Sunday, September 28, 2014

Review: The Equalizer

Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
Robert McCall, Denzel Washington's character in Antoine Fuqua's entertaining but completely preposterous "The Equalizer," is more similar to Jason Vorhees than your typical action film hero. During the course of the film's two-plus hours, McCall creeps stealthily around in the dark, picking off Russian mobsters courtesy of barbed wire nooses, knives, corkscrews, microwaves, arrows and other sharp looking devices.

This is one of those films in which the hero can take on 20 men without gaining a scratch or even breaking a sweat. In other words, it can be a whole lot of fun if you don't consider who utterly absurd it often is.

Based on the 1980's TV show of the same name, Fuqua's film introduces Robert as a kind man who works at an emporium baring some resemblance to Home Depot in a suburb of Boston. He attempts to assist an overweight co-worker drop some pounds, so that he can nab a gig as a security guard and comes to the rescue of a young Russian prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz), whom he sees nightly at a quiet diner, where he sits in a corner by himself reading "The Old Man and the Sea."

Moretz's Teri is badly beaten one evening by a pimp and ends up in the hospital, leading McCall to track down the Russian crew for whom she works in an attempt to pay for her freedom. When that doesn't work, he goes to town with the aforementioned corkscrew and other assorted sharp and blunt objects.

A sadistic Russian enforcer named Teddy (Marton Csokas) arrives in town with the intention of cleaning up the mess made by McCall, whom he tracks, but has difficulty finding out who he really is. This one of the film's problems - for much of the picture, McCall is a vague figure. At one point, he pays a visit to some old friends (Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman) and we find out whom his previous employer was as well as obtain some minor information about the death of McCall's wife. But otherwise, the character is an enigma.

That being said, Washington is an actor who can do a lot with a little as is typically the case when he is cast in action films similar to this one. The only slight disappointment here is that the picture marks his reunion with director Antoine Fuqua, with whom he previously worked together on "Training Day," which netted him the Best Actor Oscar. "The Equalizer" is pretty entertaining, but never much more than a straightforward action movie with little in the way of character development and lots of violence.

So, those hoping to see Washington deliver the type of gravitas that you can typically expect from the actor might be a little disappointed - not that he doesn't bring the goods, but that he's given little with which to work. But those hoping for an enjoyable and fast paced action thriller will likely be satisfied.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Review: The Zero Theorem

Image courtesy of Amplify.
To give credit where it's due, director Terry Gilliam knows how to craft a memorable image. His films' fantastical stories often provide ample room for visual wizardry, quite often including several interesting things taking place within the space of a single shot. The director's resume includes the stunning "Brazil," the underrated "The Fisher King" and "12 Monkeys," a solid remake of Chris Marker's "La Jetee."

But in recent years, Gilliam's work has been scattershot, to say the least. "The Brothers Grimm" included some terrific imagery, but it was a missed opportunity. His "Tideland" was a career low and an absolute disaster, while "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" hardly registered.

His latest, "The Zero Theorem," can be commended for including the type of shots you'd typically expect in a Gilliam film, including a stunning closing image of a sunset, and some committed performances by its cast. But the picture is merely theoretical, bouncing around ideas in search of a fully realized concept and a clustered script that doesn't help to clarify exactly what the director is aiming for here.

Chrisoph Waltz plays Qohen, a computer genius working for a company called Mancom in a distant future and taking on the titular project that aims to find whether life has meaning by applying various mathematical formulas through his machinery.

The picture features a variety of supporting characters, including Matt Damon as Qohen's enigmatic boss, David Thewlis as a coworker who always forgets his name, Melanie Thierry as a call-girl and muse, Ben Whishaw and Peter Stormare as a pair of doctors, Tilda Swinton as a shrink and Lucas Hedges as a teenager who attempts to assist Qohen in his quest. But these characters come off as clutter, rather than adding anything to the overall theme, which is pretty murky.

And while the material is performed energetically, it often feels repetitive. One scene blends into the next and then the next. The frame is filled with colorful visuals, from Qohen's strangely decorated home and workspace to the the nightclub where he meets Thierry's character, but they serve as distractions to a narrative that is already all over the map.

Gilliam can be a brilliant director, but in recent years his visual style and the way he directs his actors to be as eccentric as possible has overshadowed the ideas at play in his movies. I believe the ingredients are there in most of his pictures, but his recent work feels as if it needs a bit more discipline. "The Zero Theorem" just didn't work for me. I'll hope that his next one will come together more smoothly.

