DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Being Julia (RECOMMENDED)

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  1. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    Being Julia [​IMG]

    US Theatrical Release: October 15, 2004 (Sony Pictures Classics)
    US DVD Release: March 22, 2005
    Running Time: 1:43:56 (28 chapter stops)
    Rating: R (Some Sexuality)
    Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic (Extra Features: 1.33:1 non-anamorphic)
    Audio: English DD5.1 (Extra Features: DD2.0)
    Subtitles: None
    TV-Generated Closed Captions: English
    Menus: Not animated.
    Packaging: Standard keepcase; single-sheet insert has cover images for other titles.
    MSRP: $26.96

    THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 4/5

    Annette Bening brings her ‘A’ game to Being Julia, a witty and entertaining adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novella, Theatre. An obvious comparison can be drawn to Bette Davis’ star turn in All About Eve, and it wouldn’t be without merit. Bening’s Golden Globe (among other awards) and Oscar nomination were well-deserved.

    In 1938 London, Julia Lambert (Bening) is an aging star of the theater. She’s at that point in life where her looks are just starting to go, although her talent is in its prime. Her husband and business partner Michael Gosselyn (Jeremy Irons), who once acted as well but showed more talent on the business end of things, runs the theater and produces the plays for her.

    As the film opens, Julia is bored – it’s been a long time since she’s had any real excitement. Enter Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans), a young American who’s interested in learning the theater business. Michael brings him in, but Tom is infatuated with Julia. Meeting this star, the object of his admiration, is a dream come true for him. The attention of this handsome youth awakens an energy in Julia, and soon they embark on a passionate affair.

    Julia’s society circles provide a nicely comic backdrop for her relationship with the penniless outsider. Illicit meetings in Tom’s rundown, out-of-the-way flat are one thing, but what will happen when they join family and friends on a group outing to the countryside? How will Julia handle the need to hide their flirting, and how will Tom handle the presence of other, more youthful female company?

    Of course, it’s only a matter of time before the handsome young playboy tires of his current fling, and that’s where the story starts to get really juicy. Soon his attention turns to up-and-coming actress Avice Crichton (Lucy Punch), who becomes Julia’s rival both in theater and in love. It all culminates in an immensely entertaining battle of wits as Julia steps up to take charge of the situation.

    Julia rides an emotional rollercoaster through much of the film, providing Bening with plenty of chances to strut her thespian stuff. She’s supported by a topflight roster of talent, featuring Juliet Stevenson as Julia’s servant, Bruce Greenwood as her platonic buddy, Miriam Margolyes as the business partner with a rather unusual fondness for her, and Michael Gambon as Julia’s long-dead mentor, who appears from time to time to remind her of his wisdom. Relative newcomers Evans and Punch admirably hold their own with the old pros, and Irons is in perfect form, projecting a veneer of mannered stuffiness that barely hides a rapier wit and a warm playfulness.

    Being Julia is full of sparkling dialogue and clever twists. It’s challenging material for the cast, who are clearly up to it and having a ball. Their energy is contagious, practically oozing fun from the screen. If there’s one knock on the film, it’s that we’ve all probably seen some of this aging diva/ young admirer/ ambitious newcomer material before, although rarely has it been done more entertainingly.


    THE WAY I SEE IT: 3.5/5

    Colors are bright and richly saturated. They often lean towards orange, especially the flesh tones (which are also sometimes a bit greenish), however I believe that was the intended look (the orange, not the green!). Blacks are nice and deep. The image shows a little more noise than I would have liked, but it won’t be too noticeable on smaller screens. Most of the film is free of edge enhancement, although it does show up from time to time. The amount is similar to most other recent Sony releases.


    THE WAY I HEAR IT: 4.5/5

    The audio mix is quite well done. Dialogue, music and effects are always clear and well-balanced. The surrounds are generously but tastefully applied to create atmosphere and widen the music space. The score doesn’t especially stand out, but it serves the picture well.


    THE SWAG: 2.5/5 (rating combines quality and quantity)

    Commentary Track with Director István Szabó, Annette Bening and Jeremy Irons

    The group commentary is very low-key. There’s a good amount of interesting information about the production in there, but, especially in the beginning and towards the very end, the participants are as mellow as mellow can be, with a few patches of dead air. Annette Bening appears to have been a bit uncomfortable, as she doesn’t contribute much. Jeremy Irons, by far the most talkative (and interesting) of the group, carries the conversation. As the film goes on and the trio get more into it, they do perk up a bit and get a little energy going. Incidentally, listening to the commentary really emphasizes the lack of subtitles – they’re very useful for following the movie while listening to the discussion.

    Behind The Scenes Of Being Julia (8:57)

    Run-of-the-mill EPK material. It consists mainly of the cast talking about their characters in between film clips. It’s OK, but nothing special.

    The Making Of Being Julia (5:35)

    A random collection of behind-the-scenes production footage set to music from the film (note that the actual sound is still audible). Not too exciting, but decent if you like that sort of thing.

    Deleted Scenes (5:03)

    Four deleted scenes, running a total of just over five minutes, are included. They are non-anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Pro-Logic, and can only be played all together as a single chapter. They’re actually quite entertaining, as deleted scenes go, and worth watching. On the other hand, none of them quite made me wonder why it wasn’t left in the final cut.

    Previews:

    Four trailers are included. Upon disc insertion, Bad Education, House of Flying Daggers, and The Merchant Of Venice play automatically. They may be skipped.
    • Bad Education (0:37) (DD5.1; 1.77:1 anamorphic)
    • Head In The Clouds (2:24) (DD2.0; 2.35:1 anamorphic)
    • House Of Flying Daggers (1:57) (DD5.1; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
    • William Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice (2:18) (DD5.1; 2.35:1 anamorphic)
    SUMMING IT ALL UP

    The Way I Feel About It: 4/5
    The Way I See It: 3.5/5
    The Way I Hear It: 4.5/5
    The Swag: 2.5/5


    Being Julia is a worthy successor to classic comedies about theater folk such as All About Eve and Twentieth Century. Annette Bening’s tour-de-force performance is almost certainly the pinnacle of her career to date. While it may not appeal to those who don’t care for period pieces, it is very accessible and will entertain most audiences. The picture quality is decent, although it could be better; the audio track is excellent; and the extra features, while not particularly exciting, are worth checking out. My one real quibble with the presentation is the lack of any subtitles -– not every TV can display closed captions through the component inputs, so this is an issue for many people. This is the second subtitle-free screener in a row that has crossed my desk -- I hope that Sony does not make a habit of leaving them off. At any rate, the mostly good presentation of this fine film easily warrants my RECOMMENDATION.
     
  2. Jan H

    Jan H Cinematographer

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    I absolutely loved this movie, but I'm definitely a Merchant/Ivory type guy, and a theater rat, to boot, so it may not be for everyone. Bening is superb, and it's nice to see Jeremy Irons in top form again. One of the best of 2004, IMO. [​IMG]
     
  3. Andy_MT

    Andy_MT Second Unit

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    what's with the audio on this film (or is it a dvd issue) ? the center channel [to me] sounds terrible. it's very harsh and shrill - sounds like all the characters are talking through tin cans. it's even more jarring since other channels sound normal. i swear at times this film sounded like it was recorded back in the 50s/60s than a new production.

    i've noticed a few other films like this as well and it bugs the hell out of me. i assume it's not a dvd issue (but not 100% sure).
     
  4. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    I don't recall anything wrong with the center channel. Have you tried a different speaker?
     

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