Tag Archives: family drama

Still Alice

Still Alice film posterSynopsis

Based on a novel by neuroscientist Lisa Genova starring Julianne Moore as Alice, a professor of linguistics who, after becoming forgetful of words and on one occasion of her whereabouts, is told she will suffer Alzheimer’s disease.  Still Alice follows the emotional impact on herself and her family.  Her husband is played by Alec Baldwin.  Her daughter Lydia (Kirsten Stewart) learns there is a likelihood of her being a future sufferer.  Alice becomes increasingly helpless as the disease takes hold.


Back in the ’80s and ’90s there were films about social issues such as domestic violence and depression and these were dealt with in an often bland fashion.   Given our supposed advances since then in cultural sensitivity Still Alice manages to look like Hollywood looking after it’s own.  It’s fortunate that Alice is affluent and surrounded by caring academic liberals who are all smart, and of course, beautiful.  The prospects for those of lower status, or the poor, would be so much grimmer thus unfit for mainstream viewing.  Given these limitations, the film just about manages to convey the menace to domesticity in the way of thrillers.  You get the early scenes of domestic bliss (usually the family has just moved into a new home) and then the threat arises.  It’s a neat way of melodramatizing for a two hour production.  The cold panic in loss of memory and control are reasonably shown, and the film largely avoids the trap of facile sentimentality that you might get in a film about cancer, but only just.There is poetic acknowledgement of the role of memory in identity and of course the loss of this is the horror.  There is a quote from the poet Elizabeth Bishop in the speech Alice gives about possible responses to its onset.  Alice arranges for her suicide when the disease takes over.  Leaving the shower gel in the fridge is a startling sign of the disease.  Still Alice avoids the physical effects (except for incontinence because of not being able to find the bathroom), so is this an evasion of a responsibility to deal with reality?  Emotional coping is what the family has to offer but of course we can’t know the subjective reality of Alzheimer’s.  There is need to go further in this subject.

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Posted by on March 30, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Elena (Nadezdha Markina) is a middle aged woman living in a swish Moscow apartment with her partner the affluent Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov).  They sleep separately and eat together.  Elena’s son Sergei (Aleksey Rogin) is unemployed, living with his family in a shabby flat.  Elena gives him money.  Vladimir’s daughter Katya (Yelena Lyadeva) lives off her father’s money.  Vladimir has a heart attack and dies because Elena gives him the wrong medication.  Vladimir hasn’t left a will, what will Katya and Elena do with the money…?


One is always aware of this being a film set in contemporary Russia.  For me, it’s a moral fable about the (for a few) more affluent post-communist world of that country.  There is a growing affluent middle class in Russia and it lives in a style unimaginable a bare twenty or so years ago.  When we see the austerely still camera gaze on the apartment and Elena starting her daily routine, we might expect her to be the reliable stereotype of the strong, wise Russian woman primed with the peasant resilience of her forbears, but she commits murder to satisfy her family’s greed.  She calmly and efficiently gives Vladimir the wrong medication.  The film gives much attention to this as it does to the details of her apartment and her routine. She keeps her nerve through the emotional turmoil of guilt and regret that she must feel.  The mask stays tightly on.  This is a very hard look at contemporary Russia, none of the characters are likeable.  Vladimir and Elena self righteously argue about the merits of their own family whilst dis’ing the other’s.  Elena’s son Sergei is a wife-bulling slob and his is a surly waster.  Vladimir’s daughter Katya  is a self serving attitudinising cynic who lives off her father.  There might be some affection between Vladimir and Katya but one doubts her disinterestedness given her prospect of a moneyed inheritance.  Despite the lingering shots (reminding me of Tarkovsky and Haneka), Elena cleverly sustains a plot tension which tautens the film’s nervous system to a highly watchable pitch.  Along this tension the money-grabbing characters trickle their drops of acid.

My only problem with the plot is that the medical authorities would surely suspect something especially when a few people will gain from Vladimir’s death.  Elena is a nurse, and there is nothing dubious about the medication?  The film does not tell us what Katya will do about Elena’s family moving into her father’s apartment, will she just accept it?  This is unresolved and it leaves us guessing.  An absorbing film.


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The Descendants

The Descendants posterSynopsis

Set in present day Hawaii starring George Clooney as Matt, a lawyer whose wife is in a coma after a boating accident.  He wants to be with his daughters to await the outcome of his wife’s accident.  His older daughter is accompanied by her boyfriend who has had a recent bereavement.  His older daughter tells him his wife had had an affair with Brian Spears.  Matt has some unspoilt land in trust and he will sell it to rake in a fortune, Spears, he learns, will be involved in the business deal.  He wants to confront Spears and tell him about his wife’s condition.  Will Spears visit her?  Matt and his family visit his wife Elizabeth and await the doctor’s verdict.  Will Matt sign away the land?


When I was young we got Hawaii Five O on TV, a cop series.  The music was brash and local Hawiian culture was acknowledged in an offhand and touristy way.  Half a century later we get ecological sensitivity and cultural diversity in the guardianship of Matt the patron saint of liberal chic and right-on rhetoric.  The US takeover of Hawaii was of course colonialist and although he has some indigenous Hawiian  ancestry, we realize that Matt is effectively a beneficiary of colonialist theft.  He stresses that the land is in trust to his family but he can make millions of dollars out of it, it’s his to dispose of.  Matt reminds us in voice over that Hawaii is no paradise but shares the same problems as the rest of the world, as if we needed to be told that  This introducing us to the wise guy commentator whose observations about quirkiness are meant to be hilarious, not so in The Descendants.  This film seems to share similarities with Little Miss Sunshine and Juno but lacks the wit and comic inventiveness of those films.  Alexander Payne directed this and it reminds me of his other unlovely look at middle class, middle aged, male, self pity about the wine boozers in Sideways (2004).  Considering the things he goes through in this story Matt seems remarkably unchanged, we get Clooney’s same smug one-expression-that-fits-all-occasions at the end as at the beginning.  I could be missing something here but to me Clooney exploits his easy on the eye appearance to keep you waiting for some intelligent riposte, but you often get a banal remark.  Juno and Little Miss Sunshine benefit from quirky characters caught in comical situations often based on incongruities of appearance, manner, and intention with the surrounding social contexts but Matt’s character is always in charge, his wounded vanity guilt-tripping the man who cuckolded him.  There is no room for comic misunderstandings.  The lad is mildly amusing, he gets a whack on the face from Elizabeth’s father who blames Matt for not giving his daughter the money for a better life.  This guy is avaricious and unlikeable.  The wronged wife commiserates with Matt in the hospital, and the over all tone is sentimental.  Matt gets a chance to save the unspoilt land in the face of pressure from his avaricious family (especially Beau Bridges).

None of the characters are likeable.  The two daughters are motor-mouthed attitudes and it’s not heartwarming.  An unlikeable and unpleasant film

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Posted by on February 16, 2012 in All-time favourites, Film Reviews


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