Thursday, August 21, 2008

What's On starting August 21

WALL•E in space, Ananda in a coffin!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, August 21

by Thomas Ohlson

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

To avoid like the plague: Death Race. Hanuman.

At the end is my list of movies playing at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, August 21, 2008. This is Issue Number 43 of Volume 3 of these listings.

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* The Coffin / Longtorai / โลงต่อตาย: Thai Horror – 90 mins – Thai superstar Ananda Everingham as a claustrophobic architect who nevertheless participates in obscure coffin rituals which are a part of the colorful traditional Thai belief systems.

* Death Race: US Action/Thriller – 90 mins – 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.

Read this by Todd Brown in Twitch: The race is over. The competition is won. The arrival of Paul W.S. Anderson’s Death Race - even though it comes so very early in the year - has put a conclusive end to the race for the 2008 Razzie Awards. Worst film? Worst director? Worst screenplay? Worst actress? Not only will Death Race take all of these categories but the competition won’t even be close. There is quite simply no chance whatsoever that any other film will arrive on the scene to rival this - the latest in a long, long line of very, very bad films from Anderson - for if anyone should even attempt to create another film at this level of ineptitude within the rest of the calendar year I have no doubt that the universe would spontaneously implode in protest of having to play host to such an indignity. This, people, is a Very Bad Film.

Rated R in the US for strong violence and language. Early reviews: Already considered the worst film of 2008.

* Mheejou / อาข่าผู้น่ารัก: Thai Drama – 79 mins – A perky little Akha hill tribe girl from Thailand's most northern region, and a youthful NGO who arrives at her village to build a small community TV station.

* Made of Honor: US Comedy – 101 mins – A piece of fluff about, what else, love problems, with the appealing stars Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan. Generally negative reviews: 37/39 out of 100.

WALL•E: US Animation/ Comedy/ Family/ Romance/ Sci-Fi – 98 mins – It’s 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. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 93/85 out of 100. There’s a terrific Pixar cartoon before the feature.

Hanuman: The White Monkey Warrior / หนุมานคลุกฝุ่น: Thai Action – 90 mins – Utter trash, and the biggest argument yet for imposition of censorship, let alone a rating system. Not only not fit for kids; not fit for adults either. Detailed beheadings with close-ups of the surprised looks on the faces of the decapitated heads, loving depictions of skin being slowly ripped off of humans, and worse. All involved should be heavily fined, and jailed.

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. 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 the director/writer Greg Mclean, who seems to really love the subject, and who seems very fond of the Northern Territory landscape. Rated R in the US for language and some creature violence (some of which has been clipped by the paternalistic Thai censors). Early reviews: Mixed or average – 60/77 out of 100. At Airport Plaza.

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”). Her Royal Highness Princess Ubolratana 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. HRH 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.

HRH Princess Ubolratana continues, “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.

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 (seen here) 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 28

Boonchu 9: Thai Comedy – A continuation of the popular Thai comedy series. The son of the original Boonchu is a happy monk who is defrocked by his mother and sent to a university in Bangkok. There he meets up with new “friends” – two homeless kids, Kratay and Krateng – who, as friends will do, drug him and mug him.

The scores given, on a basis of 100, are from two web sources. The first, in bold, is from, and the other is from 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 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.

Sarraounia was co-produced by financiers in both France and the country of Burkina Faso (formerly known as The Upper Volta). Mixing equal parts fact and fiction, this historical epic traces the rise of 19th-century Queen Sarraounia of Azna. Sarraounia holds her place in a traditionally patriarchal society by sheer physical strength – and, according to legend, she is also an accomplished sorceress. In 1899, two xenophobic French officers go on a mission to thwart the uprising of Sultan Rabah in the Cameroon. Ignoring orders from the French government, these renegade officers kill anyone who crosses their path. But then they come face to face with Queen Sarraounia.

