Thursday, November 27, 2008

What On starting November 27

Vampire love comes to town!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, November 27

by Thomas Ohlson

Best Bets: Traitor. Son of Rambow. Twilight.

These are my comments for the movies playing in Chiang Mai at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, November 27, 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 5 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!

Major Cineplex still did not bring in the fascinating Burn After Reading which they had promised, with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich (the whole team of serious anti-government, anti-CIA rabble-rousers) in another expose of dirty dealing and incompetence in high places. And although they’re showing Teeth in several locations, they have decided against bringing this tale of the vagina dentata myth to Chiang Mai, at least for now. Thanks to them, however, for bringing us the excellent Traitor. But shame to them for once again bringing 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. Many thanks to Vista for again bringing in a delightful but offbeat film, the quite perceptive film about childhood, Son of Rambow.

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* Twilight: US Vampire love – 96 mins – Already a phenomenon, somewhat akin to the Beatles frenzy on their first appearance in America! But the frenzy is for only 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. It’s quite well done overall, and I rather enjoyed it. Mixed or average reviews: 57/53 out of 100.

At last weekend’s opening in North American the film sold an estimated $70.6 million in tickets to a huge young-adult audience, 75% female.

The movie, based on the first in Stephenie Meyer’s hugely popular series of vampire romance novels, created a frenzy among teenage girls, with more than 1,000 screenings across the country selling out days in advance. The opening-weekend gross beat even the most optimistic expectations. Box-office analysts had predicted the film would be lucky to reach $60 million because of limited appeal among male moviegoers.

But the movie Twilight comes to movie theaters with a long and profitable back story in print: four novels and 17 million copies sold. Written by Stephenie Meyer, a first-time author who’s now 34, the series originated with a dream she had about a young woman and her love for a vampire, who returns her love while managing to avoid his urge to bite her.

The books that followed take place in cloudy Forks, Washington, where the Cullens, a group of sun-shirking vampires, live among humans but do not prey on them, drinking animal blood instead. Bella Swan, a shy, bookish young woman, is drawn to one of them, Edward, even after she comes to understand the danger. A proffered apple on hands of pale flesh, on the cover of the first book, suggests the chaste urgency of their love, and Edward becomes Bella’s protector after another, less well behaved vampire, James, takes aim at her tender neck.

As an odd note, the last movie Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke made was The Nativity Story, which also depicted unconsummated love between a mortal and a nonmortal, but that’s where the similarity ends. Ms. Hardwicke also directed Thirteen, a very different take on teenage sexuality, and The Lords of Dogtown.”

You have the story of a young woman falling so deeply in love that she doesn’t care if she dies or becomes a vampire,” Ms. Hardwicke said. “There is something so dangerous and alluring about it, and it all goes off in this very lush mountain backdrop. It’s an obsessive love that’s not that far from ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ or Titanic for that matter.”

Plans were announced on Saturday to begin production of New Moon, an adaptation of the second novel in the series.

One cute bit of trivia: The actors who played vampires needed to be pale, so it was written into their contracts that they had to stay out of the sun.

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, as the plot is confusing enough and the number of characters staggering without this added hurdle to understanding. At Airport Plaza only. A live-action film based on a very popular science fiction mystery manga created, written, and drawn by Naoki Urasawa. 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. The long series of manga seems to have been inspired in parts of the story by the works of Stephen King, and I find many 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, and at the end there’s a preview of the second part. At Airport Plaza only.

Son of Rambow: France/ UK/ Germany Comedy/ Drama/ Family – 96 mins – Delightful! A real charmer! And there were only four people in the theater when I saw it. What a shame!

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.

The House Bunny: US Comedy – 97 mins – About an ex-Playboy Bunny. Okay, I’ve seen this now, much to my everlasting shame. I can confirm that it is unbelievably insulting, not only to women, despite it’s being written by women with a lot of women involved in its production, but also insulting to humanity in general. I suppose somewhere there is someone who likes this dumb blonde movie, but he deserves our fervent prayers. 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 “Tits & Ass”, 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.

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.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, December 4

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-accented voice 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. It’s a pretty ordinary talking animal picture. Critical reaction seems to be very mixed, with people either loving it or hating it. Overall, it comes out as mixed or average reviews: 41/50 out of 100.

You must know fairly well at this stage of the game whether or not you enjoy talking animal pictures, and if your child does. All I can say is that it is well done of its kind, so if this is your cup of tea, you should enjoy it well enough.

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 the small assortment of humans, like Jamie Lee Curtis, who is playing the lost dog's owner, and Piper Perabo, who is playing her niece.

Funny Games: [possibly] US Thriller/ Horror – 107 mins – This is scheduled for Thailand on this date, but I am not sure how wide a distribution it will get. It is one of the more disturbing films of recent years, by the somewhat sadistic but quite serious film director Michael Haneke. It is, in fact, an English-language reshoot of one of his most famous films, the 1997 film of the same name, Funny Games, shot in German, French, and Italian, which a friend of mine saw and found so disturbing that it made him vow to never again see a film by this director. My friend claims that his films induce the viewer into complicity in the horrendous acts depicted in the story, making one feel very guilty and uncomfortable indeed.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Friday, December 5

Ong-Bak 2: Thai Action/ Adventure – 100 mins – These historical stories tend to be confusing, so here is the official synopsis, which you should study diligently if the movie is to make sense: “Set in the regal times of King Naresuan, Tony Jaa plays Tien, a man who was born into nobility but had it stripped from him after his parents were brutally murdered. During his childhood Tien learned Khon, a form of dance which is usually reserved for royalty. Although he didn't know it yet, Khon would later prove to be an invaluable aide to him. After seeing his parents murdered when he was at the tender age of 10, Tien is forced to live on the streets where he is eventually captured by a group of thieves who take him in and teach him how to steal and fight. Tien’s expertise as a thief and fighter grows, and it isn't long before he is made head thief. Then Tien sees something that makes his stomach churn. A competition is being held to find the best knights to serve under the very man who had killed Tien's parents all those years ago. Tien passes the tests easily and is made Lord Rachasana's 2nd Knight. Now, he has his opportunity to strike but he will have to use all his skill and ingenuity if he is going to get his revenge on the man who killed his parents, and stay alive.”

Ong-Bak was one of the better Thai action films of recent years, and expectations are high that this one will be very good entertainment indeed. I must admit I enjoy watching the outrageous stunts that Tony Jaa pulls in his films.

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