Tag Archives: Marion Ross

Smiley Face (2007, Gregg Araki)

Smiley Face is something of an endurance test. How long can the film keep going before falling apart due to its own flimsiness. Thanks to star Anna Faris, it pretty much does make it to the finish. The third act–thanks to the bookending device (the film is told in flashback, narrated by Roscoe Lee Browne, who Faris is imagining talking to her)–lacks momentum but there’s only so much the movie could do. It is just about Faris getting too stoned and messing up her day. There’s nothing more to it.

After Browne introducing Faris, the film flashbacks to her morning. She’s got a busy day–an audition (she’s an actress) and she’s got to pay the power bill in person. So she gets a stoned before starting out, only to get more stoned after she eats her roommate’s cupcakes. Turns out they’re pot cupcakes. Now, Smiley Face does a fine job with the attention span and the erratic hold on reality of a stoned protagonist, but there are some leaps–would Faris actually remain conscious after eating so much pot, would she still be stoned ten hours later as the story wraps up. She narrates most of the first act and implies her tolerance isn’t extreme… but whatever.

During the first act she also introduces the roommate, Danny Masterson; they hate each other and he psychologically terrorizes her. He’s one of the film’s many leaps in logic. He’s there to be a punchline (in Masterson’s case, a repeated, non-emoting one). The most exceptional thing about Faris’s performance is she manages to navigate the film’s anti-character development and succeed anyway.

We also meet her dealer, Adam Brody. Who’s a white guy with dreads. Fake dreads, but it’s not clear if the dreads are supposed to be fake (they’re obviously fake). He’s done giving Faris a free ride on her pot, so she’s got to bring him money at a hemp festival–pre-marijuana legalization pot culture is going to be hard to explain someday soon–see, since she ate all the cupcakes, she needs to make more. And then she’s got to pay the power bill and get to her audition.

Smiley Face uses, occasionally, superimposed text cards enumerating Faris’s tasks for the day. It forecasts the story. Maybe the funniest and smartest thing about the script, as the protagonist is debilitatingly stoned, her to do list ain’t getting done.

Besides a mishap getting on the bus–Faris is too stoned to drive (the film, at least until the second act, is often just showcases for her physical comedy skills)–she basically follows the plan. Though she does burn up all the weed and doesn’t have money to buy any more. The audition, with Jim Rash as the receptionist and Jane Lynch as the casting agent (the film’s rife with cameos, mostly in the first half), is pretty funny. Definitely could’ve gone longer but the film’s already started backing up a bit from being through Faris’s perspective, narrative distance-wise, to being about Faris’s experiences.

Eventually John Krasinski comes into the story–he’s a friend of Masterson’s who has a crush on Faris, which is summarized in a hilarious montage–because she needs a ride and someone who can lend her money to pay Brody. They just need to go to Krasinski’s dentist appointment first.

Things don’t go as planned–actually not a single thing in Smiley Face goes as planned; it’s not really a comedy of errors because things going well doesn’t seem remotely possible. It’s just how is Faris going to screw it up. Though she’s decidedly passive in most of her problems in the second half. For example, when she goes to hide at an old professor’s house and his mom–Marion Ross in a fun cameo–mistakes her for the new teacher’s assistant… well, it’s not like Faris can tell her the truth, not given the situation.

The scene with Ross changes the narrative trajectory all the way to the finish, even though there’s some attempt at acknowledging Faris’s original plans. There are talking dogs, there’s John Cho and Danny Trejo as sausage delivery drivers, there’s a workers of the world unite speech, there’s a ferris wheel. There’s even a Carrot Top cameo.

Dylan Haggerty’s script gets real lazy in the third act. The movie needs to be over and the whole journey aspect has gotten slowed way down thanks to all the narrative tangents. So there’s a perfunctory deus ex machina, which comes early enough the narrative could recover. It just doesn’t. Time for the movie to be over.

The film’s competently executed. Shawn Kim’s photography is fine. Director Araki does a little better with the editing than the direction, but Smiley Face doesn’t need a lot of direction. It just needs Faris to be funny; she obliges.

Supporting cast-wise… Krasinski is best, but only because he gets the most screen time. No one’s bad. Not even Masterson. The film figures out how to utilize his driftwood presence. Cho’s actually a little bit of a disappointment, but it’s the part more than the performance.

Smiley Face is eighty-five sometimes long minutes, but there’s always something ranging from funny to hilarious just on the horizon. Until the finale, unfortunately.

1/4

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Gregg Araki; written by Dylan Haggerty; director of photography, Shawn Kim; music by David Kitay; production designer, John Larena; produced by Araki, Steve Golin, Alix Madigan, Kevin Turen, and Henry Winterstern; released by First Look Studios.

Starring Anna Faris (Jane), John Krasinski (Brevin), Danny Masterson (Roommate Steve), John Cho (Mikey), Adam Brody (Dealer Steve), Marion Ross (Shirley), and Danny Trejo (Albert); narrated by Roscoe Lee Browne.


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Lizzie (1957, Hugo Haas)

Lizzie is about lead Eleanor Parker’s struggle with multiple personality disorder. More accurately perhaps, Lizzie is about Parker’s multiple personality disorder. As a protagonist, Parker disappears fairly quickly into the film’s eighty minute runtime. She doesn’t even get to open the film; it introduces her through other characters’ expository conversation.

Screenwriter Mel Dinelli, quite unfortunately, often relies on expository conversation.

