Tuesday, August 30, 2011


It’s nice now and then to be surprised a bit by a movie. They say there are only a handful of plots that are rotated and transformed into various films so when something original comes along it’s a treat. THE PERFECT HOST is one of those movies.

John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) is on the run. He’s just robbed a bank of over $300,000, is wounded and the police know his name and are showing his picture on the news. Now he needs a place to hide until things cool off.

Trying one house in an affluent area of LA he’s rebuffed by a Jehovah’s Witness (Helen Reddy) who keeps him out of her house. Checking the mailbox next door for some insight into who lives there, he meets Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce). Spinning a tale that he’s just back from Australia where he met Warwick’s friend Julia, he asks to use his phone to reach his cousin for assistance since he’s been mugged.

Preparing for dinner guests, Warwick allows John to use his phone and launches into a discussion about Julia. He dresses for his guests and all goes along smoothly until John, while trying to listen to the news about his robbery, loses his cool and threatens Warwick. And this is where things begin to change. It seems that Warwick had been giving John red wine that was drugged to drink and now the tables turn.

In a normal film this is where the victim would call the police, the criminal would threaten him and then later escape to insure his threat. But here we have John wake to find himself tied to a chair at the dinner table while Warwick attempts to introduce him to the party guests who have arrived. The problem is that all the guests are there in Warwick’s mind only.

As the night progresses a game of cat and mouse fluctuates between these two characters. John is given an insight into what the night holds in store for him as Warwick takes his picture with a Polaroid and then shows him a scrapbook that he keeps. Each page has a picture taken of someone else. Could it be that John has landed in the home of a serial killer? And what are the chances that he will live past this night?

The movie is a great combination of mystery, suspense and dark humor as the night goes on, the party in full swing (at least in Warwick’s mind) and John looking for the opportunity to escape. Occasional moments are there for him to do so, but one might guess that Warwick planned them that way to make the night more entertaining.

Pierce does a fantastic job as Warwick, a demented soul that seems like a combination of the Niles Crane character he portrayed so well on FRASIER, Hannibal Lecter and Elwood P. Dowd. He’s fussy about his home, deadly to the extreme and able to see folks who aren’t really there. When pieced together they make him a dangerous and unstable person to be around. A twist that I won’t reveal towards the end makes him even more unusual if that’s possible.

Crawford does a great job as well, keeping up with Pierce as he goes from a menacing to a sympathetic character. We didn’t see the robbery from the start and never really see the entire thing, but with flashbacks we get to find out his reasons for the robbery, noble though faulted they might be. Before the night is over we hope he escapes, we hope he can find a way out of this nightmare and the city.

The twist that comes when prey becomes hunter is a nice one but it doesn’t stop there. As the night winds down another twist comes across. And then this one is followed by yet a third twist and the fourth twist that makes the whole story unusual, funny and keeps you waiting for the final moments to see how it plays out. And as the final credits are about to roll, you wonder just what will happen afterwards. The answer isn’t offered but various possibilities come to mind.

THE PERFECT HOST is an interesting and unusual movie more for fans of dark humor and of David Hyde Pierce. Both have something to offer here and will keep you guessing until the movie fades to black.

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I watched this film a while back. It bothered me for a few days after watching it. It stayed with me, I’m not quite sure if in a good way or a bad way, but it did. The longer I thought about it though, the more I thought that this was perhaps the best thing Kim Catrall has ever done.

Tobe (Dustin Ingram) is a teenager about to graduate from high school. With no friends except for the next door neighbor kid, he’s a loner, running the hot dog wagon his grandfather (Brian Dennehy) has him work or spending time in his room watching “classic” porn films that star his favorite actress, Monica Velour (Catrall). Determined not to spend his days selling wieners after his grandfather gives him the truck for graduation, he decides to sell it online.

Fortune smiles on young Tobe has a buyer offers to take the weiny wagon off his hands. Better yet, the town this buyer lives in is going to have a personal appearance by Monica Velour at a local strip joint. Anxious to meet his celluloid heroine, Dustin hits the road. The first stop is the strip joint where he’s chatted up by a floozy who works there while waiting for Monica.

When Monica hits the stage she’s different but not in Tobe’s eyes. Instead of the young starlet, Monica has passed over the 40 year mark, gained a few pounds and is not the image seen on the small screen. Some punks in the club make a few comments about her looks which inspire Tobe to defend her. The result is his being beaten up, having his wagon spray painted and Monica losing this small gig.

Monica takes Tobe home with her to mend him up. Her location leaves less to be desired, a mobile home that’s seen better days. Drunk and beaten, Tobe falls asleep and she allows him to stay.

What follows is a bittersweet love story of sorts with Tobe fulfilling his life long dream of meeting a woman he thinks of as the epitome of all things female. Unfortunately Monica isn’t the least bit interested in Tobe. And she is far from perfect, instead having a drug habit and being in the midst of a custody battle for her daughter, a little girl who means the world to her but who her ex uses as a tool to extract anything he can from Monica.

Along the way Tobe gets a few words of wisdom from the man who wants to by the wagon, an artist named Claude (Keith David). This is someone who has seen the world and the good things it has to offer. Tobe misinterprets the advice he receives but in the end it works out for the best.

The film definitely qualifies as quirky but it has a heart in its center, even though the main character is a faded porn star. The life lessons learned not just by Tobe but by Monica as well make this story interesting but heartrending at the same time. We’re offered a world where dreams don’t come true, where bad guys win the big prize and where very little good happens.

A happy ending does finalize the film but it feels like ZAP it’s there and all’s well that ends well. The problem is while we’ve spent 90 minutes discovering how bad things can be, turning them around in the last 8 just leaves you feeling spent.

