Monthly Archives: March 2015

Review – Still Alice (12a) [2015]

Still Alice - titler banner

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Directors:

  • Richard Glatzer – Grief, The Fluffer, The Last of Robin Hood
  • Wash Westmoreland – The Fluffer, Totally Gay!, The Last of Robin Hood

Cast:

  • Julianne Moore – Nine Months, Children of Men, The Kids Are Alright, Seventh Son
  • Alec Baldwin – Pearl Harbour, The Aviator, Blue Jasmine, Mission: Impossible V
  • Kristen Stewart – Jumper, Twilight I-V, Snow White and The Huntsman, Clouds of Sils Maria
  • Kate Bosworth – Remember The Titans, 21, Straw Dogs, Before I Wake
  • Shane McRae – All Over Again, Killer Pad, The Help, Stereotypically You
  • Hunter Parrish – Steal Me, Freedom Writers, It’s Complicated, Hell Of A View
  • Stephen Kunken – The Girl In The Park, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Wolf of Wall Street, Bridge Of Spies

Music Composer:

  • Ilan Eshkeri – Layer Cake, Kick-Ass, Coriolanus, Black Sea, Don Verdean

Some films have scenes that are genuinely heart-breaking. When Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore) hangs himself in The Shawkshank Redemption, when Oscar Schindler breaks down in Schindler’s List, and when Simba tries to awaken his fallen father in The Lion King, viewers cannot help but weep at the poignancy of the scenes. Yet, these are only particular scenes that last so long. Still Alice, on the other hand, makes one feel like weeping for pretty much the movie’s entire run time as it is so heart-breaking.

Professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) lecturing  her students at the start of the film.

Professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) lecturing her students at the start of the film.

Still Alice is based on the book with the same title by Lisa Genova. The movie revolves round Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), a phenomenally intelligent and knowledgeable linguistics professor at Columbia University. She is happily married to John (Alec Baldwin), and between them they have three children: Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart). They live in a nice house in a good suburb in New York and they have a summer beach house too. Then, at the age of fifty, Alice is diagnosed with Early On-set Alzheimer’s Disease and her world rapidly falls apart.

Still Alice has a simple plot that is expressed exceptionally well. Directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland have uniquely concentrated (with the exception of one scene) on how the disease affects the victim from the victim’s point of view. To illustrate the moments when the Alzheimer’s is hitting Alice, the world around her fades into fuzziness and she forgets where she is and who she is talking to. This makes for painful viewing as Alice was once an intelligent woman. And the pain viewers feel is enhanced by the superb dialogue that explains what Alice is going through in her (failing) mind. More often than not, the dialogue is so painful, one cries as hard as one did in The Shawshank Redemption, Schindler’s List and The Lion King. Indeed, somehow, every time the word ‘Alzheimer’s’ is mentioned, it feels like a blow to the heart, and the blows hurt even more when we learn that the disease is hereditary.

Alice and John (Alec Baldwin) trying to enjoy some good time together whilst Alice is still herself.

Alice and John (Alec Baldwin) trying to enjoy some good time together whilst Alice is still herself.

Undoubtedly, the key to why Still Alice hurts so much is because of Julianne Moore as the titular Alice. Moore has a rare, graceful beauty which works in her favour in, arguably, the performance of her career. (And that is saying something coming from her extraordinary portfolio). Suffice to say, Moore is fully deserving of her triumphs at the Golden Globes, the Baftas, the Screen Writer’s Guild Awards, and the Oscars because she stunningly encapsulates the problems facing a person with Alzheimer’s. Anyone who has seen a relative, friend or family friend suffer from Alzheimer’s (or Dementia or Parkinson’s) knows what is coming for Moore’s character, and one watches with horror as the disease rapidly robs Alice of her memory, her intelligence, her grace and her dignity. Toward the end of the film, there is a scene wherein one can see the contrast between Alice’s/Moore’s graceful appearance at the beginning of the movie and her appearance toward the end of it. Again, it makes for painful viewing and highlights why Moore was the perfect person for the role.

The rest of the cast take on a supporting role (quite literally) throughout the film. Of all the supporting cast, Kristen Stewart is given the most screen-time and exposition. It is easy to sneer at Stewart due to her numerous Golden Raspberry nominations and victories, her terrible acting in the Twilight Saga and Snow White and The Huntsman, and her affair with Rupert Sanders whilst dating Robert Pattinson (and on top of that she plays a failing actress in Still Alice). Nevertheless, Stewart actually plays her role in Still Alice really well and with enough subtlety and nuance to hint that critics may not always have a field day with her in the future.

Stewart might be the most noteworthy member of the supporting cast, but she is not the only one to play with subtlety and nuance. Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish all play their parts with equal skill too, to portray the Howlands as a normal, (dys)functioning family. Their character’s, like Stewart’s, may not have anything of note to say, and nor do they add much to the story. But this is not a problem because Still Alice is about how the disease impacts upon Alice, and not how it impacts upon her family.

Alice explaining to Lydia (Kristen Stewart) what it is like for her to have Alzheimer's.

