June 30, 2004

Fantasy Film League, Take 3

The Julen Film Institute

The feature film AFFLECKTION, which will hit theaters this weekend, is
a cinematic tour de force about the psychological trauma caused when a
man is tormented by the thought of his best friend exposed to romantic
temptation – this docudrama, set among the glittering klieg lights of
Hollywood is unusual in that its chief character – the tormented man -
is never seen, nor heard in the film.

Indeed, Sissy Spacek, no stranger to cinematic madness, narrates the
film as the man (whom she refers to as “Ben”)’s chief psychiatrist.
The docudrama covers a three month period in which the best
friend, played by Matt Damon, bounces from the arms of one leading
lady to the next. Much has been made of his romances with Natalie
Portman, Christina Applegate, and Hillary Duff, but it is the June-
September romance with Julie Andrews that drives “Ben”’s madness to
new shocking extremes.

Sam Raimi directs a searing indictment of the love that dares not
speak its name, and Matt Damon’s performance will make you want to
eat even more popcorn.

I've just entered my third film over at Fantasy Film League. Artichokes and Almonds: A Love Story has made $87,367, 500, placing me atop the Quartzleague for the January season, and at #62 overall. Harry Potter and the Toyota Matrix has made $42, 467, 500 (#7 Quartzleague, #225 overall) in the April League.

Posted by julia at 09:15 PM

Fahrenheit 9/11

This movie will make you angry (either at or with Moore). It also made me cry, avert my eyes in horror, and seethe. I'm not a big fan of Moore's docupinary style - He fires almost randomly, pairing his strongest, biggest points with scattershot coincidence, innuendo, insults, and peripherally related facts and thoughts that become very easy for his opponents to latch onto and focus attention on those minor, dismissable points, rather than the larger, more troublesome issues. This is not an easy movie to watch: Moore pairs political outrage with grisly war footage of injuries, death, and napalmed faces; there's footage of a beheading that I still saw out of the corner of my eye, and a woman whose grief over losing her son is raw and right there.

Posted by julia at 04:18 PM

June 16, 2004


It looked so promising from the previews and commercials - a good-natured satirical take on a religiously enthusiastic teen community - but those previews contained most of the best parts of the movie. The movie simply runs out of steam halfway through, but chugs through the inevitable teen comedy situations and inevitable Big Question of Independence to end up at happily every after. Jena Malone is charming in a surprisingly famous or near-famous cast, but everything else in this movie is blunted - any edge is displayed and then carefully smoothed over with a cliche. Most of the cast soar below the radar in the movie (Martin Donovan and Mandy Moore have good moments, but they too spend a lot of time gliding through the movie).

Posted by julia at 02:31 AM

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Alfonso Cuaron captured the spirit of the Potter novels far better than his predecessor, even as he cut back on the story (purists buzz about the lack of backstory on the Marauder's Map) and simplified other elements. This movie is mysterious and magical and different; he's recast the world around Hogwarts to be wilder and craggy, it feels part fairy-tale, part kaleidoscope shift, but mostly, it feels right. The story has been simplified for the purposes of filming, the villain is telegraphed a little too broadly, and the CGI characters are thinner and less satisfying as they could be, but this is still the best of the Harry Potter movies so far. Cuaron isn't afraid to use the subtleties in the periphery (his indications of seasonal change, approach of the dementors, the magical world around them are pleasing details), and he focuses on the essential story of the piece.

Posted by julia at 02:18 AM

May 24, 2004

Mean Girls

Tina Fey took a vaguely pop-sociological book and turned it into a teen flick by wrapping the interactions and status in a thin and colorless romance that literally paled in comparison to the real theme of the movie: battles for power, place, and status among teenage girls. Some imaginative staging (at several points the students actually emulate the animals the lead character compares them to in her voice-overed journal-esque entries) and a strong grasp on the ways girls interact make for the strongest parts of the movie. The weakest parts come in the wrapper that made the movie palatable to a major movie studio: the broad stereotypical supporting characters, bits of broadly crass humor, and pretty much most of the male characters. On the plus side, you can spend your time during those portions of the movie playing "Hey, it's that guy! Where do I know him from?"

