Thursday, October 2, 2008

What's On starting October 2

The Clones bomb! What else is on?

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, October 2

by Thomas Ohlson

Best bet: Mamma Mia!

Here is my list of movies playing in Chiang Mai at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, October 2, 2008. There is also information on film programs at the Alliance Française and CMU’s Film Space for the next three weeks. This is Issue Number 49 of Volume 3 of these listings.

I’m back from the Bangkok International Film Festival, held September 23 to 30. Next up: the World Film Festival in Bangkok October 24 to November 2. And then comes the EU Film Festival, held at Vista here in Chiang Mai December 11 to 21.

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* Star Wars: The Clone Wars: US Animation/ Action/ Adventure/ Sci-Fi – 90 mins – A new adventure in the "Star Wars" series, here done with animation. The movie has gotten generally negative reviews, most saying that the mechanical animation and a less-than stellar script make The Clone Wars a pale shadow of George Lucas' once great franchise, and a cheap excuse for a big-screen spectacle. It’s more like a long Saturday morning cartoon, and a trailer for the upcoming new Star Wars series on the Cartoon Network. Parents may be perturbed by the film's relentless violence. Generally negative reviews: 35/31 out of 100.

* Disaster Movie: US Comedy – Returning to their seemingly bottomless well of flatulence humor, racial stereotypes, and stale pop culture gags, Friedberg and Seltzer have produced what is arguably their worst “Movie” yet. Seldom has a film been more appropriately titled. Reviews: Extreme dislike or disgust: 15/17 out of 100.

* Luang Pee Teng II / The Holy Man II / หลวงพี่เท่ง 2 รุ่นฮาร่ำรวย: Thai Comedy – Bad boy becomes monk, meets misadventures, makes merit. The first Luang Pee Teng (The Holy Man) was the No. 1 Thai film at the box office in 2005, earning 141 million baht, even beating out Tony Jaa in Tom Yum Goong. This second of the series has a new star: Thai rapper, hip-hopper, and ex-skateboarder Joey Boy (shown at left), one of the Thai stars in the ill-advised and poorly-received rock version of the Ramakien that played Lincoln Center in New York in the summer of 2006. You can check out a sample of Joey Boy’s rap style at:

The cast is fleshed out by the usual contingent of Thai TV comedians.

Eagle Eye: US Action/Mystery/Thriller – With Shia LaBeouf and Billy Bob Thornton. In Eagle Eye, Jerry Shaw (LaBeouf) and Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) are two strangers thrown together by a mysterious phone call from a woman they have never met. Threatening their lives and their family, she pushes Jerry and Rachel into a series of increasingly dangerous situations using the technology of everyday life to track and control their every move. As the situation escalates, these two ordinary people become the country's most wanted fugitives, who must now work together to discover what is really happening. Fighting for their lives, they become pawns of a faceless enemy who seems to have limitless power to manipulate everything they do.

The script has the feel of something once substantive, but which was poked, prodded, cut, and crimped until all semblance of intelligence was wrung out of it. Apparently, it means to say something about anti-terrorism surveillance and civil liberties, but most reviewers who try to say what it’s about, say it's about as dumb as can be.

Mixed or average reviews: 43/45 out of 100. Vista has a Thai-dubbed version as well.

Baan Phee (Phop/Pob) 2008 / บ้านผีปอบ 2008: Thai Horror/Comedy – 90 mins – At least the 11th installment of this popular ghost/ horror/ comedy series. In Thai with no English subtitles.

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. It’s an Adam Sandler comedy, and if you like his kind of low and crass comedy, you should like this one well enough. Here he plays the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for laughs. I laughed. A lot. And cringed. A lot.

Has been banned by censors in Egypt, Lebanon, and the U.A.E., and "is 99% likely that the film will be banned in all Arab countries.” But a huge hit in Israel ("Israelis like to laugh at themselves," says the Israeli distributor). Mixed or average reviews: 54/53 out of 100.

