Alfred Molina

Ladyhawke (1985, Richard Donner)

Two things about Ladyhawke without getting to the script or some of the acting. First, Andrew Powell’s music. It’s godawful; it’s stunning to see a director as competent as Richard Donner put something so godawful in a film. Intentionally put it in a film. It’s silly. It sounds like a disco cover of the “Dallas” theme song at its best and it tends to get much, much worse from that low peak.

Second, Vittorio Storaro’s photography. Not all of it, but the day for night stuff is terrible. Again, it seems like Donner and Storaro should know better, especially since there’s actual fine nighttime photography in other parts. Just not when the film needs it to visually make sense.

Now for the script. The film’s about Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer. They were carefree young lovers in Northern Italy after the Crusades, even though lots of people have French names, which gets confusing. I don’t think the location really matters. The evil bishop of this castle and settlement–John Wood in a really lame performance–curses them because he’s a Catholic bishop in the Middle Ages so he’s perving after Pfeiffer. By day, she lives as hawk. By night, he lives as a wolf. Both animals mate for life, something it seems unlikely anyone would know about in the Middle Ages, but the occasionally lamer than it needs to be script feels the need to point out.

But, Hauer’s not the lead and neither is Pfeiffer. Instead, it’s Matthew Broderick. He plays a young thief who escapes Wood’s prison and finds himself basically squiring for Hauer’s knight. He meets Pfeiffer and soon learns their tragic fate. The script doesn’t give anyone enough to do–except Wood and he’s got too much to do given his performance–but there’s a lot of trying. Broderick tries, Hauer tries, Pfeiffer tries. Pfeiffer’s the most successful, not because the writing is better for her, but because the plotting isn’t as bad for her scenes. Just the day for night photography. Hauer has it the worst. Any time he starts to show personality, it’s nightfall and he disappears for a bit.

The music and photography mess up quite a bit of what otherwise seems like a good production. There’s some wonky editing from Stuart Baird, like Donner didn’t get enough coverage, which isn’t a surprise, but it’s mostly fine. It’s not great, but it’s fine.

Leo McKern is all right as the disgraced priest who has the plan to reunite the lovers. Ken Hutchison’s kind of okay as Wood’s henchman. Better than Wood anyway, even if his part’s lame.

Even without the terrible music and the problematic photography, Ladyhawke would still have that script. All it’s got going for it is likability, which Broderick, Hauer and Pfeiffer all have; Donner just doesn’t utilize it. Instead, he relies on the script, the music, the photography and Ladyhawke’s… well, it’s too lukewarm to be a disaster. It should be a disappointment, but there’s not enough wasted potential to be one.

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Edward Khmara, Michael Thomas and Tom Mankiewicz, based on a story by Khmara; director of photography, Vittorio Storaro; edited by Stuart Baird; music by Andrew Powell; production designer, Wolf Kroeger; produced by Donner and Lauren Shuler Donner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Matthew Broderick (Gaston), Rutger Hauer (Navarre), Michelle Pfeiffer (Isabeau), Leo McKern (Imperius), Ken Hutchison (Marquet), Alfred Molina (Cezar) and John Wood (The Bishop).


The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997, Jon Amiel)

As unlikely as it might seem, The Man Who Knew Too Little could have been really good. Here’s the basic plot–an American rube, who loves movies and television so much he knows the lines, is confused for a dangerous psychopathic hitman involved in international intrigue while vacationing in the UK. All of his hitman lines, for example, could be from movies or something.

Instead, Too Little is a train wreck of a star vehicle for Bill Murray. One has to wonder if co-stars Joanne Whalley, Peter Gallagher and Alfred Molina recognized Murray’s terrible performance on set. If they did, and still managed such good performances opposite him, it says something about their skill… and professionalism.

Murray is awful. Obviously, the script is at fault to some degree, but it’s really Murray. An engaged actor could have overcome any script problems.