The best thing about this movie though is Catrall. She’s made better movies in the past, early in her career with TRIBUTE and later hit stardom with SEX AND THE CITY. But here she gets the chance to show a deeper character than she’s usually allowed. And Monica Velour is not someone you’re likely to forget. It won’t gain her the notice of the Oscar committee, but fans should make a point to see her in this film.

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There are a number of things a DVD manufacturer can do to entice a viewer to watch their product. They can pay out the nose for advertising. They can use viral teasers to get people talking. Or they can take a name star that is in a movie made long ago, paste his/her face on the cover and pretend that this is who stars in their film. Such is the case with CAMP HELL.

Look at the cover and what do you see? Jesse Eisenberg front and center. Having risen to star status with the films ZOMBIELAND and THE SOCIAL NETWORK, he has become a marketable commodity. And even though his scenes in this film are perhaps less than 10 minutes tops, its his name and image that will sell the picture. When these sorts of things happen it doesn’t bode well for what the final product actually is and while this movie does raise some interesting questions, it seems more determined to be a hatchet job than a give and take film concerning religion.

The film opens by letting us know that there is an extreme religious group known as the Community. Its members won’t allow others to leave and if they do so continues to hound them. These few written words depict the group as a cult and the rest of the film continues to do so. Would I join them? No but then this depiction is as extreme as it can be.

We meet the Leary family headed by strict and stern father Michael (Andrew McCarthy) and mother Patricia (Dana Delany). Their oldest son Tommy is about to go to church camp. Hitting that golden age of puberty, he is beaten down emotionally and mentally to follow their rules.

The camp is a mix of boys and girls that are kept separated but within sight of one another. They mingle during select events. And all the campers are told that it is a sin to simply ogle a member of the opposite sex. Which made me wonder the whole time, if they’re so concerned about them meeting in the dark or getting together then why have them all at the same location during the same week? Why not boys one week and girls the next? But then that wouldn’t have led to any confrontations moving the film along.

Tommy and his friends joke around, make fun of the slow witted kid and can’t stand their cabin counselor, a stick in the mud who displays a holier than thou attitude from the start. Given the rules you know that eventually one of these guys is going to break them and since Tommy has a thing for Melissa most bets would land on him. Those best would have paid off if you placed one.

At the same time all of this is going on, Tommy is having an inner conflict when it comes to faith. He’s questioning his faith as most teens do at this age. But rather than discuss this conflict, the man in charge, Father Phineus McCallister (Bruce Davison) continues to tell the kids to think impure thoughts is a sin and to repent. Masturbation is a constant theme that he talks about and tells them all to avoid. The way these kids behave you know his plea is falling on deaf ears.

But Tommy’s case is more than just jitters. There is the possibility that there is a demon determined to possess Tommy. And this demon is not new to Father McCallister. Tah dah! This is how Eisenberg fits in. Earlier in the film we saw him talking to the good Father from a mental institution, filled with fear for McCallister. Drawing images of black soulless looking creatures they look the same as things Tommy has drawn.

And here’s where the interesting part comes into play. As the movie progresses we’re never quite sure if there truly is a demon involved here or if it’s just psychological turmoil inspired by the preaching that is going on. By the end of the film we’re still unsure.

While some will think this is a horror film by the looks of the cover, don’t be misled. It’s more a religious film. And the depiction of anyone who believes in God is a negative one. Believers are to be mocked as extremists. Are there such groups? I don’t doubt it. But this is never the case here and we’re made to believe that this is the norm for fundamentalist Christians rather than the exception. Only those who turn their back on this group seem well adjusted.

It does raise some good questions about faith and beliefs but rather than take a route where these are discussed, questioning is forbidden and leads to excommunication. Had they taken that route, perhaps the movie might have offered a better balanced view of beliefs, convinced viewers that there are extremists out there. Instead by painting all with one shade of black, it makes you wonder about the beliefs of those behind the film instead.

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I love a good action flick. I’m not talking about a well made movie that fills the giant screen with name brand recognized stars duking it out with the latest bad guy. I’m talking about movies that eventually are released straight to DVD or that play third billing at a drive in. Some of these offer pure entertainment. And then there are movies like this one.

TACTICAL FORCE features a group of S.W.A.T. type police officers who start the film off by stopping a grocery store robbery in progress. The only problem is that they use excessive force to the extreme to take down these ridiculous clowns. Between the damager to the robbers and the damage to the store, rather than receive a commendation these police men are assigned to retrain over the weekend at a special facility.

Led by Tate (WWE start Steve Austin), they head to the secluded location, an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of town. Unbeknownst to those in charge, the warehouse is also where a European mobster has taken a snitch to get back a briefcase he stole from him. But wait, there’s more. The snitch has made a call to another mob guy who the case was originally stolen from and he’s on his way as well.

When the tactical force arrives, the European mob boss and his group hide. The tactical force makes its way through the upper floors of the building hitting targets with their paintball guns to try and improve their skills. An accidental sound downstairs leads them to check it out and one of their own is shot and killed. Weaponless they must try and find out who is down there and why.

Gunfights, double crosses and more double crosses, tough talk and ample enough brawls to keep the most ardent wrestling fan happy follow. Too bad there isn’t enough plot to make it work. And the plot that’s there is convoluted and so coincidental that even trying to accept this world is painful.

Austin has made some good movies, most direct to DVD. Co-star Michael Jai White has also done some great work (BLACK DYNAMITE is now one of my favorite films). But here they offer nothing new, extreme low budget film making and the greatest sin of all when it comes to action films, a boring flick. The budget is so low that while watching this I thought to myself “Hey…I think they filmed this in a building set to be demolished just so they could tear up the sets with their fights”. It looks that bad.

There is no way I could recommend this movie even to Austin and White fans. Instead, look for some other film they’ve made recently. Even a two for one coupon at a redbox would be wasted on this one.

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