Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What's On starting November 5

A Wednesday change this week! In our 4th year! EU Film Festival schedule!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Wednesday, November 5

by Thomas Ohlson

Best Bets: Quantum of Solace. Body of Lies. Tropic Thunder. Queens of Langkasuka.

Special Wednesday opening this week.

Here are my comments on the movies playing in Chiang Mai at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week and a day beginning Wednesday, November 5, 2008. There is also information on film programs at the Alliance Française and CMU’s Film Space for the next three weeks. And we have the first publication of the complete European Union Film Festival schedule to be held at Vista in Kad Suan Kaew from December 11 to 21; the schedule and the synopses are included.

This is Issue Number 2 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!

Body of Lies which was directed by Ridley Scott and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, and which I like very much, has been resurrected and is playing a regular engagement at Vista. It’s an exciting spy movie as dark as night and as ruthless and vile as Abu Ghraib. Smart and tightly drawn, it has a throat-gripping urgency, with some serious insights. If you like an action movie with some thought behind it, you should see it.

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* 007 – Quantum of Solace: UK/US Action/ Adventure/ Thriller – 106 mins – Starring Daniel Craig as James Bond and Judy Dench as M. Seeking revenge for the death of his love, secret agent James Bond sets out to stop an environmentalist from taking control of a country's water supply. This time James Bond is directed by Marc Forster, who gave us the wonderful The Kite Runner. He was recommended for the job by Daniel Craig, who is a fan of his. Early reviews: generally favorable: 65/65 out of 100.

The last James Bond film, Casino Royale (2006), the 21st Bond film, was a complete restart or reboot or reinvention of the James Bond film series for modern audiences. This film is a continuation of this re-imagining of the series, starting about an hour after the close of Casino Royale.

But the big question is, just where and how did they come up with that strange and forbidding title Quantum of Solace? And what does it mean? Well, first off, it’s the name of a short story written by 007’s creator Ian Fleming, first published in the book "For Your Eyes Only” in 1960. However, this movie has none of the characters of the story, except for Bond, and really has no connection. Nevertheless, the phrase “Quantum of Solace “ is defined in the story as "a precise figure defining the comfort/humanity/fellow feeling required between any pair of people for love to survive. If the Quantum of Solace is 0, then love is dead." The title had been under consideration for a Bond film since 1989, and had long been considered unsuitable.

And, seen from another direction, QUANTUM is apparently the name of an evil terrorist organization in the film.

To add to the legend, Daniel Craig stated in an interview that he was involved in making the decision for the title, and admitted that "in the great tradition of Bond movies, the film's title is often meaningless."

Coming Soon / Program Nah / โปรแกรมหน้า วิญญาณอาฆาต: Thai Horror – 90 mins – The Thais offer up their own version of a bloody Halloween scream-fest. This one is about a young projectionist who decides to help a friend illegally film a newly released horror movie, with dire consequences.

Tropic Thunder: US Comedy/War – 107 mins – Outrageous! 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. 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. Rated R in the US for pervasive language including sexual references, violent content, and drug material. Generally favorable reviews: 71/72 out of 100.

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.

Body of Lies: US Action/Drama/Thriller – 128 mins – Directed by Ridley Scott, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, and with a powerful performance by Mark Strong as the Jordanian intelligence leader Hani Salam. I like this film very much: a spy movie with some thinking behind it, about a CIA operative who attempts to infiltrate the network of a major terrorist leader operating out of Jordan. Rated R in the US for strong violence including some torture (though it appears to me a lot of this has been clipped by Thai censors), and for language throughout. Mixed or average reviews: 58/59 out of 100. At Vista only, and thanks to Vista for bringing it back.