Alice explaining to Lydia (Kristen Stewart) what it is like for her to have Alzheimer’s.

No, the movie’s biggest problem is its ending. The final scene just ends anti-climactically, as if Glatzer and Westmoreland ran out of ideas and decided enough was enough. (One hopes that that was not the case, but it feels like it.) Another issue, perhaps, is that the film’s music is unmemorable and that it has been heard before in other films. However, these are relatively small matters, and backhandedly highlight the brilliance of Still Alice.

Over-all, Still Alice is a poignant film that makes for heart-breaking and teary viewing. Due to the acting and the dialogue, the movie superbly demonstrates and elucidates upon how a person with Alzheimer’s Disease sees the world. Central to the film, is Julianne Moore’s incredible performance as the eponymous Alice as it enables viewers to feel the pain that a victim of the disease goes through. In turn, this leaves viewers devastated long after Still Alice concludes.

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Review – It Follows (15) [2015]

It Follows - title banner2

Star Rating: 2/5

Director:

  • David Robert Mitchell – The Myth of the American Sleepover

Cast:

  • Maika Monroe – At Any Price, Labor Day, Echoes Of WarIndependence Day II: Resurgence
  • Keir Gilchrist – Dead Silence, Just Peck, The Heyday Of The Insensitive Bastards, Dark Summer
  • Olivia Luccardi – The Rewrite, Like Sunday, Like Rain, Ironwood
  • Jake Weary – Fred: The Movie I-III, Altitude, Zombeavers, Pretty Little Liars
  • Lili Sepe – Spork
  • Daniel Zovatto – Beneath, Innocence, Revenge, Primal/Ethereal

The basic principle of a horror film is that it should scare people for much, if not all of the film. Why then, with the exception of last year’s The Babadook, have so many recent horror films not been scary in the least? Simply, watch It Follows and find out.

Jay (Maika Monroe) tied up and in an abandoned car park, after her sexual encounter with Hugh (Jake Weary).

Jay (Maika Monroe) tied up and in an abandoned car park, after her sexual encounter with Hugh (Jake Weary).

It Follows centres round nineteen-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe), who lives in the suburbs of Middle America. She goes out on a date with Hugh (Jake Weary) and has sex with him in the back of his car (classy, I know). While taking a break from having sex, Hugh puts a handkerchief wet with chlorophyll over Jay’s mouth and she passes out. When Jay wakes up, she is tied to a chair in an abandoned car park and Hugh tells her that he has passed on to her an STD (a sexually transmitted demon) that will follow her until, either, she has sex with another person or it kills her…

The premise for It Follows is a terrifying one. The threat of acquiring an STD (a disease, that is, as opposed to a demon) is enough to make all sensible people carry protection with them at all times. So, to change the disease element to a demon could have made for really interesting (and frightening) viewing.

Unfortunately, Director David Mitchell has ruined a very good premise with bad execution in several different ways. First, he employs the scene-fading technique too often to dizzy his audience into disinterest. Second, he has too many pointless and uninteresting scenes that add nothing to the plot. Third, the movie is boring and one rapidly becomes impatient for the film to end.

 

Jay and her friends going into an abandoned, derelict house. Why? Because that's what people do in horror films.

Jay and her friends going into an abandoned, derelict house. Why? Because that’s what people do in horror films.

Part of the reason why It Follows is boring is because there is no suspense. The ethereal, atmospheric music that the director employs can only induce terror into viewers when it is timed correctly and if they care about the characters. Alas, Mitchell turns the music on and up to eleven when it is not needed so it never has the desired effect (unless the desired effect is to give audiences a thumping headache); and the characters are so vain and stupid that even if Mitchell had used the music correctly, it would not have heightened one’s sensations as no-one cares about the characters. Jay and her (chemistry-less) friends are so daft, viewers almost pray for the demons to devour them so we can go to the bathroom sooner.

In fairness to Mitchell, he has the right ideas in place to make (what should have been) a scary horror movie. He has taken the right approach by making his characters the central focus of the story (unlike, for example, The Woman In Black where James Watkins made the silly ghost the driving force of the story). Indeed, if Mitchell had made his characters a tad more interesting, perhaps It Follows may have made pulses race after-all.

Kelly (Lili Sepe) attempting to calm Jay down upon the latter seeing a demon closing in on her.

Kelly (Lili Sepe) attempting to calm Jay down upon the latter seeing a demon closing in on her.

Additionally, the suburban setting is apt (if cliché) for a scary horror film as suburban areas can create a naturally tense and creepy atmosphere, like in The Babadook. Except, It Follows is neither tense nor scary, and seeing the setting merely reminds one of how good The Babadook was and how much of a let-down It Follows is.

Over-all, It Follows is a dull film. Director David Mitchell may have some good concepts upon how to make a decent film (and one awaits to see what he comes up with next). But his first horror film can only be described as a failure. It Follows does not make viewers feel on-edge or afraid for the characters within the story. Furthermore, the movie wastes its petrifying premise with bad execution. And there is only one crime in film worse than bad execution: boredom. Oh wait, It Follows has that too.

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