Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What's On starting December 10

EU Film Festival starts Friday!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Wednesday, December 10

by Thomas Ohlson

Best Bets: Traitor. Twilight. Ong-Bak 2. The Day the Earth Stood Still. EU Film Festival.

Seemingly at the last moment, the film chains decided to open their new pictures on Wednesday this week, which is a holiday. Major Cineplex, however, didn’t bother to post their times on their website, and I finally had to go to their theater and purloin one of the staff’s personal list of movie times. The things I have to do to keep you all up to date! (That’s why this listing is a little late today.) Major Cineplex will probably change their times again tomorrow to accommodate more showings of Transporter 3.

These are my comments on the films playing at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew beginning Wednesday, December 10, 2008. Attached is the same list in Word format.

This is Issue Number 7 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* The Day the Earth Stood Still: US Sci-Fi/ Drama/ Thriller – 103 mins – I enjoyed this! If you like sci-fi thrillers, you should too. Of course, you have to be willing to accept a lot of the “aliens invade Earth” conventions. I did, and found it a lot of fun. Except perhaps for the actor playing the part of the kid, who seems to me to be an example of why you shouldn’t adopt stray kids.

And as for Keanu Reeves, he’s perfect for the part of the alien! Absolutely perfect, because he really is an alien himself! I think all of us have always known that. Think about it – think about him in any movie he’s ever been in. He is not human! He is truly an alien himself, a little spooky, but accessible, and I love him just the way he is!

This is a remake of the landmark film of 1951 with Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, and Sam Jaffe, directed by Robert Wise. [See the photo of the original.] This time Keanu Reeves plays Klaatu, a mysterious alien who travels to Earth with a simple mission: to save the planet. He lands his vast space ship in Central Park, New York, and tries without success to announce his plans to the world via a speech at the United Nations. He’s taken into custody instead. Thus rebuffed, to goes to the backup plan: He will destroy everything, then re-populate our planet with clones of the current species. All, that is, except humans who he feels are responsible for Earth's destruction and must be permanently destroyed. He unleashes swarms of dust size robots who sweep through New York and the surrounding area dissolving everything in their path. As mankind fights to survive, one female scientist convinces Klaatu to stop the earth’s destruction and give us a second chance.

Is mankind worth saving? Worth a “second chance”? Good question. As for me, I’m not quite sure. In the movie, Klaatu needs to be convinced “Yes,” or we all die.

scifimoviepage: Science fiction literature and films have served to not only entertain, but to address our questions, hopes and fears about extraterrestrial life. Such speculation has captivated our collective imagination and inspired the development of new technology to explore the farthest reaches of our universe and the very real possibility that we are not alone.

One of the most original and innovative films of the genre is the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, a truly groundbreaking movie that has influenced generations of sci-fi enthusiasts, authors and filmmakers. Directed by legendary filmmaker Robert Wise, the film tells the story of a benevolent, human-looking alien called Klaatu, who lands his spaceship in Washington D.C. with the goal of meeting with the leaders of Earth to warn that the violence that man is committing against man actually threatens the survival of other civilizations in the universe. With the help of Gort, his giant robotic bodyguard, Klaatu eludes the authorities who attempt to capture him and immerses himself in human culture to gain a better understanding of a species that seems committed to conflict and destruction. He befriends a widow and her son, and through the prism of their friendship he learns much about humanity – and ultimately challenges mankind to be its best version of itself.

"The premise for this remake is rooted not in man’s violence against man, but in mankind’s destruction of the Earth’s environment."

The film was revolutionary, not only in its then-cutting edge conceptualization of aliens, spaceships and robots, but in its audacious variation on a familiar allegory for the escalating tensions of the early Cold War era. “The entire canon of science fiction in America in the Fifties was constructed in such a way as to reinforce Western fears of the Eastern Bloc,” notes producer Erwin Stoff. “The ‘other’ to be feared was always a metaphor for Communism. What was remarkable about The Day the Earth Stood Still was that it placed the onus of responsibility on everyone equally. The ‘other’ to fear was ourselves – the nature of man and the terrible violence that humanity is capable of.”

Another aspect of the film that sets it apart is the perspective from which it unfolds. “One of the really unique things about the story is that it’s told from the alien’s point of view,” Stoff observes. “We’ve seen a lot of movies about aliens, but rarely do we see ourselves as the aliens.”

The idea of remaking The Day the Earth Stood Still first struck Stoff, who has managed Reeves for over 20 years, in the wake of their success on the 1994 blockbuster Speed. During a meeting with at Twentieth Century Fox studios, Stoff noticed a poster for the classic film hanging on the wall. “I said, ‘Forget about the project I came here to talk to you about. What we should do is develop The Day the Earth Stood Still with Keanu playing Klaatu,’” he remembers. “It seemed like a great idea, but for one reason or another, it didn’t happen. Then, as destiny would have it, a draft showed up on my doorstep twelve years later.”

As re-conceived by screenwriter David Scarpa and director Scott Derrickson, the premise for the 2008 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still is rooted not in man’s violence against man, but in mankind’s destruction of the Earth’s environment. “I’m a tremendous fan of the original film,” Derrickson says. “It was so interesting and original and progressive for its time – in the visual effects, in the way it commented on the Cold War tensions of that era, in the idea of seeing humanity from an outsider’s perspective. It’s a truly great film, but most modern audiences haven’t seen it. I feel like people deserve to know this story, and this was a fantastic opportunity to retell it in a way that addresses the issues and conflicts that are affecting us now.”

