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13 Royal Facts About Three Kings

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On October 1, 1999, Warner Bros. released David O. Russell’s war-action-comedy Three Kings. Originally based off a script written by John Ridley called Spoils of War, it stars George Clooney—who, at the time, was still known primarily as a TV actor—as U.S. Army Special Forces Major Archie Gates. Pre-action film actor Mark Wahlberg plays U.S. Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Troy Barlow, Ice Cube stars as Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin, and director Spike Jonze (his Being John Malkovich came out less than a month later) portrays Private First Class Conrad Vig.

The film takes place in March of 1991, shortly after the Gulf War ended. The men—who are based in Iraq—embark on a mission to steal back millions in gold that Saddam Hussein had taken from Kuwait. The film wasn’t filmed in the Middle East; instead, it was filmed in the Arizona desert, California, and Mexico. A year after the film came out, George W. Bush was elected president, and soon the U.S. was mired in another Iraq war. Budgeted at $50 million, the film grossed more than $107 million worldwide. Here are 13 royal facts about the movie.

1. DAVID O. RUSSELL SPENT 18 MONTHS WRITING AND RESEARCHING THE SCRIPT.

A logline in Warner’s logbook caught writer/director David O. Russell’s attention. The logline, written by John Ridley, stated Spoils of War was “a heist set in the Gulf War.” “I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Russell told Creative Screenwriting. “I started buying books about the Gulf—photojournalist books that had amazing images in them, like hundreds of soldiers being stripped in the desert and Bart Simpson dolls on grills of cars. All this incongruous stuff. So I went off, researched, and wrote it for 18 months. It was a fun scriptwriting process, like no other I’d ever done. It’s not character-driven, which is obvious from the movie. There was very volatile material which hadn’t been put in the face of Americans about what really happened there. I read papers, talked to veterans and Iraqis. Then I sewed together the quilt of this script. It was liberating, because it was blank as the desert, a palette where I could do a lot of different things, including action, which I hadn’t done before.”

2. JOHN RIDLEY DIDN'T THINK RUSSELL GAVE HIM ENOUGH CREDIT.

Russell said the only thing he used from Ridley’s original script was the “heist set in the Gulf War” part. “That was all I took from his script, and frankly, that’s the most boring thing about the movie,” Russell said. Ridley told Entertainment Weekly he wrote the script “to see how fast I could write and sell a screenplay,” which turned out to be seven days (writing) and only 18 days to sell it. But after Russell took hold of the script, relations between the two soured.

“This is a guy who every step of the way has tried to grab credit,” Ridley said. “I never heard a word while he was shooting the movie. Never saw any of the script changes. And then finally, a year later, I get a copy of the script, and my name isn’t even on it. It’s ‘by David O. Russell.’ My name is nowhere.” Ridley eventually received a story and co-producer credit, even though Russell rewrote most of the script. “It’s still my story,” Ridley said.

“I don’t understand what his whining is about, because it’s the most common experience in Hollywood,” Russell said. “You write a script, you sell it, and get paid. Goodbye. If he wants to direct his own scripts, he should control them a little bit. If he thinks it’s such a work of genius, I think he’d let me publish my script. I even offered to publish both scripts in one volume.”

Ridley blocked Russell’s attempt to publish Three Kings in book form. “I’ve been completely disrespected through this whole process and now they’re asking for a favor? The answer is no.” Despite what Ridley went through, his career has continued to rise; in 2014, he won a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for 12 Years a Slave. (Five-time Oscar nominee Russell has yet to win a golden guy).

3. CLOONEY BEGGED THE DIRECTOR TO BE IN THE MOVIE.

Nicolas Cage was in contention for the role of Major Gates, until he opted to make Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead instead. Clooney read the script and wanted to be in the film, so he wrote a letter to Russell and signed it “George Clooney, TV Actor.” He was so desperate to be cast, he proffered the director an early cut of Out of Sight, and went to Russell’s house. “He opened the door with his video camera,” Clooney told Entertainment Weekly. "It’s very annoying. And [Russell] said, ‘Does this bother you?’ And I said, ‘It will only if I don’t get the job … If I end up in The Making of Three Kings and I’m not in the movie, then I’ll look like an a**hole.'"

