Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bangkok Experimental Film Festival!

Chiang Mai movies update, Saturday, July 26

by Thomas Ohlson

Experimental Film Festival in its 3rd and final weekend

The last two showings of the “Bangkok Experimental Film Festival 5 – Chiang Mai” are at 7 pm tonight, Saturday, July 26, and 7 pm tomorrow, Sunday, July 27.

Tonight’s time has been changed from 6:45 pm to 7:00 pm. At tonight’s showing there will be a chance to meet and interact with the people behind the festival, as the curator of the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival, David Teh, is scheduled to be present to introduce the evening’s program and lead a Q&A session. He was present last night at Friday’s showing for a brief introduction to the films.

The festival, which began July 13, is a program of experimental films, independent short films, and experimental documentaries presented by the company of the acclaimed Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, in association with the Thai Film Foundation and the independent arts organization Project 304. Most films are from Thailand, but some are from filmmakers all around the world.

This is the touring version of the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival 5, which ran in Bangkok in March of this year, the fifth year of the festival.

The showings are scheduled to begin at 7 pm tonight (Saturday). Always subject to last-minute changes, of course. Held at Film Space, which is to the right and in the back of the CMU Art Museum, in the Media Arts and Design building across from the ballet school, on the 2nd floor.

Saturday, July 26

The BEFF program is in two parts, the first a selection of short films by various filmmakers, and the second an extended full-length collection concentrating on two Thai collaborators. Also scheduled tonight, after the BEFF programs, is the regular Saturday night screening of Film Space, this week the fourth in the series of DVD film collections from Britain’s premier cutting-edge animation and short film enterprise, “One Dot Zero,” which is dedicated to exploring new forms of the moving image.

Times subject to change!

BEFF Part 1: 7:00-8:45 PM - Learned BehaviorA 75-minute program of short and experimental films exploring the poetics of reproduction, and the unconscious forces that shape the patterns of social and political life. How are things passed from one generation to the next? Can we unlearn what we have learned? With an introduction and a Q&A session with David Teh, the curator of the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival.

Among these short films is the controversial 8-minute “Middle-Earth” by Thunska Pansittivorakul, a rather languorous study of two naked men sleeping.

8:45 PM – Q&A – An introduction and Question and Answer session conducted by Curator David Teh.

BEFF Part 2: 9:15-11:15 PM (Time approximate) - Lolay + Giam EeeA 120-minute ThaiIndie collection of recent video works by acclaimed illustrator and artist Lolay (Thaweesak Srithongdee) and his collaborator, Giam Eee. This feature-length program has never before been shown in Thailand.

Film Space Program: 11:15 PM-12:15 AM (Time approximate): One Dot Zero 4 – Select DVD4Twenty films from the world’s best and most innovative talent in moving image work, music video, motion graphics, and indie filmmaking from around the globe in ground-breaking visual styles. For titles, go to

Detailed listings

BEFF Part 1: 7:00-8:45 PM - Learned BehaviorA 75-minute program of short and experimental films exploring the poetics of reproduction, and the unconscious forces that shape the patterns of social and political life. How are things passed from one generation to the next? Can we unlearn what we have learned? With an introduction and a following Q&A session with David Teh, the curator of the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival.

1. Pramote Saengsorn (TH): Observation of the Monk, 7.50 mins, 2008. My friend Wise Kwai, a Bangkok journalist and entertainment editor, says it's a “monk walking under a dusty bridge, encountering a pile of old CRT monitors (the wreckage of civilization) and then seeing a disturbing (?) image of himself.” One reviewer described it as “a voyeuristic monk in a Bangkok cruising area.”

2. Thunska Pansittivorakul (TH): Middle-Earth, 8.00 mins, 2007. A controversial study of two naked men sleeping. Wise Kwai: provocative human landscape study. Another writer says: “A white dream of a gay film maker. Two naked men on a white sofa. Yet it remains in the imagination. Pansittivorakul is the most outspoken gay film maker in Thailand. Or in the whole of Southeast Asia, you could say. The fact that last year he received a Silpathorn Award, an official state prize for artists, was one of the few encouraging events in a country with a military regime and unpredictable censorship. The film is an ode to the male body. Two naked men on a white sofa. And a film maker who restrains himself.”

