‘Still Alice,’ ‘Blackhat’ Arrive on Home Video

Forrest Hartman

 

This week’s major home video releases are anchored by an intimate drama that earned Julianne Moore her fourth Oscar nomination and first Oscar win.

 

 

Still Alice

3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, and brief language including a sexual reference
Sony
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

 

Julianne Moore plays the title character in “Still Alice,” a beautifully crafted character drama about a woman dealing with the trauma of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Alice Howland (Moore) is a brilliant linguistics professor who has a warm and loving home life and a rewarding career where she is respected by students and colleagues. Then she begins forgetting things. At first, the problems are relatively minor. She loses track of where she’s going in a lecture. It’s an embarrassing moment, but little more. Then after getting lost while going for a jog around her college campus, she decides to seek medical help.

 

The diagnosis is terrifying. Alice has a debilitating disease that will slowly steal the thing that she holds most dear: her mind. Making things worse, she learns that her condition is genetic, meaning the disease may be passed to future generations. Traumatized by this knowledge, Alice and her husband John (Alec Baldwin) break the news to their children. For Alice, the pain is the deepest because she is forced to live with a rapidly decreasing mental capacity.

 

The movie was adapted from Lisa Genova’s bestselling 2007 novel, and directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland do an admirable job depicting the despair that an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can bring to both the patient and his or her family. Much of the movie’s success can, of course, be credited to Moore.

 

She does a wonderful job portraying Alice in varying stages of the disease, and her nuanced performance earned her an Oscar for best actress. Moore’s work is shored up by a strong supporting turn from Baldwin and solid work from the actors who play Alice’s family. This group includes Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart as Alice’s daughters and Hunter Parrish as her son.   

 

Stewart’s performance is particularly noteworthy, as her screen outings are often wooden and dull. Here, her work is subtle, earthy, and believable. 

 

“Still Alice” is not an easy film to watch because it’s a reminder that too many people are actually suffering from Alzheimer’s, but that also makes the movie powerful and important. Westmoreland and Glatzer make the material more palatable by balancing the sorrow with humor and moments of joy. They also make it clear Alzheimer’s patients should not defined by their disease but by the person they have always been. This is an important message to remember as we work towards a cure.   

 

Blu-ray DVD extras include three behind-the-scenes featurettes and deleted scenes.

 

 

Blackhat

2 stars
Rated R for violence and some language
Universal
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

 

As technology advances, cybercriminals are becoming even more frightening than the strong-arm thugs of yesteryear, and that’s reflected in director Michael Mann’s “Blackhat.” In the film, tech-savvy baddies hack into a Chinese nuclear power plant, creating a potential ecological disaster. Not long after, a U.S. financial exchange is hacked, and officials believe it was the work of the same criminals.

 

This prompts the Chinese government to send one of its military officers, Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang), to America to work with U.S. officials and find the perpetrator. Shortly after Dawai arrives in the States, he reveals that whoever mounted the attacks did so using stolen code that he wrote with his roommate while attending a U.S. university. Dawai also says the investigation stands a better chance of success if he can enlist the help of that roommate, Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth). This presents a problem because Hathaway is serving a lengthy prison sentence for cyber crimes of his own.

 

Because “Blackhat” is a movie, the U.S. government promptly agrees to commute Hathaway’s sentence if he helps stop the new criminal threat. Through the rest of the film, Hathaway works with Dawai, two U.S. officers (Viola Davis and Holt McCallany) and Dawai’s computer-expert sister (Wei Tang).

 

“Blackhat” has an intriguing premise, and the criminal plot at the center of the movie is well designed. Mann, who also directed “Heat” (1995), “Collateral” (2004) and “Public Enemies” (2009), is generally good with crime films, and he does a respectable job illustrating how easily a sharp hacker can compromise supposedly secure systems. Still, the movie has considerable flaws.

 

While the fallout from cyber attacks is often more devastating and costly than old-school stickups, they are nowhere near as cinematic as old-fashioned gunplay. Because of this, Mann and screenwriter Morgan Davis Foehl have concocted an action-drama hybrid that often seems forced and, even more often, feels ridiculously far-fetched.

 

Hemsworth is a fine young talent, and he does a nice job passing himself off as a tech guru. The fact that his character is also an expert in hand-to-hand combat and can fire a handgun like a firearms instructor is less plausible. But that’s the type of movie this is. The players are who they need to be, whether it makes sense or not, and Mann allows time for only minimal character development.

 

This character development issue is a conundrum because  “Blackhat” is nearly two and a half hours long, meaning there was plenty of time to flesh the players out. Instead, Mann wastes his minutes allowing the camera to zoom around capturing flashy visuals that are supposed to show us the inner workings of technology. There is also one frenetic action sequence that overstays its welcome. Even worse is the fact that all of this leads to a silly Hollywood ending that will satisfy only those who refuse to think about what they’re watching.  

 

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a behind-the-scenes feature.

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

 

“Mortdecai”: Comic thriller featuring Johnny Depp as an art dealer who helps a police inspector track down a stolen painting. The movie is based on the Mortdecai book series by author Kyril Bonfiglioli. Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Olivia Munn, Paul Bettany and Jeff Goldblum also star. Directed by David Koepp.

 

“The Cobbler”: Dramatic comedy starring Adam Sandler as a burned-out shoe repairman who discovers that he can magically step into the lives of his customers. Ellen Barkin, Steve Buscemi and Dustin Hoffman also star. Co-written and directed by Thomas McCarthy.  

 

“Tracers”: Taylor Lautner stars as a New Your City bike messenger who gets drawn into a criminal gang that uses parkour skills to pull robberies. Directed by Daniel Benmayor.

 

“Battlestar Galactica” – Remastered: Universal is releasing two boxed sets devoted to the original 1978 “Battlestar Galactica” TV series. One set (“The Remastered Collection”) includes all 24 episodes of the original series and all 10 episodes of the “Galactica 1980” spinoff. The other set (“The Definitive Collection”) includes all of the above plus a 125-minute theatrical edit of the pilot for the 1978 series. Both sets have been freshly remastered for widescreen presentation, but “The Definitive Collection” also includes the original, full-screen episodes.   

 

“Unforgettable” – The Third Season: This set contains the 13 most-recent episodes of the crime drama starring Poppy Montgomery as Carrie Wells, a police detective who uses her photographic memory to help solve crimes. 

 

“Rawhide” – The Complete Series: Every episode of the long-running TV Western centered on the adventures of a group of rugged cattle drovers. Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood star.

 

“Walker, Texas Ranger” – The Complete Collection: Every episode of the CBS series starring Chuck Norris as a lawman working in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Clarence Gilyard Jr. and Sheree J. Wilson also star.

 

Author Bio:

 

Forrest Hartman, a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine, is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation's largest publications. For more of his work visit www.ForrestHartman.com. 

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