Caramel - Directed by Nadine Labaki.
In Arabic and French with subtitles. Four Lebanese women interact at a hair salon while dealing with their own personal issues. Layale (Nadine Labaki), the salon’s owner, considers having an extramarital affair. Jamale (Gisele Aouad) messes up many auditions for soap opera roles. Nisrine (Yasmine Al Masri) feels concerned about the fact that she’s no a virgin yet she’s about to get married to a Muslim man who’s think she’s a virgin. Nisrine (Yasmine Al Masri) has a crush on a female client whose hair she washes at the salon. Across from the salon, Rose (Siham Haddad), an elderly seamstress, flirts with an old man, her customer, who has fallen in love with her. Finally, there’s a police officer (Adel Karam) who has a crush on Layale. With its lively set of characters, this ensemble drama manages to be slightly sweet and very charming. Writer/director Nadine Labaki, who also plays Layale, knows how to blend in comedy and drama without any awkward transitions. Not all of the subplots are developed enough, though, so the plot feels a bit convoluted, meandering and overstuffed with issues. Nonetheless, Nadine Labaki humanizes her characters and includes a well-chosen musical score that enhances the overall mood. Many scenes feel warm and organic enough so that you’re mildly immersed in the storyof these charming women. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Entertainment Value: Highly Moderate. Spiritual Value: Moderate. Released by Roadside Attractions. Opens at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
The Eye - Directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud.
Sydney Well (Jessica Alba), a blind young woman, gets an eye transplant and starts seeing strange apparitions. Dr. Paul Faulkner (Alessandro Nivola) tries to help her to rationalize her experiences which may or may not be real. This dumbed-down remake of the 2002 Chinese film of the same name lacks suspense and real scares. Jessica Alba gives a mediocre performance which is at least far more believable than Shannyn Sossamon’s horribly wooden performance in One Missed Call. Fans of Parker Posey will be disappointed that she’s underused here as Syndey’s sister. Co-directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud do a decent job moving the pace along quickly and including plenty of slick, stylish visuals that enhance the somewhat creepy atmosphere. If only screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez didn’t feel the need to spoon-feed all of the twists and turns with no room for subtlety to the audience, this could have been a much smarter and thrilling remake. At least it doesn’t have nearly as much unintentional humor as recent PG-13 remakes of Asian horror films, such as One Missed Call and Pulse. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired as long as you suspend your disbelief and check your brain at the door. Released by Lionsgate.
Live and Become - Directed by Radu Mihaileanu.
In Amharic, Hebrew and French with subtitles. Schlomo (Moshe Agazai), a young Ethiopian boy, migrates to Israel where a foster mother (Yael Abecassis) and father (Roschdy Zem) raise him during times of racism against Ethiopians. As he becomes a teenager, Schlomo (now played by Moshe Abebe) falls in love with Sarah (Roni Hadar), but her racist father forbids her to even be near him. Schlomo tries to live up to his mother’s request that he should go live and become—“to become what?” is the truly universal question that he must find an answer to. The plot feels profoundly moving as Schlomo merely tries to find his own happiness and to overcome his difficult childhood in a world filled with racism and intolerance. His romance with Sarah feels very real and tender as well as his relationship to his adoptive mother who goes out of her way to show how much she loves him. Writer/director Radu Mihaileanu expertly brings all of these characters to life with a brilliant script and adds just the right amount of comic relief to loosen up the serious tone a bit. It also helps that each and every performance is believable without going over-the-top. Pay close attention to a very timely and important message about the fight for land in Israel through an insightful discussion regarding an old and a new tree co-existing. With a running time of nearly two-and-a-half hours, Live and Become manages to be a thoroughly captivating, heartfelt and truly unforgettable epic that should be seen by everyone who appreciates the rewarding struggles of life, love and the pursuit of happiness. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: Very High. Released by Menemsha Films. Opens at the Paris Theatre and Landmark Sunshine Cinemas.
Over Her Dead Body - Directed by Jeff Lowell.
Kate (Eva Longoria Parker) comes back from the dead as ghost to stop her boyfriend, Henry (Paul Rudd), from falling in love with a psychic, Ashley (Lake Bell), who can actually see and hear her. Despite an initially intriguing plot that could have been hilarious and imaginative, too much of the humor falls flat on its face with pure inanity. Eva Longoria Parker gives an irritating performance that lacks the essential comic timing, although Lake Bell and Paul Rudd have a few barely funny scenes. Writer/director Jeff Lowell seems to be gearing most of the film to people with very low intelligence given how none of the characters act even remotely believable. Brain-dead comedies could work with a smart script, but this one just gets more and more dull and awkward as it goes on. At least a talking parrot manages to briefly steal the show. Unless you think you can laugh at a 2-minute scene with nonstop flatulence, avoid Over Her Dead Body for the sake of romantic comedies that actually make you laugh. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired as long as you check your brain at the door and suspend your disbelief. Released by New Line Cinema.
Praying with Lior - Directed by Ilana Trachtman.
This charming documentary focuses on Lior Liebling, a young boy who prepares for his bar mitzvah while suffering from Down syndrome. He lives with his very supportive and caring father, Mordechai, stepmom, Lynne Iser, and three siblings. Ever since his mother died when he was six, he has been passionate about davening despite his slurred speech. It’s amazing how his positive attitude and charms are like a ray of sunshine for his family and friends. However, when he’s not charming and optimistic, he can be very stubborn like when he repeatedly refuses to dress down for a casual dinner before his bar mitzvah. Director Ilana Trachtman does a superb job of allowing the audience to get to know Lior with all of his surprising insight and humor. He’s like your own beloved sibling and hearing his very wise and moving bar mitzvah speech feel quite poignant. Utimately, you’ll be uplifted by this very warm and thoroughly engrossing documentary. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Entertainment Value: High. Spiritual Value: High. Released by First Run Features. Opens at Cinema Village.
The Witnesses - Directed by André Téchiné.
In French with subtitles. During 1984, a young man, Manu (Johan Libereau), brings his lover, a middle-aged doctor (Michel Blanc) to stay with him at the seaside home of Sarah (Emmanuelle Béart) and her husband, Mehdi (Sami Bouajila), a cop. A love triangle between Manu, Medhi and the doctor gets complicated once Manu gets sick later in the second half of the film. During the first hour, co-writer/director André Téchiné develops the characters strongly enough so that you care about them. Manu and the doctor move into Sarah’s home and interact with another—Medhi takes Menu on a brief trip in a small plane and makes love to him in a field while Sarah stays at home to write a children’s book. Once Manu develops the sickness, the plot begins to lose its momentum and feel a redundant. Fortunately, strong performances from each actor and actress helps to keep you somewhat engaged throughout the last half of the film. It’s also worth noting that while some scenes drag somewhat, there’s plenty of picturesque scenery—and nude shots of Emmanuelle Béart —to provide you with some pleasant eye candy. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Entertainment Value: Moderate. Spiritual Value: None is required or desired. Released by Strand Releasing. Opens at the IFC Center.