3. Uruphong Raksasad (TH): Roy Tai Phrae, 3.00 mins, 2008. Wise Kwai: surprising. It starts out like Uruphong's other odes to idyllic rural life, with footage of farmers sowing rice by hand. Then another face comes into the picture: Samak Sundaravej, the new prime minister, as if to say: These are the people who elected him. Do you have a problem with that? What is he offering them that you aren't?

4. Manatsak Dorkmai (TH): Sports News, 3.00 mins, 2008. Wise Kwai: I'm not sure why Sports News was named as such. It's about a guy being questioned about what Thailand means. The guy says: Nation, Religion, King, and Constitution. No! There is no constitution. He is tortured. The guy is asked again: Nation, Religion, and King. Just the holy trinity.

5. Sanchai Chotirosserranee (TH): The Love Culprit, 6.30 mins, 2007.

6. Anocha Suwichakornpong (TH): 3 – 0, 8.00 mins, 2007. Wise Kwai: about three people on the move but getting nowhere, just like Thai society.

7. Olan Netrangsri (TH): Drive, 1.15 mins, 2007.

8. Nutthorn Kangwanklai (TH): The Duck Empire Strikes Back, 2.30 mins, 2007. Wise Kwai: hilarious – about a rubber duckie falling into a water barrel and can't get out, and is replaced on his perch by a dinosaur.

9. Paisit Punpruksachat (TH): Escape from Popraya 2526, 9.00 mins, 2007.

10. Nitipong Thinthupthai (TH): Krasob, 8.00 mins, 2007. It seems idyllic: Thai children playing with a bag of rice as a boxing bag to practice Thai boxing. But because the world of small Thai children is already so hard, they know they can also kick each other. Not as sweet as it looks.

11. Inge 'Campbell' Blackman (UK): Legacy, 18.00 mins, 2006. The filmmaker states that the film was made with her mother about the legacy of slavery on intimate relationships in African Caribbean families, filmed in Trinidad and Tobago. One reviewer describes it as “A visually and aurally sumptuous exploration of the legacy of slavery on mother/daughter relationships in African Caribbean culture. As they pay tribute to their ancestors, a daughter asks her Caribbean-born mother why she was taught both Afro-Caribbean and European religious traditions. The mother admits that there was conflict about which ideology to teach, so a mix of Cumina, Catholicism, and Anglicanism resulted. Though alienated by the beating she suffered as a child, the now-adult daughter describes her mother's understanding when, during college, she told her mother about her [lesbian] sexuality and her mother was lovingly accepting.”

BEFF Part 2: 9:15-11:15 PM (Time approximate) - Lolay + Giam EeeA 120-minute ThaiIndie collection of recent video works by acclaimed illustrator and artist Lolay (Thaweesak Srithongdee) and his collaborator, Giam Eee (Boonchai Apintanaphong). This feature-length program has never before been shown in Thailand.

What is ThaiIndie? ThaiIndie is a non-profit group of Thai independent filmmakers formed in late 2004. The aim is to be a center for

Thai filmmakers whose films are unique and different from mainstream films, and that are free of formulaic themes. They emphasize more creative and innovative works showing personal artistic visions. The group helps in the promoting and distributing of films both locally and internationally. They also cooperate with other art communities, organizing activities and workshops for young filmmakers. In the past three years ThaiIndie films have been shown at more than 70 film festivals around the world. Check out

1. Non Kai Nha Pak 3:50 mins, 2003.

2. Welcome to Heroland, 22:35 mins, 2006.

3. Flesh, 8:10 mins, 2006.

4. Love So Strong, 4:38 mins, 2007.

5. Carry, 3:51 mins, 2007.

6. No One, 4:31 mins, 2007.

7. HERO Project, 21:51 mins, 2007.

8. Way, 3:51 mins, 2007.

9. Strawberry, 20:00 mins, 2008.

Sunday, July 27

7:00-8:00 PM: Experimental Music Videos a 60-minute ThaiIndie collection of new and recent experimental music videos by Thai filmmakers, including works by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Sathit Sattarasart, Duck Unit, and Thunska Pansittivorakul.