From Time Out Film Guide: Sarraounia is a young warrior queen of the Azna tribe, whose mastery of the ancient 'magic' skills of martial arts and pharmacology is first put to the test when she defends her people from attack by a neighbouring tribe. But the real trial of strength comes when the French army marches south to widen its colonial grip on the African continent. The second half of the film centres on the French, acidly but plausibly satirised as little tyrants whose megalomania swells in proportion with their failure to grasp the realities of the culture they are trying to crush. Everything here is grounded in careful but never pedantic historical research. The film is superbly crafted and expansive; the tone is celebratory, loud, assertive and spirited; but Hondo doesn't allow the visual and musical splendours to swamp his certainty that Africans need to learn to value and develop the identity that was theirs before the white man came.

Friday, August 29: Serko (2006) by Joël Farges – 80 mins – France, Drama. English subtitles.

With Jacques Gamblin, Alexei Chadov, Marina Kim.

At the beginning of winter in 1889, mounted on Serko, his small, grey horse, Dimitri leaves the Amour River, situated on the eastern borders of the Russian Empire, and sets out on a journey. After extraordinary adventures, they both arrive in Saint Petersburg, at the Tsar’s court. Having covered 5,600 miles in less than 200 days, this young horseman and his horse have thus achieved the most amazing equestrian feat of all time.

A genuine charmer for kids on up.

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 23, 7 pm: South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut (1999) by Trey Parker – US Animation/ Comedy/ Musical – 81 mins. When the four boys who are the heroes of the South Park series see an R-rated movie featuring foul-mouthed Canadian comics, they are pronounced "corrupted,” and their parents pressure the United States to wage war against Canada.

I’ve seen this, and I think it’s one of the most subversive films of the decade. Also, irresistibly funny! Crude, crass, vicious, probably the most obscene movie you will ever see, if indeed you are brave enough and bold enough to see it.

I’m going to quote from Roger Ebert on this one:

Roger Ebert: June 30, 1999

The national debate about violence and obscenity in the movies has arrived in South Park. The ``little redneck mountain town,'' where adult cynicism is found in the mouths of babes, is the setting for vicious social satire in “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.'' The year's most slashing political commentary is not in the new films by Oliver Stone, David Lynch, or John Sayles, but in an animated comedy about obscenity. Wait until you see the bedroom scenes between Satan and Saddam Hussein.

Waves of four-letter words roll out over the audience, which laughs with incredulity: People can't believe what they're hearing. The film is rated R instead of NC-17 only because it's a cartoon, I suspect; even so, the MPAA has a lot of 'splaining to do. Not since Andrew Dice Clay passed into obscurity have sentences been constructed so completely out of the unspeakable.

I laughed. I did not always feel proud of myself while I was laughing, however. The movie is like a depraved extension of “Kids Say the Darnedest Things,'' in which little children repeat what they've heard and we cringe because we know what the words really mean. No target is too low, no attitude too mean or hurtful, no image too unthinkable. After making South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, its creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, had better move on. They've taken “South Park'' as far as it can go, and beyond.

If you've never seen the original Comedy Central show and somehow find yourself in the theater, you'll be jolted by the distance between the images and the content.

The animation is deliberately crude, like elements cut out of construction paper. Characters consist of simple arrangements of basic geometrical shapes in bright colors. The effect is of sophisticated kids slamming stuff around on the project table in first grade.

The story: A new R-rated movie has come to town, starring the Canadian cutups Terrence and Phillip. It's titled “Asses of Fire.'' (That's the mildest vulgarism in the movie.) The South Park kids, who bribe a homeless man to be their “adult guardian,'' attend the movie, drink in its nonstop, wall-to-wall profanity, and startle their class at school with streams of four-letter words.

One of their moms, deeply offended, forms Mothers Against Canada. The neighbor to the north is blamed for all of U.S. society's ills, Terrence and Phillip are condemned to death, and in retaliation, the Canadian Air Force bombs the Baldwin brothers' Hollywood home. War is declared, leading to scenes your eyes will register but your mind will not believe, such as a USO show involving Winona Ryder doing unspeakable things with Ping-Pong balls.

