Jul 052015
 
Still_Alice_DVD_2D
Title: Still Alice
Genre: Drama
Starring: Julianne Moore,
Kate Bosworth,
Alec Baldwin,
Kristen Stewart,
Hunter Parrish,
Certificate: US: PG-13
UK: 12
Picture: 1.85:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, LPCM 2.0
Subtitles: English
Runtime: 1 Hour 41 mins
Extras: Trailer, Interviews,
Studio: Curzon Artificial Eye
Release Date: USA: May 12 2015
UK: Jul 06 2015
See If You Like: The Theory Of Everything,
Silver Linings Playbook,
A Beautiful  Mind,

Still Standing

Ah, it’s the middle of the summer blockbuster season… so what better time to catch up with some of the Oscars winner releases on home media? Odd way of scheduling but I guess the pressure to get a movie or TV show out as soon as possible a few months afterwards to capitalise on it’s critical success is key, even if it comes across as just being shoved onto the market. At least, it’s a refreshing change to the overbloated emotionless flicks that are on the listings at the moment. And what’s better to move you than Julianne Moore finding out she has Alzheimer’s disease, scooping pretty much every Best Actress award in the process? Worth the win? Let’s find out with the Blu-ray of Still Alice.

Alice Howland (Moore, Seventh Son) is a linguistics professor at Columbia University in New York City, which she balances with her expanding family life. During the middle of a conference speech, she starts to forget words and later becomes lost after a jog on campus, leading her to visit a doctor who diagnoses her with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. As she filters the news to her husband John (Alec Baldwin, Blue Jasmine) and her three grown up children, Alice begins to struggle more and more with her rapidly deteriorating memory loss. Never the less, she’s still keen to be a mom and remind people that she is Still Alice.

The alluring factor to Still Alice and why it works so well is simply because it never stops focusing on how a whole family has to cope with such a debilitating disease. Alice herself is a sympathetic character with us having to see someone so academically gifted being forced to lose everything, but it’s made all the more tragic to see how she may struggle to remember her first grandchildren being born. It grounds how Alzheimer’s can affect anyone from any background no matter how well off they are in life. I like how there is a battle in the family over not wanting to overburden Alice with new information and satisfying her own curiosities at the same time because she still wants to be as independent as she can be. The point about people who suffer from Alzheimer’s lose their definition in life is a real gut punch and hammers home how debilitating it is. I applaud how it brings up Alzheimer’s is considered more of an embarrassing illness to many and it has a social stigma attached to it. As Alice herself says “Wish I had cancer, then I wouldn’t be so ashamed.” When she goes to hold a grandchild for the first time, her son-in-law holds reservations until Alice in a moment of clarity stands firm and insists she can do it. Along with Alice stating how other illnesses have charity days to fight back in support like runs and wearing bracelets, Still Alice goes a long way with showing the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s and how as a society we should be doing more to promote awareness and research into the subject.

Moore I feel is worthy of picking up her Best Actress gong from this year’s awards season after viewing her entry. She hits the emotional highpoints you expect her to deliver on. She breaks down and cries when she confronts her husband about it finally in the middle of the night. She heart wrenchingly makes her own self-instruction ‘how to suicide’ video in case her Alzheimer’s gets really bad. She gives a stirring and moving speech to an Alzheimer’s Association forum as her condition gets progressively worse. Despite the fact that it is a problem in western filmmaking that the same female names get nominated year in year out for awards season, there is no doubt Moore is a top drawer actress and deserves all her awards as she puts in a fantastic performance which gets over the humanity and tragedy of this gifted lady succumbing to a disgusting disease. Everyone else plays their roles fine or go as far as you expect them to go (Alec Baldwin is just serious Alec Bladwin and that’s his limit in a rather emotionally stinted character) but I was looking forward to Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria) as Alice’s youngest daughter Lydia. She’s definitely shaking off the “Twilight Girl” tag she has stapled to her with some fine performances and Stewart does not disappoint as the struggling actress drawn back home to grow up and take care of her ill mother.

still alice _25march14_207I do like the understated direction from the married duo of Wash Westmoreland and the late Richard Glatzer (The Last of Robin Hood). It’s very low key without over-glamorising a film with a few big names that tackles a sour subject matter. The uniqueness of some of the shots are masterful, such as the over-the-doctor’s shoulder viewpoint as Moore delivers a long bout of dialogue in one continuous shot. Similarly, the out of focus background as Alice rests her head right next to the camera as her family discusses her condition just out of coherent hearing range. With Glatzer suffering from a similar degenerative illness (and sadly passing away), you can tell that there is effort here in making this a personal film.

