Love is Strange

September 26, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei
Directed by: Ira Sachs (“Keep the Lights On”)
Written by: Ira Sachs (“Keep the Lights On”) and Mauricio Zacharias (“Keep the Lights On”)

It’s difficult not to find “Love is Strange” likeable despite its many flaws. Anchored by moving and understated performances by Oscar nominee John Lithgow (“Terms of Endearment”) and Alfred Molina (“Frida”), it’s the kind of film that demands respect, especially since it’s filling a void in LGBT cinema where stories tend to be more about a younger generation and their struggles to find or confront their sexual identity. When is the last time you saw a love story between two men around the age of 65-70? Unless we’re talking about smaller documentaries like “Before You Know It,” “Gen Silent,” or “88 Years in the Closet,” it’s extremely rare. Even when actor Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for playing a gay octogenarian in the 2010 comedy/drama “Beginners,” the lover he chose was much younger. With that said, “Love is Strange” breaks some important barriers, but not without writing itself into some messy scenarios that feel way more complicated than they had to be.

The film opens with Ben (Lithgow) and George (Molina), two older gentlemen dressed to the nines, walking through the streets of Manhattan as if they were going to a nearby café to have a cup of coffee like it was any other morning. This is far from any other morning, however. This is Ben and George’s wedding day. After a nearly 40-year relationship, the couple has decided to make it official. Their joy is short-lived, however, when George, a music teacher at an Archdiocese-run school, is fired from his position since his marriage violates the Christian Witness Statement he signed when he was hired. Now on an extremely fixed income, Ben and George are forced to sell their apartment and temporarily sleep under different roofs until they can find a new home (none of their family or friends who live in the city can accommodate both men, a plot point that is hard to swallow, but important to the overall narrative). With Ben staying with his nephew and his family (Marisa Tomei plays the overly annoyed wife) and George staying with younger gay friends, the two men must do something they’ve never had to do during their entire relationship: live apart.

“Love is Strange” is best when Lithgow and Molina share the screen. Of course, this only takes place a handful of times during the film since their situation keeps them separated. When the two talk about their lives and the sometimes painful past, it’s a beautiful way to show just how comfortable and sensible 40 years of companionship has molded their relationship. Ben and George have known for a long time that they work better as a couple. Director/co-writer Ira Sachs (“Keep the Lights On”) makes sure audiences can feel that security and compassion when they interact.

Where “Love is Strange” struggles is in the secondary family story it tries so desperately to fit into Ben and George’s difficult circumstance. It’s especially true with Lithgow who somehow ends up becoming a burden on his nephew’s wife and their teenage son. The fact that everyone gets so aggravated so quickly rings immensely false. It’s almost as if Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias felt they had to impose some sort of conflict to make the film find another emotional layer it could’ve easily done without (or done without the exaggeration).

Lithgow and Molina’s chemistry, however, is all the emotion “Love is Strange” needs. The deeper Sachs and Zacharias could’ve delved into that touching story and focused more on the quieter moments, the more the film would’ve felt true to form.

Alfred Molina – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

July 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Interviews

In “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” British actor Alfred Molina stars as Maxim Horvath, a sinister magician who has a long, tumultuous history with sorcerer Balthazar (Nicholas Cage) that goes back over a thousand years. During their encounter in “Apprentice,” both men are trying to get their hands on a relic, which imprisons an evil sorceress who could end the world if she is released.

Molina, 57, who was born in London to a Spanish father and Italian mother, has starred in such films as “Frida,” “Spider-Man 2,” “Nothing Like the Holidays,” and “An Education.” During an interview with me, he talked about what type of magic intrigues him and why playing the bad guy offers actors more freedom in their role.

We’ve seen you play the antagonist before in films like “Spider-Man 2” and “Prince of Persia.” What led you to the villainous role of Horvath in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice?”

You mean besides the money? (Laughs) Well, it’s just a great part. It’s always a lot of fun to play these parts that are sort of larger than life. I remember years ago [actor] Bob Hoskins said that the great thing about playing villains is that you work for half the amount of time the leading man works, you get treated like the crown jewels, and if the movie is not any good nobody blames you. It’s a perfect gig, really.

I think a misconception about you as an actor is that you usually star in more thespian roles. Is it important for you as an actor to be able to go from something like “An Education” to films like “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice?”