Review: Tusk

Image courtesy of A24.
On the one hand, I can appreciate that Kevin Smith attempts to break out into new territory with the extremely strange "Tusk," a horror film about a cynical podcast host captured by a deranged Canadian who attempts to turn him into a walrus. On the other, I wish the result had been better.

In the mid-90s, Smith drew praise for his witty banter and low key cinematic style in films such as "Clerks," "Chasing Amy" and the controversial "Dogma." Since the turn of the 21st century, it's been more of a struggle for the filmmaker with results ranging from good ("Clerks II") or mediocre ("Red State") to catastrophic ("Cop Out"). "Tusk" can probably be lumped in with "Red State," also a horror film, as a picture that wins points for attempting something different, but with middling results.

Justin Long plays Wallace Bryton, who hosts a popular podcast with his buddy Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) during which the duo poke fun at people who embarrass themselves online. Wallace decides to travel to Canada to interview the "Kill Bill Kid," a guy who accidentally slices off his leg in fairly gory detail in a You Tube clip while wielding a sword. For the sake of moving the picture forward, you've got to extend your disbelief to accept that the poor schmuck would actually post the video online.

Upon arriving in the "Great White North," to which Canada is continuously referred in the film, Wallace finds that his interview is not going to happen during a sequence that is genuinely affecting. But Wallace stumbles across another oddball - Howard Howe (Michael Parks) - who promises to regale him with eccentric stories, so he takes the bait.

Howe tells Wallace that he once met Ernest Hemingway while fighting in World War II and spins a strange story about how he was once saved by a walrus after his ship capsized. But after taking a few sips of some tea that has obviously been spiked, Wallace passes out and awakens to find that one of his legs has been removed and he is being held captive by the demented Howe.

I think it's safe to say I'm not giving away anything here, considering how "Tusk" is being marketed, but Howe's ultimate plan is to sew Wallace's arms to his torso, remove his legs, add tusks to his mouth and place him inside a walrus suit made up of human skin, where he will forever remain as the psychopath's beloved pet.

The film, which plays as a slightly less gory version of "The Human Centipede," originated from a podcast and it's clear to see that its concept is slightly half-baked. It's as if Smith thought the outrageous storyline would sell itself without completely mapping it out. That being said, the picture gets some decent mileage out of the Golden Rule, in that those who mistreat others may have some pretty nasty karma heading their way.

One of my problems with the film is that Wallace is portrayed as such an unrepentant jerk that he's difficult to sympathize with and it becomes obvious late in the film that this was a calculated move to eventually set up his capacity to show empathy and display emotion.

Also, the screenplay takes great pains to poke fun at Canadians, most of whom say "eh" and "aboot" (about) over and over throughout the film. It's not that I'm being overly sensitive - but it's just not that funny. And Johnny Depp pops up in a cameo as an Inspector Clouseau-type character who is, at first, amusing, but eventually stops the action dead in its tracks during every scene in which he is featured. A sequence during which he recalls previously meeting Howe is almost painful to watch.

I'll give Smith credit for attempting something different with "Tusk" and I can appreciate that his film contains some ideas, despite their not being completely developed. But those anticipating the Kevin Smith comeback might have to wait a little longer.

Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
"People are afraid of the wrong things," claims one of the serial killers in Scott Frank's "A Walk Among the Tombstones," as he scans a story in the newspaper about Y2K fears. Indeed, the psychotic duo that act as the villains in this grim 1999-set thriller are significantly scarier than the Internet crash that never came. But a shot near the film's end showing a gloomy Manhattan skyline with World Trade Center towers intact should be an indicator that this film has a little bit more on its mind than your typical detective story.

Liam Neeson gives one of his finest performances in recent memory as Matt Scudder, the disgraced cop from Lawrence Block's novels who has taken on a gig as a private eye and occasionally "does favors for people and accepts gifts in return." In other words, he's not licensed. Rather than taking another stab at playing up his recent tongue-in-cheek turn as an unlikely action hero in films such as "Non Stop" and "Taken," Neeson digs deeper into his role as Scudder.

The picture opens in 1991 as Scudder engages in a shoot out with some criminals that takes a tragic turn. Nine years later, he slinks about the streets of overcast Manhattan, taking on detective work. During an AA meeting, he is asked to take on a case involving a kidnapped woman. As it turns out, the client is a drug trafficker whose wife was nabbed by two men demanding money. After the trafficker paid them off, they sent the woman back to him piece by piece. In his course of researching the case, Scudder finds that the victim may not have been the first.

