Thursday, September 4, 2008

What's On starting September 4

Nicholas Cage on murder spree!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, September 4

by Thomas Ohlson

Best bets: WALL•E. Mamma Mia!

To avoid like the plague: Death Race.

Of special note: Trois Couleurs / Three Colors on Fridays September 12, 19, and 26 at Alliance Française.

Trois Couleurs / Three Colors by Krzysztof Kieslowski – This is a major film event in Chiang Mai, and should merit your consideration. The three films that make up this trilogy are being shown on three successive Fridays at the Alliance Française this month (on the 12th, 19th, and 26th), and three successive Saturdays at Film Space in December. (Film Space had originally scheduled them for September as well, but quickly moved them to December when I pointed out that the Alliance was showing the same three films.)

These are quite amazing films, and you owe it to yourself to begin your acquaintance with them, if you haven’t already. But you will want to return to them again and again to savor their richness, as their secrets are not discovered easily. More details can be found under the Alliance Française section below.

Here is my list of movies currently playing at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, September 4, 2008. There is also information on film programs at the Alliance Française and CMU’s Film Space. This is Issue Number 45 of Volume 3 of these listings.

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* Bangkok Dangerous: US Action/Drama – 100 mins – Directors Danny and Oxide Pang return in a remake of their popular 1999 thriller about a ruthless hitman (this time Nicolas Cage) who travels to Bangkok in order to carry out four crucial (for him) murders. During the course of his jobs, the triggerman falls in love with a pretty local girl while also forming a friendly bond with his young errand boy. Makers of the movie are saying that they were shooting the film in Bangkok during the 19th of September coup d'état two years ago. Filming stopped, but only for six hours. They are fond of claiming that they fired the only shots in the coup. Rated R in the US for violence, language, and some sexuality.

* Tevada Tokmun / Te-wa-da / เทวดาตกมันส์: Thai Comedy – 90 mins – Some Academy Fantasia 4 winners from the hit TV reality show in a comedy about the misadventures of an angel and a monk.

Mamma Mia!: US/UK/Germany Comedy/ Musical/ Romance – 108 mins – Starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, and Colin Firth. Donna, an independent, single mother who owns a small hotel on an idyllic Greek island, is about to let go of Sophie, the spirited daughter she's raised alone. On a quest to find the identity of her father to walk her down the aisle, Sophie invites to the wedding three men from Donna's past, all possibly her father. Popular ABBA music that I find horrifyingly infectious and which I can’t get rid of. Extraordinarily vivacious and energetic musical that is bound and determined to make you sing and dance and feel good about marriage and things like that. Mixed or average reviews: 51/53 out of 100.

Boonchu 9 / Boon-Choo / บุญชู 9: Thai Comedy – 90 mins – A continuation of this popular Thai comedy series. The son of the original Boonchu is a happy monk who is defrocked by his mother and sent to university in Bangkok. There he meets up with new “friends” – two homeless kids – who, as friends will do, drug him and mug him.

Boys Over Flowers: Final / Flower 4 (F4) Final: Japan Romance/Comedy – 130 mins – Wildly popular film in Japan, based on a top selling manga, featuring five popular Japanese idols, following the travails of a working-class girl at an elite prep school who must contend with a four-man clique (the “Flower 4”) of “rich, gorgeous guys” from extremely powerful families. Thai dubbed with no English subtitles.

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.

The Coffin / Longtorai / Long Dtor Dtai / Lhong Tor Tai / โลงต่อตาย: Thai Horror – 90 mins – Ananda Everingham as a claustrophobic architect who participates in coffin rituals to gain a new lease on life. It has much going for it, with a stellar cast and a fine director, but I was mightily confused. It didn’t seem to be the movie that director Ekachai Uekrongtham set out to make. The script won a prestigious prize from the Rotterdam Festival, but the movie hadn’t been made yet, and to get the necessary funding he had to change it into a horror flick, making compromises along the way. The beautifully shot opening sequence of the burial ritual at the temple gives an idea of what the film could have been. And although this is the director’s first English language film, it is shown in Thailand only in a Thai-dubbed version, with English subtitles which don’t jibe with the movement of the lips. The result for me is simply awkward.

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.

