Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Still Alice and Wild Card

Julianne Moore at a new peak, Jason Statham in search of action.


Still Alice
Sony Pictures Classic

Julianne Moore has already won Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for her performance in Still Alice, and she may well win the Academy Award for which she's been nominated. Not a lot of people have seen this movie, but that could change when it expands nationwide next week. It might be a hard sell, though. Any picture that begins with a woman succumbing to Alzheimer's disease is clearly not headed for a happy place—which is, understandably, the preferred destination for many moviegoers. But Moore, playing a woman who has it all but steadily loses it as her disease eats away at her mind and slowly erases her personality, is sensational. She's all the reason anyone might need to see the film, which unfortunately offers little else to command our attention.

Moore's character, Alice Howland, is a professor of linguistics at Columbia University. She lives with her doctor husband, John (Alec Baldwin), in a spacious Manhattan townhouse filled with the tasteful trappings of upper-class prosperity. We meet Alice at her fiftieth-birthday party, a celebration at which two of her grown children (Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish) are also in attendance. Alice seems entirely happy, but dark clouds are beginning to gather. First she starts losing her train of thought in conversation, and stretching to recall words. Jogging around the Columbia campus one day, she becomes disoriented, not recognizing her once-familiar surroundings. In a classroom, she has to ask students what the day's subject is supposed to be. "I've got something wrong with me," she finally tells her husband.

Alice thinks she might have a brain tumor, but after she undergoes an MRI, a doctor tells her it's something much worse: she has early-onset Alzheimer's, a disease for which there is no cure. As the fog in her mind thickens, she begins to despair. "I feel like my brain is dying," she says, "and everything I've worked for my whole life is going."

The movie is based on a 2007 novel, originally self-published, by former Harvard neuroscientist Lisa Genova. As adapted by co-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, the story is blandly straightforward and unsurprising—we know where it has to go, and it does. And the flat dialogue gives the actors little to work with. ("Whatever happens, I'm here," John tells his deteriorating wife.) There's also a subplot involving another daughter, an unsuccessful actress named Lydia (Kristen Stewart), that's supposed to pay off at the movie's conclusion but mostly feels like extrinsic plot clutter.

Moore, however, lifts the movie to grand heights of character revelation. At one point, Alice, on the verge of literally losing her mind, comes upon a message on her computer—a filmed communication she recorded at the outset of her ordeal, addressed to the diminished woman she has since become. The contrast here—between the old Alice, beautiful and beaming with life, and the new one, withered and dulled—is an unforgettable demonstration of great acting by a performer at the peak of her interpretive powers.

Moore is a Hollywood star who has continued to lend her big-name presence to enterprising indies like The Kids Are All Right, Chloe, and Savage Grace. In a career that has now lasted more than 20 years, she seems still to be in search of new things, new entryways into the complexity of human personality. Here, she has succeeded once again.

Wild Card

Wild Card

Why it was thought to be a good idea to remake Heat, a 1986 Burt Reynolds movie of no clamoring distinction, is anybody's guess. But here it is, retitled Wild Card, with Jason Statham installed in the Reynolds role as Nick Wild, a Las Vegas bodyguard who rents out his services to visiting high-rollers. (Reynolds' character was surnamed Escalante, but Escalante Card was presumably thought to be a nonstarter, title-wise.) Statham is one of the most appealing of action stars, a performer whose low-key warmth has carried him nicely between bouts of spectacular mayhem in the Transporter and Expendables films, among others. Wild Card is a little light on action, though, and Statham's narrow range as an actor is unfairly tested by the film's narrative wallows. It's not a bad movie, really—it does offer occasional eruptions of gratifying whomp-and-stomp. It's just not a great Statham movie.

William Goldman's original script has been dutifully reheated, with a number of good actors brought in to generally waste their time. Nick works out of the office of a lawyer called Pinky (Jason Alexander, briefly seen). There he's approached by a newly arrived young software millionaire named Cyrus (Michael Angarano). Cyrus wants to do some high-stakes gambling, and he wants his body guarded. What he's really after, though, is a mentor, someone to help him become a man. Like Nick, you see.

Nick's not a promising candidate to mentor anyone. In his free time he's a compulsive gambler, knocking back double vodkas and hemorrhaging money at a Golden Nugget blackjack table run by sympathetic dealer Cassandra (Hope Davis). He's also engaged in helping out a call girl of his acquaintance named Holly (Dominik Garcia-Lorido), who's been raped and beaten in the hotel suite of a mob creep named Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia). When Holly asks Nick to pay DeMarco a retaliatory visit, we immediately perk up in anticipation of a good bone-snapping Statham fight scene. Which we get, along with some bonus genital scissor-menacing.

But director Simon West can't stop the plot from rearing its fuzzy head. So we trail Nick to Cassandra's blackjack table, where she starts slapping down cards—wap wap wap—in predictable mini-montages,  and Nick starts winning for a change. Now we learn that he has a dream—to rake in enough cash to finance his relocation to the Mediterranean isle of Corsica. Why Corsica? That's not entirely clear. Since the filmmakers did actually go to the expense of shooting there, I think we can assume that this plot strand succumbed to digital scissor-menacing in the edit suite.