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. At Vista only.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, October 9

Body of Lies: US Drama – With Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, about a CIA operative who attempts to infiltrate the network of a major terrorist leader operating out of Jordan. Based on a 2007 novel by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

E-Tim Tai Nae / อีติ๋มตายแน่: Thai Action/Comedy – Director Yuthlert Sippapak’s new film is written by and stars comedian Udom Taepanich (known by his nickname “Note”). Note plays a boxer, Ei-Ting, performing in a boxing show in Pattaya. He meets a Japanese tourist named Itemi (Asuka Yanagi) or “E-Tim” and falls head over heels for her. At the end, Ei-Ting has to prove his love for E-Tim and to prove he is worthy of her attentions. Looks dreadful, unless you like comedy based on the torturing of male genitalia, by smashing testicles.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, October 16

Max Payne: US Action/Thriller – 125 mins – Starring Mark Wahlberg. Based on a popular interactive video game, this is the story of a maverick cop determined to track down those responsible for the brutal murder of his family and partner. Hell-bent on revenge, his obsessive investigation takes him on a nightmare journey into a dark underworld. “As the mystery deepens, Max (Wahlberg) is forced to battle enemies beyond the natural world and face an unthinkable betrayal,” or so says the studio.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, October 23

Beverly Hills Chihuahua: US Comedy – With the voices of Drew Barrymore and Salma Hayek. In this Disney comedy, a pampered Beverly Hills Chihuahua named Chloe (voice of Drew Barrymore) finds herself accidentally lost in the mean streets of Mexico without a day spa or Rodeo Drive boutique anywhere in sight. Now alone for the first time in her spoiled life, she must rely on some unexpected new friends – including a street-hardened German Shepherd named Delgado (voice of Andy Garcia) and an amorous pup named Papi (voice of George Lopez) – to lend her a paw and help her to find her inner strength on their incredible journey back home. This one actually looks quite delightful, to gauge by the previews.

Tropic Thunder: US Comedy/War – 107 mins – I have seen this, and it is absolutely outrageous, even more outlandish than Zohan. Robert Downey, Jr. is on a roll recently, and this is another truly amazing performance from this acting genius. Here he plays a very method actor who, when given the role of a black in a movie, had his skin pigmentation blackened surgically so as to better play the part. See his two faces in this picture to the right. Unbelievable! – and if you’re not thoroughly put off by the idea, you might just have the best laughs you’ve had in years. I heartily recommend the film, but only for those not easily shocked.

Also starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, and Tom Cruise. It’s an action comedy about a group of self-absorbed actors who set out to make the biggest war film ever. After ballooning costs (and the out of control egos of the pampered cast) threaten to shut down the movie, the frustrated director refuses to stop shooting, leading his cast deep into the jungles of Southeast Asia where they inadvertently encounter real bad guys. Directed by Ben Stiller.

Rated R in the US for pervasive language including sexual references, violent content, and drug material. Generally favorable reviews: 71/72 out of 100.

- Robert Downey, Jr.'s performance is nearly on par with what Heath Ledger did as the Joker... -- Cinema Blend

Tropic Thunder Co-Star Praises Robert Downey, Jr.

Tropic Thunder actor Brandon T. Jackson knows that co-star Robert Downey Jr. might receive some criticism from his unusual role in the comedy. But Jackson has a message to those that have a problem with the Caucasian Downey painting his face black for most of the movie.

"To be honest, he played a black dude better than anybody I've seen!" Jackson told People Magazine about Downey's performance in the Ben Stiller-directed film.

Jackson did admit to having initial hesitations about Downey's part. In the movie, Downey portrays Kirk Lazarus, an Academy Award-winning actor that's cast in the most expensive Vietnam war film ever.

However, Lazarus's character, Sgt. Osiris, was originally written as an African-American. So Lazarus dyes his skin to play the role.

"When I first read the script, I was like: What? Black face? But when I saw him [act] he, like, became a black man," Jackson said. ""It was weird on the set because he would keep going with the character. He's a method actor."

In the picture to the left are Brandon T. Jackson, Ben Stiller, and Robert Downey, Jr. The Downey character says at one point, “Man, I don't drop character 'till I done the DVD commentary.”

Alliance Française schedule

At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm

At Alliance Française on Friday, October 3: Les Mauvais joueurs / Gamblers (2005) by Frédéric Balekdjian – 85 mins – France, Crime/ Drama. English subtitles.

With Pascal Elbé, Simon Abkarian, Isaac Sharry.