This film succumbed to the curse of all recent movies revolving around Iraq and the war on terror: It has not done well anywhere; in fact, it’s turning into a huge commercial failure. It’s really too bad, but it seems that moviegoers here, and in America, and around the world, seem to be allergic to matters revolving around Iraq and the war on terror. Films like Rendition and Redacted have foundered at the box office (and never even made it to Chiang Mai), as have movies only tangentially linked to the conflict (like The Kite Runner, set in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan; although that one did run here in Chiang Mai awhile back, thanks again to Vista). It would be a shame if such sentiments kept you from seeing this really quite excellent, thinking-person’s action drama, that unapologetically raises issues concerning terrorism and the fight to combat it.

Queens of Langkasuka / Peun yai jom sa-lud / ปืนใหญ่จอมสลัด: Thai Drama/ Adventure/ Fantasy/ History – 140 mins –

Thai Drama/ Adventure/ Fantasy/ History – For me, it’s an entertaining Thai blockbuster – big stars, loads of special effects, lavish costumes, and an exotic seaborne setting. Nonzee Nimibutr's 200-million-baht historical action-fantasy, more than three years in the making, has been less than enthusiastically received in some quarters.

Wise Kwai: Leading the cast is Jarunee Suksawat, who was a major star back in the 1980s and '90s. This marks her return to the big screen. Prominent leading man Ananda Everingham has a major role as a loin-cloth-clad Aquaman who can communicate with the marine life. Action star Dan Chupong plays a loyal military commander of the queen. The story has something to do with a really huge cannon that sinks in the sea. Possession of that big gun is key to holding the ancient land of Langkasuka.

Nonzee worked on a script with S.E.A. Write Award-winning writer Win Lyovarin, and the story takes place around 400 years ago in areas that today are part of Malaysia and southern Thailand.

Originally envisioned as a two-parter, and then cut down into one 140-minute movie, critics have complained it's too long.

Hollywood Reporter: Sumptuous to a sin in production and costume design, with whirlwind action sequences merging realistic Thai boxing with theatrical 90s Hong Kong style stunts, it has the nostalgic charm of classics like Sinbad the Sailor and a truly exhilarating sea battle at the end. . . . With sorcery and swordplay, fairytale romance, pan-Asian characters, amazing marine cinematography, dolphins and whales, even kamikaze hang-gliders, the story actually boils down to an arms race to see who's got the bigger cannon.

Just where is Langkasuka?

Here’s a map of its location. The Kingdom of Langkasuka existed from the 2nd to the 14th centuries on the Malay Peninsula, with Ligor as its capital city. Then it mysteriously disappears from written history, replaced by the Pattani Kingdom, leaving only a legendary name. The area of Langkasuka is now called the Thai province of NST, an abbreviation for Nakhon Si Thammarat.

The film was originally called the Queens of Pattani, but because of the touchiness of the separatists’ movement in the southern province, the filmmakers were prevailed upon to rename it, and in fact play down the political implications of the story. It thus, according to the director, became more of a fantasy than he had originally intended, so as not to offend.

Max Payne: US Action/Crime/Drama/Thriller – 99 mins – Starring Mark Wahlberg, with Chris O'Donnell, Beau Bridges, and Ludacris. Based on the 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. Hell-bent on revenge, his obsessive investigation takes him on a nightmare journey into a dark underworld. Basically for fans of action movies in general and this video game in particular, but I do think the film has some striking and stylish visuals in a somber mood, which I really enjoyed looking at, and an intense performance by Wahlberg. (There’s an added snippet at the end of the credits which promises a sequel.) Generally unfavorable reviews: 30/34 out of 100.

Andrew L. Urban says: Unquestionably energetic and visually stimulating, Max Payne is non-stop action, with everything made in the equivalent of writing in capital letters. You can't miss the revenge mission, nor the profound hurt suffered by Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) on the loss of his pretty wife and baby girl, nor the evil conspirators who've developed a drug for soldiers that only works a little bit and sends everyone else mad. It's this drug that is the cause of all the evil and the reason why the corporation that developed it wants to kill the story - and anyone who knows about it. But no spoilers here....