Posted by julia at 01:39 PM

March 30, 2004

Fantasy Film League Update

Since my first film in the Fantasy Film League (Almonds and Artichokes, a Love Story) is doing so well, I thought I'd take another shot at it:

--- julen news ticker --- Industry insiders were shocked this morning when Alfonso Cuaron, the director of the upcoming Harry Potter movie revealed that he had slipped slightly off-canon in this film. "Although I know I was supposed to make Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," he said, patting a large suitcase, "I could not resist going in a some- what different direction. " He then tipped his waiter ten thousand dollars and looked thoughtful. 'Harry Potter and the Toyota Matrix' will make history, he said confidently. "Sure -- we've had some casting problems..." he said, referring to the original cast walkout upon reading the new script. "and some nattering nabobs of negativity have a problem with Toyota's belief and support for this project, but they're all fools." "Once I got Chris Walken to play Harry, I was set. The rest was gravy." Cuaron said, pulling out a cast photo. "You see, Kate Beckinsale will be playing Hermione (I know how much J. K likes her British actors) and Will Smith will upgrade Ron Weasly nicely. As they set off for Japan to rescue the 2007 concept model of the Toyota Matrix from the evil Whonda executive, Draco Malfoy (played by Brad Pitt) will chase them down to prevent them from learning that Lord Valdemort (Jude Law) has taken over the Whonda company and has reduced the gas milage on their hybrid Citycs and wants to do the same for the hybrid Matrix planned for 2007. Valdemort, of course, now has a sexy henchwoman who will battle with the boy wizard. That's Naomi Watts." Cuaron paused. "This movie has megahit ALL over it."

This is, of course, a fake "news" release. I'm sure Alfonso Cuaron is in real life a true artiste who would never sacrifice his artistic visionfor money. However, he probably is a good tipper. And I bet he loves all the animals of the world, and if he had one wish, it'd be world peace. Blah Blah Disclaimer Blah Blah Disclaimer Blah Blah

Posted by julia at 04:18 PM

March 29, 2004

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine... actually exceeded my expectations. I like the way Charlie Kaufman structures his stories, and creates his inverted worlds where meaning, character, and reality intersplice, and I find it astonishing how he find different stories and methods to do that.

This tale - of a man who goes to a high tech doctor to erase his ex-girlfriend from his memory after learning that she has done just that - is a tale of regret and fear, of the impact of life and its experiences, of the beauty and pain of hindsight, and the nature of choice. The performances are universally good, but Jim Carrey in the lead doesn't mug; he uses his flexible face instead to inhabit a man who is alternately morose, angry, scared, desperate, and devastated. He's actually acting here, and it's nice to see. He should do more of it.

The other standout in already good cast is, surprisingly enough, Kirsten Dunst, whose subthread turns out to be a fascinating contrast to the main story. Kate Winslet - the ostensible costar - did well with a difficult shifting role, but as a reflection largely of Carrey's memories, it was hard to cotton onto her, even as she is taken advantage of.

The visuality of this film was fascinating. It drew from the frustration of the visual world in dreams, where things get toppled down on each other, and things melt away and out of reach, but it added layers of meaning to the fragile permanance of memory. The scenes of memories being erased and altered are interesting to watch, particularly when Carrey pushes out from memory into some alternate thought. I really liked this movie. It is easily the best one I've seen in months: smart, twisty, original, and visually stimulating.

Posted by julia at 04:15 AM

The Ladykillers

I should preface this by saying that I have never seen the original movie, but I have seen every Coen Brothers movie ever made. This movie makes Intolerable Cruelty (which I had problems with) seem like a great movie. The casting is uneven here (although directors automatically get bonus points for casting Irma P. Hall). The thievery is thinly presented, and the wit is decidedly dumb - profanity, the clash between Hall's religious, gentile woman, and the foul-mouthed pistol-flashing thief played by Marlon Wayans, and juvenile violence-tinged humor.

