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Still Alice (2014)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/12/2015
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/30/2015
In my recent review forCake, I applauded how that film took a somewhat subtle look at chronic pain and prescription pain medication abuse. Let's face, today we are bombarded with information on and pleas for help with more diseases and ailments than ever before. While it is important to know about such things, the media seems to shove them now our throats at times, or certain causes seem to vie for exposure so that they can get donations. Thus, it's nice when something comes along which quietly takes us inside the world of a medical issue. While Cake did a good job with this, Still Alice shows how it is done.
Julianne Moore stars in Still Alice as Alice Howland, a Linguistics professor at Columbia University in New York City. She is popular with her students and loves to lecture. Alice lives with her husband, John (Alec Baldwin), and she hase three loving adult children, Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish), and Lydia (Kristen Stewart). One day, while jogging, Alice gets lost and has trouble getting home. Troubled by this, she consults with her doctor, who orders some tests. At the holidays, Alice has difficulty remembering the names of objects and her guest's names. A return trip to the doctor is greeted with a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's Disease. Alice is understandably devastated by this news, but she decides to hide it from the University and continue teaching. But, with each passing day, her memory issues worsen, which affects her ability to communicate and her mood as well. However, with the support of her family, Alice doesn't give up the fight to go on living a normal life.
Alzheimer's Disease is one of those things that most of us have heard about, and most have an idea of what the Disease does -- it effects memory. But, as the Disease does most of its insidious work inside the victim, it's difficult to understand what it is like to live with Alzheimer's unless one has first-hand knowledge. Still Alice could have very easily decided to portray this by being very heavy-handed and melodramatic. We could have been treated to many over-the-top moments in which Alice and her family went into hysterics both over the initial news and the subsequent activities of the patient.
But, the film has decided to go in the opposite direction and be both very quiet and very matter of fact. We learn that this is quite an accomplishment when we peel back the curtain and learn about the makers of Still Alice. Co-Directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland are also a couple. Glatzer was diagnosed with ALS and due to the complications created by that ailment, was forced to communicate through an iPad on set. (He passed away in March of this year.) As they both had first-hand experience with a cruel disease which renders the patient nearly helpless, Glatzer and Westmoreland could have gone for a more urgent and shrill tone which would have yelled, "Look at me!" to the viewer. But, their more studied approach places us right there with Alice. When she gets lost, we feel her sense of urgency. This is followed by the initial doctor's appointment, which plays as a long take focuses just on Moore's face -- we don't see the doctor until the very end of the scene. The moments with the family are mostly quiet, while still being emotional. We see how facing something like this can often deflate people, as opposed to enraging them.
It should also be noted that Alice herself makes for an interesting study. The story, taken from a novel by Lisa Genova, introduces us to a woman who talks for a living who is suddenly facing the loss of her career. Would Still Alice have been touching if Alice wasn't in academia? Most likely, but the fact that an academically gifted person is losing her memory makes the movie all the more involving. I often write about how Hollywood doesn't seem to "get" America and often portrays everyday life through a filter of fantasy, but this is one time where having a character who has advantages makes for a more powerful story. Yes, it's sad that she is "losing" her family and that they will be "losing" her, but we see that Alice likes word games and teaching, so she is losing a lot more. Therefore, the scene in which Alice, clearly suffering from memory impairment, lectures a group, is incredibly touching.
Movies in which characters overcome some sort of physical or mental obstacle have long-since been Oscar bait. Moore, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Still Alice, gives a great performance as a woman who will not be beating the odds. Despite that gloomy outlook, the movie is sad, but never truly depressing. The cast does a great job, although Stewart is clearly out of her league in her scenes with Moore. Still Alice isn't easy to watch, but it is rewarding and a legacy to the late Co-Director.
Still Alice isn't easy to forget on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 24 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good, and the image is never soft. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects during street scenes are good and the jogging scene contains some nice surround sound effects. The score sounds very good and fills the speakers.
The Still Alice Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extras. "Directing Alice" (9 minutes) offers an interview and profile of Directors the late Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. We hear how Glatzer's battle with ALS was dealt with on the set and how he used his iPad as an extension of himself. "Finding Alice" (9 minutes) examines the reality of the film, as experts and an actual Alzheimers patient talk about the disease and how it was portrayed in the film. The film's score is delved into in "Interview with Composer Ilan Eshkeri" (6 minutes). The Disc contains three DELETED SCENES which run about 6 minutes. The final extra is a THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long