Thursday, September 18, 2008

What's On starting September 18

What’s on during the next month! Double Issue!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, September 18

by Thomas Ohlson

Best bets: WALL•E. Mamma Mia!

To avoid like the plague: Death Race.

Of special note: Three Colors: White and Three Colors: Red on Fridays September 19 and 26 at Alliance Française.

Trois Couleurs / Three Colors by Krzysztof Kieslowski – This is a major film event in Chiang Mai, and should merit your consideration. The three films that make up this trilogy are being shown on three successive Fridays at the Alliance Française this month (on the 12th, 19th, and 26th), and three successive Saturdays at Film Space in December.

These are quite amazing films, and you owe it to yourself to begin your acquaintance with them, if you haven’t already. You will want to return to them again and again to savor their richness, as these films do not give up their secrets and their pleasures easily. More details can be found under the Alliance Française section below.

Here are my comments for movies playing at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the month beginning Thursday, September 18, 2008. There is also information on film programs at the Alliance Française and CMU’s Film Space for the next three weeks. This is Issue Number 47 & 48 of Volume 3 of these listings.

Airport Plaza says they have added a version of Boonchu 9 which is English dubbed with Thai subtitles, as well as the one in Thai with English subtitles. If so, it might be worth your while to check it out. It’s a pleasant outing.

I will be away from Chiang Mai to attend the Bangkok International Film Festival September 23 to 30, and this newsletter will be in hiatus during that time. This issue is a double issue, covering events for two weeks (where possible; not possilbe, of course, for movie times). The same sort of thing may well happen during the World Film Festival in Bangkok October 24 to November 2. For this reason and others, I am expanding for the time being the schedule of films coming to Chiang Mai in the coming weeks.

Next issue of this newssheet in two weeks!

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* Cyborg She: Japan Romance/Sci-Fi – 120 mins – MovieSeer: One day, a beautiful cyborg girl appears in front of a dull university student. Even though the cyborg starts to like him, she can't truly feel emotions, so the boy has no choice but to say goodbye to her inhuman power and 'violence'. Missing her, he continues his lonely existence. Some time thereafter, a disastrous earthquake hits Tokyo, and the cyborg girl saves his life. In that moment, she starts to have feelings like a real human being. Thai dubbed only; no English subtitles.

Reviewers say Kwak Jae-Young's Cyborg She is a touching time-spanning sci-fi romance/comedy that borrows a lot from the Terminator and Back To The Future movies. The results are mixed, they say, but Kwak's unique storytelling and the impressive visual effects are wonderfully brilliant.

Viewer at IMDb: “What if James Cameron's Terminator was a love story? Sounds ludicrous but that's exactly what Kwak Jae-Young's Cyborg She is - a love story between a high-tech cyborg from the future (Ayase Haruka) and her inventor boyfriend Kitamura Jiro (Koide Keisuke).

In the year 2070, a kindly, frail, and physically handicapped Jiro built a female cyborg as a personal aide to assist him in his daily life. Equipped with a time travel device, Jiro sends the cyborg back to 2007 in an attempt to prevent the incident that crippled him (a mentally unstable office worker shot him in a restaurant shootout). Fulfilling her duty, the cyborg meets up with the younger Jiro and successfully saves him from the gunman.

As Jiro and the Cyborg slowly start to form a relationship, the Cyborg becomes a bit of a celebrity as she uses her high tech powers to perform a number of heroic deeds (she saves a girl from being hit by a car, she stops a hostage taker from killing one of his victims, saves people from a fire) as well as gets into a bit of innocent mischief (she takes clothes without paying, does the "robot" in a disco). However, Jiro and the Cyborg's happy life come to an abrupt end as a massive earthquake hits Tokyo, effectively destroying the capital. While the Cyborg does her best to save Jiro, she unfortunately suffers serious damage during the quake and now Jiro must try and save her.

Cyborg She is directed by Korean director Kwak Jae-Young who many may recognize from his popular 2001 hit My Sassy Girl. Kwak's inventive humor and storytelling is again much in evidence here and he delivers a satisfying and entertaining movie. While some of the comedy may border on the silly, I found myself laughing at the visual gags. The film borrows liberally from other sci-fi films, notably Terminator and A.I., but crafts an interesting time-jumping, century-spanning love story that is quite effective and endearing.

