Thursday, October 16, 2008

What's On starting October 16

A smart and complex spy thriller! And we cover next year!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, October 16

by Thomas Ohlson

Best Bet this week: Body of Lies.

And next year: Sherlock Holmes (With Robert Downey Jr.). Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (With Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter). More information below.

At the end is my list of movie times for Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and for Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, October 16, 2008. Attached is the same list in Word format. 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 51 of Volume 3 of these listings.

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* Max Payne: US Action/Crime/Drama/Thriller – 99 mins – Starring Mark Wahlberg, with Chris O'Donnell, Beau Bridges, and Ludacris. 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.

Andrew L. Urban says: Unquestionably energetic and visually stimulating, Max Payne is non-stop action, with everything made in the equivalent of writing in capital letters. You can't miss the revenge mission, nor the profound hurt suffered by Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) on the loss of his pretty wife and baby girl, nor the evil conspirators who've developed a drug for soldiers that only works a little bit and sends everyone else mad. It's this drug that is the cause of all the evil and the reason why the corporation that developed it wants to kill the story - and anyone who knows about it. But no spoilers here....

Louise Keller: There are guns blazing, mysterious winged creatures, a symbolic tattoo, an elusive blue elixir, an unresolved murder, and big stunts, yet Max Payne is surprisingly lackluster. Based on a video game, there's plenty happening on screen, but it's hard to feel much for any of the characters, even Mark Wahlberg's brooding Max, who is obsessed to avenge the senseless murder of his wife and child. The storytelling is secondary to the action with adverse results as director John Moore battles to create a credible world couched between reality and fantasy. To me, the most striking element is the production design in which perpetual snow falls, gusts whirl over a snowy backdrop and torrential rain teems down soaking volatile characters at vulnerable moments.

There's no shortage of firepower (Max shoots everyone in sight) and even if you ignore some of the plot's unanswered questions, we are left with a cavalcade of bullets, noise, and chaos.

* City of Ember: US Adventure/Family/Fantasy – 95 mins – With Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Martin Landau. A fun and moving family film with a subtly dark feel rarely seen in kids' movies. It has almost everything one could want from a science fiction-based family adventure film: likeable characters, an imaginative setting, and a fast pace. But the fabulously designed underground metropolis almost proves more involving than the teenagers running through its streets. The story: For 250 years the crumbling, labyrinthine underground city of Ember has been run by a generator. Now it is breaking down and no one knows how to repair it. Ominous blackouts regularly plunge the city into darkness and supplies are depleted. Because the people of Ember, forbidden to venture into the above-ground world, have forgotten their past, they face subterranean extinction. But not to worry: the boundless resourcefulness of two curious, clean-cut adolescents full of gee-whiz enthusiasm may lead humanity back into the fresh air and sunlight. Mixed or average reviews: 58/61 out of 100. At Airport Plaza only.

Body of Lies: US Action/Drama/Thriller – 128 mins – Directed by Ridley Scott, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. I liked this very much: a spy movie as dark as night and as ruthless and vile as Abu Ghraib. Smart and tightly drawn; it has a throat-gripping urgency and some serious insights. About a CIA operative who attempts to infiltrate the network of a major terrorist leader operating out of Jordan. Based on a 2007 novel by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. Rated R in the US for strong violence including some torture (though it appears to me a lot of this has been clipped by Thai censors), and for language throughout. Mixed or average reviews: 58/59 out of 100.

This film did not have a very impressive opening weekend boxoffice in the US; it came in a poor third, with Beverly Hills Chihuahua coming in first, doing smash business. It’s really too bad. Moviegoers in America and around the world seem to be allergic to matters revolving around Iraq and the war on terror. Films like Rendition and Redacted have foundered at the box office (and never even made it to Chiang Mai), as have movies only tangentially linked to the conflict (like The Kite Runner, set in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan; although that one did run here in Chiang Mai at Vista awhile back). It would be a shame if such sentiments kept you from seeing this really quite excellent, thinking-person’s action drama, that unapologetically raises issues concerning terrorism and the fight to combat it.