However, Murray’s not entirely at fault for Too Little. Director Amiel is the other obvious culprit. Amiel’s attempts at a spy thriller–even a spoof of a spy thriller–are awful. He apparently told composer Christopher Young to make the score sound like a Pink Panther cartoon. Young’s credited as “Chris Young” here… maybe he was embarrassed by the lame score. It’s technically fine, just stupid.

Another fine performance is from Anna Chancellor, in her too small role as Gallagher’s wife. Of course, the film forgets about branding she and Gallagher terrorists so it can get to its idiotic finish.

Too Little is dreadful and shouldn’t have been.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Amiel; screenplay by Robert Farrar and Howard Franklin, based on a novel by Farrar; director of photography, Robert M. Stevens; edited by Pamela Power and Paul Karasick; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Jim Clay; produced by Arnon Milchan, Michael G. Nathanson and Mark Tarlov; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bill Murray (Wallace Ritchie), Peter Gallagher (James Ritchie), Joanne Whalley (Lori), Alfred Molina (Boris ‘The Butcher’ Blavasky), Richard Wilson (Sir Roger Daggenhurst), John Standing (Gilbert Embleton), Simon Chandler (Hawkins), Geraldine James (Dr. Ludmilla Kropotkin), Anna Chancellor (Barbara Ritchie), Nicholas Woodeson (Sergei), Cliff Parisi (Uri), Dexter Fletcher (Otto) and Eddie Marsan (Mugger #1).


Maverick (1994, Richard Donner)

Maverick is a lot of fun. In fact, it’s so much fun, when the film runs into problems in its second act, it’s impossible to be disappointed. It’s still so likable, one just feels bad it doesn’t maintain its quality.

There are two major problems. The first is the music. When the film starts–and for the majority of the run time–it’s a Western. It’s a very funny Western and has an affable Randy Newman score. Then it becomes a poker game movie… and the music inexplicably becomes modern country Western music. There’s one painful montage in particular where the music choice saps the energy of the film.

The second problem is the conclusion. William Goldman has a lot of fun with the twists at Maverick‘s finish and they’re nice to watch unravel… but it’s still a lot of padding. Alfred Molina’s character, for example, gets summarized in the conclusion instead of getting his due.

Molina gives the film’s most impressive performance. He’s creepy and dangerous; a very physical performance without much show of force. Just fantastic.

Mel Gibson’s great, so’s Jodie Foster, so’s James Garner. But the film’s made for them. I guess Foster, who doesn’t usually bring as much personality, is the standout of the three.

Graham Greene’s hilarious too.

Donner does fine. He and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond conceive an excellent Western. Donner primarily concentrates on the mood and the actors. Zsigmond and the scenery handle the rest.

Maverick is a joy, even with its bumps.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by William Goldman, based on the television series created by Roy Huggins; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Stuart Baird and Michael Kelly; music by Randy Newman; production designer, Thomas E. Sanders; produced by Donner and Bruce Davey; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Gibson (Bret Maverick), Jodie Foster (Annabelle Bransford), James Garner (Marshal Zane Cooper), Graham Greene (Joseph), Alfred Molina (Angel), James Coburn (Commodore Duvall), Dub Taylor (Room Clerk), Geoffrey Lewis (Matthew Wicker), Paul L. Smith (The Archduke), Dan Hedaya (Twitchy, Riverboat Poker Player), Dennis Fimple (Stuttering), Denver Pyle (Old Gambler on Riverboat), Clint Black (Sweet-Faced Gambler) and Max Perlich (Johnny Hardin).


Species (1995, Roger Donaldson)

Roger Donaldson has these great sweeping camera shots in Species. He doesn’t restrict them to the action scenes, but uses them to dynamically bring his five principals into the frame together. It’s always beautifully done and, if one could separate Donaldson’s work from the film’s content, Species would seem a lot more impressive.

Unfortunately, the fine work of Donaldson—and editor Conrad Buff IV—is nowhere near enough to forgive the film’s problems.