Louise Keller: There are guns blazing, mysterious winged creatures, a symbolic tattoo, an elusive blue elixir, an unresolved murder, and big stunts, yet Max Payne is surprisingly lackluster. Based on a video game, there's plenty happening on screen, but it's hard to feel much for any of the characters, even Mark Wahlberg's brooding Max, who is obsessed to avenge the senseless murder of his wife and child. The storytelling is secondary to the action with adverse results as director John Moore battles to create a credible world couched between reality and fantasy. To me, the most striking element is the production design in which perpetual snow falls, gusts whirl over a snowy backdrop and torrential rain teems down soaking volatile characters at vulnerable moments.

There's no shortage of firepower (Max shoots everyone in sight) and even if you ignore some of the plot's unanswered questions, we are left with a cavalcade of bullets, noise, and chaos.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, November 13

Sex Drive: US Comedy – 101 mins – With Josh Zuckerman and James Marsden. Eighteen-year-old Ian Lafferty sets out on a cross country drive with his best friends Lance and Felicia in order to lose his virginity to a red-hot babe he met on the Internet. Randy and raucous, Sex Drive follows three friends on the road trip of a lifetime!

Burn After Reading: US Comedy/Crime – 96 mins – I really enjoyed this interesting movie which is scheduled for either November 13 or 20, and which stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, and John Malkovich (the whole team of serious anti-government, anti-CIA rabble-rousers) in another expose of dirty dealing and incompetence in high places. But this time it's a comedy! Clooney, for example, seems to have a hobby of building homemade sex toys in his basement. I found it very funny indeed. With Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins. Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen.

Teeth: US Comedy/ Horror – 94 mins – Directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein (son of Pop artist Roy), with Jess Weixler and John Hensley. Dawn, a high school student, works hard at suppressing her budding sexuality by being the local chastity group's most active participant. A stranger to her own body, innocent Dawn discovers she has a toothed vagina when she becomes the object of violence. As she struggles to understand her anatomical uniqueness, Dawn experiences both the pitfalls and the power of being a living example of the vagina dentata myth. More enjoyable than I thought it would be, it is still pretty sick and unpleasant, and with the number of appendages that eventually litter the ground, I think Teeth bites off more than it can chew. Mixed or average reviews: 57/64 out of 100.

Alliance Française schedule

At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm

At Alliance Française on Friday, November 7: Mauvais Sang / Bad Blood / The Night Is Young (1986) by Léos Carax – 116 mins – France, Crime/ Romance/ Drama. English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 67 out of 100.

With Juliette Binoche, Denis Lavant, Michel Piccoli, Hugo Pratt, Serge Reggiani, Hans Meyer.

The year of the Halley Comet. Two Rival gangs; one led by a mysterious black widow and the other led by Marc, Alex and Anna; want to get hold of an invention of a vaccine that can stop a threatening virus. In the meantime, a story of absolute love between Alex and Anna is flowering in a ghostly Paris…

Alliance description

Christian Checa Bañuz, Senses of Cinema: Leos Carax has stated on many occasions that “sister” is the most beautiful word for him. Incestuous relationships are a very important theme . . . In every Carax' film there is a dysfunctional family structure. In Mauvais sang, for instance, Marc (Michel Piccoli) acts as the father, Hans as the mother and Anna and Alex as brother and sister – in the scenes where they play, like the one with the shaving foam, they truly act as if they were siblings. But Alex desires his sister, Anna, who is inevitably in love with their father, Marc.

The New York Times: The pictures are in charge in Léos Carax's "Bad Blood." Most of the scenes seem to have been improvised in the interests of a striking shot, and the characters are in thrall to the camera. In this, his second feature, Mr. Carax lives up to his billing as "the natural heir of Jean- Luc Godard," showing a taste for underground types and milieus, an inventive eye and a tolerance for tedium.

At Alliance Française on Friday, November 14: Diva (1981) by Jean-Jacques Beineix – 117 mins – France, Action/ Drama/ Mystery/ Romance/ Thriller/ Music. English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 80 out of 100.

With Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez, Frédéric Andréi, Richard Bohringer, Thuy An Luu.

Jules is a postman who’s mad about Opera. His is crazy about Cynthia Hawkins, a Diva who refuses to have any album of her own; so he tries to record her voice illegally but he is in trouble with pirate disc dealers…

Alliance description

Variety: Diva is an extraordinary thriller and first film from Jean-Jacques Beineix, complex, stylish and fast-moving.

The story [from the novel by Delacorta] involves a young mail courier (Frederic Andrei) with a passion for opera. His idol, Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez), has made a career of avoiding the recording studio but the industrious young man manages to covertly make a high-quality tape of her Paris performance. At the same time, a prostitute hides a cassette recording she's made in his delivery motorcycle putting the finger on a drug kingpin before she's killed.

His only ally is a mysterious, shadowy character, Gorodish (Richard Bohringer), who lives with a Vietnamese nymphet (Thuy An Luu). Character has been popularized in a series of French novels and provides an element of fun to the picture, popping up to help the hero throughout the story.

The director dots the tale with bizarre types who continually cross each other's paths and wind up doing more harm to each other than to the young postman. The novel touches, bizarre chases and plot twists, breathtaking camerawork by Philippe Rousselot and tension-filled editing, make Diva a superior piece of entertainment.

Roger Ebert: Here is an exhilarating film made for no better purpose than to surprise and fascinate. … The plot is both preposterous and delightful, put together out of elements that seem chosen for their audacity.

At Alliance Française on Friday, November 21: Cause toujours ! / Me and My Sister (2004) by Jeanne Labrune – 87 mins – France, Comedy. English subtitles.

With Victoria Abril, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Sylvie Testud.

My first is a moth (exasperating)

My second is a mute (enigmatic)

My third is a house (worrying)

My all is a film, which takes the form of a fantasy, about mistrust and its contrary: trust.

Alliance description

James Travers, Filmsdefrance: Summary

Whilst Jacinthe becomes obsessed with the insects which seem to be taking over her apartment, her best friend Léa takes an interest in an apparently dumb middle aged man who works in a supermarket. One day, whilst en route for a stay in the countryside, Léa sees the dumb man on a train and follows him to his home. Not having seen Léa for several days, Jacinthe becomes concerned for her safety…


Intended as the closing installment in a loose trilogy of films (the first two being Ça ira mieux demain (2000) and C'est le bouquet! (2002)) Cause toujours! is one of those gentle comedies which starts out well but just fails to take off. Part of the problem is that its writer/director Jeanne Labrune seems to have embarked on the project without a clear idea about where the story is heading, who the characters are, or indeed what kind of film it is. Consequently, the film feels listless and disjointed, a pot pourri of interesting but pretty random ideas. The numerous thriller references are clumsy and an unwelcome distraction, whilst the jokes are much too obvious to make you laugh. The film has a great cast who do what they can, but the lackluster script and aimless direction greatly diminishes its enjoyment value.

Film Space schedule

At Film Space: on Saturdays at 7 pm

Film Space is now showing “A Month of Mental Retardation” through the end of November. [In December, they will give you another chance to view Kieslowski’s fascinating Three Colors Trilogy, plus his The Double Life of Veronique.]

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 November 8, 7 pm: Laundry (2002) by Junichi Mori – Japan Drama/ Romance – 126 mins.

A young man, who's mentally handicapped, meets a young woman, with a great deal of baggage, at the laundry where he works and they fall in love. This is a very quirky love story with very quirky characters, one of them played by the very quirky Japanese actor Yôsuke Kubozuka! [He’s in the pictures to the right.] To my mind he is a fascinating, even mesmerizing actor.

He’s a bad boy – a very bad boy! – difficult to work with, and in deep trouble with the Japanese establishment for his very vocal support of marijuana use. However, he won Japan’s equivalent of the Oscars for his performance in a Japanese movie called Go in 2001, and I saw him in a fascinating film at last year’s Bangkok International Film Festival: amour-LEGENDE. It was a weird performance in a weird film that haunts me to this day. This movie, Laundry, comes a year after his award-winning film Go, and between this one and amour-LEGENDE he fell 9 stories from his apartment balcony under strange circumstances; some say he’s been even weirder ever since.