The other plot strand begins after little Kenny is killed. (Little Kenny is killed in every episode of the TV series, always with the line, “Oh, my God! They've killed Kenny!'') He goes to hell and finds that Hussein, recently deceased, is having an affair with Satan. Hussein wants sex, Satan wants a meaningful relationship, and they inspire a book titled Saddam Is From Mars, Satan Is From Venus.

Key plot point: The deaths of Terrence and Phillip would be the seventh sign of the Apocalypse, triggering Armageddon. It's up to the South Park kids to save the world. All of this unfolds against an unending stream of satirical abuse, ethnic stereotyping, sexual vulgarity and pointed political commentary that alternates common sense with the truly and hurtfully offensive.

I laughed, as I have reported. Sometimes the laughter was liberating, as good laughter can be, and sometimes it was simply disbelieving: How could they get away with this? This is a season when the movies are hurtling themselves over the precipice of good taste. Every week brings its new surprises. I watch as Austin Powers drinks coffee that contains excrement, and two weeks later I go to “American Pie'' and watch a character drink beer that contains the most famous bodily fluid from “There's Something About Mary.'' In “Big Daddy,'' I see an adult instruct a 5-year-old on how to trip Roller-bladers and urinate in public.

Now this--a cartoon, but it goes far beyond anything in any of those live-action movies. All it lacks is a point to its message. What is it saying? That movies have gone too far, or that protests against movies have gone too far? It is a sign of our times that I cannot tell. Perhaps it's simply anarchistic, and feels that if it throws enough shocking material at the wall, some of it will stick. A lot of the movie offended me. Some of it amazed me. It is too long and runs out of steam, but it serves as a signpost for our troubled times. Just for the information it contains about the way we live now, thoughtful and concerned people should see it. After all, everyone else will.

Those watchdogs of Christian morality, the ChildCare Action Project: Christian Analysis of American Culture, have studied the film and have come up with this tally:

131 uses of the most foul of the foul words by children

119 uses of the three/four letter word vocabulary by children

text of three/four letter word vocabulary and the most foul of the foul words

vulgar euphemisms

passing body gas in time to music and in other situations


vulgar finger gesture

calling mother names and suggesting slapping her around

"You have to stand up to your mother"

racial, national, and ethnic insults and petty portrayal of them

a general theme of anarchy, rebellion, and autonomy

many lies

vulgar jokes

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.

At Film Space on August 30, 7 pm: The Simpsons Movie (2007) by David Silverman – US Animation – 87 mins. This played on the major screens here in Chiang Mai one year ago, and at the time I had this to say about it:

A strange movie. I can’t really claim an extensive acquaintanceship with the Simpsons, nor an affinity with them. I never really watched them on TV, and I can’t say I’m particularly fond of them. I’m afraid I’m confused by the mass appeal of the series. I did laugh watching this movie, quite a number of times, and for the rest, I found it generally amusing overall and the writing quite clever. I enjoyed its irreverent satire. But it left me rather cold and unmoved. Many say it is an accurate reflection of the American family; if so, I think America is facing even greater problems than I thought. The gentle, good-natured acceptance of the cruelties the father and son of this family inflict upon each other is, to me, outrageous. In this representative family, supposedly happy and functioning, I find many amazingly ugly undercurrents, all of which seem celebrated by the movie. An abusive father and an abusive son, played for laughs. Some have said that the Simpsons are a definitive portrait of the dysfunctional American family - stuck with each other and, deep down, OK with it. I don’t like that point of view.

Also, the animation is crude and primitive, to my way of thinking. However, I can see that if you’re one of the millions who have watched a sizable percentage of the 400 TV episodes over the18 years the Simpsons have been on television, then this would be a fully enjoyable experience for you. For you, a tip: you will want to sit all the way through the ending credits for the additional fun along the way. Generally favorable reviews: 80/75 out of 100.