Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Joker terrorizes Chiang Mai!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, July 17

by Thomas Ohlson

Best bets: The Dark Knight. Hellboy.

These are descriptions of the movies playing at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, July 17, 2008. There is also information on film programs at the Alliance Française, CMU’s Film Space, and, in a separate entry, the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival (Chiang Mai edition). This is Issue Number 38 of Volume 3 of these listings.

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* The Dark Knight: US Action/ Crime/ Drama/ Thriller – 142 mins – The first Batman movie without “Batman” in the title. Dark, complex, and unforgettable, it succeeds not just as an entertaining comic book film, but as a richly thrilling crime saga.

The reviews so far have been universal in their acclaim for this film, directed by Christopher Nolan (director of the truly great and fascinating Memento and the recent The Prestige) and starring Heath Ledger and Christian Bale. Some examples: Variety – “Enthralling...An ambitious, full-bodied crime epic of gratifying scope and moral complexity, this is seriously brainy pop entertainment that satisfies every expectation raised by its hit predecessor and then some.” Time Magazine – “Beyond dark. It's as black – and teeming and toxic – as the mind of the Joker. Batman Begins, the 2005 film that launched Nolan's series, was a mere five-finger exercise. This is the full symphony.”

In this episode, set within a year after the events of Batman Begins, Batman, Lieutenant James Gordon, and new district attorney Harvey Dent successfully begin to round up the criminals that plague Gotham City until a mysterious and sadistic criminal mastermind known only as the Joker appears in Gotham, creating a new wave of chaos. Batman's struggle against the Joker becomes deeply personal, forcing him to "confront everything he believes" and improve his technology to stop him. And a love triangle develops between Bruce Wayne, Dent, and Rachel Dawes.

Reviews: Universal acclaim: 82/82 out of 100.

* Wor / Woh Mah Ba Maha Sanook: Thai Horror/Comedy – The usual comedians and an unusual (and mad) dog.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army: US Action/Fantasy – 119 mins – Again directed by Guillermo del Toro and again starring Ron Perlman as Hellboy, this presents again a dark and difficult fantasy world full of fantastical creatures. It’s a brilliant nightmare, and almost too rich, almost too much to keep up with – one is truly overwhelmed with astonishing visuals and strange stories. I admire this director; his imagination is unbounded. Generally favorable reviews: 78/73 out of 100.

Hancock: US Action/Comedy – 92 mins –Will Smith has a lot of charisma for a majority of moviegoers, including me. Here he plays an unsympathetic character, much against type, and has to work to gain our good will. Reviewers have widely diverse views on this one. I was only minimally amused. Smith plays a different kind of superhero: edgy, conflicted, sarcastic, and misunderstood. He gets the job done and saves countless lives, but he also seems to leave an awful lot of collateral damage as well. There was a lot of frantic last-minute editing and newly shot scenes to soften the ugly edge of the movie, and the result is a mess, frankly, but a mess with much to enjoy for fans of Will Smith. Also starring Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman. Not kid-friendly: There's a lot of bad language, some graphic violence, and more. Mixed or average reviews: 49/51 out of 100.

Red Cliff/ สามก๊ก โจโฉ แตกทัพเรือ: China Action/Adventure – 150 mins – This $80-million film, directed by John Woo, is being shown here only in a Thai-dubbed version, and that is a real shame. It is a grand and glorious spectacle, designed by China to be released just before the Olympics to soften the hearts and minds of everyone towards China. This, the most expensive film ever produced in Asia, tells a story that is known by heart by probably billions of Chinese, and which they never tire of. It depicts the first setup episodes for one of the world’s greatest battles, the Battle of Red Cliff, to be seen in the second part, scheduled for release at the end of the year. It is really thrilling, and well-done in the way only China with its tremendous resources can command. The film revolves around events in third century China, as the Han Dynasty is facing its death, and the emperor raises a million-man army against two kingdoms that are hopelessly outmatched. Starring Tony Leung.

Friendship / เฟรนด์ชิพ...เธอกับฉัน: Thai Comedy/Romance – 82 mins – With Mario Maurer (of Love of Siam fame) and Apinya Sakuljaroensuk (of Ploy fame), in a high-school romance directed by Chatchai Naksuriya. I was less than enchanted – it seemed to me unrelated to the real life of people, either young or mature, and somewhat amateurish in writing, acting, and directing. But fans of Thai romances may well take to the unrealistic happenings between the two likeable leads.

