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Ben Nyce | Via Latina


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Every once in a while a small film gains traction and carrying power. For just around one million dollars “Junebug” (2005) was shot in North Carolina with a superb script by Angus Mac Lachland and wonderful direction by Phil Morrison. A subtle study in family dynamics, the film brings a sophisticated art dealer, Madeleine, played by Embeth Davidtz, into contact with her new husband George’s family – particularly the very pregnant daughter Ashley in a bravura performance by Amy Adams. Madeleine has come south to persuade a local artist to let her gallery handle his work. Unlike most films, we are given extensive looks at the art; it is compelling – filled with violent imagery.

In the course of her stay with George’s family we encounter their dysfunction as well as their pleasures. Son Johnny is living at home and embittered at brother George’s success in Chicago while Ashley, his wife, is both warm and loving and nearly hysterically stressed/happy at the prospect of giving birth to a child Johnny may not want. Mother Peg soldiers on in the presence of her closed-down, depressed husband. They are a deeply religious family and, except for Ashley, highly suspicious of the sophisticated Madeleine. The Bible belt is treated here with great understanding. Each character is given full humanity and complexity.
It’s the visuals which give “Junebug” much of its power. There are quiet passages in which the soundless camera gazes at empty rooms with rapt attention. These aren’t merely pauses in the often brisk action; they evoke a precise sense of place and time. The grassy lawns and trees near the family house are recorded with equal defining care. Punctuating the drama there are passages when the screen goes dark. Director Morrison gives us a breather before further intense drama. In casting, script and direction “Junebug” is a triumph.

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“A Hijacking” will probably be gone from Landmark Hillcrest but it’s worth seeing on DVD. This Danish film dramatizes the takeover of a cargo-less ship by Somali pirates. It differs from most action films in its careful realism and lack of heroic behavior. We alternate between the corporate offices of the shipping company and the increasingly stressed crew who have to endure as hostages while negotiations continue day after day, month after month. The film feels almost like a documentary – the real thing.

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The last “little” film by John Huston I would like to notice is his translation of Joyce’s novella “The Dead.” The film was directed by Huston from a wheelchair as he was dying from emphysema and other hard living. It’s one of his finest. Using players from the Abbey Theater as well as his daughter Angelica and his son Tony as scriptwriter, “The Dead” is a faithful rendering of Joyce’s great text. The film dramatizes Gabriel Conroy’s gradual realization of his wife’s lost love for a boy who died young. The investigation into Gabriel’s consciousness occurs during an evening of Irish song, drink and chatter. There’s a masterful fluidity in script and image as the cheerful evening draws to its close and Gabriel faces his dear wife’s loss. It’s Huston’s lyrical farewell to his beloved Ireland and to filmmaking. A must see.



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