Still Alice

Still Alice begins right in the heart of its subject. University professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is in a restaurant, and it is her birthday. Her husband John (Alec Baldwin) is there, and her children are there as well. Everyone seems to be having a good time, but at some point during the meal Alice is having trouble finding the right word to finish a phrase. It goes unnoticed by others at the table, but we can detect the fear in Alice’s eyes. Later, while jogging, Alice is suddenly confused and lost. The tests from a recent visit to the doctor confirm the dreaded diagnosis: ‘Early onset familial Alzheimer’s disease’, a rare form that strikes younger people (from 50 to 65). But then comes the real shocker. ‘Familial’ Alzheimer is hereditary, and she may have passed it on to some of her children. Oldest daughter, Anna (Kate Bosworth), is an attorney who is married to Charlie (Shane McRae). Her son Tom (Hunter Parrish) is a medical student. And her youngest daughter, Lydia (Kristen Stewart) has made the choice to be an actress despite Alice’s objections. When Alice and John tell their kids the bad news, the scene is done with restraints from all the actors involved. The disease comes to Alice’s life drop by drop, and affects everyone in the family. A renown linguistic scholar, Alice is finding it hard to remember which course she has to deliver, and is dismissed from her job. She sometimes does not recognize her own children. And there is an awful moment when Alice cannot find the bathroom in her own house. Julianne Moore has never been so compelling to watch. Still Alice is a clinical film. It shows what happens to an Alzheimer patient step by step. Moore is in every scenes, and it becomes more intense and complex as the disease evolves. How does an actress takes on a part that has so many scenes of intense despair, without falling into tearjecking facilities, and making it seems like she could pull it off again, and again, and again? Moore is well supported by a talented cast. We get a very good turn by Baldwin. Kristen Stewart’s moments with Moore are the best in the film. At times co-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, show Alice in the foreground with everything around her out of focus. That is quite an efficient way to show things through Alice’s eyes. To her, the world is a blur.

You should know… Co-directors and co-screenwriters, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland are a married same-sex couple. Wash Westmoreland previously worked as an award-winning gay porn director (as Wash West). Richard Glatzer is living with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or Charcot disease) and some critics have suggested a connection between his own battle with illness and the raw, honest depiction of illness in the film.

And the Oscar went to… Moore finally won the Oscar after her fifth try (She should have won in 2002 for Todd Haynes’s Far from heaven).

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Still Alice

Directed by:
Richard Glatzer
Wash Westmoreland
Screenplay by:
Richard Glatzer
Wash Westmoreland
Based on the novel by Lisa Genova
Starring:
Julianne Moore
Kristin Stewart
Alec Baldwin
Kate Bosworth
Hunter Parrish
99 min.
Rated Parental Guidance

Awake: The life of Yogananda

Awake: The life of Yogananda is a new documentary about Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian guru who introduced millions of westerners to the teachings of meditation and a modern form of Yoga called Kriya Yoga. Born in 1893 he arrived in Boston in 1920, and founded the Self-realization fellowship headquarters on Mount Washington, Los Angeles. Yogananda was a tall sweet-faced man with a penetrating gaze. He became a big hit with rich women and men, and we see many archival photos showing Yogananda at conferences, or sitting with members of the high society. In the south in ran into trouble with the Ku Klux Klan. There was also some jealous husbands who did not like Yogananda spending so much time with their wives. He left to return to India, but came back to the United States later. His followers are numerous, among them celebrities like Steve Jobs and George Harrison (interviewed for the film before his death). Awake: The Life Of Yogananda is financed by the Self-realization fellowship, and its purpose seems to be to sell the yogi’s teachings, or at the very least, preach to the converted. The film avoids controversy and the subject of Yogananda’s personal life, if any and why. I would have wanted to know if there was some kind of vows of chastity, but they never approached the topic. As I mentioned, the converted will be pleased, others can learn about his life or simply not care. I am glad I saw it, but found this documentary too conventional.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

 Awake: The life of Yogananda 

 

Directed by: 
Paola di Florio
Lisa Leeman
 
87 min.
 

Rated General

Mr. Turner

Mike Leigh’s film, Mr. Turner is a biopic of 19th century British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner (full name Joseph Mallord William Turner). The film covers Turner’s last 25 years. Turner specialty was the sea, often painting shipwrecks, and natural phenomena like sunlight, storms, rain, and fog. One scene shows Turner being roped up the mast of a ship during a storm to better reproduce the experience on canvas. As played by Timothy Spall, Turner is a unactractive man who mumbles, snores, growls and coughs every phrase he speaks, and spits on his paintings to achieve the right effects. We see Turner living with his father (Paul Jesson), a former barber who became his assistant. He gets visits from an angry woman (Ruth Sheen) who angrily claims he fathered her two daughters. He has sex with Hannah, his housekeeper (a very theatrical performance by Dorothy Atkinson). Travelling to Chelsea, he rents a room from Mr.and Mrs. Booth. In later years he and the widowed Mrs. Booth (Marion Bailey) become lovers. At other times Mr. Turner visits museum and argues loudly with other artists. It is a uneventfull film. But Mr. Turner is a character study rather than conventional biopic. No matter how taciturn and grumpy, Mr. Turner still smiles when he sees cute children. And Mr. Turner cries when he’s sad. One of the most touching moment comes when his father dies. And in the eyes of Mrs. Booth, he is the best man there is. Thanks to Spall and Bailey, their on-screen chemistry is priceless. British director Mike Leigh has yet again succeeded in recreating a long gone era so well, we have the feeling we are witnessing it. As he did previously with such films as Topsy-Turvy and Vera Drake, he has put together a team of set decorators, costumers and makeup and hair artists who have done wonders. J.M.W. Turner art was innovative and his paintings saw beauty amongst the storms and tempests. The work of cinematographer Dick Pope lets you see the beauty he saw and why he wanted to paint it. Mr. Turner is a slow-moving film that won’t please everyone, but its crafts and its artistry will appeal to some.