Vahé, Sahak, and Toros run a bonneteau game on the streets of Paris. They're Lebanese French. Vahé also works with his father, a cloth merchant, and is in love with Lu Ann, Chinese French, who's broken off their affair. Vahé wants to make things right: with Lu Ann, with his father's business, and with Yuen, Lu Ann's younger brother, who's on the edge of delinquency and owes money to the gang who arranged his passage from China. Vahé tries to be like a father to Yuen, teaching him a work ethic. When Yuen impetuosity puts his own life in jeopardy, Vahé tries to save him. Are Vahé's impulses and hopes to die on the streets of Paris?

Alliance description

The setting is the Paris garment district, where low-end French criminals rub elbows with the teeming masses of illegal Chinese immigrants. One such "illegal," a snot-nosed and lazy kid called Yuen, wants nothing to do with his French "protectors," and will stop at nothing to escape their influence. Unfortunately, those thugs have a financial interest in Yuen remaining complacent, so it's only a matter of time before someone gets shot. Vahé is the one kindhearted crook who tries to keep the peace between his French colleagues and the Chinese youth, but his influence is minimal.


The last time a French film exploded with such raw energy was when Mathieu Kassovitz debuted with La Haine in 1995. This is writer/director Frederic Balekdijan's first feature, also, and it uses the same neo-realistic style, with handheld cameras close in and on the streets. There isn't a whiff of falsehood, or evidence of a set designer's duster. Even the script has the rough-cut unpredictability of real life.

It deals with card sharks, street scams, petty crime, backed by an uglier, darker crowd of Armenian thugs. This is the Paris of immigrants, sweatshops, cafes, and illegals. Chinese, North Africans, Eastern European gangsters coexist in a barely sustainable truce. Sooner or later a spark will ignite the tinderbox and someone will be killed. Followed by revenge attacks. Followed by God knows what else. In this no-go, gendarmes are noticeable by their absence.

Stories and characters move swiftly. There is no conventional plot, only the time it takes to rip the lid off the powder keg and somehow survive. Or not.

Angus Wolfe Murray, Eye For Film

At Alliance Française on Friday, October 10: Travaux, on sait quand ça commence... / Housewarming (2005) by Brigitte Roüan – 95 mins – France/UK, Comedy. English subtitles.

With Carole Bouquet, Jean-Pierre Castaldi, Aldo Maccione, Didier Flamand.

Chantal Letellier is a “wonderful woman.” She's a lawyer and she always wins her cases. In her professional life she's a heavyweight, but in her private life she's a pushover. She's divorced - and didn't even litigate - and is saddled with two teenage kids who are very well brought up in a bad kind of way. When it comes to love, think “desert” - she's got no time. But flesh is weak and one night she lets loose with a client. He falls madly in love with her and settles in. To get rid of him, she undertakes major renovations with the intention of making the house unlivable. To top it all, she employs a young Colombian architect, an immigrant worker whose illegal status she's just rectified. Eternally grateful, and taking advantage of the situation to spruce up his press-book, the architect gives her house an entire makeover with the help of illegal workers. She didn't request that much!

Alliance description

Variety: Anyone who has ever had workmen over to remodel their home will instantly identify with Housewarming, a madcap, mile-a-minute French comedy starring Carole Bouquet as a liberal lawyer and single mom who hires Colombian immigrants to do the job. Good social intentions and high-spirited direction widen the appeal of this infectious, rather silly comedy. Brigitte Rouan certainly rolls out the laughs in a breezy, ironic film.

The lovely Chantal (Bouquet), who is introduced in her black counselor's robe literally dancing around the judges, is unbeatable in court. She marches in pro-immigrant demonstrations and takes on social cases, while cheerfully running a household with two teenagers. Everyone is in love with her, even her ex-husband. The only thing is, her upstairs apartment needs to be joined to a downstairs apartment with a staircase.

Choosing from her immigrant contacts, Chantal hires a motley crew of Colombians lead by a mad architect to do the work. They proceed to demolish the place. Through it all, Chantal remains optimistic -- until they accidentally set the building on fire. She fires them and rehires them and, surprisingly, all ends splendidly. Until the police come.

Rouan directs the unruly ensemble cast like a lion tamer, keeping the level of chaos high.

Original title quotes the wise old adage, "Remodeling: You know when it starts but not when it'll be over."