Well, if I said it was important, it makes it sound like there is some kind of plan that has been exercised. The truth is I’ve just been very fortunate that these different ranges in roles have come my way. “An Education” happened and then “Prince of Persia” and now this. In my next job I play a CIA operative in a political thriller. It’s been my good fortune for these parts to come up rather than any game plan I’ve had.

Did you ever believe in magic when you were a child?

I think like most kids I was always intrigued by magicians and their clever tricks. I was never impressed by card tricks or anything like that. When I was a kid there were a lot of variety shows on TV and there was always a magician on the bill. I did quite enjoy all that stuff.

Would you say you’re more of a fan of Harry Houdini or David Copperfield or maybe more modern magicians like David Blaine or Chris Angel?

I’ve never seen either of those gentlemen before so I don’t quite know what they do. I was always rather impressive with someone who could tie himself up in chains and seal himself up in a box that is dropped 20 feet under water and then magically get out.  There is something rather intriguing about that. I think the reason magicians are always so popular is that there is a point where we are confounded by it. We are amazing by anything out of our own sense of what is logical. I’m sure there is trickery to it and an indefinable science and logic to it, but the enjoyment is seeing [a magician] turn that into something entertaining.

Are there any magic tricks you can do that would surprise us?

Well, I’m very good at making money disappear. (Laughs) Somebody asked me once, “Is there any magical power that you would like to have?” I said, “I would love to make people disappear.” They didn’t think that sounded very nice, but we’ve all felt that at some point in our life. It would be quite a nice power to have if you have someone annoying and bothering you. You could make them disappear for five minutes and bring them back.

Nicholas Cage said in an interview that you bring this “bliss of evil” to the film. Is there anything special that you have to do to prepare yourself for a darker and more menacing role than most?

Well, it’s like any role. You work out what’s required and then use your imagination. The great thing about these roles is that the actor is being hired in order to use his or her imagination in as much of an interesting and unusual way as possible. There was a lot of room for invention in this film. Also, when you play the bad guy you have so much more freedom. When I play the bad guy I’ve never had a director ask me to tone it down or make it smaller. Scenery chewing is approved.

Is there any added pressure on the cast and crew because the idea is loosely based on the Disney classic “Fantasia,” which is an animation many people hold close to their hearts?

I think the film pays a respectful tribute to the original genesis of it. Essentially, the film more so owes a great deal to the Arthurian legends of Merlin and Morgana le Fay. It’s not really a rehash of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” It’s a really fresh, vibrant take for all audiences.

Movies that center on magic like the “Harry Potter” franchise have been criticized by conservatives for promoting witchcraft. Do you think we’re living in a time where people are being a bit oversensitive about things coming out of the entertainment industry or are these valid concerns parents should have?

I think it’s always been that way. I think if you go back in history you’ll see that. “Gone with the Wind” was criticized when it was released for being to sexually explicit. “Citizen Kane” was regarded as anti-capitalist and pro-Communist. There’s always some nutjob somewhere who is going to find something to complain about. The truth is audiences make up their own minds.

You’ve stared in two of my favorite films of all time, “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia.” What was your experience like working with someone as talented as director/writer P.T. Anderson?

He’s one of those directors that like to give the impression that they’re shooting from the hip and somehow it’s all just happening in the moment, but actually he comes to work impeccably prepared and very specific in what he wants to achieve. He’s a visionary. I can’t think of another director in his generation who has quite the same take on things – the way he bends time and space and plays with narrative. I think he has a very unique and interesting way of confounding your expectations. There is an extraordinary moment in “Punch-Drunk Love” when there is a shot of a car coming up the street and it gets hit. That scene gives a sense of where the movie might be going. He did the same with “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia.” I think he’s a fantastic director. When you and I are talking about P.T. 25 years later, I think we’ll be looking at a career the same way we look at any of the great directors in movie history.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

July 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

NOTE: This movie review was written by film critic apprentice Cody Villafana, who won the Film Critic Apprentice-for-a-Day contest last week.

Starring: Nicholas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina
Directed by: John Turteltaub (“National Treasure: Book of Secrets”)
Written by: Lawrence Konner (“Flicka”), Mark Rosenthal (“Flicka”), Matt Lopez (“Bedtime Stories”)

In an attempt to tap into the well-established “Harry Potter” market, Disney has unearthed a 200-year-old story most recently manifested in their 1940 classic film “Fantasia” and created a film that will likely make people pine for the cartoon’s timeless simplicity. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and company have taken the famous mopping scene from “Fantasia” and expanded and re-imagined the story to create a film that taps into the world of magic and sorcery. Although it provides some entertainment through special effects, ”The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is a mostly unbalanced film that fails to conjure up anything substantial in the way of story, plot, or memorable moments.