When Parker is the lead, however, Lizzie is in pretty good shape. Even though Parker’s alternate personalities are a little shallow as far as characterization goes, Parker’s performance is strong. Even she can’t do anything with the hallucination sequences though. Lizzie is a technical mess. Director Haas (who gives himself a supporting acting role, which I’ll get to in a bit) has three directorial modes. Some of Lizzie, when the film is just watching Parker act, feels experimental and edgy. Unfortunately, it contrasts with Haas’s inept handling of regular sequences. Lizzie doesn’t have much of a budget and the sets are bad, something Haas and cinematographer Paul Ivano aggravate. But then Haas and Ivano also go for foreboding mood, with the inept assistance of composer Leith Stevens, and Lizzie feels even more uneven.

As Parker’s psychiatrist, Richard Boone doesn’t have much to do but he’s sincere in the performance. There’s even a scene where Parker tries to draw him out a little, allow him room for personality and Boone demurs. Like I said before, Dinelli’s script is a mess.

As Parker’s suffering aunt, Joan Blondell is good. She starts out as a shrill harpy, but eventually Blondell is able to do something with the part. Haas, as an actor, is her mooning sidekick.

Lizzie has some great acting from Parker, who unfortunately proves no matter how fine a performance, when something is dramatically inert, there’s no way to get it moving.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Hugo Haas; screenplay by Mel Dinelli, based on a novel by Shirley Jackson; director of photography, Paul Ivano; edited by Leon Barsha; music by Leith Stevens; produced by Jerry Bresler; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Elizabeth Richmond), Richard Boone (Dr. Neal Wright), Joan Blondell (Aunt Morgan), Hugo Haas (Walter Brenner), Ric Roman (Johnny Valenzo), Marion Ross (Ruth Seaton) and Johnny Mathis (Piano Singer).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 2: TECHNICOLOR.

Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970, Joseph Sargent)

Colossus is a pre-disaster movie, in the Irwin Allen sense. It has a lot in common with films like The Andromeda Strain and The Satan Bug. The problem is established and then the film’s story is an attempt to resolve it. It’s a little less character-oriented than the Allen disaster formula–Colosuss doesn’t have much lead-in, it sort of just gets started after the opening sequence–but that lack of character development makes the cast all the more important. The viewer’s never going to have a chance to get to know these people; the casting has to be superb.

And Colossus is perfectly cast. Eric Braeden–who I just discovered ended up on a soap (and I even recognize him)–turns in a likable, funny leading man performance. He’s always believable as the world’s foremost computer designer, but he still can get away with being a traditional (and excellent) leading man. Susan Clark’s second-billed and sort of around for half the movie in the background before she gets to take a more central role and she’s got some fantastic moments. I figured–based on that Planet of the Apes movie he was in–Braeden would be good. So the real surprise is Gordon Pinsent as the President. Too often, movie presidents aren’t convincing–or they’re played by big name actors who assume their recognizable name will make them a good president-in-crisis. Pinsent does have a lot of good material–he’s second lead for the first half–but his performance is rather impressive.

Colossus is a from-the-top crisis story. We don’t really get to see how regular people are reacting, which has become the norm today. Everyone in the film has been on the phone with the President of the United States. What director Sargent and screenwriter James Bridges have to do is make a film without special effects–we don’t see any of the disasters–work from a couple rooms. There’s the White House and there’s Braeden’s computer lab. The film could practically work as a play.

Sargent’s widescreen composition is peculiar and effective. He started on TV and he tends to use the Panavision frame to horizontally expand what would otherwise be television composition. The result is unexpected. It’s like Sargent’s composition ends up looking like deliberate, thoughtful art, when it appears to just be a pragmatic approach to widescreen filmmaking.

Bridges’s script is competent and unambitious. Colossus is from a novel–which probably followed most of the same story beats–so all Bridges has to do is make it play right. And, given how the beats develop, it’d be impossible not to. There’s some character development, left nicely with Braeden and Clark, but a lot of the script is just perfunctory. That mechanical approach ends up hurting Colossus, because there’s no sense of anything escalating. Eventually, the movie just stops. I figured there were another fifteen minutes, but no, it was end credit time.

Perceiving the passage of time in the story is partially Bridges’s fault–three days pass without acknowledgment, a problem in a story set over a specific period–but a lot of it lies on Michel Colombier’s score. It’s anti-climatic and rote. Colombier tries for melodrama and ends up wasting a lot of time.

Colossus is a boring and intriguing film. Even with the narrative distance, the characters’ dilemmas are compelling. And, at just after the halfway point, when the computer taking over the world starts talking, it gets real funny. Not dumb funny, smart funny. But still real funny. It sort of suggests the film could have cut fifteen minutes and run another thirty and it would have turned out better.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph Sargent; screenplay by James Bridges, based on a novel by D.F. Jones; director of photography, Gene Polito; edited by Folmar Blangsted; music by Michel Colombier; produced by Stanley Chase; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Eric Braeden (Dr. Charles Forbin), Susan Clark (Dr. Cleo Markham), Gordon Pinsent (The President), William Schallert (CIA Director Grauber), Leonid Rostoff (Russian Chairman), Georg Stanford Brown (Dr. John F. Fisher), Willard Sage (Dr. Blake), Alex Rodine (Dr. Kuprin), Martin E. Brooks (Dr. Jefferson J. Johnson) and Marion Ross (Angela Fields).


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