Thursday, June 5, 2008

Aslan vies with Sex for your attention!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, June 5

by Thomas Ohlson

Best bets: Indy. Iron Man. Prince Caspian (for the religious and/or children).

At the end is my list of movie times for Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and for Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, June 5, 2008. There is also information on the Alliance Française and Film Space. This is Issue Number 32 of Volume 3.

Prince Caspian is the top film in Thailand over the last weekend.

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* Sex and the City: The Movie: US Comedy/Romance – 148 mins – Fans of the television show and Sarah Jessica Parker should be very happy indeed with this film incarnation, on the melancholy theme that fairy-tale endings don’t necessarily mean happily ever after. I found it a real chick-flick; see it if you like pictures about very rich and witty, well-dressed but vapid upper-class women and their problems with men, marriage, and living together. Mixed or average reviews: 53/57 out of 100. Rated R in the US for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and language.

* Good Morning Luang Prabang/Sabaidee Luang Prabang: Thai/Lao co-production Drama/Romance – 100 mins – Thai superstar Ananda Everingham, part Laotian himself, is extraordinarily charming as a partly-Laotian Thai photographer assigned a photo shoot in Laos. He is reluctant to return to his homeland, which he left many years before, as he feels estranged from his country. This relaxed and sweet love story/travelogue is a valentine to the land and people of Laos. It will bring to mind the places you saw on that trip to Laos, or the one you will take. It’s a Thai-Lao co-production, and marks the first Laotian feature film in nearly 20 years. Slow, languid, and loveable – and recommended.

* The Other Boleyn Girl: UK/US Drama/History/Romance – 115 mins – A sumptuous and sensual tale of intrigue, romance and betrayal set against the backdrop of a defining moment in European history, The Other Boleyn Girl tells the story of two beautiful sisters, Anne (Natalie Portman) and Mary (Scarlett Johansson) Boleyn who, driven by their family's blind ambition, compete for the love of the handsome and passionate King Henry VIII (Eric Bana). Both women shall share the King's bed, but only the one whom Henry loves the most shall rise to the throne and take power as his Queen of England. One sister shall fail, and the other will pay a high-price for her success: her life. Outstanding performances by the three American leads and a host of the finest British actors. Beautifully filmed and costumed. I recommend you see it if you have the slightest interest in historical dramas of this kind. Despite some heavily critical and sarcastic reviews, I don’t think they come much better this. Mixed or average reviews: 50/53 out of 100.

* Somtum / Som-Tum / ส้มตำ: Thai Action/Comedy – 90 mins – Stars the giant Australian wrestler and strongman Nathan Jones, who was widely popular as a martial arts fighter in previous Thai films such as Tom Yum Goong. Here he plays a fighter of immense bulk, but of equally immense timidity, and with a heart of gold, as he and a bunch of Thai children befriend each other. In Thai with English subtitles.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian: UK/US Adventure/Family/Fantasy – 147 mins – This second installment of the Narnia series was the top film in Thailand last week, as it chronicles the return to Narnia of the four British kids who were crowned kings and queens of the enchanted land at the end of the first film. I find the children to be spoiled rich brats, and so English upper-class! When the four finally get to a beach in Narnia, and decide to go swimming, they take off their shoes before taking the plunge, but leave the rest of their clothes on! Edmund even keeps his tie on! Really, isn’t that carrying British modesty a bit too far?

