Stream ‘n Screen: “The Perfect Host” (2010)

There are some movies that are just better when seen in the comfort of your own home. If it sucks, you can turn it off. If you’re scared, you can hide under your covers. And if it’s great, you can watch it all over again.  Netflix is a great way to discover old, new, and interesting films. Whether they are sent to you or you watch them on streaming, it s a great resource to have as an actor and an audience member.

Years of playing one of the most famous psychiatrists on television may have helped David Hyde Pierce play a mentally unstable police lieutenant in writer/director Nick Tomnay’s 2010 film, The Perfect Host, which is currently available to stream on Netflix.

It’s a film with a simple theme: Appearances can be deceiving. It’s low budget, and at times, sparse (both in appearance and substance of story.) It takes a person with a certain sense of dark humor to really appreciate the film for all it’s worth.  The initial  boredom is quickly squashed by pure thrill factors that can confuse the audience; but it’s the type of movie that a person has to sit all the way through in order to understand what just happened on screen.

David Hyde Pierce carries this film using his innate ability to play the seemingly nice, upper-crust, intelligent characters. It might be something about his vocal quality that makes him so well cast in those roles. On the other end of the spectrum is Clayne Crawford, known for various guest appearances on everything from CSI to 24. Crawford, who reminded me immediately of Shane West, Channing Tatum, and every other pretty-boy actor out there, does well as the career criminal out to scam David Hyde Pierce.

What I find most interesting about Crawford as an actor, is that there seem to be so many others out there who I could have swapped in for this role and not have known the difference (especially physically.) Reasons like that are why David Hyde Pierce seems to be left bearing the acting burden in the film. Crawford, along with many other “leading man” “career criminal” and “bad boy” types, is subjected to something that we all face within the industry. Type-casting. All you have to do is put a tough looking guy in a black t-shirt, slap some hair gel on his head, give him some combat boots and BOOM!: you have your villain.

The interesting parts of the film come from David Hyde Pierce; simply due to the fact that his character was a unique one. A schizophrenic police officer who is still on the job and his colleagues aren’t aware he’s mentally ill, makes for an interesting story. You can forgive the violence and the gore simply due to the fact that the main character is off his rocker. As a viewer, you know that if he were played as a sane police professional, none of the exciting plot points would happen and the film would just fall flat. The film is thrilling; at moments, terrifying. I found myself wondering what I would do if I found myself stuck in the house with a delusional host and I’d get out alive. It’s one of those movies that if I reveal too much before you’ve seen it, the fun is over.  I’m inviting you to a party that’s available to view on Netflix, to RSVP all you have to do is hit ” play. “

Eye Candy: Tarsem Singh’s “The Fall”

Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru in Tarsem Singh’s “The Fall” (2006)

Aside from the fact that this 2006 masterpiece from director Tarsem Singh (Mirror Mirror, The Cell) is a visual triumph, it also stars Julliard grad, Lee Pace (TV’s Pushing Daisies,  Spielberg’s Lincoln) in one of his first major film roles. Not only is this film visually stunning, the story and the methods used to direct the actors (especially the young girl) are especially interesting. Tarsem has not been receiving the recognition for his work that he should. According to IMDB, this movie took four years to shoot in 28 countries, using locations themselves instead of special effects. In compliance with the trivia, the DVD features several behind-the-scenes segments that validate these claims. The featurettes are equally as interesting as the film itself. As an audience member, an actor and an avid movie buff, I am surprised that this film, no pun intended, fell under the radar.

Take a look at the fantastic trailer:

Although it won several awards at film festivals for cinematography and even as a film as a whole, it hasn’t gotten nearly the recognition it should be getting even currently. The wins for Ang Lee’s Life of Pi have rubbed me the wrong way. I’m not saying that the film is not valid within the industry, or that the efforts of the effects engineers are unwarranted. I’m simply saying that if you put it up against a film like The Fall which was filmed in the early part of the past decade, you can’t hold a candle to it.

