Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What's On starting August 12

On display, one of the jewels of animation!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Tuesday, August 12

by Thomas Ohlson

Best bets: WALL•E. Where the Miracle Happens.

At the end is my list of movie times for Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and for Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week (and two days) beginning Tuesday, August 12, 2008. There is also information on film programs at the Alliance Française and CMU’s Film Space. This is Issue Number 42 of Volume 3 of these listings.

There’s a special Tuesday opening this week because of the holiday for the Queen’s Birthday and Mother’s Day. Mamma Mia! has been postponed to August 28.

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* WALL•E: US Animation/ Comedy/ Family/ Romance/ Sci-Fi – 98 mins – WALL•E is a work of genius from the first frame to the last. Robot love on a dead Earth, and the cutest love story in years. There's virtually no dialogue for the first 40 minutes; you’ll be enthralled. And the brilliant animation continues throughout the closing credits, as we’re treated to a continuation of the story in a series of historical art styles, from cave painting to Van Gogh. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 93/85 out of 100.

I love the sentiment expressed in this poster for the movie.

Quote of the week: “I didn’t know we had a jogging track!”

And, as a bonus, there’s a terrific Pixar cartoon before the main feature, this one a very cute and funny story involving a magician and the rabbit he pulls out of his hat.

* Rogue: Australia/US Thriller – 92 mins – An American journalist on assignment on a tourist river boat in the Australian outback which encounters a man-eating “rogue” crocodile. Rated R in the US for language and some creature violence (some of which has been clipped by the paternalistic Thai censors). A modest and effective thriller, with some extraordinary shots of the breathtakingly-forbidding Australia harshness, accompanied by some quite excellent music throughout by François Tétaz which captured for me the beauty and danger of the location, and which includes in its mix aboriginal vocals and didgeridoo droning. The whole is a sort of study of crocodiles and crocodile lore by someone who seems to really enjoy the subject, and who seems very fond of the Northern Territory landscape. That someone being of course the director and writer Greg Mclean, who earlier gave us Wolf Creek, another – and gorier – Australian outback tale of terror. Early reviews: Mixed or average – 60/76 out of 100. At Airport Plaza.

* Hanuman: The White Monkey Warrior / หนุมานคลุกฝุ่น: Thai Action – 90 mins – Basically, a martial-arts fantasy, and a questionable retelling of Khon drama.

Where the Miracle Happens / หนึ่งใจ...เดียวกัน: Thai Drama – Make no mistake, this is a powerful plea for compassion towards neglected segments of Thai society – the uneducated and exploited people, many hill-tribe, that are not really citizens of Thai society. It’s a plea for giving everyone living in Thailand at least the opportunity for education and health care, and freedom from exploitation.

Produced by Thai Princess Ubolratana Ratchakanya, this film premiered in Cannes on May 16, and is a drama adapted from a story in her book, “Rueng San Tee Chan Kit” (“Short Stories from My Thoughts”). The Princess also stars in the film as a successful businesswoman, Pimdao, who loses her daughter in a car accident. Pimdao herself is seriously injured, but survives after a heart transplant. To fulfill the philanthropic wish of her child, Pimdao travels to a remote school in Chiang Rai (the film was shot in Chiang Mai) and tries to help the rural teachers develop proper educational facilities for poor children. The drama surfaces when some of the locals doubt her true intentions and Pimdao has to prove herself while her new heart begins to weaken.

Some background: The book, and this film based on the book, is obviously inspired by the Princess's tragic loss of her son Khun Poom Jansen in the Indian Ocean when the tsunami hit Phuket in December 2004.

The message is clear: those who have the means – the riches from the Thai economy – need to take a paternal interest in the country as a whole. It’s one’s responsibility, and is simply the decent thing to do for a country that has been good to you. Princess Ubolratana, who also had a hand in writing the script, has herself initiated several projects aimed at the betterment of the Thai people, projects such as “To Be Number One” and “Miracle of Life.” This film is a part of the “Miracle of Life” project, which aims to provide education to underprivileged children in Thailand. And, in fact, proceeds from this film will be used in the development of educational programs among Thai people.

Princess Ubolratana says that she hopes the movie will be “a vehicle to shed light on the problems faced by children in Thai society.” The movie also focuses on the country’s economic crisis, as well as the family problems many Thai teens face.

Princess Ubolratana goes on to explain, “Where the Miracle Happens aims to inspire Thais to lend a hand to one another during hard times. It’s a great way to help those less fortunate than us. We believe the film will act as a model to enhance the thinking of people across the world.” She feels people who watch her movie will come to understand the challenges confronting Thailand, and thus be better equipped to come up with solutions.

It’s a heart-felt plea, told in basic and simple dramatic terms, with the standard ingredients of Thai drama and comedy fused into a quite moving film. The Princess acquits herself quite beautifully as the prime actor of the film. The production values are top rate – the photography is luscious.

If you relax and let yourself be drawn into the story, there’s no way you won’t be very affected at story’s end – I admit it, I was in tears.