Wanted: US Action/Thriller – 110 mins – If you think you’ve seen it all in violent and bloody action films, you haven’t yet seen this one: it raises the bar to a whole new level! Visually I think it’s fascinating – there are scenes which I really could not believe I was seeing – and I would say it’s about as exciting as a movie can get. It’s fast-paced thrill ride, with a dazzling mix of state-of-the-art visual effects, adrenaline-fuelled action sequences, and nail-biting terror.

A young man (James McAvoy) discovers his father is an assassin, and when his father is murdered, the son is recruited into his father's organization and trained by a man named Sloan (Morgan Freemen) to follow in his dad's footsteps, and in the process is transformed from a drone into a dark avenger. Also starring Angelina Jolie and Terence Stamp. Rated R in the US (and richly deserved) for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language, and some sexuality. Generally favorable reviews: 64/66 out of 100.

At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm

Friday, July 18: The Alliance theater is dark! Holiday!

Friday, July 25: Jeux d'enfants / Love Me If You Dare (2003) by Yann Samuell – 93 mins – France/ Belgium Comedy/ Drama/ Romance. English subtitles.

With Guillaume Canet, Marion Cotillard, Thibault Verhaeghe, Joséphine Lebas-Joly, Emmanuelle Grönvold, Gérard Watkins, Gilles Lellouche.

A movie with wildly divergent reactions from those who see it.

As adults, best friends Julien and Sophie continue the odd game they started as children – a fearless competition to outdo one another with daring and outrageous stunts. While they often act out to relieve one another's pain, their game might be a way to avoid the fact that they are truly meant for one another.

Rated R in the US for language and some sexuality. Mixed or average reviews: 45 out of 100.

One view:

When Yann Samuell began to write Love Me If You Dare, he had only thing in mind: a love story, because, he says, “I needed a love story.” What began quite simply, turned into an unforeseen creative adventure. “The entire story of Sophie and Julien came to me quite suddenly all in one afternoon, though it had been building up for years,” Samuell explains. “All I knew in the beginning is that I wanted to make a movie about love, games, and the search for a never-ending childhood – and that I wanted it to take place in a mythical setting where everything would be larger than life. I also had the idea of writing a romantic comedy with the structure of an ancient Greek tragedy, where the characters are prisoners of their destinies. So the story came to me all in that one day, but I then wrote 25 versions of the script over the next two years, adding more and more layers.”

What emerged in the end is part ultra-modern cartoon fairy-tale, part bold psychological probe into the games we play in life and love. The tale starts, as many classic fairytales do, with two unhappy children. Julien is endlessly energetic and precociously brilliant, but unable to bear the impending heartbreak of his beloved mother’s death. Sophie is wildly imaginative, mischievous, and determined to be different, yet in search of someone to accept and love her. When they meet one another, everything changes. They begin what seems to be a child’s momentary amusement. Every time they exchange a symbolic tin box (a gift to Julien from his mother), the one who takes the toy also has to take a dare. The pranks they force one another to play range from talking dirty in class to crashing a wedding buffet – cake included - but each one becomes a little bigger, a little more irreverent, a little riskier than the last.

Soon, the game has become something far larger and more thrilling than the sad and disappointing world around them. Despite the constant trouble they get into, Julien and Sophie cannot stop the game’s mad, wild and often destructive rush. When Julien’s mother passes away, leaving him bereft, the game is the only thing that continues to matter.

Even when they go off to college, the game continues, progressing into more difficult, bizarre and often crueler challenges, each and every new dare seemingly a way for Julien and Sophie to drive one another further away, to avoid admitting they are crazily in love with one another. The harder they compete with one another, the less they are able to communicate their emotions.

When they finally reach adulthood – Julien growing more serious, Sophie even more of a libertine -- the uncompromising, child-like nature of the game comes into question. Now Julien and Sophie must choose between the game and their careers, between the game and their spouses-to-be, between the game and the conventions of everyday life. Yet . . . how can they resist? Just when they think it’s all over and life has become banal, the game is afoot again, and they realize they want it to go on and on, without end. It might have taken them a lifetime to say “I love you” but Julien and Sophie manage in their own inimitable style to capture the moment forever…or do they?

