Monday, September 05, 2005

Constantly Buggin'

9/4/05 1:15 at the Angelika – Junebug

Director Phil Morrison makes a strong and self-assured feature debut that has a very distinct personality unlike anything I’ve seen in recent memory. Junebug explores the dynamics of a dysfunctional family in North Carolina during the coinciding events of the last stages of the daughter-in-law’s pregnancy and the older brother’s return after 3 years of absence to introduce his South African new wife to the family. Morrison tells the story by blending realism and formalism into a peculiar concoction that feels fresh and unexpected at every turn. The South African wife, Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), happens to also be in North Carolina on business, investigating a potential art client. The client is an elderly, mentally challenged southern painter who draws peculiar pictures of civil war reenactments with emphasis on racial injustice and enlarged genitalia. These scenes between him and Madeleine play out like a documentary peering into the mind of this confusing and intriguing character. But then there are flashy opening credits, obtrusive musical cues and fade outs that call attention to the structure yet somehow these contrasting approaches manage to coexist rather than combat each other.

Junebug has a languid pace that moves slowly and surely which unavoidably makes the 107 minute running time feel seat-shiftingly long. So while repeat viewing do not sound immediately irresistible, the characters are all so carefully constructed and vibrant with so many minute nuances that I still have a hankering to see it again with hope of uncovering more about these ambiguously complicated people.

The actors are all fit for the challenge of their richly sculpted characters and embody them fully, even Ben McKenzie of The OC fame as the younger brother. He perfectly uses his standard glaring-out-the-corner-of-his-eyes look during a pivotal scene where his eyes get to such a degree that we assume his iris must be facing the inner workings of his skull. Of course if anyone stands out, it’s the beautifully naïve and quietly observant Amy Adams in the role of the young wife in labor, Ashley.

9/4/05 7:10 at the Union Square United Artists – The Constant Gardener

I am one of about 15 people who still haven’t seen Fernando Meirelles’ City of God but get a sense that The Constant Gardener is very similar in its admirable quality of being a highly entertaining thriller while incorporating a global awareness to the background. Think the exotic and unfamiliar locales of The Bourne Identity/Supremacy movies with an added social and political commentary. In The Constant Gardener, Ralph Fiennes stars as Justin, a British diplomat whose wife is brutally murdered while working in Africa. Justin becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth behind the murder and embarks on a heedless journey to expose a conspiracy. Fiennes gives a brilliant performance and is more expressive with his eyes alone than most actors can convey with their whole performances. His reaction to learning about his wife’s murder in the beginning is both unforgettable and unexpected. The film manages to balance itself as both a satisfying Saturday night at the movies that can attract the younger audience with its stylish filmmaking as well as the older audience with its thought-provoking substance that never becomes too didactic to alienate the younger crowd.


The Blog Guru said...
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altenergy said...
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Phentermine said...
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Cinema Journal said...

Whoa - 3 comments, all deleted....mysterious.

Well, great to see this blog updated so often in the past few days.

As for the City of God's "global awareness," I for one see that as more of an unintended side-effect that is more after the fact. Action is more discernable than politics - in fact, there is an amazing lack of politics in the film that would be neccesary for it to be as "aware" as it should. Have you seen "Battle of Algiers" yet? That's what I hold "City of God" up to, and it never holds up.

As for Constant Gardener, I still want to see it. Can you elaborate on its global tendencies? I'm just curious. Do you think they are more La Carre or something the director or writer added?


Cinema Journal said...

20 days since you updated this thing.
So wrong. So wrong.


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