The VFX/SFX work was surprisingly top notch, especially during the climactic destruction of Tokyo as well as during some of the Cyborg's robotic effects. Some of the story's loopy continuity and Back To The Future-styled time travel concepts are a bit hard to follow but Kwak does make it work in the end, and pulls some inventive story twists.

Ayase Haruka is alluring and cute in her role as the future Cyborg, creating a likeable but somewhat stiff heroine. Koide Keisuke is also likeable as Jiro, in an otaku/anime geek sort of way. Their love story begins in typical awkward fashion but soon develops into a sweet romance thanks to their nice and controlled performances. Kiritani Kenta steals many scenes as Jiro's goofy college friend. His scene where he gets the Cyborg drunk is especially fun to watch.

* Baan Phee (Phop/Pob) 2008 / บ้านผีปอบ 2008: Thai Horror/Comedy – 90 mins – At least the 11th installment of this popular ghost/ horror/ comedy series. Porp/Pob/Phop seems to be a traditional form of ghost in Thailand, where there is of course a rich vein of supernatural folklore and ghost stories, though she is normally depicted as an old hag. There was apparently a glut of really bad Pop movies in the 1990s - there have been at least ten films in the Baan Phee (Whatever) series of horror anthologies - so it developed that the word came to mean generic Z-grade film among Thai film fans. MovieSeer: “The story begins in a long lost village. There, a haunting event is bound to happen. Klein is a voodoo doctor, and his regular duty is to drive off pain and sickness of the villagers, together with his wife, E-Yip and Cha-bar as helpers. Klein’s way of living is interrupted when a group of volunteer doctors led by doctor Tui comes to town. Due to their professional treatment, these doctors gain the villagers trust, and the townspeople lose faith in Klein, which makes him uncomfortable enough that he turns to black magic to bring his popularity back. Thus, the evil spirit or “Phee Phop” is revived, with results similar to those in the other films in the Phee Phop series.” In Thai only; no English subtitles.

You Don't Mess with the Zohan: US Action/Comedy – 113 mins – Starring Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson, and Rob Schneider. Zohan is an Israeli commando who fakes his own death in order to pursue his dream: becoming a hairstylist in New York. It’s an Adam Sandler comedy, and if you like his kind of low and crass comedy, you should like this one well enough. Here he plays the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for laughs. I laughed. A lot. And cringed. A lot.

James Berardinelli, Reel Views: Even die-hard Sandler lovers will likely acknowledge that their hero isn't firing on all cylinders here. We go to these movies to laugh at dumb, crude things and, while You Don't Mess with the Zohan offers plenty of crass, stupid material, not a lot of it is funny, even on a base level. For every successful gag, there are perhaps ten that don't work or that try so hard that they lose their appeal. As a ten-minute skit on “Saturday Night Live,” You Don't Mess with the Zohan might have worked. As a two-hour movie, it lacks the comedic energy to rise above a middling crowd of forgettable summer movies.

Has been banned by censors in Egypt, Lebanon, and the U.A.E., and "is 99% likely that the film will be banned in all Arab countries.” But a huge hit in Israel ("Israelis like to laugh at themselves," says the Israeli distributor). Mixed or average reviews: 54/53 out of 100.

Burn / คนไฟลุก: Thai Thriller – 90 mins – All you ever wanted to know about “SHC” – Spontaneous Human Combustion. As you certainly know, that’s the familiar medical condition wherein a living human being suddenly bursts into flames. Director Peter Manus comes up with a pretty far-fetched explanation for this pretty far-fetched human malady. Slow and not really too scary or gory; the film is more of a drama, and you will be quite surprised at who the villain turns out to be. Some interesting effects and moods.

MovieSeer: Burn circles around the mystery of Spontaneous human combustion (SHC), the belief that the human body sometimes burns without an external source of ignition. The story follows the investigation of a female victim’s mysterious death caused by SHC. Mona, the daughter of the victim, is an ambitious lawyer who accidentally involves in the crime. She regrets the unfinished reconciliation between her and her mother. The incident brings her to Ploy, a nurse whose mother passed from SHC as well. Both girls seek to find the truth behind their mother’s death. Kwan, a diehard journalist, follows her instinct to unveil the evil force behind the case.