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” opens with a quick trip back into history recapping the story of Merlin and his three apprentices. One of Merlin’s apprentices, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina) turns against Merlin and joins forces with the evil sorceress Morgana before eventually being captured in a nesting doll-type object called a grimhold. As Merlin is dying, he gives another one of his apprentices, Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) a ring with a dragon on it that will one day determine who will succeed Merlin.

The audience then skips to the year 2000, where young Dave Stutler (played in kid form by Dave Cherry) stumbles into what appears to be an antique store where he finds the enigmatic Balthazar. Balthazar quickly notices something about Dave that prompts him to grab the dragon ring, which perfectly grips and attaches to Dave’s finger. While wandering around the store, Dave accidentally releases the evil Horvath, leading to an extended battle which leaves Horvath and Balthazar trapped inside a vase. Dave throws away the grimhold and is met by his teacher, who finds only Dave and an empty antique store.

In a final jump to present-day New York City, the audience finds Dave (Jay Baruchel), the now 20-year-old self-proclaimed physics nerd, offering help to Becky (Teresa Palmer), his elementary school crush, in their physics class. Meanwhile, Horvath and Balthazar reappear from the vase, now just an artifact in an old couple’s home. Horvath immediately visits Dave in search of the grimhold. Balthazar is able to appear to save Dave in the nick of time, and recruits Dave to help him find the grimhold. Dave and Balthazar then engage in a series of battles with Horvath, while Balthazar uses every opportunity to train Dave to be the sorcerer he is destined to become – the only one who can defeat Morgana, should she be released.

The film suffers from uninspiring performances from most of its leads. Jay Baruchel fails to display the charm he showed in “She’s Out of My League” and turns in an unconvincing performance as a newly post-teenage physics nerd. Nicolas Cage sleepwalks through his role as the wise, but slightly neurotic Balthazar and adds virtually nothing but a name to plaster on a movie poster to help bring in bigger box office numbers. Alfred Molina gives the best performance of the leads in his role as the evil Horvath. It is a performance that is evil enough to make him a convincing villain, however, fans of Molina’s will surely recognize this is not his best work.

One of the major downfalls of this film is its over-reliance on special effects. While the first couple of battles provide amusing effects as the Sorcerers throw plasma balls and move objects with the wave of a hand, the concept begins to repeat itself and wear thin. The entire movie presents a repeating cat and mouse game between Horvath and the duo of Balthazar and Dave and by the third time we see characters hurling transforming objects at one another, the effects have lost their luster.

The large majority of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice takes place in a physics lab and focuses on Balthazar’s efforts to train Dave and turn him into a true sorcerer. This leaves almost no room to grow for any of the relationships beyond that of Dave and Balthazar. The relationship between Dave and Becky isn’t given enough time to develop, lacks believability and fails to evoke any sort of emotional response from the viewer.

Perhaps the most criminal of cinematic offenses comes in the movie’s final act, which is the end battle that the entire film leads towards. In a this final sequence Dave suddenly does things that he wasn’t capable of five minutes prior, other characters perform acts that are either not completely shown on screen or are not explained. The sequence becomes so convoluted that it reiterates the banality and lack of substance of the film and once again leaves the viewer’s enjoyment at the mercy of the special effects.

Serving as a Sunday afternoon time passer at best, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” isn’t entertaining enough to cover up its plethora of plot holes, lack of character development and dull story line.

An Education

November 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina
Directed by: Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”)
Written by: Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”)

More mature than any coming-of-age story in recent years, director Lone Scherfig’s “An Education” is a beautifully-written character study about a teenage girl blinded by the idea of love in 1960s London.

Adapted by Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”) from a memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber, the film follows Jenny Miller (newcomer Carey Mulligan who has often been compared to Audrey Hepburn), an intelligent 16-year old girl whose aspirations for her future surpass anything her boring little schoolgirl life is giving her at the moment.

Set to go to Oxford University to study English – partly because she wants to and partly because her father (Alfred Molina) has always hovered over her shoulder to make sure she doesn’t get off track – Jenny is prim and proper, independent, and never lets her inexperience direct her next step in life.