There’s a whole cottage industry of pious books that have been written to guide you and your children into the correct interpretations of the Christian lessons to be gleaned from the “Prince Caspian” book and movie. And with biblical citations and devotional readings to deepen your understanding. Pictured is an excerpt from “A Family Guide to Prince Caspian” by Christin Ditchfield. It is indeed insightful, and I really don’t know how people got along before this book. It’s available for $8.99 from One reviewer writes:

“Prince Caspian is a darker book than its predecessor and many of the Christian elements and themes are not as apparent to readers as they were in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” For a parent or educator this can sometimes be quite frustrating because though the novel is darker, it is also deeper and richer. The frustration comes in trying to explain some of these themes to children or get them to extrapolate the ideas from the text themselves. “A Family Guide to Prince Caspian” does a wonderful job in assisting parents and educators with this. Ditchfield does an excellent job of parsing Biblical truths from the novel and giving practical life applications using those truths. Each chapter includes passages from the Bible that connect to what has happened in that chapter. Overall, this is a great resource for anyone who has or works with children and wants to explore the rich and deep themes of “Prince Caspian” with them.”

But look over the other selections as well, everything from “The Complete Idiot's Guide to the World of Narnia” ($11.53), to “Prince Caspian Study Guide” ($16.99), to “The Soul of Prince Caspian: Exploring Spiritual Truth in the Land of Narnia” ($10.39).

The Narnia series of films is a joint project of Walt Disney Studios together with the mastermind behind the project, Philip Anschutz and his Walden Media organization, as a part of Anschutz’ campaign to re-Christianize America and the world. He is an oil magnate and media mogul who has been branded “the greediest executive in America” by Fortune magazine.

Anschutz owns the Regal Entertainment Group – the largest motion picture exhibitor in the world (it operates nearly 20 percent of all indoor screens in the US) – and is a growing force in Hollywood. Walden and Disney claim that, "they have sent out 'Narnia' materials to every elementary and middle school in America.” That includes posters, educational guides, and more than 90,000 copies of the novel. The guides include suggested lesson plans for teachers. The consensus seems to be that no one seems better positioned to move Hollywood right than Anschutz.

And this film is part of the process. Generally favorable reviews: 63/63 out of 100.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: US Adventure/Action – 124 mins – I really like Cate! As Irina Spalko, a "Stalin's favorite" Soviet scientist and KGB agent, Cate Blanchett is marvelously evil: Here are excerpts from her “official biography” as written by Irina Spalko on her MySpace blog:

I was born in 1929 and raised in a superstitious Ukrainian village, where my psychic abilities led me being branded a ‘witch’. I was handpicked by Stalin to oversee research into psychic warfare. A former member of the KGB’s Science and Technology Directorate, I have been decorated with the Order of Lenin. My powers of intuition have taken me a long way from the experiments I performed on animals as a teenager.

With a Russian accent as thick as caviar, it seems that Blanchett’s portrayal didn't sit well with the real-life Russians. The Communist Party's ideology committee is calling for a boycott of the film and even told Harrison Ford not to visit their country, warning him “You will be beaten and despised.”

But, according to one news item, when many Russian citizens were interviewed as to how they felt about the portrayal of Russians and the Communists, every one of them said that they had no problems with it and that they had no intentions of boycotting the movie.

Despite the complaints of the Communist Party, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released two weeks ago in more than 800 Russian cinemas, a record for a Hollywood movie in the country.

Some passing notes: Shia LaBeouf's wardrobe was designed to be a nearly exact copy of Marlon Brando's costume in The Wild One (1954). And did you notice that during the Hanger 51 scene the Ark of the Covenant can be seen briefly inside a broken crate, which was the MacGuffin in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). And also the aliens closely resemble the ones in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), also directed by Steven Spielberg. It is reported that the alien prop used for the warehouse scene is in fact one of the original alien puppets from the earlier film. Note carefully that it is explicitly stated that the aliens are not from outer space, but from another dimension, from “the space between spaces.” Interdimensional beings, as a matter of point.

My recommendation: If you enjoyed the previous Indy films, or if you just like good adventure films, go see this. Generally favorable reviews: 65/61 out of 100.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Narnia is after your soul!

Chiang Mai movies: Thursday, May 29

by Thomas Ohlson

Best bets: Indy. Iron Man. Prince Caspian (perhaps).

At the end is my list of movie times for Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and for Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, May 29, 2008. Attached is the same list in Word format. There is also information on the Alliance Française and Film Space. This is Issue Number 31 of Volume 3 of these listings.