Admission is free to all screenings.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Joker and some Strangers terrorize Chiang Mai!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, July 24

by Thomas Ohlson

Best bets: The Dark Knight. Hellboy.

Here are the movies that are playing at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, July 24, 2008. There is also information on film programs at the Alliance Française, CMU’s Film Space, and the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival (Chiang Mai edition). This is Issue Number 39 of Volume 3 of these listings.

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* Journey to the Center of the Earth: US Action/Adventure/Fantasy – 92 mins – Starring Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, and Anita Briem. During a scientific expedition in Iceland, visionary scientist Trevor Anderson, his 13-year-old nephew and their beautiful local guide, are unexpectedly trapped in a cave from which their only escape is to go deeper and deeper into the depths of the Earth. Traveling through never-before-seen worlds, the trio comes face-to-face with surreal and unimaginable creatures – including man-eating plants, giant flying piranha, glow birds, and terrifying dinosaurs from days past. The explorers soon realize that as volcanic activity increases around them, they must find a way back to the earth's surface before it is too late.

Journey to the Center of the Earth is first live-action film to be released in the RealD 3D format, a digital format that is fast gaining acceptance among the major studios, partially because the format requires only one projector, not two. There have been several animated films released and shown in this format, such as Beowulf, and DreamWorks Animation has announced that beginning with the spring 2009 release of Monsters vs. Aliens, all of their features will be released in theatres in 3D. In April 2008, Disney/Pixar followed suit, announcing that from the November 11, 2008 release of Bolt, all Disney/Pixar animation features will be released in 3D. Other upcoming 3D releases include Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol, and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. One of the most eagerly awaited releases is James Cameron's Avatar, currently scheduled for December 2009. It is reported that there are nine cinemas in Thailand now capable of showing films in this format, none of them in Chiang Mai as of yet.

Mixed or average reviews, 57/60 out of 100, for the 3D version, which we won’t be seeing here.

* 21: US Drama – 123 mins – Kevin Spacey is a crafty professor who trains brainy students to cheat by counting cards and then flies them to Las Vegas to raid the blackjack tables. I found it intermittingly interesting, and I do like Kevin Spacey. It is based on real occurrences in the mid 1990’s when a group of MIT students got together to count cards at Las Vegas on weekends, and did succeed for a while in breaking the bank. For info on the background, visit IMDb here. Mixed or average reviews: 48/51 out of 100.

* The Strangers: US Thriller/Horror – 85 mins – A young suburban couple returning to their isolated vacation home after attending a wedding finds their lives suddenly thrown into chaos with the arrival of three malevolent, masked strangers in director Bryan Bertino's tense tale of survival. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman star as the couple forced to resort to violence they never thought themselves capable of as they struggle for their lives. Rated R in the US for violence/terror and language. Mixed or average reviews: 47/48 out of 100 – everything from “88 minutes of tedious sadism” to “The work of a born filmmaker who shows a remarkable command of tone and pace.”

The Dark Knight: US Action/ Crime/ Drama/ Thriller – 152 mins – The first Batman movie without “Batman” in the title. I think it’s just a wonderful film; dark, complex, and unforgettable, it succeeds not just as an entertaining comic book film, but as a richly thrilling and disturbing crime drama. If you enjoy either type of film, don’t miss this one. And Heath Ledger gives a performance that is terrifying in its portrayal of an insane mind. I would suggest, however, that the film is not for kids – it’s way too dark for them to appreciate or even understand.

It is reported that Heath Ledger, to prepare for his role as the Joker, lived alone in a hotel room for a month, formulating the character's psychology, posture, and voice (this last he found the most difficult to do). He also started a diary, in which he wrote the Joker's thoughts and feelings to guide himself during his performance. He was given Alan Moore's comic "Batman: The Killing Joke" and "Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth" to read. Ledger has said that he also took inspiration from the lead character in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), and from Sid Vicious. I think it’s fairly clear that Ledger delved into his character too deeply, which caused him serious psychological problems, which led to his drug abuse, which led to his death soon after he completed his portrayal.

