January Film Diary, Part 1

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New year new format. Since the monthly film diary roundups got so long and crowded I’ll be posting with my last 5 movies watched (that don’t get their own post). 

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This Means War (2012)

Tom Hardy and Chris Pine play spies and best buddies who fall in love with the same woman (Reese Witherspoon). She’s a professional product tester and reviewer, and being courted by two men of similar drives and talents but wildly different personalities and approaches turns into her ultimate product and service comparison. They spy on her to gain an advantage, and despite their gentleman’s agreement, their friendship suffers and they drag her into the dangerous mission they should be focusing on.

It’s silly fun and the best bit for me was where Hardy overhears Witherspoon tell her friend (Chelsea Handler) that he’s too “safe and comfortable,” so he takes her to a paintball zone date where he goes full assassin. He chucks a paint grenade into a little pillbox full of kids, the blue paint sprays out between the planks and the teens limp away like whimpering smurfs. I always do some fantasy classic movie casting when I watch new movies and this one I’d love to redo in the 1960s with Rock Hudson and Rod Taylor fighting over Doris Day. 

Jack Reacher (2012)

I’ve read most of Lee Child’s Reacher novels and stupidly avoided this movie because I was in a snit about Tom Cruise being all wrong as the ex-MP, stoic giant, brilliant investigator and efficient killer. I still don’t think Cruise fits the physical description but he has a total dedication to his roles and action scenes that fits this character and makes him pretty believable as he intimidates and kicks butt. Rosamund Pike doesn’t get much to do except look shocked, David Oyelowo is good as a skeptical detective, Jai Courtney made a great villain, it was fun to see Robert Duvall help Cruise, and author Child even made a cameo as a policeman. Nice to see Werner Herzog as the disturbing big bad. Something I enjoyed in this age of bombastic action was the climactic shootout scene at the gravel pit unfolding almost entirely without music. It fit the simple, streamlined 80’s action feel of the picture and the books’ stripped-down minimalist action and Reacher’s bare bones efficiency. Looking forward to the sequel. 

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Still Alice (2014)

I’ve mentioned once or twice on this blog that I’m a caregiver for my mother who has Alzheimer’s, and I watch any film on this subject with great interest because I’m looking for an unsanitized, unglamorized, realistic depiction of the disease and have yet to see one. I know that 100% accuracy is impossible since everyone’s experience is different, and I get that most people probably don’t want to watch a movie showing too many of the day-to-day routines and challenges or all the things you always took for granted, have to relearn and eventually lose altogether. But the more detail and realism the better, to increase awareness of something very likely to touch every family.

Julianne Moore gives a fine performance as Alice, a linguistics professor who starts to forget her words. She goes to the doctor, gets a diagnosis and tries to deal on her own, but cannot long keep the secret from her husband (Alec Baldwin) and kids (Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish and Kristen Stewart). You mainly see from Alice’s point of view, the fight to hold on to her personality, memories, language and self, and her realization that she won’t be able to. She shows a keen awareness of and insight into her own decline that seems unrealistic (at least from my family’s experience), she’s left alone at stages where she could have been in real danger, the movie glosses over a lot of symptoms and stages and ends before it gets to the harder parts of managing the disease. But what it does very powerfully is touch on some of the hardest parts of getting the news and watching how Alzheimer’s begins to take apart the person you know.

There are many familiar and heartbreaking milestones here: she can’t answer simple questions at the doctor’s, she gets lost in familiar neighborhoods and then in her own home, can’t remember her “famous” recipes and eventually can’t recall her favorite foods. She repeats questions and an introduction because she forgot she already met her son’s girlfriend a few moments before, and comes to the point where she no longer recognizes her own daughter. 

As Alice says in one scene, she’s learning to live with the inevitable losses, and that describes the disease’s early stages and the scope of this movie. The different reactions of Alice, her friends and family ring true; some tiptoe around the obvious, some avoid and disappear, while others are refreshingly frank and know when humour helps. I hate to quibble about any kind of representation because it’s just like Alice says: “we need to be seen.” Though I wish it would show even more of what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s, the movie is affecting and worth seeing to begin to get a sense of what it does to people.

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Run All Night (2015)

Former hitman Jimmy “The Gravedigger” (Liam Neeson) spends a frantic night trying to keep his boss, mobster Shawn (Ed Harris) from killing his estranged son Mike (Joel Kinnaman). Mike saw Shawn’s no-good son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) kill some drug dealers and when Danny tries to silence Mike, Jimmy kills him. The fathers go from longtime friends to sworn enemies, and Mike, who wanted nothing to do with his father’s criminal life, must depend on him to stay alive. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (who did Neeson’s plane thriller Non-Stop) mixes several exciting NYC chases and mob skirmishes with a strained father-son relationship and kids trying to stay straight with legacies and odds against them, and everything balances out well with no sappy or dull bits. Common is scary as the younger, more efficient hitman on their trail, and Vincent D’Onofrio is the detective who’s been hounding Jimmy for years and might finally have the leverage to get the exact number and identities of his victims. It was great to see Brian Dennehy as Jimmy’s father, but I didn’t like him spitefully derailing Jimmy and Mike’s reconciliation. Otherwise this was a great action thriller.  

