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Thread: JULIA (Erick Zonka)

  1. #1
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    JULIA (Erick Zonka)

    In JULIA, Tilda Swinton plays an alcoholic floozy who gets fired and decides to accept money to help her Mexican neighbor kidnap the son she's not allowed to visit. It only gets wilder after that, as the plot moves from Los Angeles to the California desert and then Tijuana, where the film becomes a violent action thriller.

    It has been a long 10 years since French director Erick Zonka released his last theatrical feature: the magnificent, award-winning THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS. The follow-up, the English-language JULIA received only a token theatrical release in the US and is now available on DVD. The film was given a wide release in France where the critical reviews were very favorable (23 out of 25 reviews, as posted by Allocine.com, give the film 3 or 4 (maximum) stars). The US mainstream critical establishment barely took notice of the film with several publication assigning their third-string critics to review the film (most of their reviews are unfavorable). The film received enthusiastic to favorable reviews from the more reputable critics: Roger Ebert, Manohla Dargis, and Scott Foundas. Only Peter Rainer panned it.
    Some quotes from their reviews:

    "Tilda Swinton doesn't merely act the title role in French director Erick Zonca's Julia—she devours it, spits it back up, dances giddily upon it, twirls it in the air. It's a big, all-consuming performance, and in the hands of a lesser actress and filmmaker, it might have consumed the movie, too. But Julia is nearly as electric as its heroine, a leggy, vodka-guzzling tart in false eyelashes and cheap sequined gowns who tells men she can make their dreams come true, and who can, provided those dreams involve parking-lot sex and sunlight-blasted mornings after. The key to Swinton's performance (and to the movie) is that she's playing an actress—not a professional one, but a wily, desperate woman under the influence who adapts herself to what each new situation calls for, sometimes well, sometimes badly, but always with every fiber of her being." (Foundas)

    "Tilda Swinton is a powerhouse actress who needs a director equipped to handle her power – i.e., someone with an ability not only to handle her highs but also to tone her down. In "Julia," the French director Erick Zonca lets Swinton swagger and sashay until she turns into a great big Actors Studio cartoon. Maybe it's because English is not Zonca's first language, but Swinton's performance, and practically everything else about "Julia," seems off – tone-deaf." (Rainer)

    "There are about 20 minutes in her latest, "Julia," a venture in extreme acting and audience provocation in which she plays an alcoholic child-snatcher, when I wanted to split the theater. Directed by Erick Zonca, who seems to have signed a mutually assured destruction pact with his star, pushing her toward an abyss both might have fallen into, the film is a perverse blend of sadism (the director's, Julia's) and masochism (ours, Julia's). But Ms. Swinton demands to be seen even when her character is on a self-annihilating bender so real that you can almost smell the stink rising off her. So I sat in my seat, cursed the screen and was grateful to watch an actress at the height of her expressive power claw toward greatness." (Dargis)

    "jULIA should have a big ad campaign and be making a lot of noise, stirring up word-of-mouth. It's being treated as an art film. It's good enough to be an art film, but don't let anyone pigeonhole it for you. It's one doozy of a great thriller. And the acting here is as good as it gets — not just from Swinton, but from Saul Rubinek as her one remaining friend, and by Bruno Bichir as Diego, who she meets in Tijuana. You want to be careful who you meet in Tijuana.
    Swinton here is amazing. She goes for broke and wins big time. " (Ebert)

  2. #2
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    Evidently, many directors love the John Cassevetes film, "Gloria" as they have made three films with similar plots: "Ultraviolet" "Julia" and "Leon." When "Julia" debuted at the Berlin Film Festival, critics across Europe agreed that Tilda Swinton had given the finest film performance of the year. However, after its America premiere, American critics panned the film's violent images, saying the kidnapping scenes were too intense for most audiences (what I derived from my research).

    Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun Times) and Manohla Dargis (New York Times) liked it. LA critcs, who largely influence distributors and the Oscars, did not.

    As always, I love your reviews and analysis, Oscar. Glad to see you've increased the number of your posts lately. My welcome extended to Michuk. My sorrow expressed for Johann's departure.
    Colige suspectos semper habitos

  3. #3
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    Originally posted by cinemabon
    Evidently, many directors love the John Cassevetes film, "Gloria" as they have made three films with similar plots: "Ultraviolet" "Julia" and "Leon."
    You're right. In fact, Zonka's film acknowledges its debt to Cassavetes' Gloria when the Julia character hides her true identity by telling someone that her name is Gloria.

    When "Julia" debuted at the Berlin Film Festival, critics across Europe agreed that Tilda Swinton had given the finest film performance of the year.
    French critics absolutely loved this English-language film. It played at more theaters in France than it did here in the US where most of the film takes place. At least, JULIA is already available on DVD.

    Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun Times) and Manohla Dargis (New York Times) liked it. LA critcs, who largely influence distributors and the Oscars, did not.
    Right. Foundas really liked it too. The plot of this film has that "I can't believe this is real" feel of the crimes covered in the Nancy Grace Show (CNN's offshoot HLN). Swinton deserves an Oscar nomination but she won't get it.

