Tag Archives: Joanna Cassidy

Ghosts of Mars (2001, John Carpenter)

Ghost of Mars has a lot of earnestness going for it. Director Carpenter needs quite a bit his cast and he supports them even when they’re clearly not able to succeed–especially lead Natasha Henstridge. He takes the project seriously, his cast takes it seriously. Sure, it doesn’t exactly work out, but it’s not from lack of effort.

Some of the problem is the editing. Carpenter and editor Paul C. Warschilka do these crossfades, which might be an attempt to obfuscate the low budget. And Carpenter pushes with the crossfades at the start. Then he drops them once the action gets going. They’re only for the lead-up to the action, when Ghosts is more horror than action. At least in terms of strange creatures lurking in the night and Carpenter trying to disturb the viewer instead of enthrall them. In a strange turn, instead of tasking cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe with hiding the low budget and instilling mood, Carpenter relies on Warschilka.

It actually might be for the best, given the acting.

So Henstridge. While she’s not good and she’s sometimes bad, she tries hard at playing her part. She’s a badass future cop on Mars who has to save the day, teaming up with Ice Cube’s outlaw. Cube’s all right. He maybe gives the best lead performance, but he doesn’t have much competition. Jason Statham isn’t any good, though he eventually becomes likable. Clea DuVall is in a similar situation. She’s not good–her part is even worse than Statham’s–but she’s immediately likable. Thanks to the editing. Joanna Cassidy’s probably the best performance and she’s very supporting. Pam Grier sort of troopers through it. She knows how to do the material, she knows how to direct attention.

But then there’s the narrative construction. Carpenter doesn’t waste time establishing the characters as sympathetic, instead he uses a framing device to interest the viewer in the story. Again, it’s somewhat effective just because it covers Henstridge’s acting failings. It also shakes up the narrative a bit. Carpenter’s not as interested in being interesting as encouraging interest. Not just in terms of the rising action, but in the ground situation. Ghosts of Mars goes out of its way to be unique, even when it doesn’t help the narrative or the character development. The setup for the Mars society is all unnecessary filler. It distracts and just gives the actors problems.

Overall, Ghosts of Mars isn’t a success, but it’s a decent enough diversion. Carpenter and the cast put enough into it to get over the many bumps in the production. It’s more of an accomplishment, given its constraints, than anything else.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Larry Sulkis and Carpenter; director of photography, Gary B. Kibbe; edited by Paul C. Warschilka; music by Carpenter; production designer, William A. Elliott; produced by Sandy King; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Natasha Henstridge (Lieutenant Melanie Ballard), Ice Cube (Desolation Williams), Jason Statham (Sgt. Jericho Butler), Pam Grier (Commander Helena Braddock), Clea DuVall (Bashira Kincaid), Liam Waite (Michael Descanso), Joanna Cassidy (Whitlock) and Rosemary Forsyth (Inquisitor).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | JOHN CARPENTER, PART 4: THE MUNDANE YEARS.

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She's Dressed to Kill (1979, Gus Trikonis)

She’s Dressed to Kill is a simultaneously a perfect TV movie and a disappointment. It’s a murder mystery set on an isolated mountain; Eleanor Parker is a recluse fashion designer who has a show and the attendees can’t stop being murdered. Only the killer has followed the attendees, as the murdering starts before the fashion show.

The movie opens with top-billed John Rubinstein and Jessica Walter. She has the fashion agency, he’s her photographer Friday. Rubinstein and Walter are really good together. She’s good throughout, but George Lefferts’s teleplay eighty-sixes her pretty quickly. Doesn’t kill her, just ignores her. Dressed isn’t good at character development. Rubinstein ends up romancing Gretchen Corbett to give him something to do and their courtship mostly consists of him telling her, “you don’t have to be a model to be beautiful,” and then treating her to an impromptu fashion shoot. It’s a TV movie, sure, but it’s on very precarious philosophical ground.

Especially given how much of the second act is spent with experienced model Joanna Cassidy trying to talk newbie Connie Sellecca out of modeling.

There are suspects aplenty but Dressed doesn’t have a good solution to its mystery. Lefferts isn’t writing a mystery so much as a thriller. It’s engaging during viewing but it doesn’t hold up on consideration. So, a perfect TV movie. It’s ephemeral, without any further ambitions, which is a shame given the cast.

Parker has a great time as the fashion designer. She’s playing it constantly hammered, with a lot of knowingly exaggerated tragedy. And Walters is great when she’s in it. Corbett’s got a lousy part but she’s good. Rubinstein’s likable, until he gets grating. Banks is good. Cassidy tries. It doesn’t work–director Trikonis doesn’t direct his actors or for them–but she does try.

Speaking of trying, Sellecca is probably the movie’s biggest misfire. She’s incredibly shallow. Sellecca does try, but she’s not good. She’s got zero chemistry with the other actors and her part’s annoying. And Peter Horton’s pretty weak in a smaller suspect role too.