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State of Play (2009)

Reporter Russell Crowe digs into the affairs of his college buddy turned hotshot congressman Ben Affleck. The apparent suicide of Affleck’s aide (mistress, it turns out) exposes corruption and a private security company cornering government contracts in the Middle East and domestically. Great cast with Robin Wright as Affleck’s wife, Helen Mirren as the delightfully flinty newspaper editor, Jason Bateman as a slimy publicist and Rachel McAdams as a green blogger learning the ropes. Lots of denial and obfuscation, argument about journalistic ethics and the relevance of hard news and the printed word in a tabloid/internet/race for scoops era. Didn’t like the ending that sputters out by taking one clever twist too many, but overall a good classic journalism thriller.

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15 thoughts on “January Film Diary, Part 1”

  1. Always enjoy these! I also enjoyed THIS MEANS WAR and love your “classic film recasting” of it. Perfect!

    I especially enjoyed your personal take on STILL ALICE, and I was unfamiliar with STATE OF PLAY but it sounds interesting. Thanks for all these tips & takes!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    1. Thanks! Wouldn’t Rock vs Rod be loads of fun? (for the record Tom Hardy wins this contest as far as I’m concerned.) Still Alice is good and hopefully more movies like this will add up to a better picture of Alzheimer’s. If I recall, you liked Non-Stop so you might enjoy Run All Night, really well done. More Russell Crowe to come in the next installment…

  2. This Means War was fun and Rock vs. Rod would have nailed it in the sixties! I feel for you on the Alice film as someone who has visited and have been introduced just a wee bit of what you go through. Thanks for letting me in. I too enjoyed Reacher and on your recommendation have finished two novels. Skipped Run all Night as I have it here and keep planning to give it a look.

    1. Reacher was a lot more fun than I ever expected. Interested in what you’ll think of Run All Night, I can’t remember if you saw Non-Stop. They’d make a good double feature if you haven’t. Julianne Moore did a great job showing her struggle, I really was impressed by her performance.

  3. I also really appreciate your take on STILL ALICE. I may not have told you this, but a good friend who helped decorate our wedding not even 10 years ago is now in a home because of Alzheimer’s. We didn’t witness the gradual decline because she lives out of town, but we do hear frequent updates. She is probably somewhere between where this movie ended and towards the end stage. Like Alice, she is aware of her memory loss and the worsening of her condition, yet still has periods of clarity. Of course it is going to get worse, as you know. Still Alice pulled some punches, but I thought it did okay at making the disease somewhat relatable because the character was bright, successful and a good parent. If anything it raises awareness on a “it can happen to you” level. Of course I haven’t seen the condition up close to determine accuracy, so I appreciated hearing your perspective.

    Hope your mom is doing as well as she can.

    1. Yes, thank you and thanks for sharing that. So true that everyone experiences it differently and what I should really say is, some bits of this story were “not our reality.” It’s a good movie with a lot of authentic moments, Moore did a great job putting across the changes. The more movies like this the better, so people understand, feel free to talk about it and ask questions and not just be scared away.

      1. Thanks, Kristina. Sorry, I wasn’t questioning your experience or even saying this one was different. I’m too far removed to really know. It is just a remarkably terrible disease and challenging to capture on screen. Even though it isn’t Alzheimer’s specific, what did you think of Amore?

        1. No don’t worry, I didn’t take it that way at all. You mean the Haneke movie? No I haven’t seen that but I’m curious to, probably will soon. You’re right it is a very tough thing to translate any disease to screen, to just make a good movie, make it realistic and also somehow meet all the other expectations. I don’t envy filmmakers who do it and admire the ones who get this close.

          1. That’s the one. It is a difficult movie about aging with disease, just not that disease. Haneke is the type of filmmaker that doesn’t hold back.

    1. Yes I did see that, it was a good serious look too, more sad and bleak than Alice since it focused more on the husband’s feeling of loss. It’s a really tough subject to make into a movie that’s interesting and accurate. Thanks for reading

  4. I read the book of Still Alice which was very good but I haven’t seen this film yet. Have you seen the British State of Play? The American one is based on it and I feel it is the superior of the two.

    1. No (on State of Play) but I know what you mean because I read about the interesting characters that were cut out in the US version, I think one was played by James McAvoy. I’m curious to look at it now. Thank you!

  5. I haven’t seen ANY of these films, but “Still Alice” is next on my list. I’ve recently become a fan of Kristen Stewart after seeing her in “The Clouds of Sils Maria”. I bet she’s really good in this, along with Julianne Moore (of course).

    1. I’m really looking forward to CLOUDS, looks great, and yes everyone was good in ALICE, the scenes between Moore and Stewart were really touching, you better have some tissues handy.

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