Thursday, December 4, 2008

What's On starting December 4

Ong-Bak tomorrow, Chihuahua tonight!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, December 4

by Thomas Ohlson

Best Bets: Traitor. Son of Rambow. Twilight. Ong-Bak 2.

Note: Ong-Bak 2 opens tomorrow (December 5), a holiday.

Here is my list of movies for Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and for Vista at Kadsuankaew for today, Thursday, December 4, 2008, only. Ong-Bak 2 starts tomorrow, Friday, December 5, and schedules will be adjusted. 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 schedule for the European Union Film Festival starting next week at Vista in Kadsuankaew (December 12 to 21).

This is Issue Number 6 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!

Thanks to Major Cineplex for bringing us the excellent Traitor. This will probably be its last day, so see it while you can. I am very disappointed that Major Cineplex still has not brought 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. And 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 wild film about childhood, Son of Rambow.

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* 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. 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.

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.

Opening tomorrow, Friday, December 5

* Ong-Bak 2: Thai Action/ Adventure – 100 mins – Expectations are high that this second Ong-Bak film will be very good entertainment indeed. The original was one of the better Thai action films of recent years, truly exciting, and I enjoyed watching Tony Jaa do his outrageous stunts.

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.”

Now playing

Twilight: US Vampire love – 121 mins – Yes, it was a phenomenon, the opening weekend of Twilight – somewhat akin to the Beatles frenzy, at least for heartthrob Robert Pattinson, who is a handsome, smouldering devil as the vampire. Here in Chiang Mai there were squeals from a few patrons at the first appearance of Pattinson on screen when I saw it, but apparently nothing like the near hysteria that greeted his visage in every new shot in American moviehouses and where girls were getting injured in the mass near-rioting whereever Pattinson had a personal appearance.

It’s quite well done overall, and I rather enjoyed it. In the story of Twilight, you have your against-the-odds teen love, your woman in peril, your vampires, and your cult following. 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.

During it’s opening weekend in North American the film sold an estimated $70.6 million in tickets to a huge young-adult audience, 75% female. And of course it was #1 in Thailand. But this last weekend, including Thanskgiving, interest in Twilight fell precipitously. Which figures: movies with excited fan bases or that are part of the vampire sub-genre burn through much of their demand in their first weeks, as was the case here, leading to one of the steepest Thanksgiving drops ever.

Nevertheless, It's about to top Van Helsing as the highest-grossing vampire movie on record, though, adjusted for ticket price inflation, it still has a long way to go to catch Interview with the Vampire, which has a final gross that would equal nearly $180 million today. Portending Twilight's fate, Interview itself suffered an enormous fall for 1994, plunging 52 percent in its second weekend.

Based on the first in Stephenie Meyer’s hugely popular series of vampire romance novels, the movie created a frenzy among teenage girls, with more than 1,000 screenings across the country selling out days in advance. 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.

Plans have now been announced to begin production of New Moon, an adaptation of the second novel in the series.

Who is Robert Pattinson?

More than once touted as the next Jude Law, actor/model/musician Robert Thomas-Pattinson was born in London, England on May 13, 1986. The 6’ 1″ actor enjoys music, playing both the piano and guitar, as well as composing. Pattinson began his acting career as a teen with the Barnes Theatre Company, appearing in Tess of the D’Urbervilles before moving on to work in films, including the television movie “Ring of the Nibelungs” and the feature Vanity Fair. In 2005 Pattinson played Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter adaptation, The Goblet of Fire. He has the lead role in the forthcoming feature film Little Ashes, in which he plays Salvador Dalí. This 2009 film may disquiet Pattinson's devout female fanbase, as it depicts a love affair between Dalí and Federico García Lorca.

Who is Edward Cullen, and who are the other Cullens, and where did they come from? And what’s the big deal about them?

Picture: Rosalie Hale, Jasper Hale, Alice Cullen, Edward Cullen, and Emmett Cullen.