4. RUSSELL DECIDED AGAINST USING A LOT OF BULLETS.

Though it’s a war film, Russell purposefully didn’t want a lot of bullets used in the action sequences. “The whole approach I took to the bullets in the movie was that I tried to make each bullet alive," Russell told Contact Music. "The audience has been numbed to bullets. So, number one, that means fewer bullets. If you have hundreds of bullets, like in other movies, you're going to be numbed.”

One scene tracks a hypothetical bullet entering Wahlberg, which came about from Russell asking a doctor friend about what a bullet does to the body. “I said, ‘What’s the weirdest wound?’ and he described that particular wound [used in the movie]. You can get a wound that doesn't kill you. A bullet goes through your lung and you can walk around, but the air is leaking out of your lung every time you breathe, so your own breathing can kill you because your own breathing will crush your organs. It will turn into a balloon in there. And they have to puncture it to let the air out. So he told me those two things, and I said, ‘God, that's never been in a movie. I'd like to do that.’”

5. RUSSELL STARTED A RUMOR ABOUT USING A REAL CORPSE DURING FILMING.

After a Newsweek reporter interrogated Russell with aggressive questions he didn’t want to answer, the director decided to invent a story about using a real corpse in the aforementioned bullet scene. “I said that we used an actual corpse … and we had only one take using a high-speed camera to get that bullet going right through, and the toughest thing was getting a light in there,” he told Creative Screenwriting. “So he writes the thing up and the next thing the morticians’ association is calling Warner Bros. and protesting the unethical use of a corpse. It was kind of fun. Harmless.”

Russell further explained to news outlets that the rumor was false. “The intention [of the shot] was to make it look like a bullet going through a corpse. It would be unethical to use a corpse like that. To achieve the effect, we had to build a prosthesis.”

6. CLOONEY CALLED IT "THE WORST EXPERIENCE" OF HIS LIFE.

In what would become a famed feud, the director and actor got huffy with each other on the set of Three Kings. "For me, it came to a head a couple of times," Clooney explained in an interview with Playboy. "Once, he went after a camera-car driver who I knew from high school. I had nothing to do with his getting his job, but David began yelling and screaming at him and embarrassing him in front of everybody. I told him, 'You can yell and scream and even fire him, but what you can’t do is humiliate him in front of people. Not on my set, if I have any say about it.' Another time he screamed at the script supervisor and made her cry. I wrote him a letter and said, 'Look, I don’t know why you do this. You’ve written a brilliant script, and I think you’re a good director. Let’s not have a set like this. I don’t like it and I don’t work well like this.'"

Cooler heads prevailed until the two experienced a stressful day of filming which entailed helicopters and 300 extras. According to Clooney, Russell threw an extra to the ground and kicked him. Clooney tried to calm the director down, but it didn’t work. “I went over and put my arm around him,” Clooney said. “I said, ‘David, it’s a big day. But you can’t shove, push, or humiliate people who aren’t allowed to defend themselves.’ He turned on me and said, ‘Why don’t you just worry about your f*cked-up act? You’re being a dick. You want to hit me? You want to hit me? Come on, p*ssy, hit me.’ I’m looking at him like he’s out of his mind. Then he started banging me on the head with his head. He goes, ‘Hit me, you p*ssy. Hit me.’ Then he got me by the throat and I went nuts ... I had him by the throat. I was going to kill him. Kill him. Finally, he apologized, but I walked away. By then the Warner Bros. guys were freaking out. David sort of pouted through the rest of the shoot and we finished the movie, but it was truly, without exception, the worst experience of my life.”

