What's Up For Today?

The Pang Brother’s
The Eye
Mandarin with English Subtitles

Reviewed courtesy of Lincoln Center Film Society Hong Kong Film Series

Starring: Angelica Lee, Lawrence Chou, Chutcha Rujinanon, Yut Lai So and Candy Lo.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

The Thai-Born Pang Brothers (of Bangkok Dangerous fame) made a eerily haunting horror film with their 2002 film The Eye - the story of a young woman named Mun (played by the talented Angelica Lee) whose eyesight is restored when she receives a corneal transplant from an anonymous donor. Mun, who was blinded when she was two, then needs counseling and training to deal with the over stimulation of suddenly being able to see. An example (shown in the film): Mun can tell what a stapler is by touch, but not by sight. This counseling is supplied by Dr. Wah, a handsome young psychotherapist played by Lawrence Chou. Dr. Wah also supplies the romantic interest.

The problem is Mun (in Sixth Sense tradition) can see too much. She almost immediately begins to see both the living and the dead. She also see apparitions of black hooded wraiths who arrive just before someone is supposed to die (did you see Ghost?). This of course terrifies Mun, but the fun part is that it terrified me too.

Angelica Lee (Mun) won the Best Actress award at the Hong Kong Film Festival and it was certainly deserved. She gives a beautifully nuanced performance as Mun, playing her as every woman. She is totally believable and becomes the audience’s guide into her world, so when she is scared, we are scared too.

There is very little in The Eye that is original. All the plot points have been seen before - transplanted body parts that transplant more than their expected function, dead people who hang around because they need to solve the conflicts of one world before embarking for another, etc. etc. Anyone who has watched a horror film knows the story. The charm of The Eye is that although the story is old, the telling is fresh and fun.

The art direction and cinematography are well done and the directors do a wonderful job of pacing the film. The only problem that this reviewer saw was that they threw in every horror film plot known to man. There were so many points when it seemed that the movie was over and then off we went to view another horror film. But it really does not matter. The Pang Brothers pulled it off by their careful direction, their choice of a haunting score and their brilliant decision to cast Angelica Lee.

The Eye was produced by Applause Pictures, written by written by Jo Jo Yuet-chun Hui, Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang. It is available on DVD though www.netflix.com

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Stanley Kwan’s
Lan Yu
Chinese with English Subtitles

Reviewed courtesy of Lincoln Center Film Society Hong Kong Film Series

Starring: Hu Jun, Liu Ye & Su Jin

Reviewed by Jessica Cogan

I know. It’s cliche to say that loves strikes when you least expect it. But in Lan Yu, a recent feature in Lincoln Center’s Hong Kong Film series, love not only strikes when it’s least expected, but between unconventional lovers during unpredictable times. Lan Yu is the story of a highly successful and jaded Beijing businessman, Handong (Jun Hu), who finds love in the arms of the naive and fresh-faced country boy, Lan Yu (Ye Liu). The two first meet when Lan Yu, a starving architecture student, agrees to spend the night with Handong for a little cash. But when Lan Yu gives himself over wholeheartedly, Handong finds himself drawn into more than a one-night stand.

Lan Yu is open and expressive about his feelings and early on shows his love for Handong. But Handong resists and insists instead on maintaining emotional distance and treating Lan Yu like a kept lover, not a partner. When Handong goes too far and brings home another boy, Lan Yu leaves heartbroken. Handong believes he’s gotten Lan Yu out of his system. But the following year, when he hears about the clashes in Tiananmen Square, Handong rushes to find Lan Yu and ensure his safety. They reunite and rekindle their romance, but Handong is still unable to abandon himself to happiness. Instead, he marries a woman in an effort to do what is right and proper. Predictably, his marriage falls apart and he finds himself back with Lan Yu.

Over the years, the two come together and fall apart. Handong always holds back, resists his love for Lan Yu, perhaps unable to believe that love like Lan Yu’s – forgiving, generous, raw – can really exist. Then Handong loses everything: his business and finances come under investigation and he is jailed. Lan Yu pays for his release with money saved over the course of their long relationship, and that’s when Handong realizes what he has in Lan Yu. So the road is clear, then, for them to live happily ever after. But fate has a strange way of interfering just when everything seems in place.

