Still Alice review by Ben Plont

Humans are fragile creatures, and being human is not easy. Still Alice is an examination of the fragility and difficult process of Alzheimer’s disease. Julianne Moore plays the titular character,  We meet Alice’s family we witness their struggles and sacrifices, however, the focus remains mainly with Alice. The storytelling is simple, maintaining a direct narrative. This allows the bulk of the ensemble to approach the emotional states of their characters and dive into their humanity without competing against cinematic excess. As a result, Julianne Moore shows a Grace in acting few movies attempt. She moves from a brittleness in her manner in wanting to avoid the thought that she may have Alzheimer’s, to a fractured emotional state with her acceptance and ultimately to shattered remains of Alice as the film closes.Steward

Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart turn in fine supporting performances. Bosworth plays Alice’s sensible older daughter, and shows a true compassion. Stewart plays Alice’s twenty something daughter, trying to find her identity as a young actor in L.A. – then sacrificing her dreams to move back “home” to help her mom. Stewart was given a more dynamic character than Bosworth. I found her performance enchanting. She handled her arc, from blase disgust with her family to a confused but compassionate caretaker, with poise. Surprisingly, Alec Baldwin struggles with reaching emotional honesty. He contributes nothing but his name to this film. the rest of the cast absolutely bury him. I’d like to think it’s because turning his back on his spouse is something of which he isn’t capable.

 

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Still Alice review by Joe Healy

“Still Alice” directed by Wash Westmoreland follows the day to day progression of a woman, Alice Howland (played beautifully by Julianne Moore) who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.  What makes this even more difficult for her and her family is that Alice is a brilliant and cunning linguistics professor who is lauded for her success and travels the world teaching and holding seminars.  There are two tragedies that unfold in this movie, namely that early on-set Alzheimer’s moves swiftly in people who have higher than average intelligence and education; and secondly, Alice carries a gene that she passes on to her children who have a 50% chance of contracting the same affliction.

Moore is wonderful in this film.  As Alice, she is painful to watch presenting a strong-willed, brilliant professor who is struck down quickly by this mean disease.  She works tirelessly to put off the progression of the disease, constantly testing herself and her cognitive abilities.  Her husband, played by Alec Baldwin, who is just as driven and brilliant stays by her side and shows an innocent aloofness that betrays his helplessness.  He wants the best care for her but at the same time doesn’t want to give up his career.  Their careers drive both of them and they have the same expectations for their children (played by Kate Bosworth, Kristen Stewart and Hunter Parish.)  Two are “successful” in their professions while Kristen Stewart rebels and has picked the “concerning” career of a struggling actor.  Usually, Stewart plays a brooding, bored character on film and in this…she is no different!  Albeit, I’ll take her in this film over Twilight.

One of the biggest difficulties of Alzheimer’s is not only the initial shock and hit on the victim but the pain and suffering it brings to family and friends.  They have to live through the slow-motion deterioration and degradation of the person they love.  It’s sad and it’s tragic as there is no recourse.  However, this film is through the eyes of Alice and how she confronts, conforms and manages this vicious disease.  Moore is touching to watch, displaying a vulnerability as well as a strong will to fight what she is facing.  Some viewers may be left empty since the film doesn’t focus on the family and the struggles they face in watching one they love disappear in front of them but this is Moore’s film and she carries it through to the end.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service

It turns out the bumbershoot is the weapon of choice of the modern white male spy. And, if you want to watch Colin Firth destroy the Westboro Baptist Church in hand to hand combat with his brolly, then this is the movie for you!

This is a movie with very little attention paid to the details. Stylistically it’s confused. It can’t figure out if it’s a send up of spy movies, or if it actually want to be one. I think they wanted it to be a sendup of the genre, but there was no commitment to the decision.

Lots and lots of plot holes. Among the plot holes: state of the art training facility with turnover happening very rarely , and only 4 employees that are shown.

I found this movie to be a huge pile of shit.