Since the incident, they’ve been frenemies. Clooney talked to Russell at a party a few years ago. “I felt compelled to go over and go, 'So are we done?'” Clooney told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012. “He goes, ‘Please.’ And I said, ‘OK.’ Because we made a really, really great film, and we had a really rough time together, but it’s a case of both of us getting older. I really do appreciate the work he continues to do, and I think he appreciates what I'm trying to do.”

In 2013, Russell told The New York Times the fight’s now water under the bridge. “George and I had a friendly rapport last year. I don’t know if we would be working together. I don’t think we would rule it out. But the point is, much ado was made about things long passed.”

7. RUSSELL WROTE THE CHARACTER OF PRIVATE VIG WITH SPIKE JONZE IN MIND.

“I wrote this character with him in mind,” Russell told Entertainment Weekly. Three Kings was Jonze’s first major film role, and as Private Vig, he had to employ a Southern accent. Russell practiced with Jonze to see if he could pull it off for the movie. “All last summer when Spike was shooting Malkovich we would speak on the phone in Southern accents because I wanted to see if he could do it—because it would really ruin our friendship if he tried and it didn’t work out.” After Warner Bros. approved the casting, Jonze was in. “I like the chaos that a non-actor brings to the set,” Russell said. “He has a level of realism because he hasn’t been through it before, and he really shakes things up.”

8. CHRISTIAN BALE AUDITIONED FOR THE MOVIE.

More than a decade before he won an Oscar for Russell’s The Fighter, Bale auditioned for the role of Private Vig. “Well, I won’t go into it, but I auditioned for Three Kings and it didn't go very well for me,” Bale admitted in an interview with Charlie Rose. Russell, who was also on the show, joked, “The world is filled with actors who have audition stories."

9. ICE CUBE WOULD DO A SEQUEL.

When The Believer asked Ice Cube if he’d be interested in shooting a sequel to Three Kings, he said absolutely. “I think that movie is much more understood today than when it came out,” Cube explained. “I think it was hell of a movie. Me and Mark became friends, Clooney was always cool even when I was whipping his ass on the basketball court. David was real cool … It was a social commentary of what was going on. That film discussed the politics of Papa Bush, and now we are dealing with Baby Bush, and I think the film is probably more relevant today than when it came out.”

10. CLOONEY INJURED NORA DUNN WITH AN APPLE.

During filming, Nora Dunn—who plays TV reporter Adriana Cruz—heckled Clooney. “I was like, ‘You watch it because I’ll hit you. I’m not scared of hitting women,’” Clooney told Entertainment Weekly. After she yelled for him to bring it on, he attached an apple to a car antenna and catapulted it in her direction, where it hit her in the forehead.  “There were 300 troops in the scene, and I ran around getting high-fives from everybody,” he said. But Dunn wasn’t so celebratory. “He almost knocked me out,” she said. ”He felt bad, but not that bad.” 

11. BILL CLINTON APPRECIATED THE MOVIE.

Then-POTUS Bill Clinton invited Russell to the White House to screen the film for him. “We showed the movie and it was a real quiet house,” Russell told Creative Screenwriting. “I was dying. The humor is not like There’s Something About Mary’s humor in big block letters: HEY, LAUGH AT THIS! LAUGH AT THIS! The material is as disturbing as it is funny. So I think people were self-conscious about laughing at stuff in front of the President so they wouldn’t commit a faux pas.”

Apparently, Clinton liked the movie. “There were a couple times where Clinton guffawed really loudly and my wife elbowed me and said, ‘Bubba likes that.’ After the movie, to my pleasant surprise, he held a two-hour impromptu seminar about the history of Iraq policy going back to the 1920s when the artificial borders were created. He’s a bright guy and he was cool. He said, ‘Apart from being a fabulous movie, this is an important movie because people need to know how this war really ended.’ He’s not shy about that sh*t.”