Can this be suicide, murder, accident, or a secretly religious sacrifice? The mystery behind “deadly fire” needs to be revealed before fire erupts.

Bangkok Dangerous: US Action/Drama – 100 mins – Directing twins Danny and Oxide Pang return to remake their popular 1999 thriller about a ruthless hitman (this time Nicolas Cage) who travels to Bangkok in order to carry out four crucial (for him) murders. During the course of his jobs, the triggerman falls in love with a pretty local girl (Hong Kong actress and pop singer Charlie Yeung [or Young] in a quite affecting performance) while also forming a friendly bond with his young errand boy (nicely played by Thai actor Shahkrit Yamnarm, seen at right).

A fairly decent, if cliché ridden and predictable, action flick, shot in some interesting locations in Bangkok. You should be happy with it if you like a somewhat low-powered action shoot-’em up action picture. And/or are a fan of Nicolas Cage.

Makers of the movie are saying that they were shooting the film in Bangkok during the 19th of September coup d'état two years ago. Filming stopped, but only for six hours. They are fond of claiming that they fired the only shots in the coup.

Rated R in the US for violence, language, and some sexuality.

Tevada Tokmun / Te-wa-da / เทวดาตกมันส์: Thai Comedy – 90 mins – Some Academy Fantasia 4 winners from the hit TV reality show in a comedy about the misadventures of an angel and a monk.

Mamma Mia!: US/UK/Germany Comedy/ Musical/ Romance – 108 mins – Starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, and Colin Firth. Donna, an independent, single mother who owns a small hotel on an idyllic Greek island, is about to let go of Sophie, the spirited daughter she's raised alone. On a quest to find the identity of her father to walk her down the aisle, Sophie invites to the wedding three men from Donna's past, all possibly her father. Popular ABBA music that I find horrifyingly infectious and which I can’t get rid of. Extraordinarily vivacious and energetic musical that is bound and determined to make you sing and dance and feel good about marriage and things like that. Mixed or average reviews: 51/53 out of 100.

Boonchu 9 / Boon-Choo / บุญชู 9: Thai Comedy – 90 mins – A continuation of this popular Thai comedy series. The son of the original Boonchu is a happy monk who is defrocked by his mother and sent to university in Bangkok. There he meets up with new “friends” – two homeless kids – who, as friends will do, drug him and mug him. But it all turns out all right eventually because it is foremost a feel-good movie for Thais from start to finish. It’s the gentlest of comedies/family dramas, with the sweetest of characters. The Thais I saw it with were thrilled with it every moment, and laughed and worried and got upset over the slightest of the plot complications. They had a thoroughly good time, but I think you need Thai sensibilities to enjoy it. Has some appealing young stars and well-established older comedians. Airport Plaza claims they have a version which is English dubbed with Thai subtitles, as well as one in Thai with English subtitles.

WALL•E: US Animation/ Comedy/ Family/ Romance/ Sci-Fi – 98 mins – It’s a work of genius from the first frame to the last! Robot love on a dead Earth, and the cutest love story in years. There's virtually no dialogue for the first 40 minutes; you’ll be enthralled. And the brilliant animation continues throughout the closing credits. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 93/85 out of 100. There’s a terrific Pixar cartoon before the feature.

The Coffin / Longtorai / Long Dtor Dtai / Lhong Tor Tai / โลงต่อตาย: Thai Horror – 90 mins – Ananda Everingham as a claustrophobic architect who participates in coffin rituals to gain a new lease on life. It has much going for it, with a stellar cast and a fine director, but I was mightily confused. It didn’t seem to be the movie that director Ekachai Uekrongtham set out to make. The script won a prestigious prize from the Rotterdam Festival, but the movie hadn’t been made yet, and to get the necessary funding he had to change it into a horror flick, making compromises along the way. The beautifully shot opening sequence of the burial ritual at the temple gives an idea of what the film could have been. And although this is the director’s first English language film, it is shown in Thailand only in a Thai-dubbed version, with English subtitles which don’t jibe with the movement of the lips. The result for me is simply awkward.

Made of Honor: US Comedy – 101 mins – A piece of fluff about, what else, love problems, with the appealing stars Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan. Generally negative reviews: 37/39 out of 100.