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“Kingsman: the Secret Service” by Joe Healy

How much do I love Colin Firth and Michael Caine?  Enough to see this piece of crap.  But I didn’t know it was going to be crap until about 20 minutes into the film.  The “Kingsman” is a cheap attempt drawing inspiration from the 007 series and other similar films but utterly failed.  It wasn’t the actors’ fault by any means.  Firth and Caine (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFIQIpC5_wY) were their usual outstanding selves when on film but what I didn’t expect was Bloodfest 2015.   Not that I object to it but the only things I remember from the film are heads blowing up, blood spattering the room, and a pair of Oscar Pistorius leg blades that slice bodies in half.  Fun?  Sure.  Boring?  After two hours…terribly.  What was the plot?  Can’t remember!  Oh, and with a lisping Samuel Jackson as the chief brilliant antagonist, all lispers rejoice!  You too can be smart, successful and a violent megalomaniac!

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Inherent Vice review by Ben Plont

Inherent Vice is a Modern film-noir that takes it’s title from its use as a term in the legal field. “Inherent Vice” is used to describe the natural deterioration of an object due to a flaw in it’s composition. In this film, it’s specifically a maritime law that releases a carrier from responsibility – chocolate melts: so if I’m carrying a shipment of chocolate from you to your friend, it not my fault if it melts along the way.

The title implies that there will be vulnerability in some form. The film delivers this vulnerability in it’s characters and it does it beautifully. Whether it is a characters nature to insist on driving a car, then destroying it because they don’t know how to drive, or that a character is unable to distinguish between hallucination and an actual client due to heavy drug use; each character is dancing with their own personal inherent vice.

The style of the film is reminiscent of Cassavettes, in that the viewer isn’t omnipotent. We’re given the same information as the character we’re following, a drug fueled anti-hero: “Doc”, played by Joaquin Phoenix. As Doc learns, we learn. There are no scenes of the bad guys doing bad guy stuff, or plot elements that happen outside the knowledge of the films anti-hero. This technique might leave some viewers a little disoriented and confused about what’s going on. For me, it’s is huge positive aspect, and one that I loved because there’s nothing predictable that happens in this film.

Joaquin Phoenix is the best I’ve ever seen him; although, his performance is uneven (I found myself wondering about the order scenes were shot based on the relative strength and weakness of his performance). That being said he carries the movie better than I would have expected. I’d go so far as to say I liked what he did.

There are many things about this movie that makes it worth the price of admission. Josh Brolin’s “meal” that he has at Doc’s apartment is worth that money.

Katherine Waterston was outstanding as Shasta. She gives the finest performance of the film in a stunning, one-take, 5 minute monologue.

P.T. Anderson takes the viewer on a psychedelic roller coaster ride. But be aware: if you’re used to doing whip-its, this is dental grade shit, man.

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Inherent Vice review by Joe Healy

Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest, “Inherent Vice” is one very good film.  The director of such films as ‘Boogie Nights’, ‘Magnolia’ and ‘There Will Be Blood’ takes us on a psychedelic and wacky who-dunnit journey with Joaquin Phoenix as ‘Larry “Doc” Sportello’ in the lead who plays a private investigator working out of an office at a medical clinic.  There he interviews parties to a possible disappearance and…to smoke pot…he never sees patients…hmmm….

The movie runs a tad bit long at 148 minutes but takes its cue from and with a nod of the hat to Film Noir.  The grainy texture of the film editing and cinematography is gorgeous, capturing and puts us smack dab in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Likely using inspiration from such movies as “Kiss me Deadly”, “The Third Man” or “Touch of Evil”, Anderson takes us on a wild, marijuana-induced ride with Phoenix and a hilarious Josh Brolin in the role of the often antagonistic Lt. “Bigfoot” who are both looking (for different reasons) into the potentially troubling disappearance of one Mickey Wolfmann played by Eric Roberts.  The movie has so many characters , including several cameos (and a brilliant one by Martin Short I must say), and a constantly shifting plot line that it’s difficult to keep track (but not in a distracting way) which likely means I’ll go see it again.