12. FOR A DVD RELEASE, WARNER BROS. DECLINED TO INCLUDE A DOCUMENTARY RUSSELL MADE ON THE WAR.     

Warner Bros. wanted to put the movie back in theaters in time for the 2004 election, and they also wanted to package a new DVD with additional material. “I didn’t have any more deleted scenes, or at least nothing that was worth tacking on to a DVD,” Russell told The Believer. “So I decided to do a short documentary. Not about the movie itself, but about the situation in Iraq.” The doc’s called Soldiers Pay, and Warner decided not to include it on the DVD. “It was too political for them,” Russell said. “I asked a lot of questions about this war.” The filmmaker felt the documentary would “be useful to voters before the election,” but Warner pulled out saying it was “logistically impossible” to release it. The IFC Channel ended up airing the doc the night before the 2004 election.

13. RUSSELL HAD AN OMINOUS MEETING WITH GEORGE W. BUSH WHILE EDITING THE MOVIE.

“This was before he’d even gotten the nomination,” Russell told The Believer. “He was at a gathering at the home of the Chairman of Warner Bros. I was invited and was introduced to him, and I told him that I was making a film that would question his father’s legacy in Iraq. At first, he looked at me like, ‘Who the f*ck is this guy?’ And then he went cowboy and said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll just have to go back and finish the job, won’t I?’ That was in July of ’99. He was planning to invade Iraq long before he had any idea if he’d even get elected."

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The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
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Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

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9 False Rumors With Real-Life Consequences
King Louis XV of France
King Louis XV of France
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Don’t believe everything you read—or everything you hear. Unverified but plausible-sounding rumors have been the basis for violent death and destruction throughout history, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the truth.

In their book A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, Robert Bartholomew and Peter Hassall describe rumors as “stories of perceived importance that lack substantiating evidence.” They also note that the sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumors as “improvised news,” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. Such an information deficit most often occurs during wars and other crises, which might explain why some rumors have had such dramatic results. Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting rumors with real-life results collected in Bartholomew and Hassall’s book.

1. KING LOUIS XV WAS KIDNAPPING CHILDREN.

In 1750, children began disappearing from the streets of Paris. No one seemed to know why, and worried parents began rioting in the streets. In the midst of the panic, a rumor broke out that King Louis XV had become a leper and was kidnapping children so that he could bathe in their blood (at the time, bathing in the blood of children was thought by some to be an effective leprosy cure).

The rumor did have a tiny kernel of truth: Authorities were taking children away, but not to the king’s palace. A recently enacted series of ordinances designed to clear the streets of “undesirables” had led some policemen—who were paid per arrest—to overstep their authority and take any children they found on the streets to houses of detention. Fortunately, most were eventually reunited with their parents, and rumors of the king’s gruesome bathing rituals were put to rest.

2. LONDON WAS GOING TO BE DESTROYED BY AN EARTHQUAKE.

Two small earthquakes struck London at the beginning of 1761, leading to rumors that the city was due for “the big one” on April 5, 1761. Supposedly, a psychic had predicted the catastrophe. Much of the populace grew so panicked that they fled town for the day, with those who couldn’t afford fancier lodgings camping out in the fields. One soldier was so convinced of the impending doom that he ran through the streets shouting news of London’s imminent destruction; sadly, he ended up in an insane asylum a few months later.

3. JEWS WERE POISONING WELLS.

A deep well
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Reports that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children were not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but things took a particularly terrible turn during the spread of the Black Plague. In the 14th century, thousands of Jews were killed in response to rumors that Satan was protecting them from the plague in exchange for poisoning the wells of Christians. In 1321 in Guienne, France alone, an estimated 5000 Jews were burned alive for supposedly poisoning wells. Other communities expelled the Jews, or burned entire settlements to the ground. Brandenburg, Germany, even passed a law denouncing Jews for poisoning wells—which of course they weren't.

