Every several years, a film that escapes attention as the year’s “Best Picture” contains the year’s best performance. Such is the case with co-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s “Still Alice.”
The performance of Julianne Moore as Alice Howland, a college professor stricken with the early onset of Alzheimer’s, is startling from beginning to end. The film functions more as a documentary in that you watch a crushing medical analysis quickly transform into a personal and family tragedy that leaves you as devastated in your seat as those on the screen. The camera takes you inside a family unit as their matriarch tries to embrace every moment as the intellectual function of her brain is quickly destroyed.
Alice’s husband, a physician played with some unexpected gentleness by Alec Baldwin, wants to be at her side while she repeatedly forgets to meet him at various functions. Offered a coveted position from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Alice implores him to take a leave of absence and stay in New York so that they can find some meaning in their last year together.
The anguish of the three grown children is heightened when they discover that their mother has a form of Alzheimer’s that is potentially inherited. Kate Bosworth plays one of Alice’s daughters, and she is not only married but expecting the birth of twins. Do you get an available test to determine if you will be stricken at 50 years of age like your mother, or do you just leave it to fate? What would you do?
Kristen Stewart rises to a level that we have not seen before on the screen. Playing the youngest child, Lydia, she is literally the black sheep in the family, rejecting higher education to pursue an acting career in California. Left battling her mother and sister while secretly getting financial support from her father, Lydia is fascinating as she heads into a personal direction that had left her mother anxiety-ridden long before the onset of her mental illness.
In an overwhelmingly powerful moment of this heartbreaking film, Alice is asked to give a speech to others about her Alzheimer’s affliction. To prepare, she spends hours on her presentation that she needed to outline with a Magic Marker so that she wouldn’t repeat herself. As she talks about the effects of losing her memory, she accidently drops her speech on to the floor, and everyone holds their breath as she picks it up. Left wondering if she has lost her place, she looks at the crowd, smiles and says, “I wish I could forget doing that.” The audience in the theater laughed as loudly as those on the screen.
At the end of her speech, everyone on screen stood and applauded, which included her children. They were crying as they smiled at her, and you will be doing the same thing in your seat.
“Fifty Shades of Grey”
“Fifty Shades of Grey” was an insult to the porn industry. As the film concluded, most of the audience responded with derisive laughter. I’m sure this wasn’t the only crowd that knew they had been conned.
Movie fans like me learned the meaning of porn films back in college in the 1960s. Frequently shown at bachelor parties, nearly everyone soon stopped watching as we drank whiskey, smoked whatever was available and laughed with good friends.
On the other hand, there have been good X-rated films released over the years. Find a way to see “Mrs. Barrington” (1974) and “Nymphomaniac 1” (2013) if you are interested. “Mrs. Barrington” was laced with outrageous humor as you watched our star earn a living by seducing elderly widowers to a quick, orgasmic-induced death. Unlike “Fifty Shades,” Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” displayed a relationship between a dominator and his female submissive in a violent style that actually held your attention.
To briefly list the shortcomings of “Fifty Shades,” let’s begin with director Sam Taylor-Johnson, who previously directed “Nowhere Boy” (2009), an intriguing story about a teenaged John Lennon. With “Fifty Shades,” our director does little more than go through the motions as we watch a naive college senior being seduced by a young, immensely wealthy corporate giant utterly devoid of a personality.
Dakota Johnson is stuck in the role of Anastasia Steele, a virginal waif whose only identifiable skill is to continually bite her lower lip. Living near Seattle as she works part-time in a hardware store, this young woman instantly becomes yours if you can buy her a new car and give her a helicopter ride.
And then there is Jamie Dorman, playing our central character Christian Grey. Enormously intrigued by Anastasia, he seeks a relationship that comes with conditions associated with visiting his “playroom.”
The plot is actually best summed up by Christian’s own quote concerning himself, “Fifty shades of f***ed up.” While he wants Anastasia to sign a contract defining her role, she accepts Christian’s sexual appetizers as she wrestles over devouring the entire meal. This was an allegedly smart woman who would agree to be tied up, spanked and whipped, but only if she was able to maintain her dignity. Need I say more?
Though the film carries an R rating, it basically does little more than exploit women. The sexual scenes are brutally amateurish, continually showing Anastasia naked from the waist up as she does her occasional best to moan and groan with some passion. It is not an exaggeration to say that you are likely to be left shaking your head when you see her tell Christian that she is “falling in love” after a good whipping.
Unless you tend to believe that bondage is a girl’s best friend, I’d suggest that you keep your whips and chains locked away in your imaginary basement. Just get mildly intoxicated and let nature take its course. I strongly suspect you will have more fun.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.