Death Race: US Action/Thriller – 90 mins – The most twisted spectator sport on earth as violent criminals vie for freedom by winning a race driving monster cars outfitted with machine guns, flamethrowers, and grenade launchers. The previews are the most repulsive imaginable, and have convinced me I don’t wish to see it. The consensus: Little more than an empty action romp – mindless, violent, and lightning-paced. Rated R in the US for strong violence (mauling, maiming, bruising, beating, impalement, immolation, detonation, decapitation) and language. Mixed or average reviews: 42/48 out of 100.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, September 25

Eagle Eye: US Action/Mystery/Thriller – With Shia LaBeouf and Billy Bob Thornton. The race-against-time thriller Eagle Eye reunites actor Shia LaBeouf, director D.J. Caruso and executive producer Steven Spielberg for the first time since their sleeper hit Disturbia.

In Eagle Eye, Jerry Shaw (LaBeouf) and Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) are two strangers thrown together by a mysterious phone call from a woman they have never met. Threatening their lives and their family, she pushes Jerry and Rachel into a series of increasingly dangerous situations using the technology of everyday life to track and control their every move. As the situation escalates, these two ordinary people become the country's most wanted fugitives, who must now work together to discover what is really happening. Fighting for their lives, they become pawns of a faceless enemy who seems to have limitless power to manipulate everything they do.

Dive!: Japan Drama – 115 mins – Director Kumazawa Naoto continues his successful streak of youth films with the teen sports flick Dive! Based on Mori Eto's best-selling novel, Dive! follows the diving dreams of three teenagers, played by Ikematsu Sosuke (left), Mizobata Junpei (right), and Hayashi Kento (center), who won Best Newcomer at the 31st Japan Academy Awards. The three young stars underwent diving training for three months in order to convincingly portray their characters onscreen. Seto Asako co-stars as the boys' coach.

Teen diver Sakai (Hayashi Kento) first joined the MDC diving club because he was impressed by the diving skills of Fuji (Ikematsu Sosuke) whose parents are both Olympic divers. Both Sakai and Fuji's diving dreams are on the rocks though when the club falls onto hard financial times. New coach Asaki (Seto Asako) tells them there's only one way to save the team from disbanding: they must produce an Olympic athlete. But clashes between the new coach and the team only throw the club into further disarray, especially when Asaki recruits a new diver (Mizobata Junpei) to the club.

Three young men try to turn their dreams of Olympic gold into a reality in this sports drama from Japan. The Mizuki Diving Club has enjoyed a reputation for transforming talented young divers into world-class champions, but in recent years the club has had a run of bad luck, and with few winning divers emerging from their ranks, sponsorship is dwindling and unless things change the MDC could go out of business. Faced with this grim possibility, the head coach (Ken Mitsuishi) swallows his pride and brings in Coach Asaki (Asaka Seto), a lovely but determined instructor who intends to restore the MDC to its former glory. Asaki puts her focus on three young divers she's convinced have the greatest potential -- Yoichi (Sosuke Ikematsu), the head coach's son, who despite his talent had has problems living up to his father's expectations; Shibuki (Junpei Mizobata), a loner given to sharp mood swings; and Tomoki (Kento Hayashi), who Asaki feels has the potential for greatness despite his less-than-impressive record. With qualifying events for the Olympics coming up soon, Coach Asaki pushes herself and her students to the limit, preparing Yoichi, Shibuki and Tomoki for the all-important qualifying meets, but can the boys handle the pressure that comes with the most prestigious event in sports? Dive!! is based on a novel by Eto Mori, which was later adapted by the author into a popular manga series.

~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, October 2

Star Wars: The Clone Wars: US Animation/Sci-Fi – 90 mins – Produced by Lucasfilm Animation, "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" takes audiences on a new "Star Wars" adventure, combining legendary storytelling with eye-popping animation.

On the front lines of an intergalactic struggle between good and evil, we join our favorite characters, such as Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Padmé Amidala, along with brand-new heroes like Anakin's padawan learner, Ahsoka. Sinister villains – led by Palpatine, Count Dooku, and General Grievous – are poised to rule the galaxy. Stakes are high, and the fate of the "Star Wars" universe rests in the hands of the daring Jedi Knights.

Some voices provided by Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Lee.