4. BRIGANDS WERE TERRORIZING THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE.

In July 1789, amid the widespread fear and instability on the eve of the French revolution, rumors spread that the anti-revolutionary nobility had planted brigands (robbers) to terrorize the peasants and steal their stores of food. Lights from furnaces, bonfires, and even the reflection of the setting sun were sometimes taken to be signs of brigands, with panic as the predictable result. Provincial towns and villages formed militias in response to the rumors, even though, as historian Georges Lefebvre put it, “the populace scared themselves.” In one typical incident, near Troyes on July 24, 1789, a group of brigands were supposedly spotted heading into some woods; an alarm was sounded and 3000 men gave chase. The “brigands” turned out to be a herd of cattle.

5. GERMAN-AMERICANS WERE PLOTTING SNEAK ATTACKS ON CANADA.

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in a Canada Day parade
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Canada entered World War I in 1914, three years before the United States did. During the gap period, rumors circulated that German-Americans sympathetic to their country of origin were planning surprise attacks on Canada. One of the worst offenders of such rumor-mongering, according to authors Bartholomew and Hassall, was British consul-general Sir Courtenay Bennett, then stationed in New York. In the early months of 1915, Bennett made “several sensational claims about a plan in which as many as 80,000 well-armed, highly trained Germans who had been drilling in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, were planning to invade Canada from northwestern New York state.” Bizarre as it may sound, there was so much anxiety and suspicion during the period that Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden requested a report on the story, which the Canadian police commissioner determined to be without any foundation whatsoever.

6. THE INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT WAS HUNTING HEADS FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS.

In certain parts of Indonesia, locals reportedly believe—or once did—that large-scale construction projects require human heads to keep the structures from crumbling. In 1937, one island was home to a spate of rumors saying that a tjoelik (government-sanctioned headhunter) was looking for a head to place near a local jetty construction project. Locals reported strange noises and sights, houses pelted with stones, and attacks from tjoelik wielding nooses or cowboy lassos. Similar rumors surfaced in 1979 in Indonesian Borneo, when government agents were supposedly seeking a head for a new bridge project, and in 1981 in Southern Borneo, when the government headhunters supposedly needed heads to stabilize malfunctioning equipment in nearby oil fields. Terrified townspeople began curtailing their activities so as not to be in public any longer than necessary, although the rumors eventually died down.

7. POWERFUL APHRODISIAC GUM WENT ON SALE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

An assortment of sticks of pink bubble gum
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In the mid-1990s, the Middle East was home to some alarming rumors about aphrodisiacal gum. In 1996 in Mansoura, Egypt, stories began spreading that students at the town’s university had purchased gum deliberately spiked with an aphrodisiac and were having orgies as a result. One local member of parliament said the gum had been distributed by the Israeli government as part of a plot to corrupt Egyptian youth. Mosque loudspeakers began warning people to avoid the gum, which was supposedly sold under the names “Aroma” or “Splay.” Authorities closed down some shops and made arrests, but never did find any tainted gum. Similar rumors cropped up the following year in the Gaza Strip, this time featuring a strawberry gum that turned women into prostitutes—supposedly, the better to convince them to become Shin Bet informants for the Israeli military.

8. SORCERERS WERE PLAGUING INDONESIA.

In the fall of 1998, a sorcerer scare in East Java, Indonesia, resulted in the deaths of several villagers. The country was in crisis, and while protests raged in major cities, some in the rural area of Banyuwangi began agitating for restitution for past wrongs allegedly committed by sorcerers. The head of the local district ordered authorities to move the suspected sorcerers to a safe location, a process that included a check-in at the local police station. Unfortunately, villagers took the suspects’ visits to police stations as proof of their sorcery and began killing them. Anthropologists who studied the incident said the stories of supposed sorcery—making neighbors fall sick, etc.—were based entirely on rumor and gossip.

9. OBAMA WAS INJURED BY A WHITE HOUSE EXPLOSION.

These days, rumors have advanced technology to help them travel. On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account claimed that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. That lone tweet caused instability on world financial markets, and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index lost $130 billion in a short period. Fortunately, it quickly recovered. (Eagle-eyed journalists were suspicious of the tweet from the beginning, since it didn’t follow AP style of referring to the president with his title and capitalizing the word breaking.)

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

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