Review: ‘Jules’ (2023), starring Ben Kingsley, Harriet Sansom Harris, Zoë Winters, Jade Quon and Jane Curtin

September 11, 2023

by Carla Hay

Jane Curtin, Harriet Sansom Harris, Ben Kingsley and Jade Quon in “Jules” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“Jules” (2023)

Directed by Marc Turtletaub

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city n Pennsylvania, the sci-fi comedy/drama film “Jules” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latin people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An elderly man with dementia befriends an outer-space alien whose spaceship crashed in his backyard, but most of the people he tells don’t believe him.

Culture Audience: “Jules” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Ben Kingsley and Jane Curtin and movies that being a senior citizen perspective to science-fiction stories.

Zoë Winters and Ben Kingsley in “Jules” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

The ending of “Jules” is entirely predictable, and some of the scenarios are corny. However, this sci-fi comedy/drama about three elderly people who take care of an outer-space alien has some charm and poignant observations about aging and dementia. “Jules” balances out some of its silliness with some gravitas about real-life issues about how society treats elderly disabled people

Directed by Marc Turtletaub and written by Gavin Steckler, “Jules” takes place in an unnamed Pennsylvania city which is supposed to represent a typical American suburb. “Jules” was actually filmed in New Jersey. The central character in the story is not named Jules. His name is Milton Robinson (played by Ben Kingsley), a 78-year-old widower who has early on-set dementia. He hasn’t been to a doctor in three years and stubbornly refuses to go.

Milton lives alone but his daughter Denise Robinson (played Zoë Winters) lives nearby and frequently checks up on him and helps Milton with organizing his bill payments. Milton has a son who lives in California but who doesn’t keep in touch with Milton. Denise is a veterinarian at a local clinic. She worries about Milton’s deteriorating health, but Milton insists that he is capable of living by himself and doesn’t need a medical checkup.

As an example of Milton’s dementia, Denise finds a can of beans in his bathroom medicine cabinet. Milton brushes off this misplacement as no big deal. “I must’ve been confused,” he says nonchalantly.

The closest thing that Milton has to a social life is attending city council meetings, where his stands up to make nitpicky comments. For example, at a meeting shown in the begnning of the movie, Milton says that the town slogan should be changed from “A great place to call home” to “A great place to refer to as home,” because he thinks the word “call” could be misintepreted as a phone call. He also suggests that there should be a crosswalk in a certain intersection.

Clearly, Milton has too much time on his hands. But so do some other elderly residents of the city who regularly go to city council meetings. Two of these regulars are sweet-natured Sandy (played by Harret Sansom Harris) and prickly Joyce (played by Jane Curtin), who both live alone. Sandy seems to be attracted to Milton, but he doesn’t pick up on her social cues that she wants to get to know him better.

One night, at 12:52 a.m., Milton hears the sound of something large landing in his backyard. The noise wakes up Milton, who goes in backyard and sees that a spaceship that’s about 20 feet wide has crashed into his flower bed. Milton is dismayed that this ship has “crashed into my azaleas.” Milton calls 911 and reports what happened, but the operator thinks it’s a prank call.

The next day happens to be a city council meeting, so Milton announces that a spaceship is in his backyard. No one believes him there either. After the meeting, Joyce scolds Milton for talking about a spaceship in his backyard, because she thinks it will make the city council not take senior citizen seriously.

When Milton goes home, he is shocked to see a space alien collapsed on his back patio. The alien is about 5’4″ and looks like a human in every way, except that it has ghostly white skin and a stereotypical “space alien” face. Milton invites the alien into the house and gives it some food. The news has reported that a satellite was seen crashing somewhere in western Pennsylvania.

Sandy comes over to Milton’s house to ask to use his computer printer when she sees the alien. She advises that Milton keep the alien a secret and suggest that they call the alien Jules. (The assume that the alien is male.) Jules tries to fix his spaceship to no avail. Eventually, Joyce finds out about the alien too and agrees to keep it a secret. None of this is spoiler information, since it’s already revealed in the movie’s trailer that Milton, Sandy and Joyce spend time with Jules.

The rest of the movie shows what happens Jules (who stays at Milton’s place), Joyce and Sandy befriend Jules, who does not talk in any human language but seems to understand what humans are saying. Will other people find out about Jules? And will Jules get the spaceship working again to go back home? Those questions are answered in the movie.

