Month: March 2015

Julianne Moore in Still Alice (2014)

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The lovely, talented Julianne Moore received her fifth Oscar nomination and won her first Oscar for playing Dr Alice Howland, a linguistic professor suffering from Early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease in Still Alice.

Still Alice is not a bad film at all. In fact, I thought it was pretty good, just nothing amazing or special. Calling it a TV movie is a bit harsh in my opinion, as I felt that it handled its subject matter very honestly, albeit simplistically. It could have been another overly-sentimental and cheesy hallmark movie that aims to manipulate its audience into tears, but I was genuinely moved in certain moments (mainly thanks to Moore), and the acting was good all round. I usually cannot stand Kstew, but this could be the best performance of hers that I’ve seen so far. She’s still doing her lip-biting/hair stroking/ constant sighing thing, and I don’t really buy her as an aspiring actress (theatre scene was awkward), but I thought her scenes with Moore were really well-handled and touching in some parts. Same goes for Alec Baldwin who gives a very good performance as Alice’s supportive husband,

Naturally, the star of this film is Julianne Moore. When Still Alice was first released, everyone was already going on about how she is FINALLY going to win her first Oscar. To me, this talented lady should already have won at least two golden statues throughout her remarkable career (The Hours/Boogie Nights/Far From Heaven), and I’m sure everyone felt the same way. In fact, I don’t think people minded too much about the fact that this isn’t her best performance, or that it isn’t even what they consider the best female performance of the year: They just wanted to see Moore with an Oscar, and her winning moment was probably the highlight of this year’s Oscar ceremony.

I have to admit, I came into this performance expecting to be underwhelmed, mainly because of the reviews people were giving. Nonetheless, I was still highly impressed (I’m easily impressed, you know that) by what Moore had to offer here, as she got to showcase her natural instincts and attention to details as an actress.

The first thing I highly admired about Moore’s performance is her highly realistic depiction of the character’s deterioration. Actually, the way the story was structured made it seem a bit rushed, but Moore clearly did her research and showed the gradual and painful process of her memory loss. She displayed so many emotions here that were heartbreaking to watch: fear, desperation, sadness and shame. There was one particular scene where Alice said that she wished she had cancer instead, and I really felt sorry for her at that moment. This was a woman who had a brilliant mind and career, and watching her lose grasp of what she had the most pride in was extremely sad. The same goes for the scene where she forgot where the bathroom was; the desperation and shame in her eyes was heart-wrenching.

Alice is written to be a bit saint-like, in my opinion, and I guess that’s why people felt that this performance was lacking as compared to some of Moore’s other performances. If you compare her to the many layers of Cathy Whitaker, the electrifying intensity of Laura Brown, or the oddness of Amber Waves, Alice Howland can seem a bit boring. Yet I still felt that Moore utilized what she had to her fullest advantage, trying to show as many different sides of the character as she could. While she may have come off as pushy when she’s trying to convince Lydia (Stewart) to go to college, or when she’s trying to convince her husband to take a year off, you can still sense Alice’s desire to have some form of control over the major decisions in her life and her loved ones. It was sad watching her trying to tidy up the loose ends before she loses everything, like a dying person preparing for his final moments in life.

Another aspect of Moore’s performance that I love is how Alice handles the character’s disease with pride and grace. There was never one moment where I felt she was screaming or crying for my attention and sympathy, even during the character’s breakdowns. One of the highlights of her performance comes from the speech, where she describes living every moment and how she is struggling, not suffering. I loved the entire moment of that speech as I thought she captured what kind of person Alice really was: a strong and intelligent woman who refuses to give in to her disease but to face it with grace and dignity.

Of course, it’s easy to criticise this performance over Rosamund Pike’s electrifying turn in Gone Girl or Marion Cotillard’s fantastic performance in Two Days, One Night, but believe it or not, I loved Julianne Moore’s performance as Alice Howland! I’m a Juli-loonie of course, and while I admit that her performance is not overly complex or haunting (as compared to her best works), I think it’s like a well-written poem: beautiful, touching and heartbreaking to watch. It’s a career win that I won’t complain too much over, as I still think it’s deserved. 4.5/5.

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Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night (2014)

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Marion Cotillard received her second Oscar nomination for playing Sandra Bya, a young and depressed belgian mother who has to convince her co-workers to give up their bonus in order to retain her job.

