Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What's On starting December 31

A gentle Adam Sandler comedy!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Wednesday, December 31

by Thomas Ohlson

Best Bets: Australia. Super Hap.

This is my report on the movies playing at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Wednesday, December 31, 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 10 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* Bedtime Stories: US Comedy/ Family/ Fantasy – 100 mins – Starring Adam Sandler in a surprisingly pleasant and amusing family comedy about a hotel handyman whose life changes when the lavish bedtime stories he tells his niece and nephew start to magically 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 his life upside down. The director is Adam Shankman, the one who gave the sparkle to Hairspray. Generally negative reviews: 34/41 out of 100. But those that did like it seemed to like it very much.

Variety: Sandler has delivered on his promise to make a movie his kids can enjoy. What's more, he's managed to do so without alienating his core audience. While the comedy -- about a hotel handyman whose outlandish tales spring to life -- clearly skews to a younger demographic, there's enough sophomoric humor here to reassure the Sandler faithful.

Rotten Tomatoes: Though it may earn some chuckles from pre-teens, this kid-friendly Adam Sandler comedy is uneven, poorly paced, and lacks the requisite whimsy to truly work.

* Deep in the Jungle / ปาฏิหาริย์ รักต่างพันธุ์: Thai Horror/ Action/ Fantasy/ Romance – 90 mins – A soldier falls in love with a woman who is actually a snake. Pretty incomprehensible, too jumpy, too murky, too much gratuitous bone-crunching violence. Consists of a lot of people brutally killing one another and jabbing each other in the neck with hypodermic needles. Seems to be a retelling of “The Snake King's Child”, an old and still popular Cambodian legend that was last depicted in the Cambodian film of that name in 2001. The moral seems to be, don’t mess with a snake in human form – its relatives may not be amused.

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 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. In true epic style, however, 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.

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. 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 Romances / Fan Waan Aai Joop / fhun-waan-aye-joob / ฝัน-หวาน-อาย-จูบ: Thai Romance/ Drama – 90 mins – Four love stories directed by four leading Thai filmmakers, with each story offering a different angle on Thai love 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” (also from Love of Siam) 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 understanding of and empathy with Thai customs and social behavior. For most of us the courting behavior as depicted in the first half of the movie 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.

Transporter 3: France Action/ Crime – 100 mins – This is certainly 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.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, January 8

Yes Man: US Comedy – 104 mins – Jim Carrey stars as Carl Allen, a man who signs up for a self-help program based on one simple principle: say “yes” to everything...and anything for an entire year. At first, unleashing the power of “yes” transforms Carl’s life in amazing and unexpected ways, but he soon discovers that opening up his life to endless possibilities can have its drawbacks. Mixed or average reviews: 45/52 out of 100.

Quarantine: US Horror/ Mystery/ Thriller – 89 mins – A television reporter and her cameraman are trapped inside a building quarantined by the US government after the outbreak of a mysterious virus which turns humans into bloodthirsty killers. It has the single hand-held camera style of such recent movies as Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project, and George Romero's Diary of the Dead. Sort of a “diegetic camera.” Some people find the faux “one actual camera” trick leads to heightened reality; others find that the constant jiggling of the picture and rough-shod editing gives them a headache – some are actually made physically sick. I myself find it simply irritating, unnecessarily, and I wish they wouldn’t do it. If you think you can put up with the camera style, you will find this to be a quite frightening movie, as I did, once the introductory first 20 boring minutes are over. Quarantine is an English-language remake of the 2007 Spanish horror film [Rec]. (Do you get the reference? “[Rec]” is what you see in an upper corner of a viewfinder when you’re recording.) A number of reviewers consider [Rec] one of the best horror films of recent years, and superior to this remake. A [Rec] 2 is now filming. Rated R in the US for bloody violent and disturbing content, terror, and language. Mixed or average reviews: 53/57 out of 100.

The Happiness of Kati: Thai Family/ Drama – 100 mins – “The Happiness of Kati” is a novel written by Ngarmpun "Jane" Jejjajiva. It was the winner of 2006 S.E.A Write Award and a bestseller with more than two hundred thousand copies sold. Besides being one of the most beloved and well-known contemporary children’s book in Thailand, "The Happiness of Kati" is also celebrated internationally. Its translated version has been licensed in nine countries - United States, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, and France.

Kati is a nine-year-old girl whose mother is suffering from an incurable illness. Kati must go through steps of happiness and sorrow, bonding and separation, having her hopes fulfilled and losing something she loves. Nevertheless, Kati has learned through these steps that the sorrow from her losses cannot take away the happiness she has received from her mother's love and bonding. This experience allows the little girl to grow up with confidence and the courage to live on. She knows who loves her, and who her loved ones are.”

And looking further afield . . .

Jan 22: High School Musical 3: Senior Year – A continuation of the hit musical series.

Jan 22: Red Cliff Part 2 – A continuation of the Chinese martial arts epic.

Jan 29: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton. The extraordinary tale of one man, born elderly in 1918, who ages backwards through the 21st century. Based loosely on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Feb 5: Gran Torino – Clint Eastwood stars and directs, about an iron-willed veteran living in a changing world who is forced by his immigrant neighbors to confront his own long-held prejudices.

Feb 5: Milk – The assassination of Harvey Milk, with Sean Penn.

Feb 19: Valkyrie – The near-miss assassination of Adolf Hitler by a ring of rebel German army officers on July 20, 1944, starring Tom Cruise as Col. Claus von Stauffenberg.

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