Anyway, Nick keeps butting heads with DeMarco, to the point that a mob macher called Baby (Stanley Tucci) has to be called in to cool things out. (Tucci, like Hope Davis, is slumming here, as is Sofia Vergara, who's wasted as somebody's sort-of girlfriend.) Eventually, there's a rousing five-man clobber-fest spiked with agreeably nasty knife work—the sort of thing at which Statham, who does his own stunts, continues to rule. If only there were more of this. But the movie expends too much time showing our guy dolefully drinking or gambling or driving around Vegas looking thoughtful, or pissed, or possibly, like us at a couple of points, just bored. This man needs more action to bring him alive. So do we.  

NEXT: NYPD, Now With More Machine Guns

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  1. Sounds like the feel-good hit of the year.

    “Any picture that begins with a woman succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease is clearly not headed for a happy place?which is, understandably, the preferred destination for many moviegoers.”

    The preferred destination of many moviegoers is bad guys dying in a series of explosions or the female protagonist getting together with the man she’s meant for.

    Nothing wrong with that – I would say that if I want intellectual stimulation I’d read a book.

  2. I have been calling for a non-action Statham movie for years, so I am pumped.

  3. Heat actually did have a couple of distinctive moments; its fight scenes had a somewhat startling brutality for the time, though the standard has risen since then. Not gory, precisely, but a sharp change from the fights of the times which had tended to a pretty choreography that wasn’t especially convincing. To achieve the same level of shock these days somebody’s spine would have to come out, I suppose. It was a decent addition to a video library if one of your purposes was to have a “The hell with being nice, I’m gonna watch the hero beat the snot out of some bad guys” movie on tap.

    I’m sorry to learn that this remake has erred on the side of “character development”. It’s an understandable trend, but not one that plays to Statham’s strengths. And, sadly, one that I’ve seen in a couple of his recent films, so we’ll probably see more of it. There are damn few action stars that can actually sustain a high level of acting, just as there aren’t all that many actors who can look believable in an all out kick-and-punch fest. I see some indications that Michael Jai White might be able to pull it off, but his recent fare has been mostly fighting.

    1. Aside; I would love to see or read a serious examination of the development of booth dance and fight choreography in film, and if and how they interacted. I see parallels between the introduction of Bob Fosse style dynamics in dance and the introduction of martial arts in film fights, but lack the background to even know where to look for confirmation.

      Mr. Loder?

    2. Michael Jai White

      He’s still alive? I can’t think of anything that he’s been in recently.

      1. um, I watched one of his (MJW) movies the other day on netflix. I was reminded of something that would play on USA “UP” All night hosted by gilbert… what was the girl’s name that hosted the other weekends?

        Anyway, it was horrible and his acting ability (or lack thereof) was at the center of the problems.

        1. Oh, he isn’t going to be anybody’s idea of a fit for HAMLET. But he’s a better actor than most action stars in the chop-and-kick end of things.

          FALCON RISING, which came out last Tuesday (on disc) is one of his. Good fights.

          1. that’s the one! it was awful with capital A. the fight scenes were gritty and engaging though.

            1. My impression, based on seeing him in some other things, is that the awfulness of the drama in FALCON RISING has more to do with script and director than with White himself.

              He is working on the mostly direct-to-video level, at least with the action films. There isn’t a lot of room in the theatrical release level of that genera, and what there is is over-occupied with more established names.

  4. “So we trail Nick to Hope’s blackjack table, where she starts slapping down cards”

    Surely it’s Cassandra’s table where Nick plays…

    1. Oops — good catch. Thanks…

  5. I can’t believe they remade the ONE Burt Reynolds movie without a swampboat chase in it.

    1. You forgot Boogie Nights. Which didn’t have a swampboat chase … for the normal definition of swampboat anyway.

  6. Julianne Moore is one of my favorite actresses, but she either has a poor agent, or she has poor judgement in scripts, or she just doesn’t care. I don’t really believe the latter. She’d have a career more akin to Liam Neeson or Robert DeNiro if it were true.

    I used to use her an example of my conspiracy theory that Hollywood gives these great actresses crappy roles so that they don’t become mega-stars(read “too expensive”). It was once specific to women, but now I’ve found that they do the same thing to men. I don’t know if it is intentional, or it is just that the quality of film has gone down.

    I do look forward seeing “Still Alice” though.

    1. or she has very different tastes than you. there are all sorts of possibilities really.

    2. There aren’t that many good roles around nowadays anyway. Maybe an actress can’t be choosy.

      But then . . . I saw that Drudge headline a few days ago. Julianne Moore, atheist (okay) and gun control enthusiast (stop right there). I didn’t read the our-tickle, but I’m guessing she’s a lefty idiot who has gaping holes in her intellect.

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  8. I’m curious why there’s been no review of Dinosaur 13?

    If there’s ever been a libertarian movie- or one recently done- this is it. It makes ones brain hurt.

    Highly recommended.

  9. I really like Jason Statham, so it was great to see him in another one of his trademark films.

    Everything was great about this film, except for the plot. The plot was underdeveloped and finished way too quickly.

    The other film I’m not that interested in. Alzheimer’s is caused through a lack of fat and cholesterol in the diet, combined with brain fogging grains, like wheat, rice and corn. If you are unaware of, or unwilling to investigate this, then good luck with your mental decline.

  10. Wildcard – he wants to run away from it all? Of Corsica.

  11. Still Alice is a movie that has won many awards. Julianne Moore performed very well as Hollywood star ,and she has already won Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards

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