Shaolin Girl / นักเตะสาวเสี้ยวลิ้มยี่: Japan Action /Comedy – 113 mins – The sequel of a little Hong Kong film called Shaolin Soccer, a very successful action comedy by Stephen Chow. This time he collaborates with a Japanese filmmaker, Katsuyuki Motohiro to create a project that stars the popular idol Kou Shibasaki. She takes the role of a girl who returns to Japan after spending 9 years training, to beat a master of Shaolin Kung Fu in China in a lot of fake fighting. All reports indicate it’s a lousy film, but that’s all right, it’s shown only in a Thai-dubbed version, so you wouldn’t likely see it anyway. At Airport Plaza.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: US/Germany/Canada Action /Adventure /Fantasy – 114 mins – A shame! All this talent, all this fantastic attention to detail, wasted on a mess of a movie that is nothing but one bang after another, one explosion after another, one bloody fight after another, one chase after another, all to no purpose. There is so little restraint, so little taste. It is as though the creators just threw into the mix everything they could think of, and then confused it all with very fast editing, to simply make a loud blur of action. Ignore this one, unless of course you like mindless action, one bang after another, and the rest. Apparently some people do.

It’s a ludicrously extravagant tale of "a mythic battle between good and evil played out in ancient China," as a narrator informs us. It's been seven years since The Mummy Returns and as Brendan Fraser says in this movie, "Here we go again!" Fraser is Rick O'Connell, and he and his wife Evelyn (Maria Bello) are British aristocrat-adventurers who have retired apparently living richly off of the $800 million worldwide box office of the first two "Mummy" films. They head East in hopes of re-capturing the adrenalin of adventure and meet up with their grown son Alex (Luke Ford).

There the three unearth the mummy of the first Emperor of Qin, China's ruthless Dragon Emperor, doomed by a double-crossing sorceress to spend eternity in suspended animation, along with his 10,000 warriors, entombed in clay as a vast, silent terra cotta army until the three O’Connells are tricked into awakening them from eternal slumber.

Also starring Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. Generally negative reviews: 31/37 out of 100, but nevertheless seems to be quite popular here.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai on Thursday, August 21

Death Race: US Action/Thriller – The most twisted spectator sport on earth as violent criminals vie for freedom by winning a race driving monster cars outfitted with machine guns, flamethrowers, and grenade launchers. The previews are the most repulsive imaginable.

The Coffin: Thai Horror – Ananda Everingham as a claustrophobic architect who nevertheless participates in obscure coffin rituals.

The scores given, on a basis of 100, are from two web sources. The first, in bold, is from Metacritic.com, and the other is from RottenTomatoes.com. Both read a great number of critics and convert what is said into scores, which are then averaged. For movies released in the US only.

Alliance Française schedule

At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm

Friday, August 15: La Trahison / The Betrayal (2006) by Philippe Faucon – 80 mins – France/Belgium, Drama. In French and Arabic with English subtitles.

With Vincent Martinez, Cyril Troley, Ahmed Berrhama.

Algeria, 1960. War has been raging for six years and it will take two more years before Algeria – in French hands since 1830 – gains independence following a referendum decided by General De Gaulle.

Set amidst the turmoil of the war of independence, Philippe Faucon’s film focuses on a group of “harkis,” Algerian soldiers working with the French to defeat the efforts of the FLN freedom fighters. Led by a French lieutenant (Martinez) who is fatigued by the long, seemingly unresolvable conflict with the Algerian people, the Arab soldiers face their own moral crises as they comply with aggressive acts of interrogation and torture. The scope of the struggle is made more tangible by Faucon, who balances scenes of the lieutenant with the conflicted Arab soldiers.

Variety: Understated, tautly constructed war story "The Betrayal" takes a look back to the 1960 Algerian war of independence. Multivalent title refers to divided loyalties that threaten to tear apart a French army unit made up of mutually suspicious European colonizers and Algerian Arabs. Smart script co-written by Moroccan-born French helmer Philippe Faucon ("Samia") pulls off the difficult task of doing justice to opposing positions while withholding enough information to maintain suspense.

Patrolling a dusty rural region of Algeria, a squadron of the French army is led by Lieutenant Roque (Vincent Martinez), a decent officer and good leader worn out by homesickness and the long-running conflict with the FLN (the Algerian rebels fighting for independence). Nominally, everyone in Roque's unit is French, including the men of European extraction born in North Africa and those of Arabic origin who've been promised the same rights as French citizens should the rebellion be quelled.

In practice, however, the four Arabs in the unit, led by Taieb (Ahmed Berrhama), who act as liaisons between the army and the hostile locals, are doubtful President De Gaulle's government will honor its promises. They are treated with racism within the unit, and suspicion by their European colleagues. The locals accuse them of being traitors to their country.

The army destroys a village suspected of collaborating with the FLN and moves the residents to a refugee camp. Torture of Algerian suspects is an everyday occurrence at headquarters.

