Christine Lahti

Evil (2019) s01e13 – Book 27

Thank you, “Evil,” for forcing me to realize I don’t know how to spell Baphomet. Oh, wait, I do know how to spell Baphomet. Apple just doesn’t know how to spell Baphomet. Seems like something for the Satanic Temple to investigate, whether or not Apple has deity spellings for other religions. Anyway. “Evil”. The season finale.

There’s a lot but also not a lot. Christine Lahti is back for the first time in a while, not always wearing red and, when she is wearing red, it’s not particularly symbolic. (The first episode established red was the devil’s color or something). She’s Michael Emerson’s unwitting stooge, which is insult to injury given her entire romance with Emerson is absurd. Lahti could do infinitely better.

The mystery of the week this episode involves a pregnant woman convinced one of the twins she’s carrying is possessed. The show throws its blue voters a bone when Mike Colter wonders how the Church can oppose abortion when it also says the unborn can’t be possessed because, I don’t know, they don’t have souls yet or something. The show immediately walks it back—kind of double-timing it by having Muslim turned atheist Aasif Mandvi come up with the solution. It’s a stupid solution, but the show’s given up that conversation. Which is fine; once you normalize Baphomet—through CGI—anything goes.

There are also a couple reveals for the show’s mythology, setting the course for season two, which will have the Catholic Church versus fertility clinics; definitely seems like a conversation best suited for mainstream CBS fare. Here’s where I’d eye-roll emoji in a tweet.

There’s a good scene with Mike Colter and Katja Herbers for the first time since winter hiatus. He’s questioning his faith, she’s supportive, he’s hot, she’s holding his hand too long. She’s wearing her cool leather dress outfit—this episode brings it with some of the costuming choices, with Colter starting out dressed like Shaft.

The show’s got its frequent annoyances, like when someone at a New York City fertility clinic tells Colter and Mandvi they might recognize some of the babies in their promos because there are “many from the area.” Over eight million people in New York City, so of course they’re going to be recognizable. Again, “Evil” is eye-roll emoji levels of dumb.

But Herbers, Colter, Mandvi… are they worth coming back for? Insert shrug emoji here.

You know who doesn’t think it’s worth coming back for? Any of the guest-starring priests. The show’s gone through a revolving door of guest-starring priests; not sure if they’ve hit twelve yet (ProPublica discovered, statistically speaking, one in twelve Catholic priests in the United States has been credibly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct—by the Catholic Church, so you know it’s more, so ew). The guy this episode is stunningly bad. So bad I’m not even going to bother digging up his name.

With all the reveals and twists this episode… “Evil” has gotten to late seventies horror thriller levels of silly but never late seventies horror thriller levels of fun. “Evil” is silly and slight. I think I get to stop watching it now?

Evil (2019) s01e10 – 7 Swans a Singin’

This episode of “Evil” has a particular creative pedigree. Nineties neo-noir wunderkind (albeit flash in the pan) director John Dahl. Eighties and nineties sci-fi guy Rockne S. O'Bannon scripts. Seeing either of their names in the credits for “Evil” just tells of careers gone wrong; seeing both of them in the same episode, well… it feels like “Evil” is a pasture to be put out to. Though O’Bannon feels like he gets how to do an “Evil,” he knows just what contemporary middle class fears to exploit. Kids, obviously. The episode’s about a Catholic girls school where everyone spontaneously starts humming the same song from an inappropriately crude Christmas cartoon on YouTube.

But the actual fear is of YouTube influencers, particularly the make-up ones. Taylor Louderman plays the influencer, who ties into the Michael Emerson plot, natch, and she’s terrible. Also the show using Emerson as the occasional bad guy in his office sending out evil into the world isn’t working. It’s not like Emerson ever wasn’t silly, but he’s even more silly in his crappy little office engineering the downfall of western civilization. Or talking dirty with girlfriend Christine Lahti on the phone.

Lahti’s going to be all “Evil” at some point, as she starts manipulating her granddaughters this episode. While wearing red!

While Mike Colter, Katja Herbers, and Aasif Mandvi investigate the school and the humming, Colter has also got to deal with someone sending him pictures of his transgression with dead fiancée’s sister Renée Elise Goldsberry (who went from being featured guest star to third tier subplot) and Herbers has her home nonsense going on with the daughters and husband Patrick Brammall. Though Brammall’s growing on me. His performance isn’t getting worse. New Church boss Peter Scolari is just getting worse. And Lahti’s not fun anymore because she’s now just around to act as a constant threat to her granddaughters, who are obnoxious but still kids and the grandmother betrayal thing is really harsh.

Wait, forgot—the Christmas cartoon also tells kids to get stoned, because you should fear YouTube and counter it by… well, it’s unclear. “Evil” tries to terrify its audience with fear of tech but, other than calling the Catholic Church to investigate, has no opinion on alternatives.

There’s an okay cliffhanger? Or at least a surprise one. The episode woefully underuses Mandvi.

Evil (2019) s01e02 – 177 Minutes

“Evil” doubles down on the debunking of magic this episode. This time it’s about a miracle, not a possession. The heroes are looking into a girl being pronounced dead then coming back to life after a priest whispers to her. Dakin Matthews plays the priest. It’s a small part but it’s nice to see Matthews. He’s a solid character actor.

And this episode is definitely an improvement over the first. The teases of religious explanation are shorter, the debunking is better… though I was shocked how far they take it in the last scene, revealing former priest-to-be Mike Colter gets high on shrooms to talk to God. No wonder it doesn’t matter how much Colter prays about something God never helps; God’s his trip.

Duh.

Sorry.

There’s more with lead Katja Herbers’s night terror demon, even putting her kid in pseudo-danger because nothing says serious network show like the willingness to mutilate children. Herbers and the kids are fine, there are just too many of them. Plus grandma Christine Lahti who apparently goes out partying every night, which is cool, but also means Lahti’s just a constant cameo (I forgot to even mention her last episode); it’s like she’s doing the part as a favor to the producers or network. Anyway. There are so many kids on this show it’s like a seventies sitcom.

Michael Emerson is back—working at the D.A.’s office, planning on reversing all of Herbers’s old cases to let the evil free. Herbers’s boss just thinks she’s a jealous silly woman, apparently unable to appreciate Emerson’s wild performance (he seems like a villain from the “Batman” TV show; he’d be less absurd in a leotard).

Boris McGiver (another fine character actor) shows up as Colter’s higher up at the Church who’s keeping a secret about angel sightings for some reason.

So, better than the first episode, but still sort of uneven. It’s too thorough where it needs some brevity and vice versa.

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).


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).


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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