CGI-fest, but this is 4 stars - Damn Fine Discstill one roller-coaster ride worth taking.

The Extras

Creepy rooms, breathtaking chases down dark corridors, eerie shadows… and that’s just the brilliant animated menu. It’s certainly a full house, offering a wealth of behind the scenes material that should satisfy the curious.

Behind the Screams offers the chance to dissect six special effects sequences, including The Shadow, Vat of Blood and Exploding Floor. Concept sketches, clips and words from Malone and the effects supervisor help the viewer appreciate the vast amount of work that went into these brief but impressive visuals.

A relaxed Malone talks us through the movie in the commentary track; he recalls shooting at the Santa Clarita studio (he even details the layout of the soundstages), discusses his extensive use of steadicam (and explains what it is for the uninitiated) and relates how he devoted time to encouraging strong performances from the ensemble cast. His sense of humour is evident throughout (“There’s nothing like a good vivisection to start the day”), making this a thoroughly entertaining 90 minutes.

Cast and Crew offers a list of players plus a bio for Malone, while the career of William Castle – the director and producer of the original version – is covered in detail. Both films are compared and contrasted in A Tale of Two Houses (in some cases, almost shot for shot), a substantial documentary that offers more fun insights into showman William Castle (for instance, during The Tingler, the director buzzed the audience with electric shocks). The vintage footage and trailers are delightful, while the narrator admits that the ancient effects are obviously rubbish.

There are three excellent deleted scenes (see sidebar), plus trailers in anamorphic 1.85:1 for both versions (‘Shiver and shake! Quiver and quake!’ promises the clunky black and white teaser for the original).

5 stars - Digital DynamiteExcellent stuff.

David Richardson

Credits
Annie Hall - Buy this at Black StarBlackstar

Cast
Geoffrey Rush
Famke Janssen
Taye Diggs
Bridgette Wilson
Director • William Malone
Duration • 89 mins
Screen Ratio • 1.85:1
Anamorphic • Yes
Audio • Dolby Digital 5.1
Chapters • 30
Languages • English
Subtitles • English for hearing impaired
Release Date • August 14
Distributor • Warner

 

Deleted Scenes

In 1.33:1, introduced
by Malone.

1: Sara Gets the Invite
Two versions: Sara takes the invite discarded by studio executive Jennifer Jenzen (Debi Mazar). Lost because of technical problems.

2: Zombies
A really cool scene, in which Sara falls through the floor and is menaced by reanimated corpses.

3: The Epilogue
Jennifer Jenzen inherits the house. Discarded because her first scene was lost, so it “didn’t fit”.

Highlights

Chapter 28 – Hazard Pay
The last survivors face off against the house…

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from Ultimate DVD #09

Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000. Not for reproduction

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