Blu Tuesday: Still Alice, Blackhat and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Still Alice”

WHAT: Renowned linguistics professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is a happily married mother of three grown children who has begun to experience problems with her memory. When she’s diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease, Alice’s relationships with her family are tested as she struggles to maintain a normal life despite the worsening symptoms.

WHY: “Still Alice” is an emotionally devastating, soul-crushing movie that is bound to end in tears for anyone watching it, which makes the decision to release it on home video the week of Mother’s Day especially cruel. With that said, writers/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (the former of whom recently died from his own battle with a terrible disease, ALS) do a good job of portraying the illness and the effect it has on the people around those afflicted without cheapening its real-world impact or pandering to the audience. The story also smartly avoids getting too deep into Alice’s illness too soon, allowing you to witness Alice in her natural habitat as a wife, mother and teacher, thus making her mental deterioration that much more traumatic. Based on Lisa Genova’s 2007 bestselling novel of the same name, the film is such a well-acted drama that it deserves every accolade it received during last year’s awards season. It wouldn’t be as effective without Julianne Moore in the lead role, however, and she delivers a career-best performance as the intelligent and independent matriarch forced to suffer her worst nightmare. Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart are also solid in supporting roles, but this is Moore’s movie from start to finish, and she commands the screen with such brutal honesty that it was never a question of if she’d win the Oscar, but why it took so long.

EXTRAS: In addition to a discussion among the cast, crew and Alzheimer’s experts about creating an accurate depiction of Alice’s disease, there’s a profile on directors Richard Glazer and Wash Westmoreland, an interview with composer Ilan Eshkeri and a few deleted scenes.



WHAT: After a cyberterrorist causes a meltdown at a nuclear reactor in China and makes millions on the stock market by driving up the price of soy, FBI agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) makes a deal with imprisoned hacker Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) to expunge his record in exchange for his help in stopping the malicious blackhat before the next attack.

WHY: Over the past decade, Michael Mann has come to care more about the look of his films than what they’re trying to say, and that hasn’t changed with “Blackhat.” To be fair, when the camera isn’t shaking around like it’s in the middle of an earthquake, the movie boasts some really gorgeous visuals. It’s just a shame that the story hasn’t been given the same attention. Mann tries to counteract the implausibility of Morgan Davis Foehl’s script by instilling a sense of danger with real stakes, but there’s too much working against it, including a faceless villain who isn’t very threatening and a needlessly convoluted plot that fails to validate the sluggish, 135-minute runtime. Chris Hemsworth does the best he can with such a dull, underdeveloped character (wasting his charismatic presence in the process), although Chinese actors Leehom Wang and Wei Tang fare much better in supporting roles. Perhaps the most annoying thing about “Blackhat,” however, is that it constantly brings up 9/11 as a measure of the level of terror that the hacker is capable of launching against the world, and yet the film never even considers going in that direction. This could have been a very timely thriller about cyber-terrorism, but instead, it’s just another style-over-substance misfire from Mann.

EXTRAS: There’s a trio of featurettes on the film’s production, shooting on location and the real-world threat of cyber-terrorism.



WHAT: With his family’s estate on the verge of bankruptcy, British art dealer Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) agrees to help his old friend, Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor), with a murder case linked to the theft of a lost Goya painting. Aided by his loyal manservant, Jock Strapp (Paul Bettany), Mortdecai launches an investigation into the missing masterpiece, only to discover that it may contain the code to a Swiss bank account filled with Nazi gold.

WHY: Johnny Depp is in a rut, and if he’s not careful, he could end up like Nicolas Cage really soon, because “Mortdecai” is bottom-of-the-barrel bad. Not only is the film’s plot is overly complex and embarrassingly incoherent, but the screenplay is rampant with stupid wordplay and recurring gags (mostly surrounding Mortdecai’s newly grown mustache), as if they’ll somehow warrant a laugh the umpteenth time around. It has the opposite effect, grinding away at your patience like a vulture gnawing on a days-old bone. The movie isn’t even fun to watch in a train-wreck sort of way, and just when you think it can’t get any worse, Paul Bettany projectile vomits from a moving car during a climactic chase sequence. The only thing more depressing than watching an actor of Bettany’s talent stoop this low is the realization that the film still isn’t over. It’s a failure on just about every level, so committed to its ridiculous premise that director David Koepp doesn’t bother to step back and recognize the sheer magnitude of its terribleness.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray includes a behind-the-scenes featurette with interviews from the cast, as well as a look at composing the film’s score.


“The Cobbler”

WHAT: Max Simkin (Adam Sandler) is a fourth-generation cobbler who runs his family’s shoe repair store in Manhattan now that his father (Dustin Hoffman) is no longer around. When he discovers that the antique stitching machine in his basement has magical powers that transform him into a doppelganger of the shoes’ owner when he puts them on, Max uses his newfound ability to do some good in the neighborhood.

WHY: Adam Sandler’s dramatic career hasn’t been as successful as he probably would have liked, so when it was announced that the actor would be teaming up with writer/director Thomas McCarthy for his new film, the stage seemed set for Sandler to prove that “Punch-Drunk Love” wasn’t just a fluke. Unfortunately, “The Cobbler” is really awful, and for once, Sandler isn’t to blame. Though the setup is promising enough, it quickly goes downhill once Max begins using the enchanted machine. His initial use of the power isn’t just criminal, but also somewhat creepy, especially in one scene when he’s invited to have sex with a beautiful woman in the shower while impersonating her boyfriend, only to decline, not because it’s morally wrong, but because he would need to remove his boots (thereby reversing the effect) in order to do so. In fact, with the exception of a few occasions, Max rarely uses his powers for good. But that’s exactly what “The Cobbler” should have been about – Max helping people – and the fact that it’s not only makes this tone-deaf dramedy an even more miserable experience.

EXTRAS: There’s a short behind-the-scenes featurette, but that’s all.