“Jules” has sentimental moments as well as some off-the-wall, unpredictable moments that show this movie isn’t as lightweight “cute” as it might first appear to be. (Hint: There’s something that involves cats that is definitely on the bizarre side of the spectrum.) The movie also has compassionate depictions of elderly loneliness and the challenges of having dementia.

Kingsley gives a nuanced performance as Milton, who knows that his mental health is getting worse but he is defiantly trying to hold on to his dignity. With Jules, he finds a companion who is non-judgmental and is experiencing a different type of loneliness by being on a foreign planet. Curtin and Harris also capably handle their roles as Joyce and Sandy, with Curtin having the most comedic moments in the movie.

Don’t expect there to be any heavy messages in “Jules” about why this alien has arrived on Earth. Viewers also will not learn much about the planet where Jules lives. The main takeaway from the movie is how this alien affects the lives and the people who take the time to help Jules and learn things about themselves along the way.

Bleecker Street released “Jules” in U.S. cinemas on August 11, 2023. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on September 12, 2023, and on Blu-ray and DVD on October 10, 2023.

Review: ‘Dalíland,’ starring Ben Kingsley, Barbara Sukowa, Christopher Briney, Rupert Graves, Alexander Beyer, Andreja Pejic, Suki Waterhouse and Ezra Miller

July 29, 2023

by Carla Hay

Ben Kingsley and Christopher Briney in “Dalíland” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)


Directed by Mary Harron

Culture Representation: Taking place in the United States and Europe, from 1974 to 1989 (with a few flashbacks to the 1920s), the dramatic film “Dalíland” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An eager young apprentice/assistant finds his life altered when he works for world-famous and eccentric painter Salvador Dalí.

Culture Audience: “Dalíland” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of Ben Kingsley, filmmaker Mary Harron and artist Salvador Dalí, but viewers might be unimpressed by this pedestrian and often-boring way that this story is told.

Ben Kingsley and Barbara Sukowa in “Dalíland” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

You would think that a dramatic movie about the real-life flamboyant and highly eccentric artist Salvador Dalí would be a reflection of that image, by having a vibrant personality, unusual creativity and an unpredictable edge. However, “Dalíland” is a completely watered-down and muted disappointment that tells the story from the perspective of a bland apprentice/assistant of Dalí, who spends most of the movie being an awestruck lackey. Ben Kingsley’s performance as Salvador Dalí comes close to being a satirical impersonation. The rest of this drama is underwhelming and makes fascinating real-life people either hollow caricatures or very dull. Too much of “Dalíland” looks fake.

Directed by Mary Harron and written by John Walsh, “Dalíland” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. It’s not a completely terrible film, because there are some fleeting moments that are entertaining, and the movie’s acting performances are mostly serviceable. But there’s not enough to hold this movie together when so much of it is focused on a fictional neophyte character who isn’t nearly as interesting as the people around him in the art world where he’s desperate to get acceptance.

“Dalíland” opens with a scene that takes place in 1985. Dalí (played by Kingsley) is shown as a guest on the American TV game show “What’s My Line?,” where contestants try to guess the identity of a mystery celebrity who is hidden from view but who answers questions about the celebrity’s identity. Dalí gives “yes” answers to all the questions he’s asked, which confuses the contestants until one of them correctly guesses his identity, probably because of Dalí’s heavily-accented voice. (Dalí, who was born and raised in Spain, died in 1989, at the age of 84.)

The person who is watching this TV show is James Linton (played by Christopher Briney), who is also watching when the TV news shows a report that Dalí has been injured in a fire at his home. James is a fictional character who’s supposed to represent one of the many young men whom Dalí employed as his personal assistants. James becomes Dalí’s assistant at a time when Dalí was starting to become a has-been in the art world, and he was diluting his own brand name by selling prints of his work.

After the TV-watching scene in 1985, “Dalíland” then flashes back to New York City in 1974, when James (an art school dropout in his early 20s) was an eager art gallery assistant. At the time, James is working for Dufresne Gallery. And he is sent on a fateful errand to the St. Regis Hotel, where Salvador and his wife Gala Dalí (played by Barbara Sukowa) have been living for the past 20 years. James’ elitist and demanding boss at Dufresne Gallery is named Christoffe (played by Alexander Beyer), who has given James the task of delivering a package to Gala.