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, and have convinced me I don’t wish to see it. The consensus: Little more than an empty action romp – mindless, violent, and lightning-paced. Rated R in the US for strong violence (mauling, maiming, bruising, beating, impalement, immolation, detonation, decapitation) and language. Mixed or average reviews: 42/48 out of 100.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, September 11

You Don't Mess with the Zohan: US Action/Comedy – 113 mins – Starring Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson, and Rob Schneider. Zohan is an Israeli commando who fakes his own death in order to pursue his dream: becoming a hairstylist in New York. Mixed or average reviews: 54/53 out of 100.

Burn / คนไฟลุก: Thai Thriller – 90 mins – All you ever wanted to know about “SHC” – Spontaneous Human Combustion. As you certainly know, that’s the familiar medical condition wherein a living human being suddenly bursts into flames. Director Peter Manus examines this serious human malady, and perhaps will show how you can innoculate yourself against this happening to you. Perhaps diet has something to do with it.


Burn circles around the mystery of Spontaneous human combustion (SHC), the belief that the human body sometimes burns without an external source of ignition. The story follows the investigation of a female victim’s mysterious death caused by SHC. Mona, the daughter of the victim, is an ambitious lawyer who accidentally involves in the crime. She regrets the unfinished reconciliation between her and her mother. The incident brings her to Ploy, a nurse whose mother passed from SHC as well. Both girls seek to find the truth behind their mother’s death. Kwan, a diehard journalist, follows her instinct to unveil the evil force behind the case.

Can this be suicide, murder, accident, or a secretly religious sacrifice? The mystery behind “deadly fire” needs to be revealed before fire erupts.

Alliance Française schedule

At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm

Friday, September 5: Un homme et une femme / A Man and a Woman (1966) by Claude Lelouch – 125 mins – France, Drama/ Romance. In French with English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 64 out of 100.

With Jean-Louis Trintignant, Anouk Aimée, Pierre Barouh, Valérie Lagrange, Simone Paris, Paul Le Person, Henri Chemin.

Jean-Louis Duroc and Anne Gauthier meet incidentally at the boarding school where they visit their children each weekend. He visits his son, she her daughter. She misses her train and he offers her a ride back to Paris in his car. Slowly and cautiously we learn about them as they learn about one another. We learn about their jobs, their former spouses, and other details of their lives that have the movie viewer hoping this man and woman can become a couple.”

Alliance description

Review by Christopher Null,

French writer/director Claude Lelouch remains a prolific artist (he even made a 9/11 movie), but it's one of his first films, made almost 40 years ago, for which he remains best known.

A Man and a Woman was France's definitive love story for a decade, the Love Story of its generation and a thoroughly French example of its take on romance. Laconic, wandering, and bordering on hopeless, it's easy to see why the film has more fans among the heartbroken than the lovey-dovey.

Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant play the titular characters, both young widows with complicated lives: He's a race car driver, she's got kids. Okay, they're complicated for French lives, anyway.

What follows their chance meeting is a series of abortive dates, daydreams, and endless car races. Lelouch jumps between color and black & white willy-nilly. He flashes back, even to a musical number. In the end, he won a Best Foreign Film Oscar.

The story of Un homme et une femme is an endlessly fascinating one, made all the more interesting by Claude Lelouch's narrative choices. At numerous points, he eschews dialogue in favor of flashbacks, montages, music, and race commentary. This accomplishes several goals (in addition to making the film more financially feasible). It allows the audience to more easily project themselves into the characters, as an image of two people talking with music replacing the dialogue draws us into the interaction between the characters, rather than distracting us by what they're saying. We naturally assume that what they're saying to each other is similar to what we would say in that situation. As a result, we become more invested in the relationship. It also gives the film the feel of a fairy tale romance, thanks in large part to the enchanting score of Francis Lai and Baden Powell. Take, for example, the scene at the Monte Carlo Sporting Club where Jean-Louis receives the telegraph. Lelouch puts a camera on a balcony and films it in an uninterrupted long shot as Jean-Louis reads the message, excuses himself from the table, and leaves the ballroom. We hear none of this, but it's clear enough that's what he's doing. Most directors would have either cut to closer shots and given us the dialogue or eliminated the scene altogether, but neither choice would have been as effective. It's a vital part of Jean-Louis' character arc that he leave immediately, and the uninterrupted shots convey that perfectly, but it's also unnecessary that we hear what he says. In fact, it's better that we don't. Lelouch's choice is a perfect balance.