The star is - of course - Tom Hanks, and I expected more than this broad over-the-top shallow performance. He was all drawl and snorting titter, and you never saw anything deeper in his character - a unfortunate facet that was only highlighted by the deeper performance (of a simple character) of Hall. The gang of thieves left me cold, but it was nice to see Diane Delano and Stephen Root in small roles. The Coen's dialogue goes overboard regardless of style, and Hall's the only one who makes it feel real and meaningful. She's the real reason to see the movie.

Posted by julia at 03:49 AM

March 28, 2004

Jersey Girl

I saw Jersey Girl this afternoon, and let me assure you all that not only are the first fifteen minutes the worst fifteen minutes of any Kevin Smith film ever (I just wasn't buying anything about Lopez's performance, and especially not the alleged romance of her relationship with Ben Affleck), the script is so obvious and cliche'd that a truly heroic acting job in the lead role would be required to save the movie.

Affleck does not deliver. (In fact, I amused myself by imagining how much better this movie'd have been if Stephen Root had been cast as the lead, not the 3rd supporting player.)

Without Smith's two-twists-off-mainstream version of New Jersey (we are treated instead to a "real" New Jersey that is thinner than stage sets) as the great unspoken character, there's little texture in this movie. The humor is in the previews; most of the heart seems to lie on the cutting room floor or has been over-practiced into a stale performance.

Posted by julia at 08:11 AM

January 25, 2004

Win a Date With Tad Hamilton

First, let me emphasize that it was not my idea to see this movie.

That said, do let me urge you to avoid it. It's a flimsy shell of a movie dreamed up by what I think is a malfunctioning cliche-ridden AI program in Hollywood. The story is weak. The cliches are obvious and dull. The actors seem to be performing in individual silos, and seemingly had their performances spliced together with the magic of CGI. That's the only explanation that makes sense. Kate Bosworth is both bland and empty, and Josh Duhamel stands around and preens. His reactions vary in degree from 0 to 0.2. The most exciting thing about Topher Grace was his spiky hair. Gary Cole was wasted. Sean Hayes and Nathan Lane felt tacked on in a failing attempt to inject humor into the movie.

I was left with one burning question: did the writer/producers/creator of this movie ever realize that a) West Virginia is a different state than Virginia, and b) that if they had actually talked to real West Virginians, they might have actually set it in a place that felt like West Virginia (they filmed some of the vistas there; would it have been so hard to do a little research?)

Posted by julia at 03:54 AM

December 13, 2003

Something's Gotta Give

I played Movie Theater Bingo tonight, and ended up with the Diane Keaton-Jack Nicholson romantic comedy. Maybe I'm young and shallow, but I was rooting hard for Keanu (and those are words I never thought I'd cop to.) I've never been susceptible to the Jack charm, and that lack of predisposal completely cut me off from the emotion of the movie.

Diane Keaton was charming and endearing, and completely gorgeous; I bought her emotional thread - except when Nicholson was actually in the scene with her. Nicholson reined in his Jackness a smidgeon, and I can see where he was actually acting, but it all clanged for me. Frances MacDormand - as Keaton's sister - is always good, and - most surprisingly - Keanu Reeves was pretty good in the Bill Pullman role. I may have to mock him less in the future.

Posted by julia at 02:01 PM

November 17, 2003

Love Actually

This collage of stories of love is very much a patchwork piece, about romantic love in all its incarnations. It's a fine example of escapist british romantic comedy starring a Who's Who of popular British Actors. Even thought it's written by Richard Curtis and populated by the mainstays of British Romantic Movies (as seen from America), there's something for everyone here. Outstanding performances from Liam Neeson (as the newly widowed stepfather helping his stepson persue the Love of His Life), Colin Firth (who makes what could have been a giant hackneyed cliche seem bold and real), Andrew Lincoln (as a man desperately in love with his best friend's new bride), and Laura Linney (who is mad for a coworker and gets her chance one night). There's pretty much something for anyone - unless, of course, you are like my father and want a plot. There's no unifying plot, only a series of vignettes of people dealing with love in all its incarnations. As would be expected from Curtis, there's some silliness, some quirks, some oddities, and a distinctly British take on things. I liked it.