During an evening of investigating at a library, Scudder ends up befriending a homeless black teenager named TJ (Brian 'Astro' Bradley). And in one of the film's biggest surprises, this friendship does not end up being the cliched plot line that you might fear it'll become. Rather, TJ becomes obsessed with learning Scudder's trade and the detective sort of obliges him and, at the same time, pays TJ for odds and ends.

As a thriller, "Tombstones" treads some familiar ground in terms of how its story unfolds. Scudder tracks the killers, interviews a creepy witness who may or may not have some involvement in the case and, of course, another victim is nabbed, leaving Scudder a small window of time to recover her before she suffers a grisly death.

And yet, the material works because the film has more going on thematically than most of its kind, especially when presented as a pre-Y2K and 9/11 thriller, and features some solid writing, strong performances and a creepy mood. The film's big showdown provides a final bonus in that it not only brings a little catharsis, but in doing so further develops its lead character.

One review of "Tombstones" noted that Hollywood doesn't make this type of film anymore - that is, an old fashioned, hard boiled noir thriller. And that's not entirely true as the last year has seen the release of Denis Villeneuve's woefully underrated "Prisoners" and the debut of the phenomenal HBO show "True Detective." But it's true that Frank's film, which follows his 2007 debut "The Lookout," is among the few modern thrillers that emphasize mood and characterization over action and manage to slip in some thoughtful ideas on how we live now.

Needless to say, I'd highly recommend it. It's one of the better examples of its genre in recent memory.

Review: This Is Where I Leave You

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
"This is Where I Leave You" is a film I could almost recommend. Despite its resorting to cliches familiar to anyone who has ever seen a comedy about a dysfunctional family, the picture is occasionally funny and fairly agreeable.

Based on the acclaimed novel by Jonathan Tropper, the film spends a week in the lives of the Altman family as they gather to sit shiva for their patriarch following his death. Each of the film's characters comes equipped with their own baggage.

First, there's Judd (Jason Bateman), a producer who catches his wife in bed with the loud mouthed radio talk show personality (Dax Shepard) for whom he works. His siblings include Wendy (Tina Fey), whose marriage is crumbling and still fancies the brain damaged man (Timothy Olyphant) who lives across the street, older brother Paul (Corey Stoll of "House of Cards"), who is taking over the family business, and wild child Phillip (Adam Driver), who shows up with his shrink, an older woman who is doubling as his weekend fling. Hillary (Jane Fonda), the clan's matriarch, also has a few secrets to hide.

The movie does not tread any new ground, but rather churns out the same type of dysfunctional indie problems to which we've become accustomed - infidelity, career decisions, difficulty conceiving a child, old flames, etc. There's some sweetness to be found between Judd and Penny (Rose Byrne), a woman who remained in the small town where the Altman kids grew up and always nurtured a crush on Bateman's character. She spends much of her day taking laps around an ice skating rink with a pretty decent '80s soundtrack.

One of the film's problems likely stem from those behind the camera. The picture is directed by Shawn Levy, who is primarily known for comedies such as "Night at the Museum" and "The Internship." Here, he directs a drama infused with comedic bits as if it were a sitcom and some of the running gags (a child who is not shy about sharing his bathroom rituals, Fonda's boob job) just aren't that funny.

So, "This is Where I Leave You" is essentially a mixed bag. But while I can't exactly endorse it, you could do a lot worse during a trip to the multiplex, considering some of the other pictures currently playing.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company.
Ned Benson's ambitious "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" is a movie with a flawed script made better by the presence of some talented individuals. Benson shot two pictures - "DOER: Her" and "DOER: Him," both of which will be released separately next month - about the dissolution of a marriage following the death of a child and has edited those two films together into one movie, "DOER: Them."

I have not seen the two separate films, which take the perspectives of the husband, Conor (James McAvoy), and wife, Eleanor (Jessica Chastain). And so it is possible that the two films do a better job of expanding the story of this couple, who are broken up at the film's beginning after their young son has died from an unexplained cause and eventually come to some sort of reconciliation. As it stands, this combined version is a pretty good movie with good performances from its cast that elevate the occasionally shaky material.

At the film's beginning, Eleanor attempts to jump off a bridge and ends up moving back to Connecticut with her father (William Hurt) and mother (Isabelle Huppert, whose contract must have stipulated that she never be without a glass of wine in hand) to try to get her life back on track. Her father suggests she take some classes at The New School, where she bonds with a spunky teacher (Viola Davis).

