Thursday, November 20, 2008

What's On starting Nov 20

Traitor arrives – another excellent War on Terror film

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, November 20

by Thomas Ohlson

Best Bets: Traitor. Son of Rambow. Quantum of Solace. Tropic Thunder. Queens of Langkasuka.

These are my comments for the movies playing at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, November 20, 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 4 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!

There have been some schedule rearrangements at Alliance Française and Film Space because of last weekend’s cancellations of showings due to the three days of national mourning set by the government during the cremation ceremony for Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana. The Alliance Française has rescheduled Diva for December 12, and Film Space is planning to move last week’s showing of The Eighth Day to this Saturday, doubling up with the previously scheduled Rain Man.

Major Cineplex failed to bring in the fascinating Burn After Reading which they had promised, but they did bring in the excellent Traitor. And once again they brought in an interesting foreign film with no English subtitles and only awful Thai dubbing, this one being the very complex and expensive Japanese film Twentieth Century Boys.

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* 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. At Airport Plaza only.

* Twentieth Century Boys: Japan Fantasy – 142 mins – In a Thai-dubbed version only, and that is a real shame, and at Airport Plaza only. A live-action film based on a wildly popular manga comic. The main character is Kenji, who once aimed to be a rock star but now works at a convenience store. He stumbles upon a cult behind a series of mysterious incidents that have bizarre similarities to a book that Kenji himself wrote as a child. It’s based on a very popular science fiction mystery manga created, written, and drawn by Naoki Urasawa. The whole series seems to have been inspired in parts of the story by the works of Stephen King, containing allusions to “It” and “The Stand.” However, the story draws allusions mostly from rock and roll, with its title based on T. Rex’s famous song, “20th Century Boy.”

The movie has a star-studded Japanese cast. This is the first part of a trilogy, after the closing credits there’s a preview of the second part. At Airport Plaza only.

* Son of Rambow: France/ UK/ Germany Comedy/ Drama/ Family – 96 mins – Their press release describes it thus: “Son of Rambow is the name of the home movie made by two little boys with a big video camera and even bigger ambitions. Set on a long English summer in the early 80's, Son of Rambow is a comedy about friendship, faith and the tough business of growing up. We see the story through the eyes of Will, the eldest son of a fatherless Plymouth Brethren family. The Brethren regard themselves as God's 'chosen ones' and their strict moral code means that Will has never been allowed to mix with the other 'worldlies,' listen to music or watch TV, until he finds himself caught up in the extraordinary world of Lee Carter, the school terror and maker of bizarre home movies. Carter exposes Will to a pirated copy of Rambo: First Blood and from that moment Will's mind is blown wide open and he's easily convinced to be the stuntman in Lee Carters' diabolical home movie. Will's imaginative little brain is not only given chance to flourish in the world of film making, but is also very handy when it comes to dreaming up elaborate schemes to keep his partnership with Lee Carter a secret from the Brethren community. Will and Carter's complete disregard for consequences and innocent ambition means that the process of making their film is a glorious rollercoaster that eventually leads to true friendship. They start to make a name for themselves at school as movie makers but when popularity descends on them in the form of a Pied Piper-esque French exchange student their unique friendship and their precious film are pushed, quite literally, to breaking point.” In English and French with Thai subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 66/68 out of 100.

Several people have noted that Son of Rambow reminds them of Stephen King's Stand by Me (1986) in the way that it provides a nostalgic look at the comradery, the coming of age, the bittersweet vulnerability, and the fantastic humor of childhood. These two boys have, along with writer-director Garth Jennings, turned a coming-of-age story into a treatise on both the fragility of artistic vision and the danger of popular opinion.

Roger Ebert: Set in an English village in the mid-1980s, Son of Rambow is a gentle story that involves a great deal of violence, but mostly the violence is muted and dreamy, like a confrontation with a fearsome scarecrow that looks horrifying but is obviously not real -- or real enough, but not alive. The two boys meet one day in the corridor outside their grade-school classroom. Will has been sent there because his religion forbids him to watch TV, even educational videos (it also forbids music, dancing, and so on). Lee has been booted out of his classroom, spots Will, and immediately beans him with a hard-thrown tennis ball. This is the beginning of a strange but lasting friendship. . .

* Headless Family / Hua Luud Family / หัวหลุดแฟมิลี่: Thai Comedy – 89 mins – The usual, this time about a family that has a freak accident that leaves them able to detach their heads without ill effects.

* Ha Taew / ห้าแถว: Thai Action/ Drama – 89 mins – A country boy returns home from a pilgrimage to find that people in his town are dying from unknown causes, possibly due to black magic. He determines to get to the bottom of the mystery, and save his town.

* The House Bunny: US Comedy – 97 mins – About an ex-Playboy Bunny. I’m sorry, I just don’t have the heart to get involved in this nonsense. You’re on your own – I quote just one comment. Mixed or average reviews: 55/52 out of 100.

James Berardinelli, ReelViews: The House Bunny has a screenplay written with ten-year olds in mind about a subject that deserves an R-rating. The resulting hodgepodge of unfunny, sophomoric humor and PG-13 T&A, frosted by a sheen of appallingly nauseous "drama," makes for such a noxious brew that it's amazing viewers stay in their seats for the entire production. Then again, it takes absorption of the full 100 minutes for the movie's vomit-inducing power to become evident. The House Bunny isn't the worst movie I have ever seen. In fact, it's not even the worst of 2008. But it's bad enough to warrant a heartfelt warning to potential viewers. One wonders if there's a special place in hell reserved for filmmakers who foist this kind of tripe on the public.

Painted Skin: China (Hong Kong S.A.R.) Action/ Fantasy – 103 mins – An action-thriller-love story 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.

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. Mixed or average reviews: 57/54 out of 100.

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. At Vista only.

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. [Note: At Vista only, and It’s been reported that there are no English subtitles.]

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.

Coming Soon / Program Nah / โปรแกรมหน้า วิญญาณอาฆาต: Thai Horror – 90 mins – The Thais offer up their own version of another bloody scream-fest, this one about a projectionist who decides to help a friend illegally film a newly released horror movie, with dire consequences. Has been quite popular in Thailand for three weeks now, second only to James Bond. I found it fairly interesting of its kind, with some provocative ideas.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, November 27

Twilight: US Vampire love – 96 mins – Already a phenomenon, somewhat akin to the Beatles frenzy on their first appearance in America! But for one person: heartthrob Robert Pattinson. In the story of Twilight, you have your against-the-odds teen love, your woman in peril, your vampires, and your cult following. And girls are getting injured in the mass near-rioting where ever Pattinson appears for book signing.

Teeth: US Comedy/ Horror – 94 mins – Directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein (son of Pop artist Roy). 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.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Alliance Française schedule

At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm

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:


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,

At Alliance Française on Friday, December 5: No film shown. Holiday!

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. Now that the weather is cool, they are resuming their rooftop showings, weather permitting. You might want to bring something to sit on or lie on. A contribution is requested in the donation box at the entrance. Well worth supporting.

At Film Space on November 22, 7 pm: Double Bill planned! 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.

At Film Space on December 6, 7 pm: 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 Française description

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.