Posted by julia at 03:52 AM

October 15, 2003

Intolerable Cruelty

This movie is a below-average Coen Brothers movie, and the blame has to rest on the shoulders of the script. Zeta-Jones is ludicrously beautiful, and Clooney is charmingly slanky, but their best efforts and the Coen brand quirks can't compensate for what feels like a so-so script and lots of studio meddling. While I understand some of the "intellectual" reasoning for the script's flailing failed pivotal speach, it clangs. Loudly. It's laugh-out-loud funny in fits and spurts, but I expect better from the Coen Brothers.

Posted by julia at 01:35 PM

August 04, 2003

Pirates of the Carribean

Argh! Highly entertaining flick with good swordplay, lovely costumes, cool special effects, humor, and good performances. Who knew a movie based on a theme park ride could be so much better than most of the other movies expected to win big at the box office this summer? Jerry Bruckheimer, apparently, who seems content to allow his directors to follow their own lead (not always a good thing, if you've see some of the movies he's produced in the past. In this case, however, it pays off very well. Depp's claim that he based his Capt. Jack Swallow on a combination of Pepe LePew and Keith Richards bears out - but really doesn't do justice to the depth of his performance - which is excellent.

Posted by julia at 03:37 PM

July 26, 2003

Johnny English

I love Rowan Atkinson. For my money Black Adder is one of the all-time great comedies, and the tv series Mr. Bean is pure genius. These two facts (and a favorable show time) had me sitting down for this bumbling spy spoof. Mostly benign, mostly dull, mostly wholesome, and mostly missable. Natalie Imbruglia appears as the girl (no harm, no foul, no personality), and John Malkovich stars as the villain (broad, unfunny, dull). Did I say mostly missable? Completely missable, unless you want to cleanse your brain with a marathon of good Malkovich movies. But heck, you could do that anyway, without forking out $6.50.

Posted by julia at 10:35 PM

July 18, 2003

Legally Blonde 2

Oh, for crying out loud. Not as good (in terms of escapist entertainment or as a light charming construction) as the first movie by a long shot. The movie manages to simper while being insipid, and stretches credulity without grace or finesse. There isn't enough charm in the world that could overcome the swiss-cheese script, which has been backfilled with cliches and set pieces that are dull even for retreads. Regina King was under-used.

Posted by julia at 10:56 PM

July 01, 2003

The Italian Job

Have you seen the trailer? The TV Commercials? Then, you've seen the movie. You've only missed a pointless side thread, part of the Mini chase scene, some violence, and the touching so-subtle-its-almost-like-they-aren't-doing-anything preamble to Marky Mark and Charlize (I can't believe I paid money to see a Charlize Theron movie. I forgot she was in it! That's my excuse!) Theron's romance -- oh wait... Edward Norton hits mostly wrong notes as the villain. The main attraction for me - as always - is the heist and the betrayals and the cons. And this movie is both basic, and an unpleasing mixture of the unexplained, the needlessly complex, and the ludicrously simple.

Posted by julia at 11:05 PM

June 25, 2003

Alex and Emma

Peeeeee--yuuuuuuuuuuuuehhhhh iiiiick!

Bad movie, Bad! Rob Reiner spent more time coming up with cute quirks than he did kicking the ass of the writers - unless the egregious portions of the script (pages 1-400) were his idea, which I'm not ruling out. Even Luke Wilson, for whom I have an irrational like (despite his string of bad movies), and his charisma could not be saved from the crushing bore of the conceit of this movie. You never once get caught up in the story - of Alex and Emma, of their book doubles, of whether or not Alex is going to get beaten to death for his gambling debts. Well, actually, you are likely to root for him to get beaten to death. So I was wrong! I did get caught up, and was ultimately disappointed.