At Alliance Française on Friday, October 17: Coup de torchon / Clean Up / Clean Slate (1981) by Bertrand Tavernier – 128 mins – France, Comedy/ Crime/ Drama. English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 72 out of 100.

With Philippe Noiret, Isabelle Huppert, Guy Marchand, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Stéphane Audran.

A bid for survival” located in Bourkassa, a small village in French Eastern Africa, Lucien is a policeman embroiled in a series of murders. Ridiculed by his fellow whites, he is going to take revenge… in his own way.

Alliance description

Roger Ebert / April 6, 1983:

Bertrand Tavernier's Coup de Torchon is a cruel intellectual joke played on its characters -- who endure boredom, self-contempt, hate, dust, flies, and sometimes even death without being allowed to know they're only part of an existential parable. Tavernier's film is about poor white trash in Africa in 1938, and there are times when they seem almost real -- but they're never allowed the pulse or the stubborn indomitability of their slovenly cousins, William Faulkner's Snopes family.

The movie is set in a small Senegalese village, on the eve of World War II. Tavernier shot on the actual location, and he achieves an absolutely convincing reality, right down to the reddish mud that has been splashed by the rain onto the yellowing stucco walls of the village sheds. His village is populated by lazy, corrupt French colonials, and by a supporting cast of Africans who drift through the background, unconcerned with the lives of the whites except when they have the misfortune to incur their wrath.

Lucien Cordier is the police chief here. Played by Philippe Noiret, he is a shambling, sloppy bureaucrat who keeps his intelligence well hidden. He holds the crushing boredom of his life somewhat at bay by practical jokes (like dumping a provincial officer through the outhouse floor) and sexual confusion (while Cordier's wife caresses the man who may or may not be her brother, Cordier has an affair with the local schoolteacher). All the colonials in this village have long since lost all self-respect, and none more than Cordier, who is openly taunted even by the village pimps.

One day, Cordier quite simply decides to start killing his enemies. He wants to start over with a clean slate (the title's English translation). He shoots the pimps, spreads false rumors about their fate, and then begins to kill, or arrange the deaths of those who offend him. On those rare occasions when he talks about what he has done, he strays precariously close to the hero of Albert Camus' "The Stranger," who found killing to be an assertion of his own existence. This story, which sounds so absorbing, is told by Tavernier in such a strange, distancing way that there's hardly a moment when we really believe we're observing plausible human beings. It's all just the manipulation of events and ideas.

Tavernier is one of the very best of the new French directors, and when he does choose to observe the daily lives of deeply felt characters (as in his movies The Clockmaker and A Week's Vacation), we feel an immediate empathy. But Coup de Torchon left me cold, unmoved, and uninvolved. All I could find to admire was the craftsmanship.

That was after two viewings. I saw the film first at last November's Chicago Film Festival, and was not quite sure I had really engaged with the film. Was I missing something? I saw it again recently and had the same strange feeling that the events on the screen, even though they were so firmly grounded in a real location, were insubstantial. Despite the dust, despite the slow-moving muddy river, despite the dirty housedresses and the 5 o'clock shadow and the yawns and sudden fights and bawdy practical jokes, this movie never quite breathes. It's an exercise. You can admire an exercise, but it's hard to really care about one.

Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant:

Coup de torchon plays like the proverbial auto wreck in slow motion - it's ugly, it's something you'd rather not know about, but you can't take your eyes off of it. The cynicism is neither cheap nor exploitative but a compelling world view that makes you think. Lucien Cordier is a Harry Lime without good looks, charisma, or even ambition, a soulless killer in a Godless world.

This is a deceptively well-made thriller: most of the scenes seem wilted with the heat and boredom of the tropics, yet the story moves along at a brisk pace until you find you can't look away. Phillipe Noiret is simply excellent as Lucien, and the well-known actresses Audran and Huppert are very credible as the low women in his low-life. In most crime dramas, the killer keeps killing because it's a requirement of a genre completely given over to exploitation; here you really get the feeling that Lucien is himself astounded at the utter lack of justice or retribution in the world. His reaction to his own crimes is both amusement and despair.

A unique and superior murder thriller, with a truly exotic location and some of the most believable lowlife characters ever to sleaze-up a film noir.

