Tag Archives: Christine Lahti

Touched with Fire (2015, Paul Dalio)

Somewhere early in Touched with Fire’s third act, it becomes clear there’s not going to be any performance potential from leads Luke Kirby and Katie Holmes. The movie doesn’t really want to be about them. Director (and writer) Dalio skips all the character development, leaving Holmes dulled and Kirby perpetually in between a Zach Braff impression and a Casey Affleck one.

Same goes for “special guest stars”–but in the low budget sense, not the late seventies melodrama one–Bruce Altman, Griffin Dunne, and Christine Lahti. While Dalio’s script shafts them all, it’s unequal. Altman has the smallest part, which is kind of best given Dunne and Lahti don’t get any character development either. They get a lot of dramatic setup for character development; once again, Dalio’s not interested.

In fact, Dalio’s never interested in anything long enough in Touched With Fire for it to stick.

Holmes and Kirby are bipolar young adults who just happen to be in their mid-thirties. They look good for it, but they still clearly are too old to have so few life experiences. They live in New York City, both supported by their parents. Dunne is Kirby’s dad, Lahti and Altman are Holmes’s parents. The film introduces the principals (including Dunne and Lahti), then contrives a way to get Kirby and Holmes together. They’re both committed, Kirby because of criminal behavior, Holmes because the doctor cons her into it.

Maryann Urbano is great as the doctor. It’s also one of the better written roles in Dalio’s script; Urbano’s behavior and actions towards Kirby and Holmes are consistent. No one else is ever consistent. They sway with the changing winds of scene need.

So after not liking one another, Kirby and Holmes soon bond over poetry. Holmes is formerly successful (and published) poet–the timeline on when is unclear–and Kirby is a rap poet. Though Dalio never gets into what he means by rap poetry. It’s associative rhyming. When the film starts, Kirby is popular at his performances, Holmes is not.

Kirby thinks being bipolar informs his creativity, Holmes… well, actually, it’s never clear what Holmes thinks. Because–even though the film shows her writing poetry a lot–her feelings about it are never even acknowledged. Unless it’s one of the scenes where Kirby’s telling her how she doesn’t feel about it. Those scenes are in that ramshackle third act.

Anyway. Kirby and Holmes fall in love (while committed) but circumstances separate them. When they do get back together, determined to embrace the creative benefits of being bipolar, the film turns into a series of montages. It already had a bunch of montages while they were meeting in the middle of the night, but there was at least drama there. They poison an attendant. They battle Urbano. Their respective parents dismiss them. There’s drama.

Not in the later montages. In those montages, as the film has already shown the dangers of their mania, have some drama as they get closer and closer to the disaster, but not really. Because all the self-destructive character traits Kirby exhibited before meeting Holmes? Gone. Does Dalio explore the change? Nope. It doesn’t really matter for Holmes because she’s now entirely defined by her relationship with her parents. Even though Dunne’s always along to disappoint Kirby, the scenes anchor around Lahti and Altman.

There’s also the film itself. It’s entitled Touched with Fire because of a book called Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison. Who appears in the film as herself, for a rather disappointing sequence. But the book is about famous creatives through history who were manic-depressive. Byron, Van Gogh (lots of Starry Night references in the film too), and many others. Kirby sees himself in that lot, mostly in the first and third acts.

Only Touched with Fire, the movie, never explores the characters’ creativity. Holmes doesn’t grow as a poet because of her relationship with Kirby. In fact, he controls her work. Or he doesn’t. It’s unclear. Because Dalio isn’t interested. So it’s a film about being creative without anything to say about actual creativity. Montages of being silly in public don’t cover it.

Both leads are disappointing. More Kirby because he’s got the bigger part. Dalio doesn’t give it anywhere to go. Holmes has somewhere to go–three times–and Dalio stays as far away from her as he can during them. Dunne and Lahti are great. More Dunne because Lahti gets some of the worst inconsistent behavior scenes. Altman’s fine. He’s got absolutely nothing to do except be present and Bruce Altman.

Dalio’s strength as a director in his ability to execute the production on its limited budget. His composition’s never terrible but sometimes predictable and never exciting. It’s boring without being tedious. He doesn’t direct the actors, which is a problem. The leads both need it. His musical score’s damned good though.

Editing and cinematography are both thoroughly competent. Better editing might’ve done wonders.

Touched with Fire has all sorts of interesting places to go and goes none of them. It frequently pretends the opportunities aren’t even there. And there was no reason for it to fall apart in the third act.

Watching Touched with Fire, you keep wanting it to get better or be better or do the right thing. It rarely does. And never when it counts.

1/4

CREDITS

Written, edited, and directed by Paul Dalio; directors of photography, Kristina Nikolova Dalio and Alexander Stanishev; music by Dalio; production designer, Kay Lee; produced by Jeremy Alter, Nikolova Dalio, and Jason Sokoloff; released by Roadside Attractions.