First and foremost, the script is dumb. An alien civilization dupes the American government into creating an emissary and that emissary will try to wipe out the human race. Now, that idea isn’t dumb, it’s just an idea. Writer Dennis Feldman’s execution of that idea is awful though. The guy can’t write. Though I might just be blaming him more so I don’t have to be so negative about the actors.

Alfred Molina gives a good performance. Marg Helgenberger isn’t bad. Michael Madsen’s awful most of the time, but fine when he and Helgenberger are flirting. It makes one wonder what she’d have been able to do with a better costar.

Ben Kingsley and Forest Whitaker make up the rest of the principal cast. Both are terrible. Kingsley’s unimaginably bad; he’s trying a Southern accent and it fails over and over again. He’s just awful. Whitaker’s problem is the script. His character’s writing is particularly bad.

Speaking of bad, there’s some lame nineties CG in Species too.

Species is a weak film. Great direction, terrible result overall.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Donaldson; written by Dennis Feldman; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Conrad Buff IV; music by Christopher Young; production designer, John Muto; produced by Feldman and Frank Mancuso Jr.; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Ben Kingsley (Xavier Fitch), Michael Madsen (Preston Lennox), Alfred Molina (Dr. Stephen Arden), Forest Whitaker (Dan Smithson), Marg Helgenberger (Dr. Laura Baker), Natasha Henstridge (Sil) and Michelle Williams (Young Sil).


Wonder Woman (2009, Lauren Montgomery)

They really should have cast Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman. Never thought I’d be typing those words–even if it is just voice casting–but Dawson is so much better than Keri Russell, whose Wonder Woman comes off as dependent on Nathan Fillion’s male for everything down to pseudo-feminist banter. Russell’s voice defers and doesn’t suggest any authority–well, except the script also bestows Fillion’s character kung fu on par with the Amazonian goddesses (are they goddesses, it’s never clear), which confuses things even further.

But Wonder Woman is still pretty good, even if its sexual politics are all trite platitudes. The most honest moment comes at the end, when it’s suggested men, even acting under the best of circumstances, need to be coddled by women into believing they, men, are still capable of offering something to the “weaker” sex. It seems completely unintentional, since only a few scenes before the whole problem with the world is boiled down to warrior women stepping away from it. You know who should have written Wonder Woman–Lily Tomlin. Was she too busy? A Wonder Woman movie written by a feminist icon, one who’s had time to reflect on the movement… would have been spectacular. Instead they turned it into a… pardon the expression… neutered Disney movie.

Well, neutered but still with lots of killing, sexual innuendo and almost a curse word.

It’s a pleasant surprise to be sure, but would have been as a feminist reaction to the Disney Princess “franchise.”

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Lauren Montgomery; screenplay by Michael Jelenic, based on a story by Gail Simone and Jelenic and the DC Comics character created by William M. Marston; edited by Rob Desales; music by Christopher Drake; produced by Bruce W. Timm; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Keri Russell (Diana), Nathan Fillion (Steve Trevor), Alfred Molina (Ares), Rosario Dawson (Artemis), Marg Helgenberger (Hera), Oliver Platt (Hades), Virginia Madsen (Hippolyta), Julianne Grossman (Etta Candy), Vicki Lewis (Persephone) and David McCallum (Zeus).


The Lodger (2009, David Ondaatje)

Okay, I thought Lodger auteur David Ondaatje was really his uncle (English Patient author) Michael Ondaatje. I wished I’d checked before starting the movie… even with Hope Davis in it, I’m not sure I would have watched it. It really changes my impression of it. All of the stupid zooming and fast-forwarding and post-production nonsense, I was going to give Michael Ondaatje, author, the benefit of the doubt. Like he was trying to do something with film one can only do in fiction, with pacing and choice description. It doesn’t work in The Lodger, but at least I thought I knew where Michael Ondaatje was going with it. Where’s David Ondaatje, filmmaker (of no other features), going with it in The Lodger?