Meanwhile, Conor is having a rough time keeping his Manhattan dive bar/eatery afloat and is determined not to ask for assistance from his culinary genius father (Ciaran Hinds). It's unclear how much time has passed since Conor and Eleanor's relationship fell apart, but at one point Conor hears that his estranged wife is taking classes and he begins stalking her.

One of the problems with the film's script is that both characters - but especially Eleanor - are enigmas. We know hardly anything about them or their relationship prior to their son's death or even the circumstances of his passing. Much of what we see is how the couple handles their grief separately - Conor attempts to get back into the routine of work, while Eleanor aimlessly goes from one idea (school) to the next (traveling to Paris). Although we feel for the characters, it's more in the generic way we'd feel for anyone who has undergone such a tragedy and not because we know them very well.

That being said, the cast is pretty solid. Chastain brings to life her character as best she can, considering how vague Eleanor often is toward her family, while McAvoy does a nice job of balancing his character's anger with melancholy due to the loss of his relationship and disappointment as a result of his failing business. Hurt has a memorable scene when he discusses a day at the beach with Eleanor when she was a girl and both Huppert and Davis provide some strong supporting work.

So, I can recommend "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby," but with the caveat that I haven't seen the "Her" and "Him" films and I'm only basing this review on the edited "Them" version. And that version, while appropriately moody and well acted, has some flaws.

Review: Wetlands

Image courtesy of Strand Releasing.
Here's a film that I can respect, but at the same time believe doesn't quite work. Based on the controversial and popular novel by Charlotte Roche, "Wetlands" is a gleefully crass picture that might have made John Waters proud in his heyday.

And yet the picture is not offensive - nor does it aim to be. The film's lead character - Helen (a very committed Carla Juri) - is not the type to shy away from her sexuality and has no qualms about being just as crude as your average male. This is one of the elements that has drawn some praise for the film. Typically, movies celebrate men behaving badly, but frown upon women doing the same, so "Wetlands," at times, feels like something radically new.

And yet, for a liberated film, "Wetlands" feels a bit shackled by its increasing necessity to outdo itself. The film opens with Helen proudly discussing her lack of hygiene and giving us a pretty extreme example as she enters barefoot into a toilet that would make the characters from "Trainspotting" blush and rubs her bottom and other parts all over the toilet lid, which is covered with all manner of stains and one very prominent pubic hair.

In voice over, Helen tells us of her long-time battle against hemorrhoids and, early in the film, she accidentally shaves too close to one of them, necessitating several days' stay at a hospital, where she befriends a male nurse, whom she regales with her bawdy tales and life's history.

One of the problems with David Wnendt's film is that it too often attempts to psychoanalyze Helen's free spirited sexuality and shock tactics and explains her behavior away through flashbacks of her negligent parents - a careless father and a mother who became obsessed with religion after attempting suicide. Helen is a unique character, so attempting to fit her into a psychological profile such as this is, in my opinion, a mistake.

Another problem with "Wetlands" is that its onslaught of provocations - which include a group of men adding, um, flavor to a pizza and a tampon swap - begin to feel calculated and the picture's continuous flights of fancy make it seem unfocused. Helen's story will be going in one direction and then she'll suddenly stop and make several digressions, none of which add much to her story and most of which are merely additional scenes involving fecal matter or bodily functions. Although a scene in which she and a pal are high on some sort of drug is pretty effective.

So, while I can appreciate that the film takes an approach toward female sexuality that is rarely seen, I just wish the material could have made for a better movie. As it stands, "Wetlands" is fairly provocative, but it frequently feels as if it is trying too hard to be so.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Review: The Skeleton Twins

Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions.
Craig Johnson's "The Skeleton Twins" trots out some familiar dysfunctional indie movie storylines, but what makes the material work so well is the casting of "Saturday Night Live" alums Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as the titular duo, a pair of estranged siblings who reunite during a particularly trying period in both of their lives.

At the film's beginning, Milo (Hader) bungles a suicide attempt due to what appears to be a failed relationship and Maggie (Wiig), whom he hasn't seen in a decade, shows up at his hospital bedside and invites him to come stay with her for a while in upstate New York.

Milo may be pining for a love gone bad and miserable due to his failed acting career - his snide remark about an Oscar win will likely leave you in stitches - but Maggie has some issues of her own, namely that she is unable to break it to her doting husband (Luke Wilson) that she's not yet ready to have a child - and even takes some drastic measures to avoid doing so - and is having an affair with her scuba diving coach.

