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Caramel, Over Her Dead Body, Tre, The Eye

With friends like these: Marinca as Months'resourceful fixer
Mobra Films/Adi Paduretu

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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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)

 

GO  LIBERTY KID Liberty Kid elevates that woeful genre, the 9/11 movie, by keeping a Wire-worthy ear to the street talk of south Williamsburg and maintaining a shrewd balance of the personal and the political for two full acts. It is, alas, a three-act narrative. No matter: Produced by indie stalwart Larry Fessenden, the sophomore feature from writer-director Ilya Chaiken stages an uncommonly acute, deftly played drama of the New York working class. Derrick (Al Thompson) and Tico (Kareen Saviñon) find themselves out of work on September 12 when their Liberty Island concession stand is shut down. Wage-slave indignity gives way to a grudging coke operation (and a hilarious batch of business cards offering “Party Favers”), followed by the inevitable rough-and- tumble rivalries, jealousies, seductions, and betrayals. The actors remain superb even as Chaiken triple-underlines every-thing in the bittersweet denouement. Kudos to Kid, nevertheless, for having something worth saying in the first place. (Grande 4-Plex) (Nathan Lee)

MEET THE SPARTANS No doubt you heard the gay jokes about 300. No doubt you made some of them. But never did you think an entire movie could be made from those mild titters. The writing-directing team of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer thought otherwise. To this deadly duo, there is no joke so lame it can't be repeated. (Did you hear the one about how Donald Trump wears a wig?) They once again prove themselves to be the cinematic equivalent of that annoying friend who thinks repeating the jokes he saw last night on TV is the funniest damn thing ever. Meet the Spartans is a mild improvement over their Epic Movie, which is like saying that a debilitating fever is more fun than appendicitis, but what's shocking is how lazy it is, which is a shame for former U.K. child star/pop singer Sean Maguire, whose Gerard Butler impersonation is spot-on. Aside from the obvious gay jokes ("I Will Survive" performed twice, heh heh), what remains is an endless array of product placements masquerading as self-referential humor, and movie references that Seltzer and Friedberg don't even trust the audience to get. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)

GO  OVER HER DEAD BODY Henry (Paul Rudd) and Kate (Eva Longoria) were about to walk down the aisle when Kate was killed in a slapstick wedding-day accident. A year later, he's still mourning the escape from a life of browbeating, so his sister presses him to contact a psychic to put his mind at rest. Said medium (Lake Bell) turns out to be a tawny beauty molded like a Vicky's Secret contractee; romance blossoms anew, to the chagrin of Kate's awakened ghost, who commences with sabotage. Many a comic potentiality is underworked, and the film's prevailing tone is obnoxiously erratic — surely the supporting eccentrics (Jason Biggs and Lindsay Sloane) aren't supposed to be so off-putting? — but it rests safe when entrusted to the charisma of its principals. This is no career high, but it's impossible to actively dislike Rudd: Women want him (he's cozy-handsome, in a feasible imaginary-boyfriend-able way); men want to forward his viral video appearances around the office. And Bell — with her broad ducky lips, scrunched wince, and long arms swatting at the air — has promise as a winning comedienne. Nobody was clamoring for this Blithe Spirit revival, but, real talk, it's a fine hiatus from earthly life. (Citywide) (Nick Pinkerton)

RAMBO Gorier, meaner and uglier than anything Sylvester Stallone has made before, and as such damnably effective in rousing your blood lust, this wind-up groin kicker of a movie seems initially as wary of being pulled back into a dirty job as its reluctant hero. Once committed, though, Stallone and his embittered he-man mean to prove that nobody alive can explode more heads, aerate more guts and perforate more evil ethnic extras. Here the Vietnam vet turned universal soldier ends up rescuing some Christian mercy workers dumb enough to think they can bring humanitarian aid to Myanmar, only to end up in a leering Burmese warmonger's hellhole. Want to accomplish good works on the other side of the world? Stallone sez: Pack heat. As vehement in its stereotyping as World War II propaganda, Rambo climaxes with a neck-breaking howitzer barrage of a montage as hundreds of enemy soldiers, hopelessly outnumbered by Rambo, go down in a battery of extrasquishy beheadings, explosions and mutilations. By that point, even the movie's love-thy-neighbor wimps are ready to pound skulls with rocks. The message? If killing is what you do best, just make sure you kill the right people. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)