    As always, I love your reviews and analysis, Oscar. Glad to see you've increased the number of your posts lately.
    Thanks, man. I will be "mad busy" for the remainder of the year: a thesis, three long papers on Asian cinema, and two reviews for Film International magazine (which I'm not allowed to post anywhere but will provide links to them). And yet, I will always post as frequently as possible here, where over the past 7 years I've had a forum to work on my writing and the chance get to know some wonderful human beings.

    My welcome extended to Michuk. My sorrow expressed for Johann's departure.
    First new member in ages! Johann is gone but not for long, I think. Or so I hope.

  4. #4
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    Finally caught up on JULIA. . .

    Finally caught up on JULIA. I loved THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS, but I do not love this film; however, Tilda Swinton's performance makes it a must-see, I agree. JULIA grew out of Zonka's own alcoholism, as he explains in an interview. He has said he would never have made it without that. It incorporates stories he heard in AA meetings. The movie is intriguing, but also a mess, its unwieldy plot as disastrous as its protagonist's life. The switch to English (and Spanish) partly explain why things feel off-key; Zonka's effort at a come-back after ten years of wandering was clearly a struggle. Swinton is fascainnting to watch, but the improvisations are often awkward, with the editing not improving bad timing and overacting (though there is good acting from Saul Rubinek, as has been noted).

    As homage to Cassavetes and specifically GLORIA this is not very successful; Zonka has veered wildly into genre and upped the ante too much.

    Despite Allocine and "the more reputable critics," not everybody likes the film, as your skewed quotes imply. Obviously what they like is the lead performance -- but neither is that to everybody's taste -- too over-the-top, like the whole film. In fact many reviews point out JULIA'S obvious failings. Eddie Cockrell of VARIETY, who's "reputable," calls JULIA "miscalculated and overlong" and "a startling misfire" for Zonka and the "dependably fearless" Swinton.

    Just to say not everybody loves this film and there are reasons. That said, I find parts of it fun -- the last quarter hour. I love the sleazy caper movie music at the end, and the sleazy-sexy young Mexican hoodie who tangles with Julia in the final segment.

    Amid the mess and sleaze, the cinematography is beautiful throughout -- gorgeous color. I won't forget a shot of Tilda's flaming orange hair with a deep red velour covered chair in the background.

    It's quite true the Allocine "ratings" are high (if not as high as 34 SHOTS OF RUM's).

    This is the kind of wild eccentric stuff that could take on cult status. As a portrait of alcoholism it hasn't the power of LEAVING LAS VEGAS, but it's certainly a convincing portrait of "self-will run riot," the full-on addict's ruling trait.

    This is a good one to watch and compare with Herzog's BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-21-2009 at 02:20 AM.

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    Re: Finally caught up on JULIA. . .

    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    Despite Allocine and "the more reputable critics," not everybody likes the film, as your skewed quotes imply.
    Wrong. Read the disfavourable Rainer quote I posted to balance the more positive ones. And Dargis tells you there are 20 minutes in the film that made her want to "split the theater". And Foundas is specifically praising the performance by the lead actress not the film as a whole.

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    That's true, you did cite Peter Rainer and I misread your post about this; sorry. :[
    The US mainstream critical establishment barely took notice of the film with several publication assigning their third-string critics to review the film (most of their reviews are unfavorable). The film received enthusiastic to favorable reviews from the more reputable critics: Roger Ebert, Manohla Dargis, and Scott Foundas. Only Peter Rainer panned it.
    However your post itself, your own words, mention no faults in the movie. I wonder if you saw any. I did. Basically that was my point and my focus. Tilda Swinton herself has spoken of the problem of a role that requires her to be extreme without it seeming to go too far, to be too pushed. The film and her performance skate on this edge al the time.

    Probably it wasn't your intention to make your post sound skewed in your implying that what you derogatorily denote as "third-string critics" are not "reputable" but you meant "better known."

  7. #7
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    Tilda's unique.

    I found this in a USA Today interview article on Tilda:
    Her iconoclastic tendencies apply to all parts of her life. Swinton, 48, travels on her promotional rounds with her boyfriend, painter Sandro Kopp, 31. They live in the Scottish Highlands with her other partner, painter John Byrne, the father of her teenage twins, Honor and Xavier.

    "It's all good, as they say in California," she says, when asked about her domestic arrangement shortly before Kopp arrives to meet her and greet her with a kiss. "I like my life, and I'm perfectly happy with it. I have a home to go home to that is a long way from all this, and a very different life. I'm very lazy and quite shy."

    Still, she's been working non-stop, co-starring with Brad Pitt in 2008's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and the Coen brothers' Burn After Reading, and playing the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.

    Working with Pitt and Clooney is a nice perk. "I'm not complaining. Someone has to do it. I'd like them to be written into all my contracts. If you ask the universe for what you want — I deserve it," she jokes. "They're both lovely."

  8. #8
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    My intention in creating this thread was to call attention to a film with which a lot of people were unfamiliar, to provide some sense of its critical reception, and to offer samples from the reviews of the more respected critics who wrote about it. I "pretty much" abstained from offering an opinion other than implying that I disagree with critics who don't think it is worth seeing. Conversely, I am baffled by the extremely favorable reception from French critics. I intended to give enough information so that the reader could make up his/her own mind about renting the DVD. I do think Swinton's performance is great so that even when the film turns into a cheap, south-of-the-border, violent thriller I did not want to look away.

  9. #9
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    Thanks for finally stepping forward with your own views with pluses and minuses.

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