Lan Yu is a bittersweet, compact film exploring taboo love in the midst of social and political upheaval. Hu and Liu offer fine performances and create compelling characters. Stanley Kwan’s direction is dark, smoky and claustrophobic, underscoring the secretive nature of Handong and Yu’s relationship. Lan Yu is an atmospheric and moving film that stays with you as few films can. For more information log onto: http://www.au-cinema.com/Lan-Yu.htm

Lan Yu was directed by Stanley Kwan and written by Jimmy Ngai. It is currently available on DVD.



Wes Anderson's
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Starring: Bud Cort, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Seu George, Jeff Goldblum, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Owen Wilaon

Reviewed by Evan Sung

Put on your Zissou Adidas and your AM/FM Scuba gear, its time to go deep-sea diving into the whacked-out psyche of Wes Anderson. In his new film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, our underwater guide is the titular Steve Zissou, played by Bill Murray. I would say the "brilliant" Bill Murray, but in recent films, he has done so much to establish a reputation for nuanced, deeply funny/sad (Sanny? Funad? Let's just say: "Murr-iffic") performances, that his name has become practically synonymous with "brilliant." Surrounded by a cast of characters that redefines "motley," Zissou/Murray leads us intrepidly into a distinctly Andersonian adventure populated with colorful sea-creatures, Filipino pirates on the high seas, unpaid interns, and a "part-gay" Jeff Goldblum. To say nothing of a hilarious Willem Dafoe as an hypersensitive German shipmate, Seu George singing early David Bowie in Portuguese to the action of the film, and Bud Cort as an insurance bondsman and unlikely ally to Team Zissou.

Wes Anderson's film opens with…the opening of a film. Steve Zissou, a media-obsessed, self-aggrandizing, and rather past-his-prime Jacques Cousteau-type is screening the latest episode of his ongoing series of adventure "documentaries." In it we meet the crew of the good ship Belafonte, exploring the mysteries of the ocean. Only this time, Zissou and his crew have the misfortune of crossing the path of the deadly Jaguar-Shark, which takes the life of his right-hand man, Esteban de Plantier. The loss sets in motion Zissou's mission to track down the Jaguar-Shark and kill it. After the screening, which is greeted by silent incomprehension, one viewer asks what possible scientific purpose killing such a rare creature could serve. Zissou's succinct reply: "Revenge." But Zissou does not embark on his quest alone. He is joined by Jane Winslett-Richardson(a kewpie-voiced Cate Blanchett), a pregnant reporter who may or may not be writing up a hatchet job on Steve. He also meets Ned Plimpton (long-time Anderson collaborator, Owen Wilson), a man who may or may not be Zissou's unknown son. What ensues is a series of encounters, exchanges, and detours, which in their randomness and absurdity seem meant to defy verbal description. Anderson does his best to create a purely cinematic experience, that is, one that must be lived through to access and comprehend.

But Anderson has been aiming at this all along his quirked-out career, and The Life Aquatic (for short) is a crystallization of that attitude. Although Anderson's version of crystallized is rather sprawling and unfocused! After three uniquely crafted films, Anderson established a firm cult status among critics and fans, all the while gently expanding the breadth of his appeal to a larger audience. The question hung heavily in the air then: Was The Life Aquatic going to be a sell-out? Would the larger budget, the all-star cast, and the special effects corrupt Anderson's unique voice? Happily, the answer is no, and if anything, Anderson has managed to sidestep the pitfalls of Hollywood filmmaking as well as any preconceptions of a "Wes Anderson" formula. It was telling to hear one audience-member laughing emphatically at innocuous moments early on in the film. Like some sort of Pavlovian-Hipster response, she seemed to feel compelled to audibly demonstrate her appreciation of the Anderson look and tone. As the film progressed however, viewers seemed to release themselves to the odd charms of the film, slowly recognizing that Anderson was up to something subtly different.

The Life Aquatic is Wes Anderson's Day For Night,Truffaut's famous film about the behind-the-scenes of the Seventh Art. For all the marine biology, The Life Aquatic is really about filmmaking. And more specifically, it is about Wes Anderson making a Wes Anderson film. When Zissou's crew, most of whom occupy roles like "boom operator" and "cameraman" or "editor", steal cutting edge equipment from their rival oceanographer's hi-tech underwater research station, we can imagine Wes Anderson ransacking the toys and technology of Hollywood to pursue his own single-minded operation. All of Anderson's characters have been dreamers and schemers, and now Anderson is the dreamer and schemer to beat them all, because he's been behind every single one of them all along. In a confrontation between father and (possible) son, Anderson gives us a self-deprecating wink when an exasperated Ned says to Steve: "You never cared about me! I'm just another character in your film!" It's a possible response to critics who complain that Anderson loses his characters among the obsessively art-directed frames of his films.

