Traitor arrives – another excellent War on Terror film
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, November 20
by Thomas Ohlson
Best Bets: Traitor. Son of Rambow. Quantum of Solace. Tropic Thunder. Queens of Langkasuka.
These are my comments for the movies playing at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, November 20, 2008. There is also information on film programs at the Alliance Française and CMU’s Film Space for the next three weeks. And we have the complete European Union Film Festival schedule to be held at Vista in Kad Suan Kaew from December 11 to 21.
This is Issue Number 4 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!
Major Cineplex failed to bring in the fascinating Burn After Reading which they had promised, but they did bring in the excellent Traitor. And once again they brought in an interesting foreign film with no English subtitles and only awful Thai dubbing, this one being the very complex and expensive Japanese film Twentieth Century Boys.
Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week
* Traitor: US Drama/Thriller – 114 mins – With Don Cheadle. Another serious look at the world of moral uncertainty amid the war on terror. I am a lot more fond of this movie than most reviewers. I think Don Cheadle gives another outstanding performance in this film – really a great person to watch. And I found the story (by Steve Martin – yes, him) very engrossing. Straight arrow FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) heads up the investigation into a dangerous international conspiracy, and all clues seem to lead back to former U.S. Special Operations officer, Samir Horn (Cheadle). A mysterious figure with a web of connections to terrorist organizations, Horn has a knack for emerging on the scene just as a major operation goes down. The inter-agency task force looking into the case links Horn to a prison break in Yemen, a bombing in Nice, and a raid in London, but a tangle of contradictory evidence emerges, forcing Clayton to question whether his quarry is a disaffected former military operative – or something far more complicated. Obsessed with discovering the truth, Clayton tracks Horn across the globe as the elusive ex-soldier burrows deeper and deeper into a world of shadows and intrigue. Mixed or average reviews: 60/60 out of 100. I suggest you give it a try. At Airport Plaza only.
* Twentieth Century Boys: Japan Fantasy – 142 mins – In a Thai-dubbed version only, and that is a real shame, and at Airport Plaza only. A live-action film based on a wildly popular manga comic. The main character is Kenji, who once aimed to be a rock star but now works at a convenience store. He stumbles upon a cult behind a series of mysterious incidents that have bizarre similarities to a book that Kenji himself wrote as a child. It’s based on a very popular science fiction mystery manga created, written, and drawn by Naoki Urasawa. The whole series seems to have been inspired in parts of the story by the works of Stephen King, containing allusions to “It” and “The Stand.” However, the story draws allusions mostly from rock and roll, with its title based on T. Rex’s famous song, “20th Century Boy.”
The movie has a star-studded Japanese cast. This is the first part of a trilogy, after the closing credits there’s a preview of the second part. At Airport Plaza only.
* Son of Rambow: France/ UK/ Germany Comedy/ Drama/ Family – 96 mins – Their press release describes it thus: “Son of Rambow is the name of the home movie made by two little boys with a big video camera and even bigger ambitions. Set on a long English summer in the early 80's, Son of Rambow is a comedy about friendship, faith and the tough business of growing up. We see the story through the eyes of Will, the eldest son of a fatherless Plymouth Brethren family. The Brethren regard themselves as God's 'chosen ones' and their strict moral code means that Will has never been allowed to mix with the other 'worldlies,' listen to music or watch TV, until he finds himself caught up in the extraordinary world of Lee Carter, the school terror and maker of bizarre home movies. Carter exposes Will to a pirated copy of Rambo: First Blood and from that moment Will's mind is blown wide open and he's easily convinced to be the stuntman in Lee Carters' diabolical home movie. Will's imaginative little brain is not only given chance to flourish in the world of film making, but is also very handy when it comes to dreaming up elaborate schemes to keep his partnership with Lee Carter a secret from the Brethren community. Will and Carter's complete disregard for consequences and innocent ambition means that the process of making their film is a glorious rollercoaster that eventually leads to true friendship. They start to make a name for themselves at school as movie makers but when popularity descends on them in the form of a Pied Piper-esque French exchange student their unique friendship and their precious film are pushed, quite literally, to breaking point.” In English and French with Thai subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 66/68 out of 100.
Several people have noted that Son of Rambow reminds them of Stephen King's Stand by Me (1986) in the way that it provides a nostalgic look at the comradery, the coming of age, the bittersweet vulnerability, and the fantastic humor of childhood. These two boys have, along with writer-director Garth Jennings, turned a coming-of-age story into a treatise on both the fragility of artistic vision and the danger of popular opinion.
Roger Ebert: Set in an English village in the mid-1980s, Son of Rambow is a gentle story that involves a great deal of violence, but mostly the violence is muted and dreamy, like a confrontation with a fearsome scarecrow that looks horrifying but is obviously not real -- or real enough, but not alive. The two boys meet one day in the corridor outside their grade-school classroom. Will has been sent there because his religion forbids him to watch TV, even educational videos (it also forbids music, dancing, and so on). Lee has been booted out of his classroom, spots Will, and immediately beans him with a hard-thrown tennis ball. This is the beginning of a strange but lasting friendship. . .
