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Caramel, Over Her Dead Body, Tre, The Eye 

Plus film pick of the week: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Wednesday, Jan 30 2008
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GO  CARAMEL The multiply blessed young Lebanese writer-director Nadine Labaki looks sublimely like Anna Magnani crossed with Penelope Cruz. She also has the brass and the chops to not only direct her first film but star in it as well, as a Beirut beautician stewing miserably in a dead-end affair with a married man while, all around her, a multigenerational bevy of colleagues and clients copes with lesbian urges, menopause and senior dating in a society hostile to all three. Beauty-parlor romantic comedy has been done to death, but what Caramel lacks in originality is redeemed by its exuberant sensuality and astute commentary on the way Lebanese women sit uncomfortably in the cross hairs of their country's clash between patriarchal tradition and Westernized modernity. Labaki shows an assured hand with her mostly nonpro actors, many of whom were cast for the resemblance between their lives and the women they play. There's more cheek than chic in this Frenchified bit of fluff, but also something deep and poignant about its dilemmas, which include a Muslim bride-to-be agonizing over whether to get her broken hymen stitched by a plastic surgeon in time for a virgin wedding. Labaki treats her characters with wistful tenderness, raucous practicality, and enough romantic chutzpah to give almost every woman a moment, at least, when she can have exactly what she wants. (The Landmark; Sunset 5; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)

Mobra Films/Adi Paduretu

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click to enlarge MOBRA FILMS/ADI PADURETU - With friends like these: Marinca as Months'resourceful fixer
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  • With friends like these: Marinca as Months'resourceful fixer

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With friends like these: Marinca as Months'resourceful fixer

THE EYE Ever had a premonition of imminent catastrophe, only to watch helplessly as the worst unfolds? You have if you saw the previews for this snoozer of a paranormal shocker and bought a ticket anyway. Adapted from a derivative Pang Brothers thriller — a UK-Hong Kong-Singapore co-production helpfully identified here in the credits as a “Chinese-language” film, lest it be mistaken for one of the late-’90s Japanese horror films it was ripping off — the set-up is essentially the same: A blind concert violinist (Jessica Alba) gets a cornea transplant and is suddenly privy to visions of the recently (or is it imminently?) deceased. From there, as directed by French horror hommes David Moreau and Xavier Palud (Them), the entire movie is an object lesson in diminishing returns: of nagging shock cuts and blaring sound cues used as indiscriminately as joy buzzers; of “look out behind you!” scares that wouldn’t make a Cub Scout flinch; of a blurry visual scheme that was far more terrifying in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, where it sought empathy rather than empty sensation. The vulnerability of eyes is normally one of horror’s most reliable tropes; this packs all the ocular thrills of a three-hour wait at LensCrafters. Advice to cornea-transplant candidates: If your donor has watched this, politely say, “Next.” (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)

FILM PICK  4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS The extraordinary Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, more comfortably known as "that abortion movie that won this year's Palme d'Or," sheds its secrets slowly, a high-end realist drama quickening skillfully into a thriller. Though the frighteningly late-term abortion at its center hints at larger sins in the last gasp of Nicolae Ceausescu's ironfisted regime, it's no metaphor, but a sordidly visceral transaction conducted in the next best thing to a back alley. Childlike and passive, Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) is the college girl most likely to get herself knocked up, ignore her swelling belly, then flap her hands and wait for someone to tell her what to do. That would be BFF Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), a resourceful fixer who calmly books one seedy hotel when she can't afford the bribe for another, and meets up with the illegal abortionist. In one of several touches of writer-director Cristian Mungiu's black comedy, he's named Mr. Bebe, and he's a sinister manipulator who, like any good black marketeer, knows how to exact payment in kind. Trapped in frame by the steady gaze of cinematographer Oleg Mutu's camera, both girls will end up his victims, but in the movie's bleakest moments, it's the plucky one — 4 Months is Otilia's movie, not Gabita's — who pays the higher price. (Royal; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)

HANNAH MONTANA/MILEY CYRUS: BEST OF BOTH WORLDS CONCERT TOUR I mean, who cares what a crabby critic thinks of Miley Cyrus' concert-tour movie? Not my 10-year-old in her 3-D glasses, raptly mouthing lyrics she knew by heart going in. Certainly not the millions of adoring little girls who will coax, badger or bludgeon their parents into the nearest multiplex (for a jacked-up $20 a pop, if you don't mind) for a megadose of the rather lively Miley and her plasticized alter ego, Hannah Montana. Tweens will get exactly what they signed up for: strobe lights and streamers; banal choreography (strut, pose, strut, pose); director Bruce Hendricks' desultory stabs at backstage "spontaneity"; and a chance to scream at the minimally gifted Jonas Brothers boy band. The marginally saving grace is Ms. Cyrus, who has a big smile, a cute little bod and a positive attitude. She makes a perfectly fine role model, if you rate cheerful, sensible and chaste under the skinny tights and glow-in-the-dark tank tops. She has a pair of big, throaty pipes that make you wish for better music when she grows up and, let's hope, ditches all the saccharine packaging. Sitting through this strenuously bland floor show, I amused myself imagining all the flannel-shirted Juno misfits watching this dreary stuff aghast, then texting their pals to ask, "Did that suck the big one, or what?" (Selected theaters) (Ella Taylor)

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