The Fall, through utilizing the beauty of its natural environment, the simplicity of storytelling, and incredible actors, has become one of the best films of the past 20 years. And much like The Fall, this  year’s underdog film Beasts of the Southern Wild shares elements of a young girl and older man (in the case of BOSW it’s Hushpuppy and her father) as well as seeds of fantasy seen through the little girl’s eyes.  Then comes the issue of the acting. While Catinca Untaru had virtually no training and didn’t even speak English when filming began, I think she does a better job in the child actor category than Quvenzhané Wallis simply due to the fact that she learned from her fellow actors about the craft and it shows. Her emotions are varied and dynamic, honest and heart-felt, all while being unforced. At times, Wallis’ “Hushpuppy” seems to be struggling with giving a wide range of emotions. She seems to play “angry” and not actually be angry. Cantinca Untaru, on the other hand, seems to be sad when she is, be angry and frustrated when her character is and all in all, be more honest. But, this is not a comparison of Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Fall. I’m simply illustrating the fact that Untaru’s performance was just as good, if not better, than Quvenzhané Wallis’ at the same age (during filming.) That’s how good this film is. It has an influence over the films that come after it.

In fact, having trained actors alongside Untaru might have helped her performance in more ways than one as evidenced by this tidbit of trivia:

A miscommunication between the casting agent and Catinca Untaru led her to believe that Lee Pace was a real-life paraplegic. Director Tarsem Singh found that this brought an added level of believability to their dialogue, so he decided to keep almost the entire cast and crew under the same impression. Singh had to speak to the actor playing Alexandria’s father and explain that his role was smaller than it appeared, since the script implied that he played the role of the bandit (actually played by Pace) in the fantasy scenes. Apparently it was hard to keep up the lie – a makeup artist walked into a room to find Pace standing and almost passed out from shock.

The behind-the-scenes featurette delves into the trivia by showing the exact moment when Catinca Untaru learned that her co-star was not a paraplegic in actuality, but just a really fantastic actor. It takes an actor with extensive training in both The Method, The Stanislavski System, and even Meisner to pull off something as complex and in-depth as Pace did. It is evident that training does pay off in the end and no matter how natural one’s ability, a class or two in technique always helps.

As far as the visuals in the film, the next clip was shot on location in Taj Lake Palace, Lake Pichola, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India:

Again, in the behind-the-scenes footage of the film, what I find most interesting is the fact that they are on location.  In subsequent interviews about the movie both the director, Tarsem Singh, and actor, Lee Pace reference what it was like to film on location. Actor, Lee Pace speaking about the film:

Everyone should see this film for the visuals, the acting and the fact that it has been severely over-looked by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as well as mass audiences as well. Rent it on Netflix and take a journey all over the world. It is currently available to stream on Netflix.

Two By Two: Time Travel Edition (Somewhere in Time & Peggy Sue Got Married)

I could have gone the typical route in comparing time travel movies and done this with Back to the Future and something else; however, I think the comparison between these two movies is an interesting one.  Somewhere in Time deals with a man who deliberately tries to go back in time and use time travel to his advantage, whereas Peggy Sue Got Married follows the outline of someone who ends up back in time within their own lifetime.

See each trailer:

Peggy Sue Got Married deals with something that everyone has probably had a dream about at one point in their lives or another. What if we mistakenly ended up back in time within our own lifetimes and could have a “do-over?” Quantum Leap took this concept and ran with it for five seasons of successful television.

In 1986, Francis Ford Coppola employed his daughter Sofia, his nephew Nicholas Cage, a young Helen Hunt, and relative newcomer Jim Carrey, in this film carried by Kathleen Turner in the title role as Peggy Sue. Like Somewhere in Time Peggy Sue Got Married has a main character has a protagonist who reveals information about future events  much to the confusion of those around them. Peggy’s life hasn’t exactly gone the way she’d thought, so this second chance, at first, seems perfect. Then, like all time travelers before her, she wants to go home again.