On the elevator to the Dalí couple’s hotel suite, James meets Dalí’s secretary Captain Peter Moore (played by Rupert Graves), also known as Captain Moore, who offers to take the package up to the suite, but James politely declines and says that he’ll do it himself. Captain Moore is curious about James, who is a newcomer on the scene. James has been working at Deufresne Gallery for only a few months. James is up front in telling Captain Moore that he’s an art school dropout who’s still learning about the art industry: “I realized I’m not an artist. I just love art,” James says to Captain Moore.

During this package delivery, James meets Salvador and Gala. And this wide-eyed newcomer gets to see firsthand what their life is like when he is immediately invited to parties hosted by the couple. One of the main reasons why he’s invited is because James is young and very good-looking. Gala, who has an eye for this type of man, makes a sexual advance on James soon after she meets him, but he tactfully deflects her attempts to seduce him.

These party scenes have very good production design, but the cast members in these scenes don’t look entirely convincing. They look like they’re playing dress-up as 1970s hipster characters. Sukowa makes an effort to portray Gala as a three-dimensional person, but Gala is so annoying, viewers will quickly grow tired of her diva antics. Birney, like his character James, often looks uneasy among the more experienced cast members. Don’t expect to learn much about James’ life outside of the Salvador Dalí entourage bubble, because the movie gives very little depth to James.

From the outside looking in, the Dalí lifestyle seems to be an endless parade of artsy, glamorous people, while Salvador gets some painting done in between. Rock star Alice Cooper (played by Mark McKenna) hangs out on a regular basis. Another artist who is part of the Dalí inner circle is transgender model Amanda Lear (played by transgender model Andreja Pejić), who was an important muse for Salvador in real life.

But don’t expect Alice or Amanda to be compelling characters in “Dalíand.” Alice only has a handful of lines in the movie, while Amanda is portrayed as lacking any genuine spark and being just another pretty model who poses for Dalí. It’s a big contrast to the real Cooper and Lear, both known to have very charismatic personalities in real life.

At one of these parties, James meets a hanger-on named Ginesta (played by Suki Waterhouse), who introduces James to drugs and sexual experimentation. It’s mostly a superficial romance. Ginesta often makes James feel like a naïve lover, and she acts superior to him, as if he should be grateful that she’s “teaching” him how to be “cool.” It never looks like a relationship with any substance, which is why it gets monotonous to watch very quickly. Unfortunately, the James/Ginesta relationship takes up more screen time in “Dalíland” than it should.

James’ partying with the Dalís makes Christoffe question James’ loyalties, so Christoffe fires James from Dufresne Gallery. It doesn’t take long for James to get hired as Dalí’s personal assistant. And that’s when James’ life becomes even more chaotic, as he has to kowtow to Salvador’s bizarre demands and has to navigate the volatile nature of Salvador and Gala’s unconventional marriage.

James finds out that Salvador and Gala stopped having sex with each other years ago and have an “open marriage” where they know about most of each other’s affairs and often get jealous. An example of Salvador’s strangeness is in a scene where Salvador orders James to get these items for an upcoming party: “a few hundred live ants, some dead grasshoppers, four dwarfs and a suit of Spanish armor.” James willingly obliges.

“Dalíland” goes off on an unnecessary tangent of showing flashbacks to Salvador and Gala in their 20s. Ezra Miller has the role of young Salvador. Avital Lvova has the role of young Gala. There’s nothing wrong with the acting in these 1920s flashback scenes, but the way these scenes are dropped into the movie just seem downright awkward.

Speaking of awkward, much of the dialogue is a tad ridiculous, even in the pretentious world of fine art. For example, there’s a scene where an elderly female gallery customer (played by Eithne Browne) looks at a Salvador Dalí painting hanging on a wall and is contemplating whether to buy it or not. James, who is standing next to her, comments to her about the painting: “I can’t figure how it’s pulling me in, but somehow it’s taking me inside of its dreams. It’s just paint on paper, but it’s powerful. It’s kind of magic.”

The woman replies, “I don’t think I want to live with someone else’s weird dream on my wall.” James then says to her: “But that weirdness is what makes it original. It got to you. That’s why I’ll never get tired of it. I’ll never forget it. It’s Dalí.” The woman ends up buying $15,000 worth of Dalí prints.

The movie depicts how Salvador, desperate for money, began cheapening his brand by selling prints. Salvador is also portrayed as becoming deeply cynical about art. Salvador says to James at one point: “Modern painting is left behind … Now, it’s about making things that are like posters.”