Edward Cullen is the fictional character in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” book series. Edward was born on June 20, 1901, in Chicago as Edward Anthony Masen. He had contracted the Spanish influenza in 1918, where he lay dying in the hospital, when he was changed into a vampire by Dr. Carlisle Cullen in order to save him from death. Carlisle brought up Edward as his own son, instilling in him the notion that humans are not a food source, instead relying on animal blood to survive. Over the course of the next several decades, Edward acquired an adoptive mother, Esmee, and four siblings, Alice, Rosalie, Emmett, and Jasper. The Cullens had always wrestled with their cravings for human blood but Edward’s control is tested to the maximum when teenager Bella Swan moves to town. Edward’s penchant for being intuitive materialized into an ability to read minds upon being turned into a vampire. The only exception to his mind reading is Bella Swan, though the cause for this is unknown. He stays away from strong sunlight because his skin would give him away: in the sun, his skin sparkles. Edward is 17 years old – and has been for about 90 years now.

A timeline of the Cullens and their ancestors can be found at which traces the events in the life of the clan forward to 2006 and backwards to the birth of Dr. Carlisle Cullen in London, England, in 1640. And even further back to 300 when Stefan and Valdimir form a coven in Romania. It’s a complex story, in three volumes so far and more to come.

Traitor: US Drama/Thriller – 114 mins – With Don Cheadle. Probably its last day here. See it while you can. 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.

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. Mixed or average reviews: 60/60 out of 100. I suggest you go. 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. 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! In English and a little bit of French with Thai subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 66/68 out of 100.

Son of Rambow provides a nostalgic look at the comradery, the coming of age, the bittersweet vulnerability, and the fantastic humor of childhood. The films 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.

Film Threat: Director/screenwriter Garth Jennings delivers a nostalgic ode to childhood that reminds us of what it’s like to be a kid. It’s charming and touching, and the best part is, it manages to be so without saccharine sweetness.

As part of a Plymouth Brethren family, young William Proudfoot is supposed to keep away from the corrupting influence of others, which makes for a lonely existence at school. While the rest of the kids are doing “normal” things—like listening to rock music and watching television—Will creates a vivid fantasy world for himself. He is alone in this world until he gets mixed up with the school bully, Lee Carter. Will inadvertently sees a copy of Rambo: First Blood at Carter’s house, and the odd relationship between the two boys quickly turns into friendship when they decide to film their own home movie version. The stunts that the two boys enact are achieved with the imperviousness and dumb luck that only kids possess. However, when other students—especially a popular foreign exchange student—get involved, the integrity of the secret project is corrupted.

Will (Bill Milner) and Carter (Will Poulter) are like a contemporary Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer as they traipse around the idyllic woods on adventures fueled by imagination. Will’s eventual seduction by the cool kids signals an end of their innocence, but even this is played in a light-hearted way. In a nod to the film industry, the school is represented as a microcosm of Hollywood--groupies are schoolgirls, and alcohol and drugs are Coca-cola and Pop Rocks.

Milner does a great job as lead, but it is Poulter who steals the show, bringing a range of emotion to his role as incorrigible troublemaker. The movie captures a time gone by and extols the importance of lasting friendship, but it is shrewd enough to temper the sentimentality with a sense of humor. Son of Rambow is this year’s diamond in the rough, a small movie that is big in heart.

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.

007 – Quantum of Solace: UK/US Action/ Adventure/ Thriller – 106 mins – Starring Daniel Craig as James Bond and Judy Dench as M. 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. Box office reports make it clear that Quantum, now in its fourth week, has not been displaying the staying power of Casino Royale. Mixed or average reviews: 58/55 out of 100.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, December 11

The Day The Earth Stood Still: US Sci-Fi/ Adventure – 103 mins – 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 announces his plans to a fearful world watching from all corners of the globe. 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.

Funny Games: [possibly] US Thriller/ Horror – 107 mins – This is scheduled for Thailand, 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.

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