Thursday, November 13, 2008

What On starting November 13

Period of mourning in effect! Alliance Française and Film Space cancel showings this week!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, November 13

by Thomas Ohlson

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

At the end is my list of movie times for Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and for Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, November 13, 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 complete European Union Film Festival schedule to be held at Vista in Kad Suan Kaew from December 11 to 21.

This is Issue Number 3 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!

There may be some cancellations of showings this weekend due to the three days of national mourning set by the government during the cremation ceremony for Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana from November 14 to 16. The government has asked everyone to dress in black, and entertainment venues have been asked to cease entertainment activities during this period. Already the Alliance Française has cancelled its showing on November 14: Diva will be shown instead on December 12. And Film Space has moved this week’s showing of The Eighth Day to next Saturday, doubling up with the scheduled showing of Rain Man.

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

* Painted Skin: China (Hong Kong S.A.R.) Action/ Fantasy – 103 mins – An action-thriller centered on a vampire-like woman who eats the skins and hearts of her lovers. The story is set in late Yuen Dynasty, at the time when demons and devils roam free. This demon constantly needs the heart and skin of man to maintain her beauty. The film is adapted from the ancient novel "Liaozhai Zhiyi," or "Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio," written by Pu Songling during the Qing Dynasty.

This film is Thai dubbed only/No English subtitles.

IMDb viewer: Make no mistake about it – this is a love story of many shades, with the ultimate glorification of "love conquers all.” To introduce this movie as the latest adaptation from the famous Chinese literature ghost story could be misleading. The movie in fact goes to great length to avoid being scary. As director Gordon Chan explains in an interview: "this is a story of romance where six characters speak for themselves about love.” The movie does indeed adapt the ghost story, but only as an anchor for the love stories. Also, the movie talks about "monsters" and not "ghosts" in order to get through the movie censor authority of the mainland of China, for whom “ghost” is an absolute no-no but “monsters” are tolerated. While this distinction hardly seems to matter to the audience, it means a potential additional market of hundreds of millions to the producers.

007 – Quantum of Solace: UK/US Action/ Adventure/ Thriller – 106 mins – Starring Daniel Craig as James Bond and Judy Dench as M. Really a continuation of the 2006 Casino Royale, which was a reinvention of the James Bond film series for present-day audiences. Here, with a different director, I found the undertaking greatly diminished in charm and style and elegance, with the action sequences more mindless and muddled, and the plot vastly more convoluted and confusing. But there’s much to still like if you’re a fan of Bond films. As more reviews have come in, the overall Metacritic/Rotten Tomatoes score has gone down from “Generally favorable” to “Mixed or average” reviews: 57/54 out of 100.

Just where and how did they come up with that strange and forbidding title Quantum of Solace? And what does it mean? 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, who is really a minor character – in fact, the person to whom the story is told. In the Bahamas James Bond attends a dull dinner party at the Governor’s Mansion, where the elderly governor tells him a story about a man who married an air hostess. The marriage started well but soon the wife began a torrid and very public affair with the son of a wealthy island family. It is at this point that the governor explains his theory: the quantum of solace, he says, is a precise figure defining the comfort, humanity, and fellow feeling required between two people for love to survive. If the quantum of solace is nil, then love is dead. Thus it’s simply a precise mathematical measurement of love. The title had been under consideration for a Bond film since 1989, and had long been considered unsuitable.

And, Quantum is the name of the film’s evil terrorist organization.

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."

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. Directed by Ben Stiller. Generally favorable reviews: 71/71 out of 100.

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: 58/58 out of 100. At Vista only, and thanks to Vista for bringing it back.

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.

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.

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: 31/35 out of 100.

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.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, November 20

Traitor: US Drama/Thriller – 114 mins – With Don Cheadle. Another serious look at the world of moral uncertainty amid the war on terror. I am a lot more fond of this movie than most reviewers. I think Don Cheadle gives another outstanding performance in this film – really a great person to watch. And I found the story (by Steve Martin – yes, him) very engrossing. Straight arrow FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) heads up the investigation into a dangerous international conspiracy, and all clues seem to lead back to former U.S. Special Operations officer, Samir Horn (Cheadle). A mysterious figure with a web of connections to terrorist organizations, Horn has a knack for emerging on the scene just as a major operation goes down. The inter-agency task force looking into the case links Horn to a prison break in Yemen, a bombing in Nice and a raid in London, but a tangle of contradictory evidence emerges, forcing Clayton to question whether his quarry is a disaffected former military operative – or something far more complicated. Obsessed with discovering the truth, Clayton tracks Horn across the globe as the elusive ex-soldier burrows deeper and deeper into a world of shadows and intrigue. Mixed or average reviews: 60/60 out of 100. I suggest you give it a try.