Nevertheless, he’s fascinating to watch.

Japan Times: In Japan, it's hard for an actor to stretch once an image is fixed in the public mind. Thus hot young star Yosuke Kubotsuka (or his agent) was smart to sign for Jun'ichi Mori's Laundry soon after making a big splash in "Go," where he played a quick-fisted Korean kid in a Japanese high school, which earned him a Japan Academy Award.

In Laundry Kubotsuka is Teru, a 20-year-old with a damaged brain (the result, he tells us in a voice-over narration, of an early encounter with an open manhole), who lives with his grandmother and keeps an eye on her laundromat. Planting himself on a chair outside the place, he observes the various eccentrics who flow through, including an old man who mumbles to himself, a housewife who bores him with her endless photos of flowers and a pro boxer who has yet to win a bout in 18 tries and crawls into a dryer to pout all night after his latest loss.

The Japanese affection for the sort of love story seen in Laundry goes back to Chaplin's “City Lights” (which they much prefer to his more satirical "Modern Times"). The Tramp's selfless love for the blind flower girl has inspired countless directors here to produce their own versions of the film's "a smile and a tear" formula. The films mostly range from the insufferable to the exasperating. In Laundry, Mori, an award-winning director of TV commercials making his feature debut, doesn't completely avoid the feyness endemic to these films: Teru wears a conical cap, knitted for him by Granny, that makes him look like a walking, breathing cartoon character. But Mori has a drier, quirkier sensibility than his predecessors -- "Baghdad Cafe" meets "Edward Scissorhands" -- while his script has memorable lines, ingenious twists and an ending that flows from everything that has come before, without being thumpingly obvious.

He also has Kubotsuka, who resists the urge to flaunt his virtuosity. Instead he simplifies, expressing the essence of Teru, including his neediness and hard-headedness, with economy and precision -- and none of the usual bombast and treacle. As Mizue, former model Koyuki may be a bit too much the sensitive wimp, but is a believable kleptomaniac (she has the right hard, glinty eye). Meanwhile, Naito -- a ferociously articulate TV comedian and MC -- provides a refreshing balance to these two unworldly types as the straight-talking, if comically strange, Sari.

Though packaged as an offbeat entertainment for a mainly female audience (two beautiful misfits find each other!), Laundry manages to be something more as well. Even if you don't buy its romance, its view of the world as a place where character and circumstance are not necessarily predestined is a nice counter to the more fashionable fatalism. Laundry is a cleansing film -- but not the same old soap.

At Film Space on November 15, 7 pm: The Eighth Day / Le Huitième jour (1996) by Jaco van Dormael – Belgium/ France/ UK Comedy/ Drama – 118 mins. Mixed or average reviews: 68 out of 100.

When his wife and grown children abandon him, a controlling, aggressive salesman resigns himself to a life of isolation and despair. But after he literally crosses paths with a sweet-natured Down's syndrome patient, the two forge a tender friendship based on their mutual dependence. Stars Auteuil and Duquenne (who actually has Down's syndrome) shared the Best Actor award at Cannes.

New York Times, Janet Maslin: When The Eighth Day was shown at the Cannes Film Festival last year, it was greeted with a mixture of derision and tears. I was surprised to find myself in the handkerchief brigade, by far the smaller faction because this film is unforgivable in so many ways. It's mawkish and pushy in a manner that identifies its director, Jaco van Dormael, who also made the very well-received Toto the Hero, as a former circus clown.

But it's also touching and unabashedly big-hearted as it shows a lonely executive being shaken out of his gray corporate universe, then reminded that the natural world is full of tender little miracles. Not such a bad point for a movie to make.