* Headless Family / Hua Luud Family / หัวหลุดแฟมิลี่: Thai Comedy – 89 mins – The usual, this time about a family that has a freak accident that leaves them able to detach their heads without ill effects.
* Ha Taew / ห้าแถว: Thai Action/ Drama – 89 mins – A country boy returns home from a pilgrimage to find that people in his town are dying from unknown causes, possibly due to black magic. He determines to get to the bottom of the mystery, and save his town.
* The House Bunny: US Comedy – 97 mins – About an ex-Playboy Bunny. I’m sorry, I just don’t have the heart to get involved in this nonsense. You’re on your own – I quote just one comment. Mixed or average reviews: 55/52 out of 100.
James Berardinelli, ReelViews: The House Bunny has a screenplay written with ten-year olds in mind about a subject that deserves an R-rating. The resulting hodgepodge of unfunny, sophomoric humor and PG-13 T&A, frosted by a sheen of appallingly nauseous "drama," makes for such a noxious brew that it's amazing viewers stay in their seats for the entire production. Then again, it takes absorption of the full 100 minutes for the movie's vomit-inducing power to become evident. The House Bunny isn't the worst movie I have ever seen. In fact, it's not even the worst of 2008. But it's bad enough to warrant a heartfelt warning to potential viewers. One wonders if there's a special place in hell reserved for filmmakers who foist this kind of tripe on the public.
Painted Skin: China (Hong Kong S.A.R.) Action/ Fantasy – 103 mins – An action-thriller-love story centered on a vampire-like woman who eats the skins and hearts of her lovers. The story is set in late Yuen Dynasty, at the time when demons and devils roam free. This demon constantly needs the heart and skin of man to maintain her beauty. The film is adapted from the ancient novel "Liaozhai Zhiyi," or "Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio," written by Pu Songling during the Qing Dynasty. This film is Thai-dubbed only/No English subtitles.
007 – Quantum of Solace: UK/US Action/ Adventure/ Thriller – 106 mins – Starring Daniel Craig as James Bond and Judy Dench as M. Really a continuation of the 2006 Casino Royale, which was a reinvention of the James Bond film series for present-day audiences. Here, with a different director, I found the undertaking greatly diminished in charm and style and elegance, with the action sequences more mindless and muddled, and the plot vastly more convoluted and confusing. But there’s much to still like if you’re a fan of Bond films. Mixed or average reviews: 57/54 out of 100.
Tropic Thunder: US Comedy/War – 107 mins – Outrageous! 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. 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. Rated R in the US for pervasive language including sexual references, violent content, and drug material. Directed by Ben Stiller. Generally favorable reviews: 71/71 out of 100. At Vista only.
Queens of Langkasuka / Peun yai jom sa-lud / ปืนใหญ่จอมสลัด: Thai Drama/ Adventure/ Fantasy/ History – 140 mins –
Thai Drama/ Adventure/ Fantasy/ History – For me, it’s an entertaining Thai blockbuster – big stars, loads of special effects, lavish costumes, and an exotic seaborne setting. Nonzee Nimibutr's 200-million-baht historical action-fantasy, more than three years in the making, has been less than enthusiastically received in some quarters. [Note: At Vista only, and It’s been reported that there are no English subtitles.]
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.
Coming Soon / Program Nah / โปรแกรมหน้า วิญญาณอาฆาต: Thai Horror – 90 mins – The Thais offer up their own version of another bloody scream-fest, this one about a projectionist who decides to help a friend illegally film a newly released horror movie, with dire consequences. Has been quite popular in Thailand for three weeks now, second only to James Bond. I found it fairly interesting of its kind, with some provocative ideas.
Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, November 27
Twilight: US Vampire love – 96 mins – Already a phenomenon, somewhat akin to the Beatles frenzy on their first appearance in America! But for one person: heartthrob Robert Pattinson. In the story of Twilight, you have your against-the-odds teen love, your woman in peril, your vampires, and your cult following. And girls are getting injured in the mass near-rioting where ever Pattinson appears for book signing.
Teeth: US Comedy/ Horror – 94 mins – Directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein (son of Pop artist Roy). Dawn, a high school student, works hard at suppressing her budding sexuality by being the local chastity group's most active participant. A stranger to her own body, innocent Dawn discovers she has a toothed vagina when she becomes the object of violence. As she struggles to understand her anatomical uniqueness, Dawn experiences both the pitfalls and the power of being a living example of the vagina dentata myth. More enjoyable than I thought it would be, it is still pretty sick and unpleasant, and with the number of appendages that eventually litter the ground, I think Teeth bites off more than it can chew. Mixed or average reviews: 57/64 out of 100.