I thought the acting was fantastic from top to bottom.  Some standouts:  Joaquin Phoenix was so great in this film.  What a long way he has come from ‘Gladiator.’  His face is able to convey every sort of emotion from anger one moment to complete vulnerability the next; and his comic timing couldn’t be better.  Josh Brolin shows his comic ability as well.  The way he devours a certain fruit (his character has an affinity for frozen desserts) is a highlight of the film as well as when he eats pancakes in a Japanese restaurant.  Katherine Waterston plays Shasta, the femme fatale at the center of this tangled plot line and she plays her captivatingly.  She delivers a killer monologue near the end of the film to Phoenix’s character that Anderson captures with one shot.  I won’t go into detail as it would spoil the moment but she is wonderful, vulnerable and entirely believable.

In the end I may have been scratching my head on what the heck that was all about…but I sure enjoyed seeing it!

 

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American Sniper Review or: Mustafa is my Pale Orc – by Ben Plont

This review does not aim to insult the real Chris Kyle. Also, in my defense, I don’t hate Clint Eastwood as a director. I loved Million Dollar Baby. Clint is an American film icon, and on that level, and rightly so, a national treasure.

American Sniper is somewhat unsatisfying and somewhat brilliant. I have never met Chris Kyle. I have never read his book. I don’t feel that this movie serves Chris Kyle. So, I will not think of the real Chris Kyle as the way the director, Clint Eastwood, and writer, Jason Hall, portray him in this movie (I will never trust Hollywood to give an accurate representation of history, or biography).

I’m not sure if it’s Clint Eastwood being unable to handle more than one concept at a time, or if the writer Jason Hall deliberately wanted to paint Kyle as a person that accidently developed a personality. The film on the whole is a softball take that does it’s best to show only one dimension of Chris Kyle.

Eastwood & Hall avoid any and all hints of controversy in regards to:

  • War in general
  • The specific conflicts in which Kyle served
  • Kyle himself

It’s as if Clint Eastwood said to his chair:

Let’s make a movie that will make people feel good about the colossal mistake it was for us to enter the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – Let’s make it about that popular guy…what’s his name? Oh yeah, Chris Kyle.

Eastwood handles this movie like an old lady would drive an oversized semi-truck on a freeway at rush hour…barely able to see over the steering wheel, aware but oblivious to the traffic all around, can’t check the mirrors for fear of careening off the road and completely unable to change lanes at any time – he’s just praying that he gets to his destination: stock footage of Chris Kyles funeral, one of the only honest things Eastwood is able to provide.

Here’s how I think the production meetings happened:

Hall: So, Chris Kyle served 4 tours in the Middle East. He had a wife and two kids. These are incredibly tough choices to make. What approach do you think we should take to show the raw emotions that this script would require?

Eastwood: No no no. That’s too much, ooo, I know let’s invent an opposite evil sniper that goes everywhere Kyle goes at the same time, but he’s evil. Like evil Spock. We can even give him a goatee, like evil Spock.

Hall:  And then Chris spends all his time in the movie wanting revenge on this character – that works for multiple factions…moving to a new faction at precisely the same time Kyle moves?

Eastwood: Mustafa is my Pale Orc.

And then there’s Bradley Cooper. Who is given a script of utter shit to work with, and he’s absolutely amazing. Eastwoods take on war is entirely visual relying heavily on the underlying currents of war to be filled in by Cooper’s performance . Bradley Cooper turns in an understated performance, at moments like Robert Forrester in Jackie Brown, with PTSD bubbling under the surface ready to explode at any second. He takes hackneyed moments of revenge cliche and the accidental personality Hall wrote, and turns them into real moments of honest human experience.

This movie fails the Bechdal test. Which is a shame, because Sienna Miller is great, but terribly under utilized. Both lead actors give performances that fill in the gaping holes that the lost production company can’t even fathom. Cooper and Miller save the movie, and make it worth watching.

 

clint

Throne of The Pale Orc.

 

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