 

STRANGE WILDERNESS Last and quite unforgettably seen as one of Rescue Dawn’s tragic POWs, Steve Zahn returns to the jungle to headline this innocuously awful, February-dumped comedy in his trusty but musty persona of the happy-go-unlucky, half-stoned schemer. On a South American search for Bigfoot as a last-ditch effort to save their failing TV wildlife program, host Zahn and his even more incompetent crew — a who’s who of slumming talent that includes Jonah Hill, Justin Long, Broken Lizard’s Kevin Heffernan, and Ernest Borgnine (!) — smoke dope, joy-buzz each other’s crotches, and wag their tongues at every skinny blonde or fake teat that passes their fratty gaze. Why former SNL writers Fred Wolf (who also directs) and Peter Gaulke would force such proven improvisers to stick to such drooling playground idiocy is a mystery not worth solving, as it concerns a script that smugly tries to squeeze a dozen rapid-fire punch lines out of a guy named Dick. (Alternatively, how can you screw up MST3K-style voiceovers of old nature-show footage with this cast?) No snob to low-brow ridiculousness when it’s actually unexpected, I’ll admit to being amused exactly once, when Zahn gets deep-throated by a gigantic prop turkey who, despite the mouthful, keeps on flapping. (Citywide) (Aaron Hillis)SUNDAY The rapidly rising Bollywood ingenue Ayesha Takia, who made her debut in 2004 in something called Taarzan: The Wonder Car and appeared in six major releases in 2007, looks like a cartoon of an eye-candy starlet, a bosomy kewpie doll so eidetically cute that the kawai-walas of Tokyo must be contemplating hara-kiri. But Takia also showed a subtler brand of sweetness, and some acting skill, in Nagesh Kukunoor's middlebrow art movie Dor (2006), and she's the only good reason to consider seeing Rohit Shetty's Sunday, a hyperactive and wholly synthetic crime comedy in which a trio of major actors (Ajay Devgan, Arshad Warsi and The Namesake's great Irfan Khan) laboriously tread water. Takia's linchpin character falls asleep after a wild night at the disco and doesn't wake up again until Monday morning; Devgan is a saturnine cop who believes the missing day holds the key to a couple of otherwise unrelated crimes. The plot machinations aren't as satisfyingly clever as they should be, and the computer-embellished car-flipping chase sequences are a mite clumsy, as if the one take the filmmakers could afford wasn't always optimal. We recommend sleeping in. (Naz 8; ImaginAsian Center) (David Chute)

GO  TRE Unlike most indie dramas about rudderless 20-somethings who exorcise their hang-ups by talking and screwing each other to death, Tre is something rare: a perceptive, nonindulgent chamber piece that wrings a little art from that anxious age. Needing a break from life in the city, professional slacker Tre (Daniel Cariaga) crashes at the home of best buddy Gabe (Erik McDowell) and Gabe's girlfriend Kakela (co-writer Kimberly-Rose Wolter), only to discover the guest room is already occupied by Nina (Alix Koromzay), an aspiring actress newly separated from her husband. Soon, Tre begins a passionless affair with Nina, while Gabe and Kakela ponder marriage, silently observing their houseguests' exploits from a distance. Directed and co-written by Eric Byler (Charlotte Sometimes), Tre suffers from a familiar quarter-life-crisis setup, but the film repeatedly sidesteps the cliché of confessional dramas, eschewing "I feel this way — and therefore so does my whole generation" monologues for the naturalistic patter of sympathetic, half-formed adults whose unstable sex lives belie a deeper, unspoken malaise. All four performers deliver nicely subtle turns, but the best of the group is newcomer Cariaga: In the wrong hands, Tre would be just another enigmatic nonconformist who learns how to open his heart, but Cariaga transforms him into an uncertain man-child juggling the fashionable cynicism that protects him with the genuine feelings that will lead him to maturity or heartbreak. (Sunset 5; One Colorado) (Tim Grierson)


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