And then there’s the strange case of the different film stocks used in Un homme et une femme – the mixture of scenes shot in color with those shot in black and white. Much has been written about what Lelouch meant to convey with this device, whether the black and white serves as quotation marks or the color is meant to be a somewhat different version of reality (does one represent the present and the other the past? Is one or the other tied to a particular character's point of view?). Don't tie yourself in knots trying to figure it out. The answer is almost disappointingly simple, because his reasons were strictly mercenary: he'd intended to shoot the entire thing in black and white because it was significantly less expensive to do so, and the budget for Un homme et une femme was not large enough to film the entire thing in color. But then but the potentially lucrative American television market required color and an investor was willing to supply more money to the project if the film could play the American market. So, Lelouch struck a compromise and filmed his interiors in black and white, as planned, and used color for the exteriors. That's all there is to it. The compromise is a practical one that people have been reading into since the film was released, and may even have been a factor in Lelouch's Best Director nomination. The different film stocks themselves mean nothing, but once you get into the rhythm of the film's shifting back and forth, it becomes a comfortable and even engaging conceit. It'll surprise no one to hear that the mixture has influenced many a filmmaker since, but had the project been able to raise more funds, it wouldn't have even existed.

Friday, September 12: Trois Couleurs: Bleu / Three Colors: Blue (1993) by Krzysztof Kieslowski – 100 mins – France, Drama. English subtitles.

With Juliette Binoche, Benoît Régent, Florence Pernel, Charlotte Véry, Hélène Vincent, Philippe Volter, Claude Duneton, Hugues Quester, Emmanuelle Riva.

Three Colors: Blue is the first part of Kieslowski's trilogy on France's national motto: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Blue is the story of Julie who loses her husband, an acclaimed European composer, and her young daughter in a car accident. The film's theme of liberty is manifested in Julie's attempt to start a new life free of personal commitments, belongings, grief, and love. She intends to spiritually commit suicide by withdrawing from the world and live completely independently, anonymously and in solitude in the Parisian metropolis. Despite her intentions, people from her former and present life intrude with their own needs. However...”

Alliance description

Friday, September 19: Trois Couleurs: Blanc / Three Colors: White (1994) by Krzysztof Kieslowski – 91 mins – France, Drama. English subtitles.

With Zbigniew Zamachowski, Julie Delpy, Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Stuhr, Aleksander Bardini, Grzegorz Warchol.

This is the second of the "Three Colors" trilogy Red, White, and Blue: the colors symbolizing liberty, equality, and fraternity. White, therefore, was written around the destructive dynamics of a relationship based upon great inequality. Karol is a Polish hairdresser working in France. He has a beautiful wife, Dominique, whom he loves to obsession, and who is in the process of divorcing him for his inability to "consummate the marriage.” Karol loses all of his earthly possessions and is literally driven out of France by his estranged wife. Karol decides to fight back...”

Alliance description

Friday, September 26: Trois Couleurs: Rouge / Three Colors: Red (1994) by Krzysztof Kieslowski – 99 mins – France, Drama. English subtitles.

With Irène Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Frédérique Feder, Jean-Pierre Lorit, Samuel Le Bihan, Marion Stalens.

Third and last part of Kieslowski's trilogy . . . Valentine is a young model living in Geneva. Because of a dog she ran over, she meets a retired judge who spies his neighbors' phone calls, not for money but to feed his cynicism…”

Alliance description

This is a major film event in Chiang Mai, and should merit your consideration. The three films that make up this trilogy are being shown on three successive Fridays at the Alliance Française this month, and three successive Saturdays at Film Space in December. (Film Space had originally scheduled them for September as well, but quickly moved them to December when I pointed out that the Alliance was showing the same three films.)

These are quite amazing films, and you owe it to yourself to begin your acquaintance with them. But you will want to return to them again and again to savor their richness, as their secrets are not discovered easily. The famous last five minutes of the first one, Blue, are so extraordinary that after several viewings the segment is only beginning to divulge its mysteries to me.

In Blue, you will be struck by the powerful performance of Juliette Binoche in what is basically a solo performance. It has been said that her face shows clearly what she is thinking all the time. Well, not all the time for me. Most of the time, yes, but at a couple of key points I was suddenly at a complete loss as to what was going on in her mind, and it was a puzzle that I needed to figure out.