The subject of Body of Lies seems custom-made for director Ridley Scott (picture, right), whose films -- which include Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down and three movies with Crowe (Gladiator, A Good Year and American Gangster) -- often involve landscapes in which the director's visual virtuosity can be exercised. Occasionally they feature situations in which perception is amorphous and good intentions are thwarted. "Isn't that the world?" Scott said in a recent interview, laughing. "Isn't that everything? And that's just this week."

"For me," Scott added, "the film is about their dance of seduction, betrayal, deceit, and layers and levels of it. But it could have happened anytime in the last 35 years, going back into Beirut. Or it could be the Cold War. Berlin during the Marshall Plan. It could be 'The Third Man,' " he said, referring to the 1949 film so jaded in it its worldview that it might be set in silver.

"How close is cynicism to the truth?" he asked. "They're almost on the same side of the line. Cynicism will lead you to the truth. Or vice versa."

DiCaprio, who I think gives a standout performance in this film, said in a recent interview the filmmakers knew that the more they injected politics into the movie, the less effective it would be. "The most fascinating thing about this movie is the fact that it doesn't take a political position either way, I don't think," he said. "It vilifies everybody." David Ignatius, the book's author and a columnist for The Washington Post with extensive foreign experience, echoed DiCaprio's sentiments about Body of Lies. "It's not trying to make a political point," said Ignatius, whose relationship with Scott can be traced to an unmade, pre-9/11 project called "The Invisible World" (about a journalist in the Mideast to be played by Angelina Jolie). "But if people come out of the movie thinking there are easy answers to these questions, they haven't got it." The filmmakers are hoping they're not left out to dry by a public too angry or exhausted by the Iraq war. The themes of darkness that lie beneath the action, adventure, romance and star power of Body of Lies are oddly similar to those animating the recent The Dark Knight: ruthlessness, political expediency, and moral bankruptcy. The major difference, besides a cape and a Batmobile, may only be geography.

James Berardinelli, Reel Views: Numerous recent movies have used the current, unstable geopolitical situation as a backdrop. Few have done it as effectively as Body of Lies, and almost none are as free of preaching. Scott acknowledges the gulf of moral ambiguity that exists for those working in the intelligence field, and pursues it to its natural conclusion. For those who care about there being more to a thriller than pointless car chases and over-edited fight sequences, Body of Lies offers a satisfying dose of truth.

Body of Lies is an adult thriller with such a high narrative density that even a brief trip to the restroom may result in key plot points being lost. The film is the antithesis of a slick, superficial feature like Eagle Eye. It both demands and rewards thought. It engages the mind instead of punishing those who use it for reasoning. Body of Lies neither panders nor condescends. It involves current events and has a political viewpoint, but it overplays neither. And, while the movie is very much story-driven, it doesn't lose sight of the characters along the way. It's smart and complex in the same way that films like Syriana and The Departed are smart and complex.

Ridley Scott isn't afraid to take risks and he has built up enough Hollywood credibility to allow him to make the film he wants. Body of Lies isn't going to find much favor among the teenage crowd but it is the kind of motion picture that older, more sophisticated viewers hunger for. Despite the convoluted nature of the storyline and the way events jump from one location to another, Body of Lies is consistently well paced and, as it moves past the 60-minute mark into its second hour, it begins to exhibit more of what we expect from a thriller: tension and suspense.

Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter: A new kind of spy movie as dark as night and as ruthless and vile as Abu Ghraib.

If Ridley Scott gave us a new kind of war movie with Black Hawk Down, where an army unit functioning in total chaos in a hostile city became a collective protagonist, he now engineers a new kind of spy thriller in Body of Lies.

Here is a landscape of deserved paranoia and horrific violence, of countless life-or-death scenarios, total distrust of enemies and allies alike, and open contempt for anything American -- again not undeserved. It may not be as much fun as old spy movies starring Cary Grant . . . but it feels all too accurate.

To be sure, the film retains familiar genre elements: It has double crosses and plot twists, a romance -- an improbable one -- chases, gunfights and last-minute rescues. But the fiction is rooted in a Middle Eastern reality that is always grim and unsettling. Stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe will certainly bring out their admirers, but how the action-thriller crowd will react to such a disturbing environment is a tough call.