On the express train to Crapsville. (Oh, how is Crapsville not a real word, Apple spell check… you don’t think lollygag is a real word either and it is). David Ondaatje doesn’t even have a good reason for making The Lodger, a Jack the Ripper novel adapted four times before. Michael Ondaatje got the benefit out the doubt, again, for trying to do a post-modern adaptation (it doesn’t work, but then I assumed Michael Ondaatje, who writes novels I’d probably never read–Miramax fiction should be a genre–was bound to fail). Is David Ondaatje writing a post-modern Jack the Ripper serial killer movie?

No, he’s not. Unfortunately, I can’t even tell you, the person reading this response, what Ondaatje is doing. But I’ll give you a clue. He references, rather well, actually, The Matrix in some dialogue. What Ondaatje is doing with The Lodger is very similar to what another 1999 big studio release (but not a successful one) did. Why’s he doing it? Because he doesn’t really have much of a story. I just figured Michael Ondaatje wrote a couple outlines for short stories and turned them into a movie… You know, I could at least understand how Michael Ondaatje would get a green light to make this film, but I can’t figure out how David Ondaatje did.

Davis is good. She doesn’t deserve these kinds of roles. Watching The Lodger, I kept remembering all the great work she’s done through her career and how she’s never gotten the respect an actor of her stature deserves. Similarly, what’s Alfred Molina doing in this kind of a movie? His harried cop slash suspect isn’t a great character, but Molina brings some real professionalism to the role. He’s great. The two cast members who kind of belong in this movie, which is very similar to USA original movies from the mid-1990s, are Shane West and Donal Logue. Logue’s a lout. Whoop dee doo, Logue’s always playing a lout. Slightly more interesting is West, who showed a lot of promise at some point in his career; he isn’t terrible, but he isn’t any good. Philip Baker Hall shows up to cash a paycheck in what might be the laziest performance I’ve ever seen him give. Rachael Leigh Cook has gotten less terrible over the years.

And Simon Baker, as the titular Lodger… he’s not in it enough. Baker’s basically playing a cipher, but Davis works well with him and it would have been nice for the film to have better scenes throughout.

Ondaatje’s plot actually isn’t terrible. It’s a pointless mystery running ninety-some minutes… you know, just like a USA original movie.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by David Ondaatje; screenplay by Ondaatje, based on the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes; director of photography, David A. Armstrong; edited by William Flicker; music by John Frizzell; production designer, Franco-Giacomo Carbone; produced by Michael Mailer and Ondaatje; released by Stage 6 Films.

Starring Alfred Molina (Chandler Manning), Hope Davis (Ellen Bunting), Shane West (Street Wilkenson), Donal Logue (Bunting), Philip Baker Hall (Captain Smith), Rachael Leigh Cook (Amanda), Rebecca Pidgeon (Dr. Jessica Westmin), Simon Baker (Malcolm), François Chau (Sam) and Mel Harris (Margaret).


Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)

Don Siegel had an anecdote about the length of titles. He showed them to his boss, who kept asking for them to be longer, then showed them to the boss again, telling him each time he’d made the changes. In fact, he had not–his boss was simply familiar with the titles and couldn’t gauge the experience fresh after the first viewing.

The last time I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, I gave it three and a half. A first for the Stop Button, a post about a previously viewed film. Before starting the film, I figured I’d only write it up again if the star rating changed. Much to my surprise–as Raiders goes through many two and a half (and maybe even two) star lulls at times–I realized, this viewing, definitely a four star one. The last time, I think, I hadn’t seen the film in quite a long time and was waiting for scenes and sequences, my memory of the film interfering with my viewing of the film itself.

It’s still a problematic four. The ending, where the film needs a boost, works only because of the John Williams score. There’s the end music, closing the story, then the bump to the iconic theme music. Maybe it’s as simple as I didn’t watch it long enough last time, to let the music envelope me. Because, more than any other Williams score (Raiders being at the high point of his career, both in terms of quality and cinematic importance), this one carries a lot of weight for the film. It does a lot of the heavy lifting.