And the Oscar went to… Mr. Turner lost the Oscar for Production design, Costume design and Original score. All three went to The grand Budapest hotel.  It lost the Cinematography award to Birdman or (The unexpected virtue of ignorance)

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Mr. Turner

 

Directed by: 
Mike Leigh
 
Screenplay by: 
Mike Leigh
 
Starring: 
Timothy Spall
Dorothy Atkinson
Paul Jesson
Marion Bailey
Ruth Sheen
 
150 min.
 
Rated 14A

Zero motivation (Efes beyahasei enosh)

What a pleasant surprise Zero motivation is! A Israeli comedy about out of control female soldiers? Yes, it’s possible. Best friends Zohar (Dana Ivgy) and Daffi (Nelly Tagar) are stationed at a remote desert base. All Daffi thinks or talks (and whines) about is the transfer to Tel Aviv she’s waiting for. Instead of doing the job she’s was assigned, Zohar compulsively plays Minesweeper. Their story is segmented into chapters. In the first one, for instance, Daffi thinks her transfer is imminent since her replacement has arrived. In their office, Zohar and Daffi have to deal with co-workers as unmotivated as they are. Two of them file their nails while gossiping and singing an never-ending barrage of pop songs. And there is their frustrated leader, Rama (Shani Klein) breathing down their necks. Trying to control this useless bunch is one thing, but Rama also has to be agreeable to male officers’ requests to, for instance, serve coffee In another chapter, Zohar is convinced she is the only woman at the base who is still a virgin. The acting from Zero motivation‘s three leading ladies is great. As the film progresses, Dana Ivgy’s Zohar goes from crazy to crazier, and becomes totally out of control. She is well supported by Tagar and Klein. This is a promising debut for writer-director Talya Lavie. After countless comedies about guys with bad behaviors (Bill Murray in Ivan Reitman’s 1981 film Stripes best among them), women can also behave badly. It’s about time!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Zero motivation (Efes beyahasei enosh)

 

Directed by: 
Talya Lavie
 
Screenplay by: 
Talya Lavie
 
Starring: 
Dana Ivgy
Nelly Tagar
Shani Klein
Hel Twito
Meytal Gal
Tamara Klingon
Yonit Tobi
 
100 min.
 
Rated 14A
 
In Hebrew with English subtitles.

 

Gemma Bovery

Gemma Bovery is an adaptation of Posy Simmonds’s graphic novel, which is based on Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Set in modern-day Normandy, Gemma Bovery‘s main character is Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini, 63). A failed essayist, Martin has moved to the country to become a baker. He seems to be bored about his new life. When Gemma Bovery (Gemma Arterton, 28) move in across the road, with her husband Charlie (Jason Flemyng, 48), Martin’s interest is piqued. “Her name is Gemma Bovery”, says Martin breathlessly. He refers to the resemblance between his British neighbour’s name, and Flaubert’s heroine, Emma Bovary. He is convinced that Gemma is facing a similar fate than her fictitious counterpart, who committed suicide. As Gemma becomes a client of Joubert’s bakery, they become friends. She even asks Martin to teach her how to make bread. He warns her about keeping rat poison in her house. And he starts spying on her, and he sees her having an affair with Hervé de Bressigny (Niels Schneider, 27), the son of a rich family. This convinces Martin that a tragedy is surely going to happen. I have never been a fan of Fabrice Luchini. In films after films, Luchini always gets the girl. It is always a young beautiful girl with a perfect body, and Fabrice Luchini… urgh… ‘nough said. And although in Gemma Bovery, he is not involved romantically with Gemma, the sight of him salivating over her is appalling not appealing. Creepy! Luchini should be playing grandfathers not dirty old men. The has some qualities like nice shots of Normandy.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Gemma Bovery

 

Directed by: 
Anne Fontaine
 
Screenplay by: 
Pascal Bonitzer
Anne Fontaine
Based on the graphic
novel by Posy Simmonds
 
Starring: 
Fabrice Luchini
Gemma Arterton
Jason Flemyng
Elsa Zylberstein
Isabelle Candelier
Niels Schneider
 
99 min.
 
Rated 14A
 
In French and English
with English subtitles