As I said, the material is not necessarily anything we haven't seen before as dysfunctional families are the bread and butter of American independent films. But Wiig and Hader - who, while quite funny in the picture, manage to break out of the comedic typecasting mold here by delivering some pretty strong dramatic performances - make these characters come alive.

There are more than a few sequences that could have been less effective and affecting had other actors been in the roles, but Wiig and Hader are very good fits for the characters. And Wilson brings some depth and humor to his role as Maggie's good natured husband who refuses to believe the worst of others. Had any other actors taken part in a lip synch of all four minutes or so of Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now," I might have rolled my eyes - but Wiig and Hader pull off the sequence, making it one of the funniest - and strangely moving - moments in the movie.

There are some subplots - mostly pertaining to the past, including the siblings' relationship with their mother and one of Milo's former lovers - that threaten to crush their semi-repaired relationship toward the picture's end and I like that Johnson does not try to wrap everything up with a neat little bow. These are people who have long been struggling, so the picture rightfully doesn't correct all their worries in the manner that a lesser film might have.

"The Skeleton Twins" is often very funny, but it's also a dramatically sound picture about damaged people. And it speaks to Wiig and Hader's talents that they are just as convincing in straightforward roles as they are in comedic ones. I hope they work together again in either capacity in the near future.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Review: The Congress

Image courtesy of Drafthouse Films.
Ari Folman's sci-fi satire "The Congress" has such a unique premise that it's unfortunate when the film, which is the director's first since his controversial "Waltz with Bashir," eventually falls apart a little toward its finale.

The picture, which begins as a live action Hollywood drama before taking a strange turn into futuristic animated territory, presents an acerbic view of the current state of the movie business and acts as a warning to a world that has become consumed with technology.

At the film's beginning, Robin Wright plays a version of herself known as Robin and the character combines actual moments from the actress's career - such as starring in "The Princess Bride" and "Forrest Gump" - with a storyline I assume is fictional in which Wright has burned all her bridges in Hollywood - which we know not to be true due to her popping up in such recent movies as "A Most Wanted Man" and her Emmy nominated work in "House of Cards" - by turning down numerous roles and taking long periods of time off from acting to tend to her two children, a rebellious teenager and a younger son who is slowly going blind and deaf.

Robin meets with a sleazy studio executive (Danny Huston), who offers her a strange "contract" that he claims will be the future of filmmaking. All actors, he tells her, will soon be obsolete as Hollywood's new cost-cutting method of making movies involves scanning a thespian's "image" (their features, expressions and bodies) and using them as they please via digital technology to populate thousands of movies for generations to come. In other words, their acting will no longer be necessary.

Folman uses these ideas not only to criticize the direction in which our culture is heading - that is, stories and faces being replaced by digitally created images - but also to lambast Hollywood's lack of use for women of a certain age. Robin is told by Huston's executive that she is past her prime and her digitally enhanced "image" will make her appear as if she were 34 years old again. So far, so good.

Then, the film leaps 20 years into the future and, after that, (possibly) another several decades or so to a time when people no longer live out their bleak existences on a crumbling Earth, but rather exist in animated dreams straight out of "Vanilla Sky" where they can be whomever they choose.

Robin attends a press junket with the International Congress, a virtual reality conference where the studio who bought Wright's image will announce that future audiences will literally be able to eat and drink the actress's essence, which Huston's character announces as the future of virtual entertainment. But chaos breaks out during the conference and a revolution is staged. Robin is saved by a man (Jon Hamm, animated), with whom she eventually becomes romantically involved.

And then... well, I can't quite say. Robin attempts to break out of her animated existence and track down her son with the help of a doctor (Paul Giamatti, not animated), who once tended to him. The second half of the film is often visually stunning, but Folman begins to lose track of the narrative and his ideas don't quite cohere. "The Congress" is a provocative film and a unique take on humanity's becoming enslaved to a virtual reality, although last year's "Her" took a more pointed view on the matter.

As is evidenced by his powerful "Waltz with Bashir" and this latest picture, Folman does not shy away from controversial or thought provoking material. His latest movie may not always work, but you can't fault him for a lack of ambition.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Review: As Above, So Below

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Just when I thought I couldn't handle another found footage horror movie, one comes along that is actually pretty frightening and better conceived than most of its brethren. That being said, I still can't wholeheartedly endorse the picture. Its dialogue is frequently exposition after exposition - and when it's not, it fares even worse. However, "As Above, So Below" is still a pretty jolting experience based on an intriguing concept.