According to a Tuesday article in the New York Times, “Speed Racer is now officially a flop on a massive scale.” What a pity! I found a lot to enjoy in it, but it’s left town now. Meanwhile Indiana Jones is a massive hit worldwide. It got a wide showing here last week, playing at four cinemas at Vista (two of them Thai-dubbed) and five cinemas at Airport Plaza (one Thai-dubbed). That same treatment is accorded Prince Caspian this week, although this movie has been doing disappointing business elsewhere in the world, where it opened two weeks ago.

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian: UK/US Adventure/Family/Fantasy – 147 mins – In this second installment of the series based on the children’s books written by the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, the four children of the Pevensie family who had been appointed kings and queens of Narnia at the end of the first story, return from England one year later to find that 1,300 years have passed in Narnia, and things are not going well. The Golden Age of Narnia has passed, and Narnia is now under the control of an evil king who rules the land without mercy. You will enjoy this sequel if you enjoyed the first film, or if you are interested in Christian allegories (the lion Aslan represents Christ who sacrificed himself to save Narnia at the end of episode one, the White Witch is Satan tempting Edmund, who is Judas, while Peter represents “the Wise Christian”). Or see it if you simply enjoy children’s adventure/fantasy stories. This second episode in the seven book series features bickering between the two rival presumptive kings of Narnia (Peter and Caspian), both of whom fight against streaks of cowardice and uncertainty within their characters. Generally favorable reviews: 63/63 out of 100.

But watch out for the message, which is proselytizing for Christianity. Author C.S. Lewis, who became a convert to Christianity late in his life, is interested in bending young minds towards Christ with his series of seven Narnia tales. Though I think he has to jump through some intellectual hoops to explain what satyrs and minotaurs are doing in his Christian stories. Santa Claus even showed up in the first episode. The explanation of course is simply that the author is a classical scholar and can’t help including in his books much of what he knows.

You may be mystified by the resurrection of the Christ figure (Aslan, the lion). He seems to have known of his resurrection before his death (in the first movie), which somewhat takes away from the impact of his sacrifice, it seems to me; but then, I suppose the same thing could be said about Christ’s resurrection. At any rate, after his resurrection, Aslan just hides away in this episode, letting a great deal of suffering go on in his world without raising a finger (or paw) to help, despite the desperate prayers of his people. I suppose some people would say that is much like Christ as well.

The movie was toned down from the book, but religious people still sense in this film’s story a strong echo of the “Acts of the Apostles” and the faith of the early believers after Christ’s ascension. Aslan’s absence is central, the core of the story: everyone talks about him and his absence, whether he is real or not, will he come again, will he answer everyone’s prayers. For most of the story only the little girl Lucy sees Aslan and believes he will eventually come to their aid.

Opposed to the Christian Narnia series of books and movies is the atheist “His Dark Materials” series, by novelist Philip Pullman, who portrays the world’s organized religions – especially the Catholic Church – as evils from which children should run with all possible speed. The film of the first of his trilogy, The Golden Compass, opened here last December; the film of the second, The Subtle Knife, is scheduled for 2009. The third "Narnia" installment is slated for release in May 2010.

The juxtaposition of Lewis and Pullman has become a familiar one. Both are Oxford-educated authors of children’s fantasy stories about parallel worlds with magic, talking beasts, witches, and wintry landscapes, in which religious ideas are allegorized. But one preaches Christianity and one preaches atheism, and no love is lost between the two: Pullman lashes out at Lewis for the sexism and racism in his books: [For Lewis] "Death is better than life; boys are better than girls; light-colored people are better than dark-colored people; and so on. There is no shortage of such nauseating drivel in Narnia, if you can face it" (Pullman 1998).

So through these opposing fantasy franchises we have a cosmic battle going on between the Christians and the Atheists for the minds of the world’s children. Yea, e’en here in Chiang Mai!