The craziest and loosest of all his films, The Life Aquatic is the most autobiographical. Where his previous films were more structured, The Life Aquatic buzzes with unbridled imagination. It is the closest we have seen so far to Mr. Anderson's imagination running amok on the screen - and for many this can be viewed as a good thing. Fans of the eccentric Anderson will be reassured that the same quasi-pathological passion for wide frames jam-packed with detail, a pitch-perfect soundtrack, and surprising moments of heartbreaking humanity are all there. The Life Aquatic will surely test the patience of some, but those who give themselves up to the ride will be charmed by Anderson's generous and inventive vision.

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Joe Maggio’s
Milk and Honey
Opens March 18th
Quad Cinemas

Starring: Clint Jordon (Rick Johnson); Kirsten Russell (Joyce Johnson); Dudley Findlay, Jr. (Moses Jackson), Anthony Howard (Tony); Greg Amici (Dudley); Eleanor Hutchins- Katie.

Reviewed by Ally Manning

Milk and Honey, Joe Maggio's second film, takes us gallivanting through the hazy wet cobblestone streets and subways of New York City (plus a bit of Jersey) over the course of one elongated night. The soundtrack features Yo La Tengo and Fischerspooner, plus an original score by director Hal Hartley. Milk was shot entirely on digital and even though the movie is a bit “shaky”, this digital medium helps to create a unique intimacy between the characters and the audience. Milk was an official Selection at Sundance, Tribeca, Woodstock, and winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Atlanta Film Festival

Maggio provides us with a cacophony of issues to absorb, as we witness infidelity, rejection, acceptance, class difference, and self-loathing. We ride on the shoulders of his incredibly human and flawed characters, as they confront their demons in a blur of interactions.

We observe the deterioration of Rick, (Clint Jordon) after his wife refuses his proposal of re-marriage at his very own Welcome-Back-to-the-World-After-Your-Meltdown-Party. He feels humiliated, a fight ensues and the party abruptly ends. Rick then storms off into the night.

At first, Joyce (Kirstin Russell)frantically attempts to locate her husband. She then visits a girlfriend and accompanies her to a party. She steadily begins to forget about Rick as she gulps down liquor and meets a young naked performance artist who reminds her of an old lover. They form a creepy mother/son/lover bond and she gradually becomes more and more delusional, believing he is her recently deceased “love that got away.

We follow the separate paths of the husband and wife as they battle with their own psychological monsters, engaging in chance meetings and testing the strength and durability of their love. The rapid destruction and reprieve of a marriage, an amateur hit man, and an insecure performance artist in need of acceptance, all help circulate this convoluted and sticky plot.

In the high-energy express train to destruction depicted in Milk, the characters are shaken and stirred with fear, jealousy, violence, vulnerability and insanity. And between all these complex characters emerges an altered destiny, created and shared by strangers - the small connections that can alter lives forever. And through this, we can glimpse our own human flaws and see a little better that light-in-the-dark.

For more information click here

Quad Cinemas| 34 W.13th St.

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Taylor Hackford's
In Theaters Now

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King

Reviewed by Stephanie Alberico

Taylor Hackford wrote and directed the new biopic of Ray Charles with "Georgia on his mind." The movie was produced before the June death of the singer/songwriter legend. This picturesque film depicts Charles's life and his rise to fame throughout the 1950's and 60's.

Ray's story unfolds to reveal a life of drug addiction, womanizing, and life struggles. There are numerous flashbacks to his childhood life in rural Georgia, where he was born and raised. As the story begins we see Ray's delicate childhood memories through his eyes: He is haunted by the tragic drowning of his younger brother, his mother's struggle with work and oppression, and the loss of his sight. We then follow Ray on a journey filled only with darkness. Left with just the visions of his mother sweating in the intense heat, soft white linens blowing in the wind and colorful glass-blown ornaments hanging in the trees, Ray dedicates his life to his one passion--music. He begins playing piano in nightclubs.