Kieslowski obviously wants to key these three films and their themes in some way to the French flag and the French motto of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity: blue, white, and red are continually referred to in the film, as well as in the titles. At one point in the first film, we see the protagonist Julie carrying a box which, as a close-up shows, has prominently written across it the word "blanco", Spanish for white; in the next shot we are looking at her from behind, and she pauses in the street as a man in blue passes her on her left and a woman in red passes her on her right. This is a not-so-subtle reference to the structure of the Three Colors trilogy - blue, white, red, in that order, mirroring the French flag.

And then again, During one swimming scene in the blue pool, children in red and white bathing suits run out and jump in the water -- another reference to the trilogy (blue, white, and red).

And in the first film, Blue, there is blue all over the place; in addition to blue filters and blue lighting, any number of prominent objects are blue - a foil balloon, a tinted window, awnings, a folder, the walls of a room, coats, skirts, scarves, blouses, jeans, shirts, trash bags, crystals, a lollypop and its wrapper, binders, graffiti, a pool, a van, and a pen.

Blue, supposedly standing for Liberty. Does this help? Well, for sure, it can get you thinking, trying to make connections. You could say that this woman is on a campaign to be completely independent (at liberty, I suppose) with nothing to tie her down, and no alliances which might become entangling. She says at one point, “Now I have only one thing left to do: nothing. I don't want any belongings, any memories. No friends, no love. Those are all traps.”

Is this a cautionary tale? Liberty being taken to a ridiculous extreme? What precisely is the film trying to say? If one takes this as being an example of “liberty” then what about it’s unity with another part of the flag, the red, “fraternity” (or “brotherhood”)? This woman is about as opposite to “fraternal” as you can get! In fact, she’s basically an extremely unsympathetic and unpalatable character, cold, and selfish.

So the blue, white, and red of the French flag, and Liberté, égalité, fraternité, may seem like a help, our window to a grand scheme, but is it really? I rather think it only seems to be a help, on first glance, but really isn’t. If it’s purpose is just to get you to think about it, it certainly succeeds. Maybe something along the line of, “You can’t have all three!” Not at the same time.

Juliette Binoche, in what amounts to a one-woman show, turns in a mesmerizing and accomplished performance. She manages to bring an element of humanity and sympathy to a basically unsympathetic character – there is little in Julie, as written, for the audience to latch onto, but Ms. Binoche provides the emotional link to the story.

Blue is a powerful motion picture - both in terms of its dramatic impact and in its method of presentation, and it is an adventure to be prized highly.

Film Space schedule

At Film Space: on Saturdays at 7 pm

Note: Film Space has postponed their previously scheduled September showings of the “Colors” trilogy by Krzysztof Kieslowski to December, in order not to conflict with the showings of these same three films by the Alliance Française in September. Film Space is now showing “A Month of Asian Films” throughout September. October will offer “A Month of Alcoholism.”

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 September 6, 7 pm: The Scent of Green Papaya / Mùi đu đ xanh (1993) by Trần Anh Hùng – France/Vietnam Drama – 104 mins. In Vietnamese, with English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 81 out of 100.

An award-winning film, nominated for Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1994. This placid but visually intoxicating tone poem explores the interior life of a Vietnamese household in the 1950s, as seen through the eyes of a young servant girl. Although set in Vietnam, the film was shot entirely on a soundstage in Boulogne, France. This is Trần Anh Hùng's first feature film and stars his wife, Trần Nữ Yên Khê. He later went on to direct Cyclo and Vertical Ray of the Sun, also starring his wife, and these three films comprise what many consider now to be his "Vietnam trilogy."

Although Trần Anh Hùng was born in 1962 in Đà Nẵng, Central Vietnam, he emigrated to France when he was 12 following the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Trần has long been considered at the forefront of the wave of acclaimed overseas Vietnamese cinema in the past two decades. His films have received international notoriety and acclaim, and until recently have all been varied meditations on life in Vietnam.

Trần Anh Hùng has said about his film,

"The scent of green papaya is a personal childhood memory. Everyone [in Vietnam] knew the gestures associated with the preparation of the papaya and, since the houses weren't soundproofed, you often heard it being prepared in the house next door. You knew the sound because the papaya is hollow and when you hit it (with a knife), it makes a very characteristic noise. The papaya was really a part of everyday Vietnamese life. Since the green papaya was a vegetable prepared by women, it immediately becomes a symbol of women's work."