But She’s Dressed to Kill definitely diverts for its runtime. I just wish it did something more. Being a completely competent television movie is one thing, but wasting the fine performances–Walter especially–is inexcusable.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Gus Trikonis; written by George Lefferts; director of photography, Thomas Del Ruth; edited by Ira Heymann; music by George Romanis; executive producers, Merrill Grant and Barry J. Weitz; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Connie Sellecca (Alix Goldman), John Rubinstein (Alan Lenz), Eleanor Parker (Regine Danton), Gretchen Corbett (Laura Gooch), Jessica Walter (Irene Barton), Jim McMullan (Sheriff Halsey), Clive Revill (Victor De Salle), Barbara Cason (Deenie Gooch), Cathie Shirriff (Kate Bedford), Corinne Calvet (Colette), Peter Horton (Tony Smith), Jonathan Banks (Rudy Striker) and Joanna Cassidy (Camille Bentancourt).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 4: GUEST STAR.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988, Robert Zemeckis)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit, even with the absolute mess of a final act, would have really benefited from a better director.

Oh, Zemeckis isn’t bad. With Dean Cundey shooting the film, it’d be hard for it to look bad and it doesn’t. But Zemeckis doesn’t–apparently–know how to bring all the elements together. The film opens as a Chinatown homage and sort of falls apart once it deviates from that model.

The big problem is Bob Hoskins, his performance and his character. The performance isn’t the fault of screenwriters Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, but the fully contrived backstory for the character is sure their responsibility. Roger Rabbit‘s so diverting–the animation mixes beautifully with the live action and is always visually engaging–the end credits are rolling by the time it’s clear Hoskins’s character is more cartoonish than the cartoons.

Since any judgment about character development can be delayed, Hoskins’s performance is the film’s bigger problem. He’s charmless in a role more appropriate for Humphrey Bogart. He does, however, work really well (without speaking) during the cartoon effects.

The rest of the supporting cast is very strong–Christopher Lloyd and Joanna Cassidy are both excellent. Voicing the cartoon leads Charles Fleischer and Kathleen Turner do well… though there aren’t enough great lines from Turner. There are like four, which are all outstanding, but no more.

The derivative Alan Silvestri score gets old immediately and Arthur Schmidt’s editing is bad, but, otherwise, Roger Rabbit‘s fun stuff.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; animation director, Richard Williams; screenplay by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, based on a novel by Gary K. Wolf; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Arthur Schmidt; music by Alan Silvestri; production designers, Roger Cain and Elliot Scott; produced by Frank Marshall and Robert Watts; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Bob Hoskins (Eddie Valiant), Charles Fleischer (Roger Rabbit / Benny The Cab / Greasy / Psycho), Christopher Lloyd (Judge Doom), Kathleen Turner (Jessica Rabbit), Joanna Cassidy (Dolores), Alan Tilvern (R.K. Maroon), Stubby Kaye (Marvin Acme), Lou Hirsch (Baby Herman) and David L. Lander (Smart Ass).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988) / COOL WORLD (1992).

Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (1991, Stephen Herek)

Wait, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead made money? It didn’t make a lot of money, but it probably turned a profit.

The movie’s a star vehicle for Christina Applegate, who clearly doesn’t deserve one. Her performance is laughably awful and amateurish; it’s as though the filmmakers realized she wasn’t likable and just went ahead anyway. Every frame of her performance gives way to a far worse one.

The plot–the titular Babysitter angle quickly gives way to teenage Applegate lying her way into a job–requires a reasonable performance from the lead. Between Applegate and director Herek’s incompetence, it’s not happening here.

There’s a complete disconnect with reality in Babysitter, whether it’s Concetta Tomei being believable as having five kids or Keith Coogan’s stoner being younger than sister Applegate. Herek and the screenwriters also coat over the mean-spirited, reprehensible natural of the characters. Whether it’s Tomei leaving her kids with a babysitter without references, the kids disposing of the body and covering up the death and just the movie’s general apathy.

The audience is supposed to like Applegate because she meets a cute boy (Josh Charles, who’s clearly leagues ahead talent-wise than his costars) and changes outfits and hairstyles every scene.

Poor Joanna Cassidy shows up and humiliates herself as Applegate’s boss.

Between Herek’s unbelievably lousy direction and David Newman’s awful score, the movie doesn’t even have any passable technical qualities.

It’s artistically tragic prints of Babysitter exist. I wish I could forget every millisecond of it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Herek; written by Neil Landau and Tara Ison; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Larry Bock; music by David Newman; production designer, Stephen Marsh; produced by Robert F. Newmyer, Julia Phillips, Brian Reilly and Jeffrey Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christina Applegate (Sue Ellen Crandell), Joanna Cassidy (Rose Lindsey), John Getz (Gus), Josh Charles (Bryan), Keith Coogan (Kenny Crandell), Concetta Tomei (Mom), David Duchovny (Bruce), Kimmy Robertson (Cathy), Jayne Brook (Carolyn), Eda Reiss Merin (Mrs. Sturak), Robert Hy Gorman (Walter Crandell), Danielle Harris (Melissa Crandell) and Christopher Pettiet (Zach Crandell).


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