Posted by julia at 11:19 PM

June 15, 2003

Bruce Almighty

The criticism for this one was mostly negative, thereby setting a low bar of expectations, ultimately working in its favor, because this Jim Carrey comedy was basically OK. There were genuinely funny moments (all of Steve Carrell's scenes, for instance), and I'd watch Morgan Freeman doing just about anything. But the production made the concept (What if you were God?) seem trite and overworked at times; the usual lesson of a man of hubris brought crashing to reality was stinking up the place like a dead fish getting in the way of the hahas.

Posted by julia at 11:12 PM

A Mighty Wind

This really is Eugene Levy's movie. Sure, Christopher Guest, Levy, and their usual band of improving all-stars are present and accounted for in this tale of a folk singer reunion 40 years later, but Levy's halting, out-of-time performance is what emerges as the beating heart of the film. He is paired ably with Catherine O'Hara (who is the only one to come close to matching the thoughtful pathos Levy finds). The movie hinges around them: the aging duo whose romance and partnership broke up in the 1960s and whose relationship today is fraught with possible landmines. The other characters fade into the background in their wake. Among these, Jennifer Coolidge stands out for her dimly confident PR specialist, and Jane Lynch as a reformed porn star whose new age religion is hilariously based around color. So good that I paid Big City prices to see it a second time.

Posted by julia at 10:47 PM

May 18, 2003

Bend it Like Beckham

A charming tale of a girl growing up in England to traditional Sikh parents, who won't sanction her playing soccer for a local girl's team. Cultural and generational conflicts drive the movie. The performances are interesting and charming; the direction and writing are both above par. Some of the humor is a slightly broad for the tone of the movie, but I suspect that's a UK/US cultural issue more than it is an issue with the movie itself. I could take my grandmother and my best friend to the movie, and both would enjoy it immensely.

Posted by julia at 11:37 PM

May 15, 2003

Down With Love

I hated this movie. Even the interest of the clothing and set design wore off halfway through. I disliked the characters, the story, and the denouement. Renee Zellweger's performance was a new low for her; but she certainly wasn't alone. Sarah Paulson (as her editor) was putrid in a thankless role. The humor wasn't particularly funny, and I was grateful when the movie was over. I have new respect for Doris Day and Rock Hudson, now.

Posted by julia at 11:43 PM

May 10, 2003


I've never read the comics. I didn't see X-Men. But I didn't protest too much when I was dragged along to see this (the special effects looked good from the previews). This was actually a pretty entertaining action blockbuster - everyone does their jobs, and we end up with a decent movie. Now is that so hard? Even Rebecca Romijn-Stamos didn't grate! The choreography, costumes, and makeup was great; the special effects were interesting, and the X-Men world is rich with interesting detail (you can see clearly how having the rich comic tradition presents a broad and rich world to act within).

Posted by julia at 11:25 PM

March 28, 2003

Bringing Down the House

There are some actors I'm willing to take on faith that the movie will be worth my while - Queen Latifah and Steve Martin are both on that list. When you toss in Eugene Levy, it would seem a pretty safe bet for hilarity. Bringing Down The House, though, is unevenly funny - the script has clearly been "saved" by a variety of "experts" - and the resulting pastiche is only saved by the skills and charisma of the lead actors. The clunkers in this movie are loud and obvious; the dialogue is sometimes horrendous. Still, I did laugh frequently.

Posted by julia at 08:24 PM

February 24, 2003

Deliver Us From Eva

A modern version of Taming of the Shrew, Deliver Us From Eva is almost better than most recent Shakespeare adaptations, but that's not saying much. It's light and fluffy, but they have the good grace not to make Eva conquered at the end. LL Cool J stars in his first starring role, and his normal charisma is muted here (a pity; LL Cool J is far more attractive when he's on Conan than in this role.). Although the movie is pretty formulaic, there are moments of genuine humor, and LL is forgiven for Rollerball.