Starring Luke Kirby (Marco), Katie Holmes (Carla), Christine Lahti (Sara), Griffin Dunne (George), Maryann Urbano (Dr. Strinsky), Bruce Altman (Donald), Daniel Gerroll (Dr. Lyon), and Kay Redfield Jamison (Kay Jamison).


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Gross Anatomy (1989, Thom E. Eberhardt)

Gross Anatomy is harmless and diverting. It’s got some good performances–Christine Lahti is fantastic, Matthew Modine barely does any work and is solid as the lead. The supporting cast has some bright points (Alice Carter and John Scott Clough), but it’s also got Daphne Zuniga.

Now, Anatomy is a big bright Touchstone movie. It’s less realistic than a Disney cartoon in terms of characterizations and so on. But at least everyone is being earnest–even Todd Field, who gets the short end of the script–but Zuniga is just atrocious. She’s not believable for one second, which isn’t a damning feature of the film… until the last scene, when she gets the final moment. That abject misfire is why I’m hostile towards the film. It’s such a terrible moment, it undoes whatever competence came before.

Speaking of competence, director Eberhardt, who initially seemed like he wasn’t bringing anything particular to the film, impressed me once I noticed he has a way of holding the shot. He gives the actors time to do something. Modine’s playing this intentionally bland character, but Eberhardt’s direction gives him time to think. Even though the script’s contrived, Modine is a good enough actor, he’s able to use that extra camera time to make an honest moment.

Lisa Zane shows up briefly at one point as a diversion for Modine (from Zuniga). Maybe without Zane’s clearly excellent acting ability, Zuniga wouldn’t seem so bad.

Gross Anatomy probably plays a lot better on TV.

Good score from David Newman.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Thom E. Eberhardt; screenplay by Ron Nyswaner and Mark Spragg, based on a story by Spragg, Howard Rosenman, Alan Jay Glueckman and Stanley Isaacs; director of photography, Steve Yaconelli; edited by Bud S. Smith and M. Scott Smith; music by David Newman; production designer, William F. Matthews; produced by Debra Hill and Howard Rosenman; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Matthew Modine (Joe Slovak), Daphne Zuniga (Laurie Rorbach), Christine Lahti (Dr. Rachel Woodruff), Todd Field (David Schreiner), John Scott Clough (Miles Reed), Alice Carter (Kim McCauley), Robert Desiderio (Dr. Banks) and Zakes Mokae (Dr. Banumbra).


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Smart People (2008, Noam Murro)

It’s hard to intelligently describe Smart People because the best way to describe it is quite simple. It’s a bunch of movie trailers for quirky family dramatic comedies strung together. Not five minutes goes by without two montages to songs (I’m shocked the soundtrack CD wasn’t available in the lobby) and one instrumental. There are no scenes in the whole movie, just snippets. Half scenes, missing their beginning and ending.

I thought, at the beginning, director Murro was just doing a–by now, very familiar–indie introduction to his characters with the montages. He wasn’t. He was just making the movie. Murro is a bad director, but in interesting ways at least. He doesn’t do establishing shots, he doesn’t understand headroom, nor does he account for interior dimensions. If it weren’t for one interesting shot (Dennis Quaid turning and pointing left while on the right side of a Panavision frame), I’d call him all together atrocious.

As for the writer, I really can’t tell. It’s possible Mark Poirier wrote a decent movie and it got cut to shreds in post-production. Or maybe he did write this one, which Murro ruined. Same script, all instrumental–well-scored–sometimes drowning out dialogue and fifteen or twenty minutes shorter, Smart People would have really been a quirky movie, instead of a packaged attempt at an indie crossover success.

And it’s pretty obvious the filmmakers aren’t very smart themselves. It’s in their handling of the material and, after some amusing scenes, it gets mildly offensive. But then–and here’s where I’ll shock myself typing it–Sarah Jessica Parker shows up. She gives the best performance in the film. Had the movie been about her–like it was for ten or fifteen minutes of montages (so figure around forty-five montages)–and the weird family she encounters, it would have been a screwy “Addams Family” knockoff. But it isn’t. Her performance, however, is excellent.

Second best is Thomas Haden Church, because he’s a supporting character and the fact the script doesn’t give him a character doesn’t matter so much. It really hurts Dennis Quaid, who–at times–can be seen to be acting, but to no real purpose. He and Parker have some chemistry though.

Ellen Page is one-note. Look, she’s an acerbic bitch. Ha. Funny. Not at all impressive by her.

Unfortunately, the movie manages to get worse as it closes, since it dismisses three of its four plot threads. It doesn’t forget them, it just makes them all better so the movie can end. Wait, no. Four of five, I forgot the last scene.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Noam Murro; written by Mark Poirier; director of photography, Toby Irwin; edited by Robert Frazen and Yana Gorskaya; music by Nuno Bettencourt; production designer, Patti Podesta; produced by Bridget Johnson, Michael Costigan, Michael London and Bruna Papandrea; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Lawrence), Sarah Jessica Parker (Janet), Thomas Haden Church (Chuck), Ellen Page (Vanessa), Ashton Holmes (James), Christine Lahti (Nancy), David Denman (William) and Camille Mana (Missy).


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