Still Alice (PG-13)

8 Stars

“Movies are mechanisms of empathy,” Roger Ebert didn’t quite say.

But this reviewer prefers the misquoted diction (provided by Anderson Cowan of The Film Vault.)

When one asks, “Why watch Still Alice when it’s only going to depress me?”

There’s only one legitimate response.

“It’s a mechanism of empathy, dawg.”

Channeling an experiential river flow, the narrative spins the neurological waterwheel.

Did I want to watch Still Al? No.

Am I a smarter/better person following the experience? Absolutely.

The purely objective form of personal growth? The viewer’s exponentially more fluent in the Alzheimer’s realm of modern medicine.

The subjective forms? For one: The priceless merit of seeing a well-crafted, timely motion picture.

Two: If your torso’s peppered with shurikens, I’d hope it wouldn’t come as a complete surprise.

Likewise, if my demise arrives on a tidal wave of death stars, what’s to stop me from running around in a circle and screaming obscenities until the official end?

Maximizing (rather than minimizing) the agony of my unexpected affliction.

Catch my drift, proverbial reader?

Still Alice is profoundly sad, but not ‘depressing.’

‘Depressing’ connotes a residual effect; a lasting (potentially irrevocable) alteration of your emotional state.

I discourage this aversion toward cinematic tragedy. My top three films of all time (Platoon, Raging Bull and Schindler’s List) belong in the downer category.

Tragedy often spotlights hidden profundities.

Still Alice is a heartwarming narrative obscured by the haze of Early Onset Alzheimer’s, a rare form of the disease. Symptoms typically begin showing in the early fifties.

At that precise moment, the viewer meets Alice and her family.

It’s tough, folks.

No sugarcoating it.

Expect to weep. More than once.

On a high note, it’s well shot, directed and edited. The writing’s crisp; the drama’s chilly and real.

Lead by an outstanding performance from one of the best actresses ever, Julianne Moore, the entire cast is fantastic.

Alec Baldwin’s excellence in a major supporting role comes as no surprise.

What (perhaps) defies expectation is an equally terrific piece of acting from Kristen Stewart.

This reviewer hopped aboard Kristen’s locomotive after Snow White and The Huntsman. That gal’s gotten a bum rap, despite some serious acting chops.

Anyhow. For an educational and moving experience, check out Still Alice.

It’s a top quality flick, featuring adept performances from a tight (but stellar) cast.

Should one find oneself sobbing mid-theater, cursing a favorite film reviewer’s name, try to remind oneself:

“It’s a mechanism of empathy, dawg.”

Feel that cognitive waterwheel aturnin’.

Snow White and the Huntsman (PG-13)

7 Stars

Well, my friends, my boy’s back. And he’s doing more voiceover.

Chris Hemsworth is by far the best part of this film. Charlize Theron’s a close second and Kristen Stewart isn’t bad.

People hate that chick. Understandably so, she’s not caught smiling all that often.

But hey, lay off Kristen, she does okay in this film.

Hemsworth steals the show though. And overall…

It’s very good!

Here’s the thing.

Snow White and The Huntsman is just a great adventure. That’s all it is. Expect nothing spectacular in terms of metaphor, narrative intricacy and complicated motivation.

It’s just a fun, action-packed and intriguing retelling of the classic story.

All critically acclaimed derivations of Snow White offer commentary about the strength of women in their relevant historical context.

Grimm’s classic fairy tale, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was finalized in 1854. It’s about a young woman who is highly susceptible to trusting suspicious strangers and her inability to resist temptation in the face of personal gain (without the presence of men, of course.) Obviously it’s not the most empowering narrative.

Walt Disney released his first full-length animated feature in 1937 under the same name. Our protagonist is more loving and helps the dwarves to grow as individuals.

Animators at the time were struggling to draw masculine facial features. So the audience rarely catches a glimpse of the The Prince from the front. When they do, he appears quite feminine.

ABC’s series Once Upon a Time features Snow White prominently as a major player. She’s a strong female who actually saves Prince Charming by giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. (It’s a brilliant and compelling inversion on the classic narrative.)

Snow White and the Huntsman is Universal Pictures’s2012reinterpretation of the classic tale. And while it attempts to offer commentary on the place of women in royalty, it’s merely to justify Ravenna’s (played by Charlize) evil nature.

When it ends, you kind of think, “Well okay, that’s that. Guess I’ll move on to other things.” But that’s okay, if you’re a generous viewer.

What works particularly well is the CGI and special effects. The fight sequences are spectacular. I love a movie that gives you a little taste of battle at the beginning, and unloads a huge scene at the end.

At one point, an army on horseback raids a castle from the beach. And it looks completely real! The final battle is epic. There’s hot tar, catapults launching fiery rocks and some solid sword clashing.

Stewart’s Snow White is a shallow character. That’s ultimately her problem in this movie. I like the part where she’s dancing with Gus.

Her character is not wholly fleshed out because her power doesn’t stem from anywhere other than her royal blood, and she only acts out of desperation. She doesn’t necessarily rise to the call, she just sort of falls into place and plays her part.

But the adventure is, at times, truly captivating. Things slow down when bedtime nears in the fishing village, and with the dwarves in the forest. Overall though, the pacing remains pretty quick.

The stuff in the forest is a lot of fun; of particular note are the mushrooms that exude noxious fumes that have a hallucinogenic effect. The mossy snakes and tortoises, the butterfly flowers, and the dangling mushroom caps in the fairy Sanctuary are all great too.

The scenery is elaborate, and the settings are picturesque.

Some strong editing and cinematography is used to seamlessly align the surreal with the surrounding environment.

The giant white elk is so cool. What a great piece of fantastic imagery. I’ve never seen anything like that before.

So although the plot element in this specific story is unclear, the elk represents the spirit of nature. It’s an original take on a concept that only exists in the fantasy genre. The mythical animal is rendered beautifully.

I also really like the glass soldiers that Ravenna could control. And the new take on the magic mirror is a lot of fun, but a bit misleading.

Ravenna seems to be imagining the mirror’s effect. Which is intriguing, but inconsequential. It goes back to my theory about the ‘incongruence of metaphysical properties.’ We’re unsure where she derives her power from, so what is to be taken from the implication she’s imagining the mirror effect? I’m afraid the answer’s nothing really.

But the best part of SW&TH is, like I said before, Hemsworth’s role. Once Upon a Time dabbles in exploring the background of the classic Huntsman character. However, this movie illustrates a more complete picture.

The use of a small battle-axe, and the two hatchets as projectiles, is innovative and fun.

It gets a little dusty when we lose one of the characters, which is always a good sign.

The ending’s a bit unsatisfying because we have a few questions we’ll never get the answer to. Primarily, do Snow White and The Huntsman ever fall in love?

So although this rendition of Snow White doesn’t do much for the feminist cause, it’s still a great adventure, and an eye-catching retelling of the classic narrative.