Posted by julia at 08:23 PM

February 13, 2003

How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days

Mediocre-to-bad screenplay. Mediocre direction. Kate Hudson's charisma and Matthew McConawhatever's ability to look freaked out by the thought of commitment kept this one afloat at times, but never made any actual progress. Small nuggets of goodness floated on a vast sea mined with flotsam. Adam Goldberg? Wasted. Bebe Neuwirth? Wasted.

Posted by julia at 06:25 PM

February 03, 2003

About Schmidt

Alexander Payne is a master storyteller, but what impresses most is that he managed to contain Nicholson's tendency to leap over the hill into a tight nuanced performance that centered around the character and his motivations and his journey. The story was nicely constructed, the performances strong (particularly Kathy Bates as the future mother-in-law), and the pacing smart, but what really sold this movie was Nicholson's Warren Schmidt, whose world has completed changed in the course of a few weeks, retired, widowed, the father of the bride; Nicholson's Schmidt feels far more real than most of his recent characterizations. I think this is a triumph.

Posted by julia at 04:32 PM

February 02, 2003

The Hours

Julianne Moore is remarkable in this movie - her performance is nuanced and subtle; you can measure each degree of her character's fragility. I find it boggling that Nicole Kidman's performance (while good) seems to be garnering the buzz and the awards. Meryl Streep is the third lead in this movie that spans the twentieth century with its connecting themes of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, psychological imprisonment, and death. Some self-indulgent editing and staging aside, it's a strong, sad movie about the ways these women struggle and get caught in the webs of their own lives, and how they escape those webs.

Posted by julia at 02:31 AM

January 30, 2003

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Clooney's directing debut is surprisingly good; he has taken Charlie Kauffman's most straight-forward script and staged an accessible, interesting, entertaining movie. Sam Rockwell is great as Chuck Barris, marrying his neuroses, fantasies, and motivations in a delectable, entrancing performance; Julia Roberts gives her best performance in years. The Soderbergh influence (and that of several of his other directors) is clear, but Clooney has his own eye and his own voice that is worth listening to.

Posted by julia at 02:38 AM

January 20, 2003


Chicago is surprisingly good - combine a first-time director (Rob Marshall), Richard Gere (in what he mistakenly thinks is a starring role) and Catherine Zeta-Jones, showtunes, and period costumes, and you'd never expect to end up with a movie that would appeal to the masses - and that I'd also like. Rob Marshall has done a remarkable job: he translated a stage show to the movies, clarified it, cast it well, and somehow convinced Bill Condon to write a good script. As usual, Queen Latifah upstages her costars.

Posted by julia at 04:14 AM

December 31, 2002


The story of adapting The Orchid Thief is filled with twisting stories that spiral out of control in a marvellous maze of storytelling and neuroses. I thought the Kauffman script was brilliant, right down to the ending that was alternately frustrating and dead on. The performances are stellar (particularly Nicholas Cage, whose track record wishes it was spotty over the past few years, and Chris Cooper who was uniformly great), and the tricky staging is managed deftly.
Posted by julia at 02:52 AM

December 15, 2002

Lord of the Rings Trilogy

I couldn't get through the Lord of the Rings trilogy in book form; I got bored and never went back. Peter Jackson's filmed versions, however, have been spectacular; I leave wanting to see the next movie. He makes Middle Earth and its people live and breathe and die, and it is engrossing - even the battle-heavy second movie. I suspect the depiction of the Flooding of One Tower will echo in movies for years to come. The movies are visually rich and interesting to watch.

Posted by julia at 03:10 AM

December 12, 2002

Harry Potter franchise

This series must be a props/costume/art direction dream. Light, fluffy, and enjoyable, but I wish they spent more time on the ephemeral aspects of the stories. They didn't need to spend that extra ten minutes making the snake spearing more dramatic in the second film than it was in the book; they could have showed us more of the classes and the odd bits of culture.

Posted by julia at 03:10 AM