Burn After Reading: US Comedy/Crime – 96 mins – I really enjoyed this interesting movie 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. Generally favorable reviews: 63/60 out of 100.

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.

Sex Drive: US Comedy – 101 mins – With Josh Zuckerman and James Marsden. An eighteen-year-old sets out on a cross country drive with his best friends determined to lose his virginity to a red-hot babe he met on the Internet. Randy and raucous. Mixed or average reviews: 49/52 out of 100.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Alliance Française schedule

At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm

Showing cancelled on Friday, November 14: No film shown due to the three days of national mourning set by the government during the cremation ceremony for Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana from November 14 to 16. Diva (1981) by Jean-Jacques Beineix is rescheduled for December 12

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.

At Alliance Française on Friday, November 28: À Tout De Suite / Right Now (2004) by Benoît Jacquot – 95 mins – France, Crime/ Romance/ Drama. In black and white. English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 63/66 out of 100.

With Isild Le Besco, Ouassini Embarek, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Laurence Cordier.

When she hangs up the phone after hearing her lover say, “We’re coming right now,” she knows in her heart of hearts what she hadn’t faced up to before: that this man she loves, this “prince” from nowhere, is a hoodlum. He has just robbed a bank and a man got killed. It’s the mid-1970s. She’s nineteen years old. Right now, as if in a waking dream, she falls headlong from the tight, narrow space of her father’s uptown apartment into a weaving world of escape — Spain, Morocco, Greece — and from being an almost well-behaved girl into the life she’s always wanted, for better or worse.

Alliance description

A school girl falls for a charming young man. After news about a botched bank robbery in which a guard is killed, she learns that her boyfriend was one of the robbers. She decides to hide him and his friends and then they all sneak out of the country. After hiding out and spending all the money, tempers rise and the group splits up. This forces the girl to work her own way back home and deal with her actions and her separation from her boyfriend. A stylish, erotically charged thriller, and visually stunning,

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.

Showing cancelled on November 15: No film shown. The Eighth Day / Le Huitième jour (1996) by Jaco van Dormael is planned to be postponed to next Saturday, doubling up with the scheduled showing of Rain Man.

At Film Space on November 22, 7 pm: Double Bill! The Eighth Day and Rain Man.

Nov 22 Film 1. 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. . . .

Nov 22 Film 2. 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.

At Film Space on November 29, 7 pm: I Am Sam (2001) by Jessie Nelson – US Drama – 132 mins. Starring Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Dakota Fanning. Generally negative reviews: 28/46 out of 100.

Sean Penn leads a large cast as a mentally handicapped man raising a young daughter on his own as well as fighting an impervious child-care bureaucracy. Quite a difference of opinion on this one between the critics who in general slam it as simplistic and manipulative, and many viewers who count it among their most favorite films. As examples:

Rolling Stone: Contrived, manipulative, and shamelessly sentimental, this film is notable for the courageous reach of Sean Penn, who gives a bold, heartfelt performance.

Variety: A near-parody of ultra-politically correct storytelling, in which single parenthood is lionized (and even finally found preferable over an alternative two-parent family option). The movie assumes, in a thoroughly unearned way, a total acceptance of its shaky premise -- that a man like Sam, with the mental abilities of a 7-year-old, is the best possible parent because he has more love for his child than anyone else.

IMDb viewer: As the film progresses, you will find yourself laughing one minute, crying the next (you WILL cry no matter how mature or old you are, so make sure you have tissues) . . . and the next moment simply staring at the screen not believing your eyes and ears at how emotionally powerful a film can be.

IMDb viewer: It's A Wonderful Life has been the top of my list for all time favorite movies, now I Am Sam has moved in right next to it.