JUNEBUG and other films

An adequate-length movie review, and a few tossed-off ones.

Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), owner of a Chicago gallery specializing in outsider art, finds herself very much an outsider when she travels to small town North Carolina to acquire a local artist's work. Coincidentally, George (Alessandro Nivola), her husband of six months (following a seven-day courtship!) grew up nearby, so this allows her to meet her in-laws and the lifestyle George seemingly couldn't wait to escape.

This isn't exactly a groundbreaking premise for a film; predictably, Madeleine awkwardly clashes with George's family, and it's difficult to get a handle on either her or George or why they're even together in the first place (apart from lust). But director Phil Morrison depicts this milieu without any contempt or satire, observing rather than criticizing. He expertly employs silences as poetic interludes and uses snatches of local color (the film opens with a startling, intriguing non-sequitur) that give the film a real sense of place, the setting as predominant and felt as some of the characters.

As Ashley, George's very pregnant, young sister-in-law, Amy Adams gives a powerful, fearless performance. As if she stepped out of a Mike Leigh film, Adams at once is abrasive yet totally engaging, desperately craving Madeleine's friendship and worldliness yet entirely genuine in her own self and intentions. She also has a scene near the end that's just heartbreaking. See this film for her.

A solid advance on director Eytan Fox's slight but well-meaning YOSSI AND JAGGER. Exploring modern Israeli-German relations, male bonding and good old-fashioned guilt, it's never heavy-handed and only sporadically melodramatic. Arrives at too tidy a conclusion, but it takes many revealing little detours in getting there.

It takes a long time for this indie quirk-fest to get going (just around the time the main character's Ritalin kicks in). Tilda Swinton is expectedly great in suburban mother mode, but who knew Vince Vaughn could be charmingly restrained as a high school debate teacher or that Vincent D'Onofrio could show restraint, period? I still detest The Polyphonic Spree, and the movie's point is so obvious it's fitting that Keanu Reeves should spell it all out for you in the end. But that doesn't mean the film's a waste of time.

He should stick to stuff like this over not entirely necessary remakes, which is not to say I didn't enjoy CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. But this is altogether more creative and wicked, a better testament to the macabre invention that should always so effortlessly pour out of him. Includes a who's-who of wonderfully-distinctive Brits providing the vocal talent. The director's best since... ED WOOD?

At the very least, this has much more to say about pornography and censorship than THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT ever did, but the real money shot here is the phenomenon itself: how a ridiculous blue movie (supposedly) grossed $600,000 and transformed public perception of porn. Still, it left me wondering what relevance, if any, the original film has today.

Hungarian film set entirely in the Budapest subway system. Shows that being a ticket inspector is one of the most thankless, least effective jobs imaginable. Features a female character who's usually dressed in a bear costume. Dark, stylish (the film rarely looks less than stunning), scrappy, scabrously funny and occasionally grand, it's one of the better TRAINSPOTTING knockoffs I've seen.