William Monahan's tough-minded screenplay, based on a novel by journalist David Ignatius, who has covered the CIA and Middle East, sees no action or impulse as heroic. It acknowledges bravery, but this bravery is sometimes foolish and its goals often murky and counterproductive.

DiCaprio's Roger Ferris is the angry and often frantic man on the ground in the war on terror in Iraq and Jordan. Back in the U.S., Crowe's arrogant CIA veteran Ed Hoffman hovers over laptops and tracks ground movements half a world away via spy satellites. Hoffman, who would sacrifice his mother to single-handedly win the war on terror, easily earns Ferris' enmity, but Ferris needs his eyes and strategies.

In trying to flush a ruthless terrorist (Alon Aboutboul) out of hiding, the uneasy duo encounters a silky and charismatic head of Jordanian intelligence (British actor Mark Strong), an often bewildered local guide (Oscar Isaac), a computer whiz (Simon McBurney), a hapless pawn (Ali Suliman) and a nurse (Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani).

. . . Scott pushes the film at breakneck speed. He switches points of view rapidly from Ferris in treacherous terrain to Hoffman multitasking on the phone while dealing with his family and suburban life to overhead camera angles of the Predator tracking system. Urgency fills the characters' every waking moment. Rules of the day are established with primacy given to swift execution by a colleague if anyone is likely to fall into enemy hands and suffer horrifying torture.

What motivates Ferris is never clear, and this is the film's greatest weakness. With Hoffman running operations behind his back, he has no safety net, even an illusory one. He is a little too much of a white knight in this dark world, but DiCaprio gives the role plenty of brio, while Crowe -- who reportedly gained 50 pounds to play the morally and physically slovenly office spook -- is agreeably obnoxious.

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 “Nose” or “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. Looks dreadful, unless you like comedy based on the torturing of male genitalia, by smashing testicles. (Supposedly, according to Wise Kwai, this is a parody of a similar torture scene in the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale, where Daniel Craig as 007 is sitting naked on a chair with the seat cut out, and a heavily knotted rope is swung with great force under the hole in the seat. Here they graduate from a simple knot to the use of a spiky durian. If this is your idea of fun comedy, you can watch this very long 3-minute sequence in the trailer here and then spare yourself the agony of going to the movie.) After seeing this preview in the theater, I could not believe that they would call it a comedy. Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee calls it a “largely unfunny, shabby comedy ... with poor scriptwriting and lackluster gag-spinning by its lead.” The Nation’s Wise Kwai describes it as “only fitfully humorous. And as a romance, it's not all that attractive.”

Disaster Movie: US Comedy – Returning to their seemingly bottomless well of flatulence humor, racial stereotypes, and stale pop culture gags, Friedberg and Seltzer have produced what is arguably their worst “Movie” yet. Seldom has a film been more appropriately titled. Reviews: Extreme dislike or disgust: 15/17 out of 100.

Luang Pee Teng II / The Holy Man II / หลวงพี่เท่ง 2 รุ่นฮาร่ำรวย: Thai Comedy – Bad boy becomes monk, meets misadventures, makes merit. The first Luang Pee Teng was the No. 1 Thai film at the box office in 2005, even beating out Tony Jaa in Tom Yum Goong. This second of the series has a new star: Thai rapper, hip-hopper, and ex-skateboarder Joey Boy. The cast is fleshed out by the usual contingent of Thai TV comedians.

Eagle Eye: US Action/Mystery/Thriller – With Shia LaBeouf and Billy Bob Thornton. 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.

The script has the feel of something once substantive, but which was poked, prodded, cut, and crimped until all semblance of intelligence was wrung out of it. Apparently, it means to say something about anti-terrorism surveillance and civil liberties, but most reviewers who try to say what it’s about, say it's about as dumb as can be.

Mixed or average reviews: 43/45 out of 100.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, October 23

Beverly Hills Chihuahua: US Comedy/ Adventure/ Family – 91 mins – With the voices of Drew Barrymore, Jamie Lee Curtis, Eugenio Derbez, Andy Garcia, Cheech Marin, Plácido Domingo, George Lopez, Edward James Olmos, Luis Guzmán, and Salma Hayek. Almost every Spanish-speaking actor in Hollywood! 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. “Alpo served with a burrito chaser,” as one reviewer put it. I thought this one looked quite delightful, to gauge by the previews I saw, and it was the top film in the US over this last weekend, but reaction seems to be very mixed, with people either loving it or hating it. Overall, it comes out as mixed or average reviews: 41/51 out of 100.