There is nothing the original film says about the nature of mankind that isn’t every bit as timely and relevant to this generation of movie audiences,” Stoff believes. “It’s the specifics of the way we now have the capability to destroy ourselves that have changed. The evidence that we are doing potentially irreparable harm to the environment is pretty irrefutable. The challenges that we face today are no less daunting, and if we fail at them, no less lethal, than the ones that we faced before the end of the Cold War.”

In re-imagining this picture, we had an opportunity to capture a real kind of angst that people are living with today, a very present concern that the way we are living may have disastrous consequences for the planet,” says Reeves. “I feel like this movie is responding to those anxieties. It’s holding a mirror up to our relationship with nature and asking us to look at our impact on the planet, for the survival of our species and others.”

* Transporter 3: France Action/ Crime – 100 mins – I’ve seen it, and I can attest that it’s an action movie – meaning that there’s a lot of explosions, car crashes, and men being violent and assertive. And it’s all quite well done, and seasoned with just the slightest bit of plot and humor. If that’s what you like, this is for you.

Jason Statham returns for a third time now as Frank Martin, a former British Special Forces soldier turned mercenary, whose specialty is delivering risky items in a timely fashion. In this third installment, Frank who has just relocated to Paris, awakes to find himself with a bomb strapped to his wrist which threatens to blow up should he try to remove it. Mixed or average reviews: 51/50 out of 100.

Roger Ebert: A perfectly acceptable brainless action thriller.

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. 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. I found it amusing with parts quite a lot of fun. It is well done of its kind, so if this is your cup of tea, you should enjoy it well enough. Especially if you like dogs, because they really are terrific!

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.

Ong-Bak 2: Thai Action/ Adventure – 100 mins – With Tony Jaa, who also directed. I’m not sure what your reaction will be to this film, for it’s rather difficult and really not too much fun to watch. It’s quite dark, and exceptionally violent. Not for children! But it’s extraordinary in many respects, and approaches almost every aspect of an action film in a new way. And it seems a terribly personal film for Tony Jaa, in which he apparently is trying to exorcise some inner demons. I think it’s a fascinating attempt.

Here is the official synopsis: “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.”

Kong Rithdee, writing in Variety: Ong-Bak 2 smashes its way to No.1Ong-Bak 2 ruled the Thai box office over the weekend, and is on its way to becoming the highest grossing local release of the year. The film, directed by and starring martial artist extraordinaire Tony Jaa, opened Friday with a robust 28 million baht take. As of Sunday, the film has reportedly taken in 70 million baht.

The film performed even better than Tom Yum Goong during its opening weekend in 2005, which earned about 200 million baht in Thailand.

Producer Sahamongkol Film Intl is said to be preparing a celebration of Ong Bak's 100-million-baht achievement on Wednesday. It will be the first Thai movie to touch that milestone this year.

Before the release of Ong Bak 2, the highest grossing Thai film of the year was a small comedy about a former rapper-turned-monk Luang Pee Teng 2, which made around 80 million baht.

Twilight: US Vampire love – 121 mins – It’s quite well done overall, and I rather enjoyed it. Robert Pattinson is indeed a handsome, smoldering devil as the vampire.

In the story of Twilight, you have your against-the-odds teen love, your woman in peril, your vampires, and your cult following. It’s a complex story, in three volumes so far and more to come. Mixed or average reviews: 56/53 out of 100.

Vista has a Thai-dubbed version only, with no English subtitles. Airport Plaza has it in the original English, with Thai subtitles.

Traitor: US Drama/Thriller – 114 mins – With Don Cheadle. Probably in its last days. See it while you can. Another serious look at the world of moral uncertainty amid the war on terror. I am very fond of this movie; 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) very engrossing.

James Berardinelli, Reel Views: Traitor is an uncommonly intelligent espionage thriller that explores the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by agents who go deep undercover in the service of their country. For movies that revolve around terrorist organizations and acts, there are typically two approaches: a gung-ho, "John Wayne" style and a story that seeks to humanize the terrorists. Traitor takes a different, less straightforward trajectory that exhibits the complex motivations of the terrorists as well as those who oppose them without resorting to caricatures on either side. The film's villains are not cookie-cutter bad guys and the FBI agents are neither bumbling nor infallible. Caught in the middle of everything is a man trying to save innocent lives but whose actions end up taking them as well.

. . . As a thriller for adults who don't require manic chases, frenetic shoot-outs, and ten cuts per second, Traitor is smart, effective, and at times suspenseful. It's one of a very few terrorist-themed movies that presents its situation without resorting to exploitation or oversimplification.

The story: 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. Only mixed or average reviews: 60/60 out of 100. Nevertheless, despite the lukewarm reviews, I suggest you go. At Vista only.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, December 18

Happy Birthday / แฮปปี้ เบิร์ดเดย์: Thai Drama/ Romance – Starring Ananda Everingham. Looks like a real weepy love story. This time Ananda is a travel photographer who travels around Thailand with his guide/girlfriend, until the girl is involved in a terrible car accident and ends up in a hospital in a coma, while Ananda waits at her bedside for her to wake up. From the previews, I have to say it looks perfectly tedious, despite the fact that I’m a fan of Ananda. But we’ll hope for the best.

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