James Berardinelli writes,

What The Scent of Green Papaya does so well is to show the everyday life of a culture that has been bombed into history. This is the kind of motion picture that could easily become repetitive and boring, because so little happens. But, by involving the audience in the everyday minutiae of Vietnamese life, Trần Anh Hùng holds the viewers' interest. The Scent of Green Papaya is made all the more enchanting by its simplicity.”

Roger Ebert writes,

Here is a film so placid and filled with sweetness that watching it is like listening to soothing music. . . . I have seen The Scent of Green Papaya three times now - the first time in May 1993 at Cannes, where it was named the best film by a first-time director. It is a placid, interior, contemplative film - not plot-driven, but centered on the growth of the young woman. As such, you might think it would seem "slower" on later viewings, but I found that the opposite was true: As I understood better what the movie was, I appreciated it more, because like a piece of music it was made of subtleties that only grew deeper through familiarity. This is a film to cherish.”

At Film Space on September 13, 7 pm: Eat Drink Man Woman / Yin shi nan nu (1994) by Ang Lee – Taiwan/US Comedy/ Romance/ Drama – 123 mins. In Mandarin with English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 75 out of 100.

Review by James Berardinelli:

"Everything is much different in Eat Drink Man Woman than the other films I've made. It has a bigger cast and a lot more complex story line... I started thinking about families and how they communicate. Sometimes the things children need to hear most are often the things that parents find hardest to say, and vice versa. When that happens, we resort to ritual. For the Chu family, the ritual is the Sunday dinner... At each dinner the family comes together and then something happens that pushes them farther apart."

- Ang Lee, writer/director of Eat Drink Man Woman

Who said foreign films can't be fun? Ang Lee's follow-up to his internationally successful The Wedding Banquet is a delicious examination of the relationship between aging Chinese master chef Tao Chu (Sihung Lung) and his three daughters. The oldest, Jia-Jen (Kuei-Mei-Yang), is an unmarried school teacher in her late twenties. The middle daughter, Jia-Chen (Chien-Lien Wu), is a thriving corporate airline executive whose career comes before all else. The youngest, Jia-Ning (Yu-Wen Wang), is a twenty year old romantic who works at a Wendy's fast food joint.

Eat Drink Man Woman is a more accomplished motion picture than its predecessor - and The Wedding Banquet was good enough in its own right. The comedy is spontaneous and relaxed, the drama is finely-tuned, and the plot is seasoned with unexpected little twists. The script delights in occasional forays just beyond the typical bounds of a screenplay.

Though filmed entirely in Taiwan (Lee's first film not to examine cross-cultural issues), the themes of Eat Drink Man Woman are universal. The problems faced by the Chu family happen all around the world, and the difficulty of communicating across the generation gap is something almost everyone has experienced at one time or another. Love, especially that of Chu for his daughters, often goes unspoken, for to express emotion is to admit vulnerability.

With an ease that marks the true craftsman, Ang Lee develops a rapport between his characters and the audience. These people have a richness, texture, and depth that no stereotype could hope to match, and which a film like Wayne Wang's The Joy Luck Club was grasping for. The perfectly-proportioned measures of comedy and drama emerge through character interaction, not as a result of contrived situations and silly one-liners.

For his cast, Lee has chosen a mixture of actors he has and has not previously worked with. The role of Chu was written with veteran performer Sihung Lung in mind. The actor appeared in a similar patriarchal capacity in the director's Pushing Hands and The Wedding Banquet. Also returning from The Wedding Banquet are Winston Chao (the reluctant bridegroom then and a co-worker of Jia-Chen's now) and Ah-Leh Gua (the mother then and the obnoxious Mrs. Liang now).

Food is as much a backdrop as a recurring symbol. Chu's failing taste buds parallel his loss for the zest for life. Jia-Chen's love of cooking harkens back to a frustrated childhood desire, and Jia-Ning's work at a Wendy's makes a statement about the infusion of Western culture into modern-day China. Nevertheless, as with The Age of Innocence, which displayed countless dishes guaranteed to whet the appetite, Eat Drink Man Woman could perhaps be frustrating to any who view it on an empty stomach.