Film Space schedule

At Film Space: on Saturdays at 7 pm

Film Space is now showing “A Month of Musicians” throughout October.

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 October 4, 7 pm: Last Days (2005) by Gus Van Sant – US Music/ Drama – 97 mins. A Seattle-set rock & roll drama about a musician whose life and career is reminiscent of Kurt Cobain's, the lead singer of the popular Seattle-based rock band Nirvana who committed suicide in 1994. It’s a meditative journey through the last days in the life of fictional musician Blake (Michael Pitt). In a bewildered state of drug withdrawal, Blake stumbles through deep woods groaning and mumbling quietly. His words are only occasionally audible, and even less occasionally coherent. The focus is on Blake's tortured, slow-motion movements and his tangle of chin-length blond hair, which hangs like a mask over his face. Reaching a clearing, Blake enters a dilapidated mansion where he lives with four similarly confused young rockers. A string of foggy events follows in partially chronological order. Scenes overlap, allowing for minor details to be added later. This style hints at the insignificance of time—and of everything—from Blake's perspective. Avoiding human contact, taking long walks, playing music, and hiding in the greenhouse, Blake nears his inevitable end. He digs up a parcel from the backyard, smokes a cigarette and painstakingly pours a bowl of Cocoa Krispies, changes into a black evening gown and grabs a rifle, answers the phone and says nothing when a voice asks him about an upcoming tour. Blake then descends into a bizarre, barely conscious state during which people come and go from the house. But none of it seems to register, as he is already lost. Last Days finds melancholic beauty in green trees reflecting in windowpanes, and the sound of rippling lake water echoing the ambient noise in Blake's head; and Pitt shows chameleon expertise in his mutely charismatic depiction of the unreachable Blake, whose resemblance to Cobain is both haunting and magical. While the minimalist style is not for all viewers, those who appreciate experimentalism will find Last Days hypnotic. Rated R in the US for language and some sexual content. Generally favorable reviews: 67/60 out of 100.

At Film Space on October 11, 7 pm: I'm Not There (2007) by Todd Haynes – US/Germany Biography/ Drama/ Music – 135 mins. Starring Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Ben Whishaw, and Marcus Carl Franklin. I'm Not There is a film that dramatizes the life and music of Bob Dylan as a series of shifting personae, each performed by a different actor—poet, prophet, outlaw, fake, star of electricity, rock and roll, martyr born-again Christian—seven identities braided together. The unique editing, visuals, and multiple talented actors portraying Bob Dylan make for a deliciously unconventional experience. Each segment brings a new and fresh take on Dylan's life. Rated R in the US for language, some sexuality, and nudity. Generally favorable reviews: 73/71 out of 100.

At Film Space on October 18, 7 pm: Sid and Nancy (1986) by Alex Cox – UK Biography/ Drama/ Music – 112 mins. Alex Cox's biopic tells the bleak, heroin-drenched story of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and his disturbed American girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. Gary Oldman delivers a bravura performance as Sid, matched by Chloe Webb's grating, clearly unhinged Nancy. The two lovers' childlike tenderness with each other contrasts sharply with their bleak, violent nihilism, and while the script implies that Nancy's death was accidental, the line between intention and accident is deliberately blurred. By turns romantic and horrific, Sid and Nancy is often grueling to watch, but always compelling. Cox's romantic vision draws us in while throwing us back in time to London and New York at the inception of the drug-laden British punk era. The film's dreamlike style and a hypnotic score dramatize the schism between Sid and Nancy’s world and the world around them--and the inevitable horror when those worlds collide. Generally favorable reviews: 72 out of 100.

At Film Space on October 25, 7 pm: Linda Linda Linda (2005) by Nobuhiro Yamashita – Japan Comedy/ Drama/ Music – 114 mins. A somewhat beguiling teenage charmer that follows the antics of four high school friends, all girls, who decide to form a band only three days before a potential gig at the annual school festival. Unburdened by plot or hormonal drama, the movie follows the girls through lengthy rehearsals, minor setbacks, and painfully awkward encounters with boys and teachers. With the title taken from a catchy 1980s tune by Japanese punk icons The Blue Hearts, Yamashita's film is as unconventional and understated as a teenage drama can be, yet it's fairly enjoyable with moments of painfully awkward humor, and solid performances by the four lead actresses.