Rather than give a rundown of the endless string of clues that lead our protagonists - explorer Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), her pal George (Ben Feldman), a camera man and a few French tour guides - to the catacombs of Paris, suffice it to say that they come to believe that the fabled Philosopher's Stone, which was believed to help rejuvenate the body and grant eternal life, is buried within them.

This is a great concept because, quite frankly, I can think of nothing creepier than crawling around in a darkened tomb that is home to more than six million corpses. And there's a clever twist that involves the explorers coming across the words "abandon all hope ye who enter here." Look that up and see what it entails.

If you're uncomfortable watching extremely shaky camera work, then this is not the film for you. In fact, I'd say this picture is the best (or worst, depending on how you view the style) example in recent memory. I didn't have a problem with it, but I heard others exiting the theater talking of migraines.

And as for the aforementioned dialogue, when characters aren't spouting off hypotheses, they're discussing barely developed back stories about suicidal fathers and drowned brothers. The script, in other words, doesn't add up to much.

On the other hand, the filmmakers do a pretty solid job of creating a claustrophobic effect as the characters are often forced to crawl down tight corridors, walk through muddy water or swim into creepy crevasses. I truly wonder where and how they filmed the picture as it doesn't look to have been a comfortable shoot.

And the scares are pretty genuinely earned. Much of what we see is darkness with slight illumination coming from the headlamps worn on the characters' heads, making it easy for stuff to suddenly appear before your eyes without having the generic effect in so many of these types of movies where things fly out at you. And another element of "As Above, So Below" that I appreciated was that it is not quite as bleak as some of the others of its genre.

It's certainly not the best found footage movie (it doesn't come close to comparing to "The Blair Witch Project"), but it's a hell of a lot better than all those dreadful "Paranormal Activity" sequels - and certainly scarier.

Review: Love is Strange

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Ira Sachs' "Love is Strange" is a funny, sweet, sad and wonderfully acted picture that is among the best of the filmmaker's movies about relationships faced with obstacles, including "Married Life," "Keep the Lights On" and "Forty Shades of Blue."

His latest is pretty straightforward in terms of narrative - that is, we observe the lives of a couple and their group of friends during a particularly challenging period, but Sachs also manages to leave enough ambiguity in the story to keep us compelled and he sort of daringly refuses to answer a few questions about several characters that might leave some audience members unsatisfied. But I admire the way he leaves some of the story to our imaginations.

At the beginning of the picture, a couple of 40 years - music teacher George (Alfred Molina) and painter Ben (John Lithgow) - are getting married following New York's ruling in favor of marriage equality. But an act of bigotry wreaks havoc on their lives as the Catholic school where George works fires him, arguing that by making his relationship public (in other words, by marrying), he has violated the school's contract. One of the better screenwriting moments occurs when the man who fires George then asks him to pray with him - and George gives just about as good an answer as you could expect of anyone.

George is out of work and Ben lives on a pension, making it impossible for them to continue being able to afford their condo, so they gather their friends and relatives to ask if they could crash with any of them for a while. One relative proposes their staying at her home in Poughkeepsie, but George's private lessons and Ben's gallery shows make that impossible.

So, Ben ends up staying with his favorite nephew, Elliot (Darren E. Burrows) and his wife, Kate (Marisa Tomei), whose relationship with Ben increasingly becomes strained as he prevents her from writing her novel by chattering to her. Also, Elliot and Kate have a teenage son, Joey (Charlie Tahan), who may or may not be having a romantic relationship with a Russian boy named Vlad (Eric Tabach).

George ends up crashing on the couch of a gay couple with whom he and Ben are friends. The two men, both of whom are cops, are kind to George, but are also significantly younger and their constant parties at the apartment often prove to be too much for the music teacher.

One of the unique aspects of the film is that it primarily focuses on the relationships between George and his housemates and Ben and his family, rather than just on the two protagonists. There never appears to be much of a possibility of their time spent apart causing a rift in their own relationship. "Love is Strange" is a film about how people with conflicting personalities must deal with one another when forced to live in close quarters.

And as I mentioned before, there are a few shades of ambiguity here. What's the deal with Joey and Vlad? And is Joey being sincere when he tells his uncle about a girl on whom he has a crush? Why do Elliot and Kate appear to be so tense around one another?

At its core, "Love is Strange" is a character piece - and one in which virtually all the characters are fully realized. By the end of the picture, we feel as if we've gotten to know these people. The entire cast is great, but Molina and Lithgow are the heart and soul of the movie. Both of them are terrific. And the film's title is a funny thing - it could likely apply to more than one of the film's many relationships.