Ray is portrayed by Jamie Foxx, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the singer. Foxx's performance is definitely Oscar-worthy; he is sure to leave audiences riveted by his amazing ability to impersonate Ray. For Ray Charles is famous not only for his brilliant music, but also for the constant swaying of his upturned head and the jolting of his body while he created his breathtaking songs and music; Foxx hits this characterization dead on. Two equally brilliant actresses join him, Kerry Washington as Ray's wife, and Regina King as one of his many mistresses.

We follow Ray through nightclubs and gigs, until he is offered a record deal at Atlantic Records. His first recording, "The Mess Around," is created instantaneously within the confines of the studio, and becomes a chart-topping hit. Suddenly Ray's fame erupts and he is plastered all over magazines, radios, and newspapers.

Although Ray gets married and has children, his life deteriorates out on the road. As we glimpse a behind-the-scenes look at Ray's travels, he struggles with anxiety, adultery and finally discovers heroin. Even as Ray becomes increasingly famous, his heroin addiction intensifies and his marital life is destroyed.

Ray's musical genius grows but his problems worsen. He becomes paranoid that he is being cheated by his friends and managers: Determined to receive everything due him, he insists he be paid his entire salry in one-dollar bills. At a climatic point in the plot, his favorite mistress admits she is pregnant and Ray responds by inventing the famous song, "Hit the Road Jack."

Ray sinks deeper into addiction, becoming prone to panic attacks and continuously haunted by eerie hallucinations of flooding water. We empathize with Ray as he seems to become lost in his own darkness. But Ray's stubborn attitude and relentlessness keep him standing alone, no matter the amount of people or love that surrounds him. As much as we might love to hate him, Ray wins us over as he did the women who loved him so dearly.

As with so many musical legends before him, Ray comes to the realization that life on the road is killing him. When he is caught with drugs at U.S. customs, he is forced to face his addition. He also learns that his mistress has died of a drug overdose. He goes to rehab and cleans up his act.

The last half-hour of the film ties up the loose ends and somewhat glorifies the singer's difficult life. Hackford picks up a more documentary feel in the end of the film. We are left watching a clip of a moving live performance of Ray in his old age. We also see Ray receiving recognition and awards for refusing to play music in Jim Crow states during segregation. Finally, we see clips of the real-life legend and are forced to remember a man who will never be forgotten.

I was blown away by the heart and soul of this emotional film. With his knack for jazz, rhythm and blues, Ray is definitely a musical icon whose life not only taught us lessons about life and love, but also is an inspiration to us all. Just listen to his throaty rendition of "Georgia on my Mind," or watch a clip of one of his live performances, and it is easy to experience this man's heavenly contribution to music. It may just bring tears to your eyes.

Alexander Payne's

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen
and Sandra Oh

Reviewed by Evan Sung

The 42nd New York Film Festival closed October 17th with a screening of Alexander Payne's wine-soaked Sideways. Payne, who has made his name with comic but cutting satires of abortion (Citizen Ruth), politics (Election), and the obsolescence of the aging (About Schmidt), returns with his most successful film so far.

Paul Giamatti plays Miles Raymond, an oenophile, Middle school English teacher and unpublished novelist, whose two years of divorce have slowly turned him from plain neurotic to full-blown neurotic sad-sack. His only consolation now are his unopened bottle of 1961 Cheval Blanc and his regular trips through wine country. Miles' best friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) is getting married in one week. As a gift to Jack and while awaiting word from his agent on his latest manuscript, Miles plans a week-long tour of California wine country, for sun, golf, and wine. Where Miles sees an opportunity for some good old-fashioned male bonding, Jack sees one week of getting laid as much as possible before the slow-death of marriage.

On their way, they meet up with Maya (Virginia Madsen), a regular waitress at the Hitching Post, Miles' favorite local restaurant, and her friend Stephanie (Sandra Oh), to whom Jack is instantly attracted. As the week progresses, a delicate dance unfolds between Miles and Maya, both wine lovers, while Stephanie and Jack share days and nights of simple carnal pleasure. But things start to unravel for both couples when Miles lets slip mention of Jack's nuptials.

