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Case Number 08298: Small Claims Court

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Open House (2004)

Wellspring Media // 2004 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // January 10th, 2006

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge James A. Stewart made a bid on this DVD, but it was sold out from under his nose for $657,000.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Open House (2010) (published August 3rd, 2010) and Open House (Blu-Ray) (published August 3rd, 2010) are also available.

The Charge

"Sell a dream, sell a dream, but it looks like no one's buying."
—Sally Kellerman, as a singing real estate agent

The Case

Remember Paradise Cove, where private eye Jim Rockford had a shabby, cheap trailer in a Malibu parking lot? Look for housing in his neighborhood, and you could wish you had a few friends at the Sandcastle. Living in the trailer park adjacent to Rockford's stretch of beach could set you back a cool million, according to an article that appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

If you've recently gone house hunting in Southern California, you probably know stories like the one above, e-mailed to you by Easterners like me. If you're a poor working stiff, like anybody short of Bill Gates in this case, you're probably frustrated by the whole market. As you well know, if there's a frustration, there's someone who sees a market.

Enter Dan Mirvish, the indie director and co-founder of the Slamdance Film Festival. He's selling a split-level jobbie called Open House—billed as the first real estate musical. Based on a short film Mirvish made for the Seattle Film Festival, this low-budget ($25,000 was the figure tossed around in the extras) flick takes on musicals and the housing market with a humorous eye.

As the credits roll, we see cute couple Joel (James Duval, Donnie Darko) and Debbie (Kellie Martin, Mystery Woman) looking over classifieds. Meanwhile, real estate agent Barry (Anthony Rapp, Rent) prepares finger sandwiches—and checks his gun, and Dave (Jerry Doyle, Babylon 5) prowls around a pawn shop. (Just a couple of small hints that this isn't going to be an ordinary day of house hunting.)

The two lovebirds show up at Barry's open house, as do Dave, the two cops on his trail (Hedy Burress and Robert Peters), and Dr. Santee (film composer Ian Whitcomb). When Dave spots the cops, he drops some stolen jewels into a vase to hide them. Trouble is, Debbie's a "sexy swiper," who steals small items (like, say, a vase) for thrills as she and Joel look at houses. Thus begins a chase through the Los Angeles real estate market, in which no one is as they first appear.

You're probably thinking something along the lines of: Is this film the cinematic equivalent of a Beverly Hills mansion, or a dingy piece of junk like Rockford's trailer? Neither, actually. While you can't get a mansion with five bathrooms for $25,000, Mirvish's money bought the equivalent of a decent little cottage in need of some repainting. You'll find some good moments here if you're willing to check it out.

What did I like? Real estate agent Barry's singing patter—"It's got curb appeal for a two-story Spanish colonial/It's perfectly suited for a couple like you with inclinations matrimonial"—has a style that reminded me of The Music Man early on, effectively capturing the slick lines of a salesman. At each house, Debbie and Joel seem to channel the personalities of the houses' owners as they sing a new variation of "Do You Like This House?," going through each family's effects and medicine cabinets. Their comic chemistry works well with this campy number. As illustrated by the song "Sell a Dream," real estate agent Marjorie (Sally Kellerman, M*A*S*H) and first-time thief Dave (Doyle) share a chemistry that seems warmer and more realistic as they fall in love.

What didn't I like? As the story builds to its surreal conclusion, it wanders further away from its premise into camp, the cleverness giving way to silliness. Although the twists are telegraphed, you might be caught off-guard, because you just won't believe that's really what's coming next. As the twists top each other, the level of actual fun and wit diminishes; most of the best moments come early in this film.

This is the first movie shot with a Panasonic AG DVX-100 camera, as noted in the extras. What I noticed was an overabundance of too-bright, washed-out scenes, a natural hazard from shooting on location and relying mainly on natural light. The soundtrack, also done on location, isn't lavish, but is adequate, especially considering the low budget.

Extras! Extras! Read all about them! Dan Mirvish made sure no DVD addict could complain about the lack of extras on this DVD. The "musical commentary" is something of a misnomer, because although it starts out that way, it's mostly just people talking as with any other commentary. The Slamdance-A-Rama track, which plays an actual audience's response, features the claps, laughs, and "woo-woos" you'd expect. You'll probably want to choose your own laughing spots, but at least it seems genuine rather than canned. Both of these tracks have one helpful feature: the dialogue and lyrics are subtitled on the screen as people talk over them, so you can follow what's going on. You'll also find "'Fantabulous' in One Take," which shows the off-screen musicians as the director sees if he can shoot a long song sequence in one take, like Alfred Hitchcock's long takes in Rope; an Eye on L.A. segment about the production; and alternate scenes that mostly showcase Anthony Rapp (although you'll get a sly reference to Sally Kellerman's role in M*A*S*H that somehow didn't make it). Somewhere in there, you'll find "How to Make Finger Sandwiches," which provides no actual recipes but, fortunately, shows that no actual fingers were used in the production of these sandwiches. Topping it off, you'll find a featurette on Mirvish's scheme to get an Oscar nomination in the sometimes-category of "Best Musical" by simultaneously submitting an even cheaper fake musical. Yes, it failed. And then there's the sing-a-long lyrics…

Any budding indie filmmakers out there will probably have more fun with the extras than with the actual movie. If you are such a person, take note of the most important feature: fussy movie critics have strict ideas about how we like our finger sandwiches stacked.

The unrated movie shoots for a PG or PG-13 rating, mainly for some adult situations (such as adultery) worked into the mix.

Not guilty, but this is still somewhat of a fixer-upper. If the concept of a real estate musical tickled your fancy, you'll probably find it worth a look, but rent before you buy.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Wellspring Media
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Comedy
• Concerts and Musicals
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• "Musical" Commentary
• Slamdance-A-Rama Audio
• Sing-a-Long Lyrics
• Alternate Scenes
• How-to Featurettes
• KABC's Eye on L.A.
• "Fantabulous" in One Take
• Trailer

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