A notebook falls into the army's hands that seems to prove Taieb and the other Arab soldiers in Roque's unit are double agents, planning to slaughter their fellow soldiers. It could be an FLN trick to sow suspicion and undermine morale -- or it could be the real deal. If Roque arrests innocent men, he will proving the French Army is racist; but if they really are traitors and he doesn't act in time, blood will be shed.

A less ambitious film might have stuck to watching events unfold from Roque's point of view alone, but here plenty of scenes show the Algerian soldiers talking among themselves, their dialogue in Arabic never quite proving or disproving the accusations against them. The film cleverly plays with language to draw out suspense, not just to create mystery for its own sake but to allow the full complexity of the issues to sink in.

The performances deftly sustain the air of ambiguity, and there's a soft-spoken intelligence. Even the battle scenes are quiet, the gunshots sounding like tinny firecrackers -- the result, perhaps of a low budget. Widescreen lensing by Laurent Fenart makes fine use of the desert landscapes, although night shots are perhaps a little more murky than need be, while subtitles giving the time and place of every scene seem unnecessary.

Friday, August 22: Sarraounia (1986) by Med Hondo – 120 mins – Burkina Faso/ Mauritania/ France, Drama/ History/ War. In Dioula, Peul, and French with English subtitles.

With Ai Keita, Jean Roger Milo, Feodor Atkine.

On January 2 1899, starting from the French Soudan, a French column under the command of the captains Voulet and Chanoine is send against the black Sultan Rabah in what is now the Cameroun. Those captains and their African mercenary troops destroy and kill everything they find on their path. The French authority try to stop them sending orders and a second troop but the captains even kill the emissaries who are reaching them. Sarraounia, queen of the Aznas, has heard about the exactions. Clever in war tactics and in witchcraft, she decides to resist and stop these mad men.

Film Space schedule

At Film Space: on Saturdays at 7 pm

During August, a month of animation.

Film Space 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. Or maybe the roof. A small but nice place to view movies. A contribution is requested in the donation box at the entrance. Well worth supporting.

At Film Space on August 16, 7 pm: Daft Punk & Leiji Matsumoto's Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem (2003) by Kazuhisa Takenochi and Leiji Matsumoto – Japan Anime/ Animation/ Action/ Adventure/ Fantasy/ Music/ Sci-Fi – 68 mins.

Basically an extended music video – it reminds me of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. There’s no dialogue in the entire film, just the songs of Daft Punk, which are sung in English. The music is disco dance music, where the need for lyrics that make sense is limited. Daft Punk (aka Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem Christo) is a French dance music duo who have always been imaginative and inventive, and their mish-mash of house beats, electronica, and disco has seen them churn out one catchy hit after another.

For this film the duo approached Leiji Matsumoto, one of the living gods of Japanese animation, to supply the visuals; the result is an audacious, dizzying animated space-age cartoon musical. Completed after 28 months of intensive work, the film (from a script by Daft Punk and Cedric Hervet) mixes music and science fiction with the decadent world of show business. Four blue-skinned disco musicians from another galaxy are kidnapped by an evil music manager who wants to create the greatest band on Earth. The success of the band is instant but the stars are robbed of their souls and must fight for their freedom.

The images tell a story independent of the sense of the lyrics and their subject matter for the most part, and the animation is dialogue-free; the music does the talking. Although the plot breaks no new ground, the film does manage a dig at the artificiality and pressures of the music business, while the publicity-shy Daft Punk even have a laugh at their own expense, appearing as cartoon versions of themselves. Still, it’s not about the message or the storyline, it’s all about the music. And if you like Daft Punk, you’ll love it.

Much of their songs seem very suggestive, like “Do You Need It? (I Need It Too!)” – I mean, what could they be talking about? The images, however, are not suggestive at all. The music is basic and simplistic – too accessible – and so endlessly repetitive that you’re likely to find it either hypnotic or like a throbbing headache. Not for old fogies! I think it’s probably a much better experience if you’re high on something. It also would help if you’re a fan of Daft Punk, or have ever heard of them. I think the ending is rather sweet and touching.

If you want to try it out in the privacy of your own home, you can find “Do You Need It? (I Need It Too!)” at


It starts at about the 7 minute mark, following another suggestive song, “Too Long! Can You Feel It” at about the 45 second mark. The whole excerpt lasts about 11 minutes.

The whole film – about an hour and four minutes – is available at

http://www.videofindr.net/video/3931 where “Do You Need It? (I Need It Too!)” starts at about the 58 minute 27 second mark.

At Film Space on August 23, 7 pm: South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut (1999) by Trey Parker – US Animation/ Comedy/ Musical – 81 mins. When the four boys see an R-rated movie featuring Canadian comics, they are pronounced "corrupted,” and their parents pressure the United States to wage war against Canada. One of the most subversive films of the decade. Nearly rated NC-17 in the US, but cleaned up a bit at the last minute to receive simply an R rating, for pervasive vulgar language and crude sexual humor, offensive material, and for some violent cartoon images. Generally favorable reviews: 73/69 out of 100.