For Yann Samuell, Julien and Sophie’s surreal game is the very essence of love, which can be at once playful and freeing, while also filled with lunacy and destruction. He also sees it as a story of two people searching for a kind of pure and primal freedom beyond the structures of banal, everyday existence. “I see the story as being about two people who dare to live a life different than what is expected of them, who don’t care what the world thinks is the correct way to behave,” he explains. “At first, I was a bit afraid that some might think I was condoning this kind of bad behavior. But it is a fantasy, a cartoon, a fairy tale, and I wanted to dare to tell this story because I think what arises from it most is a different view of the euphoria and joy to be found in life.”

As a study of game-playing in all its facets – light and dark – the film is also a reflection of how the intense ecstasies and fantasies of childhood haunt us, tempt us and call to us in our adult lives, even as we face mature relationships and grown-up ambitions. “I had in mind the Nietzsche quote in which he says: ‘man’s maturity is to regain the seriousness he had as a child at play,’” says the director. “I adore childhood, but that being said, I don’t think there’s very much else we take more seriously in the world than sharing love. I don’t believe Sophie and Julien suffer from the ‘Peter Pan Syndrome,’ as Americans say. They don’t remain children forever. They take on their lives. It’s just that they try to keep the game alive throughout.”

Does the game ultimately destroy or save its players? Samuell concludes his film on a surprising, poetic note – a literal concretizing of his character’s feelings as they are solidified in a moment of pure bliss -- that lends itself to multiple interpretations, from the romantic to the tragic. He explains the way he sees it: “Julien and Sophie’s story ends in a sort of grand finale in which love and death appear to be united. Do they really die? I don’t know! I think of the end as not so much a death as another stage, another test of their love. Their goal is to be together forever, and in some sense they find a happiness without end. But you can see this in different ways: if you want to see it as a tragedy, it is a tragedy, and if you want to see it as a happy ending, it is that, too.”, Pop Culture From A Spiritual Point Of View

Another view:

It seems Amélie, the biggest international hit in the history of French cinema, is going to be responsible for some damage to the French film industry as other filmmakers make transparent attempts to ride the coattails of its winsome success. Exhibit A is Love Me If You Dare, aka Jeux d'enfants, which means not “love me if you dare,” but “children's games,” a much more appropriate title for this film about two nitwits who stubbornly refuse to grow up. Vibrant colors, stylized scenes, childlike fantasy sequences, an exaggerated style of quick cuts and camera swoops—the influence of Amélie is obvious, which begs the question, “Why do we need another Amélie when we already have Amélie ?” Director Yann Samuell tries to push the envelope further than Amélie by increasing the exaggeration, which only succeeds in making this film unbelievably annoying.

Julien and Sophie are troubled kids—Julien because his mother is terminally ill, Sophie because her family is poor and she's teased for being a “dirty pole-ack” at school. On a dare from Sophie, Julien disengages the parking brake on the school bus, causing it to roll down the street. So the game of dares begins. Julien dares Sophie to curse at the teacher. Sophie dares Julien to take a piss in the principal's office—in front of the principal. Whatever one dares, the other must do. The school separates Sophie and Julien, but their discipline problems continue to escalate, amid various Garden of Eden flights of fancy and Alice in Wonderland references. At her sister's wedding, Sophie dares Julien to say no at the altar if he ever decides to get married. (Gee, wonder if that will ever come up again.) Then they destroy the wedding cake, jettisoning any remaining sympathy the audience might feel for these incorrigible delinquents. (Poverty and terminally ill mothers can only excuse so much.)

It doesn't help doesn't help that the two kids (Thibault Verhaeghe and Joséphine Lebas-Joly) are terrible actors whose facial contortions are painful to watch. Moreover, it's obvious the children's roles have been written by adults—especially in such dead giveaways as Sophie's comment during a game of “I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours”—“That's why men earn more than women?” And again, when Julien goes to kiss Sophie, she says, “It's easier to just be friends.” Oh, how blasé and worldly French children are!