It doesn’t do all the heavy lifting–Harrison Ford, from the first grin, has most of it. That grin, as he’s falling into the pit in the opening sequence, establishes the character. Everything else–from his interactions with Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies, even Karen Allen–is just gravy. Spielberg’s direction is good, but–as the ending (compared to Close Encounters) illustrates–is far from extraordinary.

The supporting cast–particularly Allen, Rhys-Davies and Paul Freeman (even if his French accent is a little iffy)–are all great. There’s not a weak performance in the film and a lot of the smaller ones are singular (I’m thinking of Don Fellows).

The problems are plot ones. There are lulls due to the (requisite) epical storytelling, but it goes further. Even when the events aren’t perturbing the plot, some of Spielberg’s action sequences get a little long. Others, like the truck sequence, are perfect.

I was trying to guess how many times I’ve seen Raiders. I’m thinking it’s got to be around fifteen. Maybe the last viewing, I tried to find something new in it. I don’t think there is (except some in jokes, I’m sure) and, instead of examining it, I should have just been enjoying it.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman; director of photography, Douglas Slocombe; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Frank Marshall; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood), Paul Freeman (Dr. Rene Belloq), Ronald Lacey (Major Arnold Toht), John Rhys-Davies (Sallah), Denholm Elliott (Dr. Marcus Brody), Alfred Molina (Satipo), Wolf Kahler (Colonel Dietrich), Anthony Higgins (Gobler), Vic Tablian (Barranca), Don Fellows (Col. Musgrove) and William Hootkins (Major Eaton).


Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)

Maybe it was the viewing atmosphere… I also was obsessing about something I’d read from either Spielberg or Lucas claiming credit for “MTV-style” editing with Raiders. Once the film was edited, the two went through and snipped a few frames at each edit point to hurry the film along. As I watched Raiders tonight, it all did feel very hurried.

The film is excellent–exciting, well-written, beautifully directed–but nothing sat, nothing resonated. I expected a transcendent experience (similar to the one Star Wars produces), but found myself very aware of the film. Not obsessively–I wasn’t watching the clock to see how long each sequence went and I didn’t time how long Indiana Jones and the audience were deceived about Marion’s death, but I did notice all the work being done in the film. Primarily, John Williams’ score. From the first sequence–when Indy’s running in South America to the plane–Williams’ score does more work than anything else in the film. It’s not bad–it’s a great score–but I just couldn’t separate my observation from the experience. The film just didn’t force me to do it.

Similarly, lots of little moments in the script do a lot of work in the shortest time possible–the rapid-fire humanization of Indiana Jones, his comedic accidents, the establishing of Indy and Sallah’s kids–it’s all fast and it’s all precise, and maybe it’s too fast and too precise for this presentation. The Raiders of the Lost Ark DVD is the cleanest DVD presentation I have ever seen. It doesn’t look like a movie, it looks like a Pixar digitalization. There are no DVD artifacts, which is fine, but there is no film grain either, which is bad. Raiders plays like one of those shows recorded on video back in the 1980s and 1990s, when everything just looked a little off. And Raiders shouldn’t look off.

I haven’t seen the film in eight or nine years and then it was in optimal settings–without looking for the Spielberg/Lucas editing innovation–on LaserDisc. I’ll have to watch Raiders again in similar conditions, but it was a rather unsentimental experience, which I wasn’t expecting from a film I’ve probably seen twenty times.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman; director of photography, Douglas Slocombe; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Frank Marshall; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood), Paul Freeman (Dr. Rene Belloq), Ronald Lacey (Major Arnold Toht), John Rhys-Davies (Sallah), Denholm Elliott (Dr. Marcus Brody), Alfred Molina (Satipo), Wolf Kahler (Colonel Dietrich), Anthony Higgins (Gobler), Vic Tablian (Barranca), Don Fellows (Col. Musgrove) and William Hootkins (Major Eaton).


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