Thursday, December 25, 2008

What's On starting December 25

Australia survives Australia!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, December 25

by Thomas Ohlson

Best Bets: Australia. Super Hap. Ong-Bak 2. The Double Life of Veronique.

Here are my comments on the movies playing at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, December 25, 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 9 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!

Movies change on Wednesday next week.

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

*Australia: Australia Drama/ Adventure – 165 mins – Baz Luhrmann returns to the screen to direct his first feature film since 2001’s Moulin Rouge, and I think he does so in grand style. Set against the backdrop of World War II, it’s the epic, sweeping tale of an English woman (Nicole Kidman) who inherits a sizable cattle ranch “down under.” When English cattle barons plot to take her land, she reluctantly joins forces with a rough-hewn stock-man (Hugh Jackman) to drive 2,000 head of cattle across hundreds of miles of the country's most unforgiving land, only to face the bombing of Darwin, Australia, by the Japanese forces that had attacked Pearl Harbor only months earlier.

The child [see picture] who narrates the film and whose story forms the spine of the plot, is a delight to watch. His name is Brandon Walters and he is a half-caste Aborigine, and he is everything a child actor should be, unlike the one we talked about last week.

In true epic style, the film clocks in at 165 minutes, so make yourselves comfortable for the ride.

Mixed or average reviews: 53/57 out of 100. Vista is showing it in a Thai-dubbed version only, with no English subtitles.

It's as silly as an epic needs to be; nevertheless it’s truly an old-fashioned grand epic. There are caveats to be made about the history it portrays – in some ways I think it’s an insult to Australian and its Aborigines and their history. But caveats next week, enjoy it now.

* Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa: US Animation/ Family – 89 mins – A delightful animated picture, with the animals of the original Madagascar in new adventures and breath-taking exploits. I had a lot of fun with it, but then I like cartoons. I think Chris Rock is great as the zebra [see picture]. Alex, Marty, Melman, Gloria, King Julien, Maurice, and the penguins and the chimps, find themselves marooned on the distant shores of Madagascar. The New Yorkers have hatched a plan: the penguins repair an old crashed plane, and the unlikely crew is able to keep it airborne just long enough to make it to the wildest place of all – the vast plains of Africa, where the members of the Central Park Zoo-raised crew encounter species of their own kind for the very first time. Generally favorable reviews: 61/59 out of 100.

* Super Hap / Super แหบ-แสบ-สะบัด: Thai Comedy/ Musical – 90 mins – I found this a quite enjoyable Thai teen-oriented musical comedy, in which two guys try to break into the music industry by forming a Korean-style boy band, since Korean fever has hit Thailand in a big way. But the one who looks cute and can dance can’t sing, and the other can sing but doesn’t look the part and can’t dance. The answer lies in lip-syncing on stage. But they have to keep it a secret, which isn’t easy. There are some quite entertaining bits – the dog barking when the two guys argue really cracked me up – and though it seemed to lose its way in sentimentality toward the end, that’s all right. Overall, one of the better Thai comedies I’ve seen.

* 4 Romance / Fan Waan Aai Joop / fhun-waan-aye-joob / ฝัน-หวาน-อาย-จูบ: Thai Romance/ Drama – 90 mins – 4 Romance puts together four love stories directed by four leading Thai filmmakers, with each story offering a different angle on Thai love from a different perspectives and in a different storytelling style: comedy, drama, action, and musical. Directors: Chukiat Sakweerakul (of Love of Siam fame), Prachya Pinkaew, Bhandit Thongdee, and Rachen Limtrakul. Among the large cast are two of the stars of Love of Siam, Mario Maurer and "Pitch" Witwisit Hiranyawongkul, in different segments. I found it pretty much of a bore and not nearly as entertaining as Super Hap, but the Thais in the audience seemed to like it well enough. The most enjoyable section was the last one, featuring the band “August” and singer “Pitch” – that part had a few nice surprises, and the kids are great.

Happy Birthday / แฮปปี้ เบิร์ดเดย์: Thai Drama/ Romance – 90 mins – Starring Ananda Everingham. A weepy love story, and almost incomprehensible to anyone without a deep intuitive understanding of Thai customs and social behavior. For most of us the courting behavior is an unfathomable mystery, and quite foreign. Ananda is a travel photographer who travels around Thailand with his guide/girlfriend, until she has a car accident and ends up in a hospital in a coma, while Ananda waits endlessly at her bedside for her to wake up. Maddeningly tedious to most farangs, I’m afraid, though the Thais I was with seemed to enjoy the first half a good deal. Beautiful location photography.

The Day the Earth Stood Still: US Sci-Fi/ Drama/ Thriller – 103 mins – With Keanu Reeves. I enjoyed this! (Except for the kid, who is hateful!) If you like sci-fi thrillers, you should like this too, when the kid isn’t on screen. 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 for the kid. In this remake of the landmark film of 1951 with Michael Rennie, Keanu Reeves now plays the alien who travels to Earth with a simple mission: to save the planet. He lands his space ship in Central Park and tries without success to announce his plans to the world via a speech at the United Nations. He’s shot and taken into custody instead. So he goes to his backup plan: destroy everything on earth, and then re-populate the planet with clones of the current species. Generally negative reviews: 39/40 out of 100.

I thought the script was terrific of this kind, except for the kid, which leads me to believe his father rewrote his lines and didn’t do it too well. I liked the bit about the US President nowhere to be seen, in fact hiding out, when Earth is invaded, leaving the running of things to others, much like George Bush on 9/11.

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.

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.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Wednesday, December 31

Bedtime Stories: US Comedy/ Fantasy – 100 mins – Starring Adam Sandler. It's a family-friendly flick about Skeeter Bronson, a hotel handyman, whose life is changed forever when the bedtime stories he tells his niece and nephew start to mysteriously come true. He attempts to take advantage of the phenomenon, incorporating his own aspirations into one outlandish tale after another, but it's the kids' unexpected contributions that turn Skeeter's life upside down. The director is Adam Shankman (Hairspray).

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