The reviews so far have been universal in their acclaim for this film, directed by Christopher Nolan (director of the truly great and fascinating Memento and the recent The Prestige) and starring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Some examples: Variety – “Enthralling...An ambitious, full-bodied crime epic of gratifying scope and moral complexity, this is seriously brainy pop entertainment that satisfies every expectation raised by its hit predecessor and then some.” Time Magazine – “Beyond dark. It's as black – and teeming and toxic – as the mind of the Joker. Batman Begins, the 2005 film that launched Nolan's series, was a mere five-finger exercise. This is the full symphony.”

In this episode, set within a year after the events of Batman Begins, Batman, Lieutenant James Gordon, and new district attorney Harvey Dent successfully begin to round up the criminals that plague Gotham City until a mysterious and sadistic criminal mastermind known only as the Joker appears in Gotham, creating a new wave of chaos. Batman's struggle against the Joker becomes deeply personal, forcing him to "confront everything he believes" and improve his technology to stop him. And a love triangle develops between Bruce Wayne, Dent, and Rachel Dawes.

I appreciated these comments in the Village Voice, by Scott Foundas:

The Joker of The Dark Knight is all the more terrifying for not having a plan or an identifiable motive. A committed anarchist in a dusting of floury foundation, a smear of crimson lipstick, and pools of Louise Brooks eye shadow, this Joker isn't the ebullient prankster of Batman movies (and TV shows) past, but rather a freakishly disturbing embodiment of those destructive human impulses that can't so easily be explained away. His only rule is to show others the folly of rules, the absurdity of striving to impose order upon chaos. "Some men just want to watch the world burn," observes the ever-wise butler Alfred (Michael Caine). Except that this Joker doesn't merely want to watch; he wants to strike the match.

By now, of course, you know that the Joker is played by Heath Ledger in the last role he completed before his death, this past January, at the age of 28. And it is perhaps the best compliment one can pay to this gifted young actor to say that his performance here would have cemented his legend even if he'd lived to see the film's release. The Joker enters into The Dark Knight gradually, at first a tangential figure in a not particularly interesting Mafia money-laundering subplot. But even then, Ledger seems to make the film grow larger whenever he's onscreen (no matter if you happen to already be watching it in the giant-screen IMAX format). Having shown a penchant for the chameleonic as the sensitive, soft- spoken cowpoke of Brokeback Mountain and the terminally good-vibrating surf-shop owner of Lords of Dogtown, Ledger here again invests in a character from the inside-out, lending the Joker's every physical tick and vocal inflection a signature flair.

No wonder Ledger was reportedly exhausted after finishing work on the film; watching him, you can see how demanding he was on himself, how much he refused to play any predictable beats, whether the Joker is casually advising a room of armed thugs to not "blow things out of proportion" while outfitted in the latest in suicide-bomber haute couture, or slicking his hair back with his hands and sashaying across the dance floor to greet the comely assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, less milquetoast than Katie Holmes). But the genius of the performance is how fully Ledger convinces us that the Joker is capable of doing anything at any moment—even, if the occasion calls for it, to stop being the Joker.

Reviews: Universal acclaim: 82/80 out of 100.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army: US Action/Fantasy – 119 mins – Again directed by Guillermo del Toro and again starring Ron Perlman as Hellboy, this presents again a dark and difficult fantasy world full of fantastical creatures. It’s a brilliant nightmare, and almost too rich, almost too much to keep up with – one is truly overwhelmed with astonishing visuals and strange stories. I admire this director; his imagination is unbounded. Generally favorable reviews: 78/73 out of 100.

Hancock: US Action/Comedy – 92 mins –Will Smith has a lot of charisma for a majority of moviegoers, including me. Here he plays an unsympathetic character, much against type, and has to work to gain our good will. Reviewers have widely diverse views on this one. I was only minimally amused. Smith plays a different kind of superhero: edgy, conflicted, sarcastic, and misunderstood. He gets the job done and saves countless lives, but he also seems to leave an awful lot of collateral damage as well. There was a lot of frantic last-minute editing and newly shot scenes to soften the ugly edge of the movie, and the result is a mess, frankly, but a mess with much to enjoy for fans of Will Smith. Also starring Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman. Not kid-friendly: There's a lot of bad language, some graphic violence, and more. Mixed or average reviews: 49/51 out of 100.

