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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Still Alice

by Andrew Hudak

Julianne Moore, Johnny Depp and Chris Hemsworth lead this week's new releases to Blu-Ray

We, as human beings, are the sum of all of our past experiences. Who we are in life is determined by what has already come before. The people we’ve grown close to, the moments we remember, the choices we’ve made—all of these elements come together to make us who we are.

Alzheimer’s Disease takes this all away. For a person with Alzheimer’s, memories become muddled or forgotten. People—including close family members—become difficult to recognize. Information, such as that which is important to a person’s career, becomes lost. Speech becomes more difficult, as the words that once came so easily are no longer there. By taking away memories, a person’s previous experiences are gone. In effect, Alzheimer’s Disease takes away who they are. This is what happens to Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) in the aptly titled “Still Alice.”

Howland is a professor of linguistics at Columbia University. Since she is in academia, intellectual thought and speech are particularly important to her. She has a husband named John (Alec Baldwin), who loves her very much, as well as three children: Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish), and Lydia (Kristen Stewart). Anna is pregnant and Lydia is the prodigal child, living in Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. This choice is a source of contention between Alice and Lydia, as Alice wants Lydia to go to college and Lydia unequivocally disagrees with that notion.

Part of what makes Alice’s story so heart wrenching is her age. While the majority of Alzheimer’s patients are elderly, Alice is only fifty years old. Her Alzheimer’s is early onset. The other tragedy is that her type of Alzheimer’s is genetic. Alice inherited it from her father, and she potentially passed it down to her children. This of course is a major heartbreak for the pregnant Anna, as she could pass it to her offspring. It’s also a cause of sorrow in Alice, as she feels guilty that she has condemned her children to a horrible fate.

And horrible it is, as “Still Alice” portrays so elegantly. Julianne Moore won an Oscar for her performance, and it is clear as to why. She conveys all of the fright, rage, and sadness that a person must go through when they find out that they have the disease at such a young age. The body will be healthy, but the mind will go. She will need care and become a burden to others. She hates even thinking about this, and it shows.

In one scene, Alice wakes up John early in the morning to tell him that she has been seeing a doctor and that it looks like she has Alzheimer’s. John doesn’t want to believe her, and as loving and supporting people will do, he provides rational explanations to help her feel better. By this point, Alice is ready to face reality and does not want to be pandered to, and her explosion into rage followed quickly by her descent into tears is mesmerizing. Moore displays an astonishing ability to not only play all of the emotions required for the character of Alice, but to also believably switch emotional gears in an instant. It is a talent that should not be overlooked or underestimated, and I am glad the Academy—as well as many other awards givers—recognized that and gave Moore her well-earned accolades. With Moore’s performance as a woman with Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice,” we don’t merely see what it’s like to have the disease—we feel it. Buy It.

Still Alice DVD

Still Alice Book

Also New This Week:

Mortdecai

Johnny Depp embodies the very definition of roguish charm as Mortdecai, the title character of the movie “Mortdecai.” In addition to being a British aristocrat with a top shelf tastes, he is also a well known art thief. When a painting that is rumored to have a bank account number to Nazi riches written on the back of it is stolen, it is up to Mortdecai, his wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), and his man servant Jock (Paul Bettany) to recover it at the behest of MI-5 agent Martland (Ewan McGregor).

Mortdecai’s mannerisms, accent, speech, and word choice are of high minded wit. As played by Johnny Depp, there is an over the top affectation to them that brings them down to a more earthy, palatable level. I enjoyed spending time in Mortdecai’s company, and most of the jokes landed quite well. Brilliantly playing off Depp’s Mortdecai is Bettany’s Jock, a tough, burly man with a cockney accent. Whereas Mortdecai is a bit of a coward and a rapscallion, Jock is there to make up for those faults by always having Mortdecai’s back and being there for him when he is in danger, which is a lot. But in all, Mortdecai is a decent chap, and spending time with him is a way to have some good, cheeky fun. Rent It.

Blackhat

One of the biggest disconnects between real life and movies is the portrayal of computer hackers. In the movies, computer hackers are super sexy, socially capable, physically active hand to hand combat experts who are good with guns. In real life…well, let’s just say that most are the exact opposite of that. This was a problem that I had with the computer hacking main character in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series, and it is one that is repeated in “Blackhat.”

The movie casts buff, blonde, tall Chris Hemsworth as hacker Nick Hathaway. Not only is he awesome with computers and takes the time to work out, he is also a dynamite ladies’ man. He also moves during fights like he’s someone with military training, though in one scene when he explains his background, which includes prison time, it’s hard to see where he fit that in.

Could all of the chases and shootouts in “Blackhat” have been done with a more realistic hacker in the lead role? No—not in the serious way director Michael Mann (“Heat”) presents it in “Blackhat,” which is essentially a two hour chase movie in which the Chinese and United States governments join forces to stop a cyber terrorist. As if the ridiculousness of the main character wasn’t enough, the story is lackluster, and there are things in this movie that left me scratching my head. The worst of these grievances comes at the end, where murder and guns abound in a crowd of people who seem to just keep on walking by like nothing is happening. I know that if a movie stars Chris “Thor” Hemsworth as a butt kicking computer hacker, it can only be taken so seriously. However, there is a difference between asking me to shut my brain off and just enjoy the ride, like say a “Fast and Furious” movie, and being so inept that in order to enjoy it my brain would be required to leak out of my head. Sorry “Blackhat,” I just can’t go that far. Skip It.

More New Releases: “The Cobbler,” starring Adam Sandler as a man who literally walks in other people’s shoes to find out who they are; “Tracers,” starring Taylor Lautner as a bike messenger being chased by the mob and parkouring his way around New York City; “Just Before I Go,” Courtney Cox film about a suicidal man (Sean William Scott), who returns to his home town to confront the demons of his past before he ends his life; and “Vampyros Lesbos,” erotic horror tale from director Jesus Franco, about a sexy vampiress who seduces and kills women to satisfy her insatiable bloodlust.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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