Wine country serves as the backdrop of this film, and wine itself suffuses every aspect of the film itself. In one painful scene, Miles gets himself drunk at dinner after learning that his ex-wife has remarried. As he staggers to the back of the restaurant to "drink and dial" as Jack puts it, the camera shifts in and out of focus, perhaps the most accurate cinematic representation of the feeling of inebriation I have seen. Wine is a powerful metaphor for these characters, all of them maturing, aging, on the verge of really becoming themselves, complicated, sometimes bitter. In one of the more moving monologues in the film, Miles explains to Maya his near-obsessive love for Pinot Noir. When Miles talks to Maya about the notoriously fickle and thin-skinned grape, we understand of course that he could easily be talking about himself as well. And Giamatti plays the scene with a disarming vulnerability that hints at the depths of Miles' terror to be with this woman he admires as well as his quiet wish that Maya tend to him with care and attention. Naturally Jack is the robust Cabernet in this equation, the jovial overgrown frat boy who goes with the flow and thrives in any situation. But Payne is not interested in simple dichotomies. All the characters have tangled pasts, and are doing what they can to survive, even if it means occasional self-sabotage. They are human, and Payne pulls no punches in showing us just how human they can be.

Thomas Haden Church is a rollicking surprise as Jack in Sideways, considering his sitcom-heavy resume. He is boorish and likable and gives just enough signs of humanity so that we understand why this Odd Couple would have remained friends for so long. But, special attention must be paid to the nuanced portrayal of Miles by Paul Giamatti. Giamatti, widely acclaimed in American Splendor, does even better work here because he is not reined in by the rather one-note glumness of Harvey Pekar. Giamatti has room to move here, and gets to display all his talents, showing us why he is one of American cinema's most valuable character actors. When his heart is breaking we see a torrent of emotions ripple almost imperceptibly across his round fleshy face. His comic talents are on show as well, from wine-spurred flip-outs to a bizarre, stiff-armed "girly" run, that Giamatti confesses to be his own, and not some actor's invention. Payne has found in Giamatti the ideal embodiment of all the funny yet sometimes cruel truths that all of his films have spoken about America, our fears and foibles and doubts.

Sideways is a darkly sparkling gem of a film. Add to the brilliant Paul Giamatti, a uniformly excellent supporting cast, the beautifully photographed landscapes of Northern California wine country, and a jazzy score by Rolfe Kent that keeps the action buoyant and floating along, and you get a film of superior vintage: complex, mature, delicious.

Phillip F. Messina’s
With Friends Like These

Starring: AdamArkin, David Straithairn, Jon Tenny, Robert Costanzo, Amy Madigan, Laura San Giacomo, Elle MacPherson, Lauren Tom, Beverly D'Angelo, Ashley Peldon, Allison Bertolino, Bill Murray, Frederick Kesten & Martin Scorcese

Reviewed by Armistead Johnson

You know them.

You know exactly who I’m talking about.

The “organized” guys who are so smooth it should be a “crime.” Some are baritones, but some are Sopranos.

They’re brutal and they will slit your throat if it suits their needs. Not to mention stab you in the back with the slightest provocation, and if you think they’re brutal with the public, you should see how their treat their own kind.
Actors. What a menace.

With Friends Like These is a hysterical look inside the life of a bunch of, what I call “where do I know him from” guy’s trying to make it big, but who so far are only “making” the rent by playing generic mob guys, generic cab drivers and generic Italian waiters in every movie Hollywood can crank out.

When Johnny DeMartino (played by Robert Costanzo) gets a “secret” audition for the one and only Martin Scorcese for the part of Al Capone, discretion is his one and only goal. Oh yeah, and nailing the audition. While doing Capone research, one of Johnny’s “where do I know him from” friends finds out about the audition and from then on, well, the back stabbing goes into full gallop as the group of friends all scammer around town getting their own Capone auditions, all the while trying to sabotage their “friends” along the way.

The cast includes Bill Murray, Amy Madigan, Martin Scorcese, Laura San Giacomo and Elle Macpherson to name a few, but in my opinion Beverly D’Angelo steals the movie playing a “I am so important, don’t you know who I am, I don’t have time for you because of my demanding schedule,” casting director.

With Friends Like These is a wet-your-pants-laughing-so-hard movie that everyone… actors, writers… the general public should go to see if they are looking to have a good time at the movies.

With Friends Like These opened on February 25th at City Cinema’s Village East Ciname, Village East, 181 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003. Call 212-529-6799 for tkts and show times. www.withfriendslikethese.net is currently under construction.


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