To clear up a possible misunderstanding, note that this is not an animated movie – it uses real animals, and the actors are the voices of the animals, apart from Jamie Lee Curtis, who is playing the lost dog's owner, and Piper Perabo, who is playing her niece.

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. (See him in the picture to the right.) 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

Queens of Langkasuka / Puen yai jom salad / Puenyai chom salat / ปืนใหญ่จอมสลัด: Thai Drama/ Adventure/ Fantasy/ History – 140 mins – Nonzee Nimibutr's 200-million-baht historical action-fantasy, more than three years in the making, has been poorly received at screenings in the Cannes Film Market and at Venice, but It made a big splash in its Asian premiere at the Bangkok International Film Festival two weeks ago and there were kind words about the action and actor Dan Chupong..

It has all the makings of a blockbuster – big stars, loads of special effects, lavish costumes and an exotic seaborne setting.

Leading the cast is Jarunee Suksawat, who was a major star back in the 1980s and '90s. This marks her return to the big screen. Prominent leading man Ananda Everingham (pictured here) has a major role as a loin-cloth-clad Aquaman who can communicate with the marine life. Action star Dan Chupong plays a loyal military commander of the queen. The story has something to do with a really huge cannon that sinks in the sea. Possession of that big gun is key to holding the ancient land of Langkasuka.

Nonzee worked on a script with S.E.A. Write Award-winning writer Win Lyovarin, and the story takes place around 400 years ago in areas that today are part of Malaysia and southern Thailand.

Originally envisioned as a two-parter, and then cut down into one 140-minute movie, critics have complained it's too long. For its commercial release in Thailand, starting on October 23 it will probably run around 120.

Hollywood Reporter: Sumptuous to a sin in production and costume design, with whirlwind action sequences merging realistic Thai boxing with theatrical 90s Hong Kong style stunts, it has the nostalgic charm of classics like Sinbad the Sailor and a truly exhilarating sea battle at the end. . . . With sorcery and swordplay, fairytale romance, pan-Asian characters, amazing marine cinematography, dolphins and whales, even kamikaze hang-gliders, the story actually boils down to an arms race to see who's got the bigger cannon.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes in 2009

Sherlock Holmes: US Action/ Adventure/ Crime/ Drama/ Mystery – Guy Ritchie directs Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes, Jude Law as Dr. Watson, Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, Mark Strong (so terrific in the current Body of Lies) as the mysterious new adversary Blackwood, and Kelly Reilly as the love interest of Dr. Watson (which ultimately causes tension with Holmes, who resents her competition for Watson’s affections).

I couldn’t resist mentioning this movie, as I am quite excited about it and can hardly wait to see what one of my favorite actors will do with this role. When asked what he could bring to a character portrayed countless times on film and television, Robert Downey Jr. has joked: “Clearly I’m going to do it better than it’s ever been done.” I for one believe it! Downey went on to say, “The more I read about it the more overwhelmed I am by the weight of it and the amount of people who will be watching to see if it’s gotten right.”

In this set picture from filming in Central London on Friday, October 10, you see Downey in one of Holmes’ many disguises. (Looks a bit like his costume from Chaplin, doesn’t it?)

Pictured below (from left): Guy Ritchie, Kelly Reilly, Robert Downey Jr., Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong at the Sherlock Holmes press conference.

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland: US Adventure/ Family/ Fantasy – a Burtonization of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland. The film will feature 17-year old Australian actress Mia Wasikowska (pictured here) in the title role. The film, currently shooting in Cornwall, England, will also feature Burton regular Johnny Depp in the role of the Mad Hatter.

Also in the cast is Michael Sheen, who was so terrific as Tony Blair in The Queen. And Burton’s wife, Helena Bonham Carter, is cast as the Red Queen, the woman who loves to screech "Off with their heads," while Anne Hathaway will balance her radical redness as the benevolent White Queen, who gets deposed and banished.

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