Just look at Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Much like Oz, Peggy Sue Got Married borrows some plot elements from the cinema classic. Although there is no wicked witch tracking her down, there is a ceremony performed by her grandfather that is reminiscent of the Wizard character himself. And probably due to the success of the 80s classic, Back to the Future, Doc Brown could be a prototype for Peggy Sue‘s resident genius, Richard Norvik. And in the end,Peggy Sue’s time travel was due to a heart attack, a slightly harsher injury than Dorothy’s fainting spell in Oz, yet each end up home again safe and sound.

The goal to end up back where you came from is not the main element in Somewhere in Time though. Even with Christopher Reeve’s handsome leading man being thrust back into the future, it has much more tragic end. SPOILER ALERT: He dies. Yet, Somewhere in Time has probably influenced countless movies that came after it (Titanic for starters,) and like Oz, has a protagonist thrust into circumstances of uncertainty with people who are unfamiliar. The resident wicked witch of it all, Christopher Plummer, doing his best domineering manager/love interest (?) of the early 1900s. Jane Seymour, in a pre-Dr. Quinn role, stars alongside Reeve as prominent stage actress Elise McKenna, who dies after seeing a play that writer Richard Collier (Reeves) produced. The older version of Elise McKenna melodramatically begs Reeve’s character to “Come back [to me.]”As fate would have it, Collier deliberately uses self-hypnosis to travel back in time to find the young Elise McKenna, fall in love with her and live happily ever after. That is until a brand new shiny penny screws up the whole “Happily Ever After” thing.

What I find most interesting about a movie like Somewhere in Time, is not necessarily the love element, but the amount of preparation and deliberate efforts on part of the main character to actually GO back in time with a specific purpose. Unlike something like Back to the Future where the characters wanted to see if time travel was possible, Somewhere in Time goes back in time with a very very specific purpose of staying there. The character of Richard takes the necessary steps needed to take care of his affairs in the present even before venturing into the past. He buys a suit that is of the time period he wants to be a part of. He even consults a former professor from college to make sure that something like time travel IS possible. Both Peggy Sue Got Married and Somewhere in Time make an effort with their scripts and pose the question of whether or not time travel is even possible in this day and age.

The main goal of Somewhere in Time is to find a specific person, make the lead characters fall in love despite enormous circumstances and throw a wrench in the whole big picture at the end. Mission accomplished. The “wrench” however, is a little disappointing though. I mean, Richard takes every precaution to assure that what he has on his person when he goes back is of the era…and leave it to a penny from the future to screw things up. However, just like Peggy Sue Got Married, this movie also has their resident Wizard in the form of an elderly man who grew up at the Inn where the story takes place. The only difference is that instead of helping the main character get back to where they came from, he’s helping the main character go back in time and stay there for good. Despite the fact that this movie is very very melodramatic, it is well done. The score (which I ended up studying in a college music class) is one of the romantic ones of all time.

The sad part about this movie comes about when time literally gets in the way of the love that the main characters have for each other and the only way they’ll be together again is in heaven. I swear, James Cameron borrowed from Somewhere in Time, especially at the end. Titanic and Somewhere in Time are so similar, that Christopher Plummer and Billy Zane each play characters who are nearly identical to one another. Both are controlling, manipulative,  threatened by the outsider, and have their lovely ladies whisked away by the charming leading man.

All in all, see these movies. Time travel movies can be fun and make us realize how lucky we are to be living in the present moment with the people in our lives. They add a bit of fantasy and tragedy to our viewing experience. Let’s be honest while we’re at it…we’d all love to fall in love with Christopher Reeve or play dress up like Kathleen Turner for the day. With these movies, you can. They’re enjoyable and available on Netflix. Rent them and go back in time for yourself.