The stars of The Eighth Day, Pascal Duquenne and Daniel Auteuil, shared Cannes' best actor award for playing out a familiar movie story in surprisingly fresh ways. Duquenne, an actor who has Down syndrome, is the main reason The Eighth Day invites frequent comparison to Rain Man, though his is not a subtle star turn. The performance is rudimentary -- happiness, sadness, hugging -- but it has the advantage of looking spontaneous and real. Don't be all that surprised if he makes you cry, too.

In a hackneyed odd-couple pairing, Georges (Duquenne) and Harry (Auteuil) meet by accident (quite literally, since Harry stops his car to find Georges after the car hits a dog in the road). Georges has run away from the institution where he lives, and Harry has no idea what to do with him. Impatient as he is, Harry is also at liberty, since he has been left by his wife (Miou-Miou) and two children. As the film unfolds and the two men become fast friends, there's plenty of time for Harry to stop and smell the roses.

The first thing Harry must do is get used to Georges' way of living in the moment. Georges shouts, waves, touches or flashes a thousand-watt smile at the slightest provocation. Of course, the button-down businessman finds himself beginning to enjoy this. He starts joining in the fun. He rediscovers that dread movie resource, a childlike sense of wonder. There is also an empty seaside amusement park just waiting to show Harry, Georges and Georges' friends from the institution a rollicking good time.

Amazingly, van Dormael tells this story as if neither he nor we had seen it dozens of times before. Broad strokes of magical realism also offer their share of heart-tugging surprise. In his daydreams, Georges is accompanied by his favorite singer, who sits on the hood of Harry's movie car in a purple-spangled mariachi suit and, at one remarkable juncture, appears in the form of a singing mouse. Georges also imagines a smiling, loving mother who asks, "How's my little boy?" even though his real mother is dead.

The title, which comes from the film's idiosyncratic account of the world's creation, also refers to the way Harry is able to escape his cliché-ridden real life thanks to Georges' intervention.

Georges has the magic to let Harry step out of time. The film exploits that thought with a manipulative ending that makes its amusement-park episodes look dainty, but some of its sweet, peaceful moments really do have redemptive power. All it takes, in one scene, is for Harry and Georges to lie wordlessly in the grass enjoying the sights and sounds of a forest.

"A nice minute for us," Georges says simply. It really is.

Roger Ebert: . . . Watching The Eighth Day, I felt contradictory impulses. On the one hand, I was acutely aware of how conventional the story was. On the other, I was enchanted by the friendship between Harry and Georges. Auteuil is a fine actor, and so is Duquenne, who belongs to a Brussels experimental theatrical troupe and approaches every scene with a combination of complete commitment and utter abandon. These two men shared the best acting prize at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, and indeed it would be impossible to honor one without the other. . . .

At Film Space on November 22, 7 pm: Rain Man (1988) by Barry Levinson – US Drama – 133 mins. Starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. Generally favorable reviews: 65/77 out of 100.

Winner of four Oscars in 1988: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Dustin Hoffman), Original Screenplay. Everyone knows Rain Man. Everyone uses catch phrases spawned by Rain Man. Everyone loves Rain Man. Autistic savants are now referred to colloquially as "rain men." The 1988 film that was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four is a piece of pop culture history embedded in our collective unconscious. Rain Man is the story of two brothers, Charlie (Tom Cruise) and Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) Babbitt. Charlie is a nasty, malevolent, and greedy importer of Italian cars, the personification of 1980s excess (he could be a protégé of Michael Douglas's "greed is good" Wall Street character). When his wealthy but estranged father dies, leaving Charlie only a vintage car and some rose bushes, the 25-year-old sets out to see who "stole" his inheritance. What he finds is a 50-year-old autistic savant brother who has been institutionalized since their mother died when Charlie was two. The younger brother kidnaps the older in order to take him back to California and win custody, thereby gaining control of the $3 million trust fund. En route, Charlie—described by Cruise as an "emotional autistic"—learns to reach out and love from his clinically autistic sibling.