Salvador adds, “Once you start talking about squirting the paint from the tube onto the wall, the whole spiritualization process of art is lost. It becomes an absurdity. The paint, it doesn’t count until it disappears and becomes an illusion of reality. Abstract painting will one day be seen as a total disaster.”

If you want to watch a movie that’s filled with this type of this type of cringeworthy dialogue, then maybe you’ll enjoy “Dalíland.” But if you want to gain insight into why Salvador Dalí was such a revered artist, “Dalíland” is not that movie. What makes it worse is the “Dalíland” moves at a sluggish pace and had the potential to be so much better, considering that the real Dalí had such a fascinating life and the film has several talented cast members. “Dalíland” is a rambling, often-pompous movie that—unlike the real Salvador Dalí—does not leave a strong impression and does not have any real impact on artistic creativity.

Magnolia Pictures released “Dalíland” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 9, 2023.

Review: ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,’ starring Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh and Florian Munteanu

August 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Meng’er Zhang, Simu Liu and Awkwafina in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

Some language in Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in China and in San Francisco, the superhero action film “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing heroes, villains and people who are in between.

Culture Clash: A Chinese man who ran away to the U.S. as a teenager, in order to get away from his ruthless overlord father, must confront his past and the power of 10 magical arm rings that are the source of the story’s conflict.

Culture Audience: “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and are looking for an enjoyable origin story that is not a sequel or a prequel.

Tony Leung and Fala Chen in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings” has plenty of heart and adventurous spirit to satisfy superhero movie fans. It’s too bad that the title character has a personality that’s duller than the average Marvel superhero. Shang-Chi is frequently outshined by his wisecracking female best friend/sidekick. And there’s a long stretch in the middle of the film that drags the pace down considerably.

Directed by Daniel Destin Daniel Cretton, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Rings” is an origin story that doesn’t dazzle in a spectacular way, but it gets the job done in a crowd-pleasing way that serves the movie’s target audience well. Cretton co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham. It’s yet another Hollywood studio superhero story about a superhero with “daddy issues.” The big difference this time is that the majority of the cast is Asian, mostly of Chinese heritage.

One of the problems with the movie is that the climactic showdown scene doesn’t offer much that most movie and TV audiences haven’t already seen before. To put it bluntly: This movie needed better villains. In “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” there’s a villain named Razor Fist (played by Florian Munteanu) with a machete as an arm. That pales in comparison to a “Stars Wars: Rise of Skywalker” villainous henchman named Cardo that had a shotgun for an arm.

Battles with dragons? Yawn. It’s very “Game of Thrones” and not much different from any recent big-budget live-action movie where the dragons are the big monsters that have to be defeated. And a hero going in a one-on-one duel fight against his villain father? Ever hear of “The Empire Strikes Back” or “Return of the Jedi”?

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is literally an origin story, since viewers see how, in China, his parents met, fell in love, got married, and had Shang-Chi as their first child. The movie shows Shang-Chi as a baby, as a pre-teen child (played by Jayden Zhang), as a teenager (played by Arnold Sun) and as an adult (played by Simu Liu). Shang Chi’s father Xu Wenwu (played by Tony Leung) was a corrupt overlord who came into possession of 10 magical arm rings (because bracelets must not sound macho enough) that allowed him to have immense power. His heart softened when he met Ying Li (played by Fala Chen), who charmed him after a sword duel that she won against him. It was love at first sight, and they got together soon after that.

Shang-Chi spent his entire life training to be a fighter and to follow in his father’s footsteps. Shang-Chi’s mother Li also gave him a special green pendant that she said he must never lose or give away. But tragedy struck when Shang-Chi was a teenager: His mother died. Wracked with griedfand despair, widower Xu Wenwu went back to his corrupt ways. There’s a part of the movie that reveals that Xu Wenwu also might have lost his mind to insanity.

When Shang-Chi was 14 years old, Xu Wenwu ordered him to complete his first “assignment” assassination. At age 15, Shang-Chi ran away from China to the United States. He ended up settling in San Francisco, where in high school he befriended a smart-alecky girl named Katy, and they’ve been best pals ever since. The movie does not show Shang-Chi’s American life during the time that he was in high school or in his 20s, but he and Katy have a few discussions about their past together.