Red Cliff/ สามก๊ก โจโฉ แตกทัพเรือ: China Action/Adventure – 150 mins – This $80-million film, directed by John Woo, is being shown here only in a Thai-dubbed version, and that is a real shame. It is a grand and glorious spectacle, designed by China to be released just before the Olympics to soften the hearts and minds of everyone towards China. This, the most expensive film ever produced in Asia, tells a story that is known by heart by probably billions of Chinese, and which they never tire of. It depicts the first setup episodes for one of the world’s greatest battles, the Battle of Red Cliff, to be seen in the second part, scheduled for release at the end of the year. It is really thrilling, and well-done in the way only China with its tremendous resources can command. The film revolves around events in third century China, as the Han Dynasty is facing its death, and the emperor raises a million-man army against two kingdoms that are hopelessly outmatched. Starring Tony Leung.

Wor / Woh Mah Ba Maha Sanook / ว้อ หมาบ้ามหาสนุก: Thai Horror/Comedy – The usual comedians and an unusual (and mad) dog.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bangkok Experimental Film Festival/Film Space

Chiang Mai movies update, Sunday, July 20

by Thomas Ohlson

Experimental Film Festival 2nd weekend; Film Space mixed up the schedule

Sure enough, Film Space did not follow its schedule last night. Although it did present all three promised programs, it started at 6:15 pm instead of 6:00, and started with the 8 pm program, the BEFF program Track Changes. Then it showed One Dot Zero Program 3. Then, at about 8:20 pm, without a break, it showed One Dot Zero Program 2.

In my message yesterday I did warn, “this is subject to last minute changes!”

They promise that next Saturday night, when they share the space once again with the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival, the evening will start at 7 pm, as usual, with the 75-minute BEFF program Learned Behaviour coming first, followed by One Dot Zero Program 4.

Tonight there is one showing, the BEFF program Daily Rounds at 7 pm.

But, of course, even this is subject to change!

The Film Space viewing room is on the 2nd floor of the Chiang Mai University Media Arts and Design building, which is to the right and in the back of the CMU Art Museum, across from the ballet school.

Admission is free to all BEFF screenings.

Tonight’s schedule:

7:00 pm – BEFF Program: Daily RoundsAn 85-minute program of new Thai works “devoted to the cycles of everyday life. Experimental films that reveal what is extraordinary about the ordinary, what is timeless about the everyday.”

Detailed listing of Daily Rounds

1. Chalermrat Gaweewattana (TH): A century of love, 14.25 mins, 2007. My friend Wise Kwai, a Bangkok journalist, says it’s a simple portrait of the filmmaker's grandparents, setting up a camera and watching them go through their daily routine of taking meals, sitting, napping, and puttering around the house and garden.

2. Tanatchai Bandasak (TH): Endless Rhyme, 26.36 mins, 2008.

3. Anocha Suwichakornpong (TH): Black Mirror, 3.00 mins, 2008. Wise Kwai: Puzzling, with a hypnotic soundtrack of guitar and moaning voice, with shots of a road at night and an esophageal tube.

4. Watchathanapoom Laisuwannachai (TH): Golden Mountain, 10.30 mins, 2008. Wise Kwai: I liked Golden Mountain, which ends awash in the sound of brass bells. I can't tell much more about it than that, except for some chicken being cut up with a cleaver.

5. Chai Chaiyachit (TH): National Anthem, 27.00 mins, 2008. Wise Kwai: National Anthem is provocative – it’s silent shots of people in parks doing aerobics, with the sound kicking in as the 6 o'clock hour rolls around – time to play the Royal Anthem, at which point, the aerobics leader calls a "time out" by forming a "T" with her hands. The rest of the 27-minute short is devoted to a couple of guys and their political rant, talking about how Samak will be elected (he was) and Thaksin will return (he has).