Disaster Movie: US Comedy – Follows the comic misadventures of a group of ridiculously attractive twenty-somethings during one fateful night as they try to make their way to safety while every known natural disaster and catastrophic event – asteroids, twisters, earthquakes, the works – hits the city and their path as they try to solve a series of mysteries to end the rampant destruction. Most reviewers do not hold out much hope for this movie.

Luang Pee Teng II / หลวงพี่เท่ง 2 รุ่นฮาร่ำรวย: Thai Comedy – Monks meet misadventures, make merit.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, October 9

E-Tim Tai Nae / อีติ๋มตายแน่: Thai Action/Comedy – Director Yuthlert Sippapak’s new film is written by and stars comedian Udom Taepanich (known by his nickname “Note”). Note plays a boxer, Ei-Ting, performing in a boxing show in Pattaya. He meets a Japanese tourist named Itemi (Asuka Yanagi) or “E-Tim” and falls head over heels for her. At the end, Ei-Ting has to prove his love for E-Tim and to prove he is worthy of her attentions.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, October 16

Max Payne: US Action/Thriller – 125 mins – Starring Mark Wahlberg. Based on a popular interactive video game, this is the story of a maverick cop determined to track down those responsible for the brutal murder of his family and partner. Hell-bent on revenge, his obsessive investigation takes him on a nightmare journey into a dark underworld. “As the mystery deepens, Max (Wahlberg) is forced to battle enemies beyond the natural world and face an unthinkable betrayal,” or so says the studio.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, October 23

Beverly Hills Chihuahua: US Comedy – With the voices of Drew Barrymore and Salma Hayek. In this Disney comedy, a pampered Beverly Hills Chihuahua named Chloe (voice of Drew Barrymore) finds herself accidentally lost in the mean streets of Mexico without a day spa or Rodeo Drive boutique anywhere in sight. Now alone for the first time in her spoiled life, she must rely on some unexpected new friends – including a street-hardened German Shepherd named Delgado (voice of Andy Garcia) and an amorous pup named Papi (voice of George Lopez) – to lend her a paw and help her to find her inner strength on their incredible journey back home.

Tropic Thunder: US Comedy/War – 107 mins – I have seen this, and it is absolutely outrageous, even more outlandish than Zohan. Robert Downey, Jr. is on a roll recently, and this is another truly amazing performance from this acting genius. Here he plays a very method actor who, when given the role of a black in a movie, had his skin pigmentation blackened surgically so as to better play the part. Unbelievable! – and if you’re not thoroughly put off by the idea, you might just have the best laughs you’ve had in years. I heartily recommend the film, but only for those not easily shocked.

Also starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, and Tom Cruise. It’s an action comedy about a group of self-absorbed actors who set out to make the biggest war film ever. After ballooning costs (and the out of control egos of the pampered cast) threaten to shut down the movie, the frustrated director refuses to stop shooting, leading his cast deep into the jungles of Southeast Asia where they inadvertently encounter real bad guys. Directed by Ben Stiller.

Rated R in the US for pervasive language including sexual references, violent content, and drug material. Generally favorable reviews: 71/72 out of 100.

- Robert Downey, Jr.'s performance is nearly on par with what Heath Ledger did as the Joker... -- Cinema Blend

Tropic Thunder Co-Star Praises Robert Downey, Jr.

Tropic Thunder actor Brandon T. Jackson knows that co-star Robert Downey Jr. might receive some criticism from his unusual role in the comedy. But Jackson has a message to those that have a problem with the caucasian Downey painting his face black for most of the movie.

"To be honest, he played a black dude better than anybody I've seen!" Jackson told People Magazine about Downey's performance in the Ben Stiller-directed film.

Jackson did admit to having initial hesitations about Downey's part. In the movie, Downey portrays Kirk Lazarus, an Academy Award-winning actor that's cast in the most expensive Vietnam war film ever.

However, Lazarus's character, Sgt. Osiris, was originally written as an African-American. So Lazarus dyes his skin to play the role.

"When I first read the script, I was like: What? Black face? But when I saw him [act] he, like, became a black man," Jackson said. ""It was weird on the set because he would keep going with the character. He's a method actor."

As the Downey character says at one point, “Man, I don't drop character 'till I done the DVD commentary.”

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