There are some extremely dodgy elements at play here though. For one thing, John as a chracter comes off as a complete and utter arsehole. His wife is ill with a destructive and horrible disease and he is supportive up to a point although he doesn’t let his career get in her way. Waaaay too easy he decides to move himself away to take on a better job without really considering his wife’s position. Her employers at her university were especially bad for kicking her into the gutter and sacking her off after she became unable to take classes anymore. Maybe that’s just a British culture thing because I’m presuming Alice and her family have medical insurance to cover her costs? Also, whilst Still Alice does go someway to accurately depict someone suffering from Alzheimer’s, it doesn’t go far enough to me. From experiences with loved ones going through such a disease, for once I feel a movie would actually be enhanced by swearing. The struggles, frustrations and mental  degeneration would be more impactful if we see this nice scholary lady swearing as it’s the only way she can deal with her illness. It happens in real life, so why sugercoat it for a movie? The movie also seems to jump to a further stage of Alzheimer’s where Alice can barely say a single word after gradually succumbing to the disease in the abrupt ending. I realise that the film take it’s liberties with the pacing and so on but it was too rushed and it’s bad form to let the uninitiated to have this presumptuous knowledge that this is what happens when people develop Alzheimer’s.

Furthermore, in true western cinema style, again we get a nice-ification of a sickness. Whilst not as bad as The Fault In Our Stars (who tried to convince us that an actress in make up hauling around an oxygen tank and having a pipe sticking out of her nose gives an accurate depiction as someone with cancer), the only real physical change we see from Moore is that she stops wearing make up and looks slightly thinner around the face. There’s not enough of a physical transformation as her body begins to break down due to a lack of mental function and coherency. I remember my grandfather becoming a broken shell of a man in his final days after being crippled by Alzheimer’s and of course, noone WANTS to see someone in that shape, but you NEED to. It’s hardly the worse offender and it’s a legitimately brave move to make a film about a disgusting disease that we have not yet found a cure for… but Still Alice does not go far enough to make this a total awareness level movie for Alzheimer’s.

still alice _20march14_899I’m in a confliction with Still Alice. In one hand, it tackles and blows away some of the social stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s by raising it’s profile by showing destructive it can be to a whole family. The other mindset says to me that it doesn’t go far enough and does the usual western cinema trope of sugarcoating a disease which is far worse. It doesn’t stop Still Alice being an amazing vehicle for Julianne Moore to deservedly take home all the Best Actress gongs she can carry in a personal and moving motion picture.

Picture:

A solid 1080p transfer. The direction and cinematography is picked up on and finely balanced as nothing suffers from either dullness or over vibrancy. Despite being set in New York I did pick up on the differences of the moody modern gothic nature of it as opposed to the bright short scenes we have set in Los Angeles. There’s plenty of details you can pick up on and it’s most noticeable in Alice’s physical transformation. Nothing to shout about really but for a film of this calibre that’s more than fine as it does simple film making right and well.

Audio:

Despite being of a dialogue focused film, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is more than fine for a  release like Still Alice. Everything from the numerous dialogue exchanges down to the subtle soundtrack in the background is nice and doesn’t interfere with one another in some superb sound mixing. The ambience from scene locations like waves at the beach is actually noticeable and a natural feel. Music used is quite precise in it’s usage and picks up when the film attempts deliberately confusing moments to fit the mood and frustrations resulting from Alzheimer’s.

Extras:

As it seems to be the case with my current run of blu-ray reviews, the extras leave a lot to be desired. Whilst in terms of quality they are far and away the worst offender, the quantity just isn’t here. We have a standard trailer and a whole solid hour of interviews with cast, crew and Alzheimer’s Association members. As you may expect, that hour of interviews are great although it is a hard slog and the way they’re set up is strange. You have a title card of the question proposed to the interviewee before cutting to footage. I realise Still Alice is a low budget movie but it really comes off as cheap. Of course the meat of the interviews is fascinating with an in-depth Q&A on character and acting motivations and what this means for Alzheimer’s. After that it’s a big load of nothing. You can always ask “well what CAN they shove on?” for extras and there’s tonnes! How about some documentaries behind portrayal of Alzheimer’s in movies and TV previously? That’s just something I came up with off the top of my head. Otherwise, the blu-ray of Still Alice doesn’t offer a great deal in terms of extras sadly.

The Bottom Line:

Still Alice is not a film to enjoy per se given it’s emotionally challenging subject matter with the deterioration of a family and career driven mother because of Alzheimer’s. However, it’s a platform for Moore to shine again and remind us why she’s one of the best actresses of this generation. Despite losing out on extras if that bothers you, this film is a must see at least just to see a worthy Best Actress level performance in a difficult viewing experience that gives a message of some hope in an authentic and almost real depiction of a medical condition that needs the stigma attached removed.

Terry Lewis@lewisonlife.

Film:
Ratings 08 Buy from Amazon.co.uk Buy from Amazon.com
Video:
Ratings 07
Audio:
Ratings 08
Extras:
Ratings 05
Overall:
Ratings 07