Two Days, One Night is a very small-scale but interesting film that I respect. I understand the criticisms about it being repetitive and boring, but I feel like this was what the film-makers were going for: to capture the harsh realities behind the lives of the working class, and of human beings in general. What I especially admired about the film is that no one is truly “good or bad” – I felt for the workers who chose not to vote for Sandra, even though her livelihood is at stake. The movie made me appreciative of what I have in life now, and how I’m blessed to not have to truly fight or struggle to get a good education and job to survive. Such realism in films have been rare for quite a while, and while I don’t flat-out love the film, I still think it’s a piece that is worth watching by film-fanatics.

I’m a fan of Marion Cotillard as an actress, so when her name was announced during this year’s Oscar nominations, I instantly felt my heart leap in joy, even though I have yet to watch the film then. It probably wasn’t an easy nomination to obtain, and yet the Academy made the wise decision to pick her over Amy Adams and Jennifer Aniston. People always choose to remember her for those few seconds of awkwardness in The Dark Knight Rises over her true brilliance in La Vie En Rose (!!!), Rust and Bone and Inception. That admittedly bothers me a little, so when they finally chose to recognise her again, I couldn’t help but smile 😀

Cotillard doesn’t merely act as Sandra – she brings her to life. Every emotion, every inner conflict, and every glimmer of hope can be felt so intensely and realistically thanks to Cotillard’s impeccable instincts. Whenever she approaches her co-workers, you can feel the immense shame and embarrassment that she feels – a natural reaction, considering that she’s asking struggling families to give up 1000 euros. When she says that she feels like a beggar, I totally empathized with her. She plays Sandra with objectivity and honesty, which is something I love considering this is the kind of role where actors usually try to manipulate the audience into feeling for the characters. You don’t particularly love or hate Sandra, you just see her as an ordinary human being who is fighting, not just against her crippling depression, but for her survival.

The best part for the performance for me is how she portrays Sandra’s journey of self-discovery and internal growth. Due to the realistic nature of the film, there aren’t many juicy monologues or Oscary scenes, but I always felt that Sandra was becoming stronger and stronger as a person throughout the film. From her constant breakdowns in the beginning (which are fantastically acted), to the final scene where she stood up against her boss and *SPOILER* refused to take back the job because she didn’t want another person to lose his job*SPOILER*, you can see how much Sandra has changed. She learned to cope with her inner demons, and fight for her own rights by taking a stand. The scene where she tells her husband she’s happy with her decision is probably the best part for me – it’s very subtle and quiet, but that smile on her face itself speaks a million about the character’s change. 5/5

RIP Mr Lee Kuan Yew

To my foreign friends out there, I’m not sure how many of you would have heard of the passing of Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew this morning.

I’m not very into politics, and I would be lying if I were to say that I am extremely familiar with Singapore’s history (yeah, should have paid more attention in class then), but there’s no denying one thing: the man played a HUGE role in transforming Singapore. We have come a long way from our high mortality and unemployment rates to one of the most prosperous city in the world. And it was all because one man had the guts, the passion and the fire in him to bring about the change.

You may criticise him for his hard tactics and his “dictatorship” (urgh, I hate it when people use this word to describe him), but I think we often overlook the fact that times were pretty horrible then. A simple Google search would tell you that we had our periods of instability, such as the numerous racial riots. And perhaps the most pressing issue: we had NO natural resources. His style, which may seem dated in today’s context, was instrumental in bringing about the change that was needed. Because of that change, I can visit shopping malls with friends, enjoy good food, watch good movies and have a good education. Trivial things aside, we also have some of the lowest crime rates in the world, and I always feel safe when I am walking home from school at night by myself. There is freedom of religion, and nobody is being ostracized, oppressed and killed because of their faith and race (considering the situation going on with ISIS, I do thing this is something we should not take for granted). Sure, we ban guns and chewing gum, which is something that most foreigners don’t understand/find funny, but we are a peaceful nation, and that is one thing that we tend to overlook. I’m not saying we are a country without flaws – our cost of living is fucking high, the stress levels can be insane, the government can be frigid (though they are improving), the MRTs are breaking down more often than they should (still better than other countries though), and the crowds are insane during weekends. Still, I think we should take a step back to appreciate what we have. Our women are free to pursue careers, have a degree and wear clothes that they want – compare this to the situations in the Middle East or India. I think there is a lot to be grateful for, even if we don’t realise it.

Thank you, Mr Lee, for your contribution and for engineering the change that brought Singapore to what it is today.