8/4: The Perfect Host (2010)
Up until I hated The Perfect Host, I was really enjoying The Perfect Host, a thriller tone deaf beyond coherence.
Nick Tomnay’s home invasion film turns itself on its head when Clayne Crawford’s bank-robbing fugitive decides to hole up at the wealthy David Hyde Pierce’s California ranch home by posing as a friend of a friend. Little does Crawford know that the “dinner party” Pierce has been preparing for isn’t as it seems.
To spoil nothing else, the certain “turn” in The Perfect Host is an unexpected one, but given the dull water-treading that follows, isn’t enough to buoy a contrive plot mechanics. A series of double crosses does nothing to flesh out Crawford’s limp backstory and the coincidental bits of black humor jar with some actually twisted visuals. Pierce is truly the only redeeming element at work here, switching between accents, character tropes and even jobs. That last reversal sacrifices sensible characterization for a tighter story. Moments between Pierce and Crawford are tense and even sickly humorous, but this is a one trick pony and we’ve seen this trick before.
8/5: Grabbers (2012)
When a small, sparsely-populated Irish island is invaded by bloodsucking, water-loving aliens, the townsfolk soon realize their only chance of survival is to ingest the aliens’ one weakness: loads of alcohol.
Eminently consumed by its style, Jon Wright’s genre proclivities are both a gift and a curse in Grabbers. Morning splashes of sunlight before a wistful Irish flute and a wobbly camera paired with two freshly-poured shandies are two wildly different aesthetics both informed by a love of hyper-stylized cinema. Aided by the score’s dynamic highlights, Tomnay mixes wildly distinct styles here, but adding bourbon and a few Oreos to your chicken low mein doesn’t guarantee this concoction of favorites is going to taste good.
Ruth Bradley’s Lisa is adorable, drawing in her overeager police officer with the unshakable green of that first day on the job. Bradley also makes for a convincing drunk, even when her lines become yet another victim of inebriated, thick Irish accents. Less of a delight is co-star Richard Coyle, an Andy Sekris doppelganger whose seasoned cop doesn’t feel nearly as textured as Bradley’s — nor as consistent. One morning, he’s an alcoholic grump, the next, a pitiable romantic.
Fortunately, Grabbers’ adheres to its conceit of an island of drunk defenders long enough to inform behaviors and decisions. That progression of buzzed to drunk to bombed is also a nice boost to Bradley and Coyle’s iffy sexual chemistry, as if their canned smooch were merely one hungover mistake. One can only hope screenwriter Kevin Lehane had a similar excuse for including it in the first place.
8/6: Zelig (1983)
Outside of Antz, Zelig marks my first Woody Allen film, and already I can’t help but attribute my preconceived notions of the director onto his Leonard Zelig persona, a “human chameleon” in early twentieth century America. By the very nature of taking on the mannerisms, personalities, and even appearances of those around him, Leonard Zelig isn’t a wholly defined or actualized individual. That is until he meets and falls in love with his psychiatrist (Mia Farrow), who sets out to study Zelig’s peculiar condition with a number of methods, including hypnosis. It’s in this half daze that Allen’s cinematic persona — at least its stereotyped version in my mind — comes out. Under hypnosis, Zelig ceases to be a copy of Farrow’s psychiatrist and switches into a neurotic, hyper-critical man, skewered by his own self-deprecation and sexual impotence. Isn’t that the Woody Allen persona?
Fashioned as a mockumentary, Zelig is wonderfully reconstructed, with regrained “old” footage and newsreels retconned with Allen’s face amidst a celebratory parade. Zelig is trying hard to be a product out of its own time, and with zippy, disposable big band music, there’s an undeniable element of Gatsby-esque frivolity. F. Scott Fitzgerald himself frames the narrative with personal accounts of his meetings with the human chameleon, but even blending Fitzgerald’s jabs with Zelig’s own problematic levels of self-esteem provide little support for Zelig as strictly “meta.” The film-within-a-film elements simulating Zelig’s faux cultural impact are as cheesily recreated as the film’s newsreel announcer, but every effort to fashion a lost piece of American social history is undermined by its own dishonesty. Zelig’s farcical elevation from scientific mystery to criminal menace to American hero is rigidly documented, but Allen’s mockumentary seems problematized by the same issue of truth in documentaries on real subjects. Perhaps it’s the director’s sexual insecurities seeping in or maybe it’s an intentional note of fantasizing, but Zelig never pokes holes in its one troubling idea: a psychiatrist falling in love with her patient.