Now in their early 30s, Shang-Chi (who changed his first name to Shaun) and Katy (played by Awkwafina) work together as parking valets at a ritzy hotel. They’re very educated and over-qualified for the job. He can speak four languages, while she has a master’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Katy has a mischievous and rebellious streak, since she’s the type of valet driver who will take a car out on a joy ride instead of parking it. That’s what she does when she gets handed the keys to a red BMW, which she takes to speed through traffic, with Shaun/Shang-Chi along for the ride.

Katy doesn’t know about Shang-Chi’s past until it catches up to him in one of the movie’s best action scenes. It’s when Iron Fist and some other thugs attack Shang-Chi and Katy while they’re on a moving bus. Katy is shocked to find out that her friend Shaun has superhero-level fighting skills. Later, he tells her that his real name is Shang-Chi.

But the “fight on the bus” scene kicks off the movie in a very thrilling way. The martial arts and choreography are top-notch. And there are some heart-pounding moments when Katy has the take the wheel of the bus and navigate through San Francisco’s hilly, narrow and crowded streets. It makes her daredevil joyrides as a valet look like an easygoing holiday in comparison.

Why is Shang-Chi being targeted by these goons, who seemed to come from out of nowhere? As he explains to Katy about his secret past, it means that his father must be looking for him, because the assassins took Shang-Li’s pendant. And you know what that means: Shang-Chi and Katy are going to China—Macau, to be more specific.

If non-talking monsters or aliens aren’t the main villains in a superhero movie, the talking villains better have a memorable personality. Unfortunately, as talented as Leung is as an actor, this type of formulaic, power-hungry overlord has been done in movies and TV so many times already. After watching “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” for the first time, the average viewer will be hard-pressed to remember one line of dialogue that Xu Wenwu said, although Leung certainly gives it his all in depicting a once-loving father who has since gone in an evil direction.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” does have moments of levity, mainly because of Katy’s sarcasm and the MCU re-appearance of Trevor Slattery (played by Ben Kingsley), a flamboyant British actor who was previously seen in 2013’s “Iron Man 3.” It won’t be revealed here what Trevor does in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” but it’s enough to say that a cute faceless and furry creature that Trevor has with him (about the size of a dog) will be one of the most remembered aspects about “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”

Dr. Strange sidekick Wong (played by Benedict Wong) is another MCU character who’s in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” although Wong’s screen time is a lot less than Trevor’s. New characters to the MCU include Shang-Chi’s estranged younger sister Xialing (played by Meng’er Zhang, making an impressive feature-film debut) and their aunt Ying Nan (played by Michelle Yeoh), who is the sister of Shang-Chi and Xialing’s late mother.

Before Shang-Chi and Katy go through predictable scenes of training for the big showdown battle that takes place at the end of the movie, there’s another standout fight scene that takes place on a skyscraper. In many ways, the skyscraper scene and the bus scenes are more unique and more thrilling fight than the final battle scene. This movie’s action definitely shines the most when it has martial arts between humans, rather than visual-effect-heavy battles with mythical creatures.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is a big step forward for Hollywood-made superhero movies that do not have a predominantly white cast. There’s plenty to like about the movie. But as an origin story, it relies a little too much on over-used, basic tropes. Except some of the fight scenes, there wasn’t a lot of originality in how this story was structured. The good news for people unfamiliar with the MCU, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is one of the few MCU movies that’s a true stand-alone film that doesn’t have a lot of references to other MCU films that you would have to know about to understand these references.

However, it’s not a good sign when one of those past references from an MCU movie (Trevor) is more entertaining to watch than the main hero and the main villain in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” Awkwafina might get mixed reactions in her role as Katy, since people seem to love or hate Awkafina’s off-screen personality. Liu is perfectly fine as Shang-Chi, but he doesn’t have the charisma to be in the upper echelon of beloved MCU characters. The rest of the cast is serviceable in their roles. This movie isn’t going to win any prestigious awards for any of the cast members.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” also has disappointing mid-credits and end-credits scenes. People really won’t miss anything if they skip the credits. However, it’s enough to say that the mid-credits scene does show Shang-Chi, Katy, Wong and two other MCU characters. As far as escapist entertainment goes, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” delivers enough to satisfy people who are fans of superhero movies or martial arts. But people who want more magnetic personalities in action heroes might have to look elsewhere.

Marvel Studios will release “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” in U.S. cinemas on September 3, 2021. A one-night-only sneak preview of the movie was screened in select IMAX cinemas in the U.S. and Canada on August 18, 2021.

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