Things change, however, when she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), an older, well-to-do man who quickly takes a liking to Jenny’s youthfulness. Jenny, too, is immediately charmed by David who isn’t anything like the fresh-faced boys smitten with her at school. None of them drive around in sleek sports cars like David does nor can any of them afford to take her to Paris, treat her to fine meals at posh night clubs, or outwit her doting father who allows the courting to continue despite some initial hesitancy.

As their relationship blossoms, the idea to attend Oxford becomes less and less important to Jenny. What woman really needs an education when there is a man in her life who will marry and provide for her? It’s the same type of traditional idealism encountered in 2003’s “Mona Lisa Smile.”

There is, however, a deeper sophistication to “An Education” brought in by screenwriter Hornby and director Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”) that magnifies these themes more than any films may have attempted before. Beneath David’s charismatic exterior, Hornby gives just enough of his menacing quality that you can’t be sure whether or not you saw it yourself. The always reliable Sarsgaard plays the part to perfection.

As the film slowly reveals itself, Mulligan continues to dominate the screen. As Jenny, she conveys everything a love-struck teenage girl would under the same circumstances of that era. From her vulnerability to her naivety, the layered role Mulligan has embarked on is career-defining and one that is sure to earn her an Oscar nomination.

As Jenny struggles through an emotionally-charged journey to womanhood, “An Education” allows us to feel the same exhilarating liberation and heartbreaking disappointment she is experiencing. While the film wraps up in a peculiarly ordinary fashion, the overly-cautious third act doesn’t hurt the movie much. By then, we’re devoted to Mulligan and the nearly flawless production Scherfig has created right before our eyes.

Nothing Like the Holidays

December 2, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Freddy Rodriguez, John Leguizamo, Alfred Molina
Directed by: Alfred De Villa (“ Washington Heights ”)
Written by: Alison Swan (debut) and Rick Najera (debut)

While the number of slapstick Christmas comedies usually go off the charts this time of year as much as Santa’s cholesterol, the Christmas family dramedy is the other holiday sub-genre that usually demands screen time in December.

Last year, “This Christmas” featured an African American family reuniting for the holidays after four years. In 2005, Sarah Jessica Parker met “The Family Stone” and experienced all their dysfunctional love. This year, Christmas gets a little Latin flare Puerto Rican-style with “Nothing Like the Holidays.” The film follows the Rodriguez family from the Humboldt Park area in Chicago as they come together in what might be the final Christmas they spend together as a family.

The reason: Anna Rodriguez (Elizabeth Pena) has announced over dinner that she has decided to divorce her children’s father Edy (Alfred Molina) after 36 years of marriage. She has reason to believe he has been having an affair. No one takes the news lightly including Mauricio (John Leguizamo), one of the Rodriguez boys, who has become a successful lawyer in New York, and his sister Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito), a struggling actress living in Los Angeles.

Freddy Rodriguez (“Grindhouse”) plays Jesse, another Rodriguez brother, back home from Iraq. He thinks his parents are adult enough to make their own decisions. His mind isn’t really focused on his mom and dad’s problems, especially since he has a handful of his own. He has returned home to find his ex-girlfriend Marissa (Melonie Diaz), whom he still loves, has moved on with her life. He is also still haunted by the death of one of his friends in the military.

It’s not only Jesse, however, who has issues. Everyone has something going on in his or her trying life and debut screenwriters Alison Swan and Rick Najera tangle it all together in a cinematic version of stale fruitcake. While storylines that focus on Jesse and his hardships give the film a more serious tone than your average family head-butting session, there’s not much time to build on his character since the script seems sculpted from the blueprint of a tiresome telenovela. Instead, secondary stories like Maruicio and his wife Sarah (Debra Messing) arguing about the best time to have a baby, and issues that revolve around Ozzy (Jay Hernandez), a family friend and ex-gang member who is bothered that the guy who killed his brother years ago has been released from prison and is now hanging out in the old neighborhood.

The scene-stealer of the film is Luis Guzman (“Waiting”), who plays the family’s kooky electronics-loving uncle, but he and Freddy Rodriguez (one of the most talented young Latino actors working today) can’t raise the film above the usual stereotypical family dramedy we get every year. It might be in different packaging this time around, but a pair of socks is a pair of socks no matter how colorful the gift-wrapping.