Julien's mother (Emmanuelle Grönvold) dies. Though Julien's dad (Gérard Watkins) hates Sophie, he swallows his pride and asks her to sleep over for the boy's sake that night. They sleep in Julien's bed—platonically, of course, lying with their feet in opposite directions. The bizarre transition that follows is emblematic of everything that's wrong with this excruciating film.

They sleep for ten years—or so Julien says—and wake up in the same bed as adults (now played by Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard) in the exact same positions. Samuell has given no thought to what this scene means narratively. Are they now lovers? No. Are they sharing an apartment? No, Julien is still living with his father, who has apparently permitted Sophie to stay the night, even though we later learn that he despises Sophie intensely. So, are they in the habit of having friendly sleepovers? No, it doesn't happen again. What the hell does Julien and Sophie waking up in the same bed ten years later mean? It means nothing. Samuell obviously just thought it was a clever transition, ignoring all possible cinematic implications of putting such a scene in his story.

Anyway, Julien and Sophie are physically adults, but they haven't changed one bit, except that now their game of dares can do a lot more damage than when they were children. For example, Julien has sex with another girl in a bathroom, and persuades her to give up her earrings so he can give them to Sophie. After fooling around with a Dangerous Liaisons -type of story, Samuell moves briefly into My Best Friend's Wedding territory, and then skips ahead several more years, when Julien and Sophie's behavior with their respective spouses becomes so appalling that you will be immediately cured of any empathy you might somehow still have felt for these characters.

The deeper into Love Me If You Dare we get, the less sense it makes. Julien and Sophie are totally obsessed with each other from the time they are children, and the sexual tension between them as adults palpable. Yet Samuell expects us to believe that, even though they have known each other forever, a series of miscommunications and petty resentments prevents them from consummating their relationship. Sophie and Julien fight for unclear reasons and create obstacles for themselves out of thin air.

There's exactly one cool moment in the film: Julien describes the dreariness of his life at 35, concluding that being an adult is like having “a speedometer up to 210 and never going over 60.” However, this colorful monologue is the flimsy basis for all the inexcusable behavior that follows, for which the only possible explanation can be clinical insanity.

The ending, consisting of “the dare of dares,” makes no sense unless you pay close attention to the opening monologue. If you do, you will be rewarded with an ending that… well… still makes no sense. Julien and Sophie's relationship is a concoction that contains nothing recognizable from the lives of real people and no recognizable truth. The emotions are false. The melodrama is hollow. The movie is bullshit.

Carlo Cavagna, About Film

At Film Space: on Saturdays at 7 pm

Film Space is to the right and in the back of the CMU Art Museum, in the Media Arts and Design building across from the ballet school, on the 2nd floor. Or maybe the roof. A small but nice place to view movies. A contribution is requested in the donation box at the entrance. Well worth supporting.

During the month of July, Film Space is presenting four DVD film collections from Britain’s premier cutting-edge animation and short film enterprise, the organization known as One Dot Zero, which is dedicated to exploring new forms of the moving image. For information on them go to and for a complete listing of the films included in each of the four programs, go to and click on “select dvd1” through “select dvd4.”

At Film Space on July 19, 7 pm: One Dot Zero 3 – Select DVD3Twenty creative works from directors at the forefront of the new wave of the moving image. For titles, go to

At Film Space on July 26, 7 pm: One Dot Zero 4 – Select DVD4Twenty films from the world’s best and most innovative talent in moving image work, music video, motion graphics, and indie filmmaking from around the globe in ground-breaking visual styles. For titles, go to

Scheduled for Chiang Mai on July 24

Journey to the Center of the Earth: US Action/Adventure/Fantasy – A 2D version of a 3D film. Starring Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, and Anita Briem. Yes, once again. During a scientific expedition in Iceland, visionary scientist Trevor Anderson, his 13-year-old nephew and their beautiful local guide, are unexpectedly trapped in a cave from which their only escape is to go deeper and deeper into the depths of the Earth. Traveling through never-before-seen worlds, the trio comes face-to-face with surreal and unimaginable creatures – including man-eating plants, giant flying piranha, glow birds, and terrifying dinosaurs from days past. The explorers soon realize that as volcanic activity increases around them, they must find a way back to the earth's surface before it is too late. Mixed or average reviews for the 3D version.