"The Green Butchers," a comic bull's-eye from Danish writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen, is about as darkly funny as a movie about eating your neighbors can be. Its bizarre story begins when two men, tightly wound Bjarne (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and neurotic Svend (Mads Mikkelsen), open a butcher shop. Business is slow until Svend accidentally happens upon a tasty new meat product -- he calls them chicky-wickies -- that the townspeople clamor for. Enough said.
What sets this comedy apart is a sharp wit that courses through it as naturally as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening. The performances are deadpan perfect, and there are lines ("Svend, you have sausage on your head again") destined for movie quote websites. Compare it to anything in the genre -- "Sweeney Todd," "Eating Raoul" "Delicatessen"; "The Green Butchers" is a classic.
`Kontroll' Yet another find for lovers of subtitled black comedy is this stylish work set entirely in Budapest's subway system. Directed by Nimrod Antal from a script he cowrote with Jim Adler, the film follows the daily lives and good-vs.-evil struggles of a quirky group of ticket takers. This comedy, which could be exceptional if it were more tightly edited, is darker than a train tunnel and just as determined to take you somewhere.
`Duane Incarnate' This gal-pal comedy by Hal Salwen might start off as another watered-down "Sex and the City," but it quickly becomes apparent that Salwen has not lost his clever edge. For anyone who loves seeing the status quo turned on its ear, this is a story about what happens when a woman with absolutely nothing going for her wins the man of every girl's dream. The film is original, unpredictable, and deserving of the suspension of disbelief required to view it.
`Dear Frankie' There's no profound dramatic significance to the latest effort from director Shona Auerbach, it's just a heart-tugging story about a Scottish deaf boy (Jack McElhone) whose mother (Emily Mortimer) pretends his father is away at sea. When the boy mistakenly believes his dad is coming into port, the mother must find a guy willing to act the part for a day, and so much the better if the guy turns out to be the handsome Gerard Butler.
`Zelary' The main things to know about this Oscar-nominated film from the Czech Republic are: It's gorgeously photographed and it's 148 minutes long. Directed by Ondrej Trojan, the epic story centers on a World War II Czech-resistance worker hiding out in a remote mountainous village. There's nothing very original here, but it's all played with class.
`The Boys From County Clare' John Irvin's latest directing project doesn't have much of a plot, and its central dramatic conflict of two estranged brothers butting heads over an Irish band competition largely fizzles out after a couple of shared pints in a local pub. But it's just impossible to dislike a film about traditional Irish music set in County Clare.
`The Choir' You can bet this French film will do well at the box office with its touching performances, uplifting story, and stirring soundtrack. What it doesn't do is add to its genre, going over the same ground worked by every other inspirational-teacher flick. In Christophe Barratier's script, violent pranks and abuse dominate the scene at an all-boys boarding school before a new supervisor (Gerard Jugnot) introduces compassion, guidance, and a musical escape.
`Mondovino' As ancient as the practice of winemaking is, few people know much about what goes into producing the grown-up grape juices. This documentary by Jonathan Nossiter holds up a magnifying glass to the industry and comes away with some opinions about modernization, globalization, and Napa-ization, among other things. (Note: The film was unavailable for review at press time.)