Thursday, December 25, 2008

What's On starting December 25

Australia survives Australia!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, December 25

by Thomas Ohlson

Best Bets: Australia. Super Hap. Ong-Bak 2. The Double Life of Veronique.

Here are my comments on the movies playing at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, December 25, 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 9 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!

Movies change on Wednesday next week.

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

*Australia: Australia Drama/ Adventure – 165 mins – Baz Luhrmann returns to the screen to direct his first feature film since 2001’s Moulin Rouge, and I think he does so in grand style. Set against the backdrop of World War II, it’s the epic, sweeping tale of an English woman (Nicole Kidman) who inherits a sizable cattle ranch “down under.” When English cattle barons plot to take her land, she reluctantly joins forces with a rough-hewn stock-man (Hugh Jackman) to drive 2,000 head of cattle across hundreds of miles of the country's most unforgiving land, only to face the bombing of Darwin, Australia, by the Japanese forces that had attacked Pearl Harbor only months earlier.

The child [see picture] who narrates the film and whose story forms the spine of the plot, is a delight to watch. His name is Brandon Walters and he is a half-caste Aborigine, and he is everything a child actor should be, unlike the one we talked about last week.

In true epic style, the film clocks in at 165 minutes, so make yourselves comfortable for the ride.

Mixed or average reviews: 53/57 out of 100. Vista is showing it in a Thai-dubbed version only, with no English subtitles.

It's as silly as an epic needs to be; nevertheless it’s truly an old-fashioned grand epic. There are caveats to be made about the history it portrays – in some ways I think it’s an insult to Australian and its Aborigines and their history. But caveats next week, enjoy it now.

* Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa: US Animation/ Family – 89 mins – A delightful animated picture, with the animals of the original Madagascar in new adventures and breath-taking exploits. I had a lot of fun with it, but then I like cartoons. I think Chris Rock is great as the zebra [see picture]. Alex, Marty, Melman, Gloria, King Julien, Maurice, and the penguins and the chimps, find themselves marooned on the distant shores of Madagascar. The New Yorkers have hatched a plan: the penguins repair an old crashed plane, and the unlikely crew is able to keep it airborne just long enough to make it to the wildest place of all – the vast plains of Africa, where the members of the Central Park Zoo-raised crew encounter species of their own kind for the very first time. Generally favorable reviews: 61/59 out of 100.

* Super Hap / Super แหบ-แสบ-สะบัด: Thai Comedy/ Musical – 90 mins – I found this a quite enjoyable Thai teen-oriented musical comedy, in which two guys try to break into the music industry by forming a Korean-style boy band, since Korean fever has hit Thailand in a big way. But the one who looks cute and can dance can’t sing, and the other can sing but doesn’t look the part and can’t dance. The answer lies in lip-syncing on stage. But they have to keep it a secret, which isn’t easy. There are some quite entertaining bits – the dog barking when the two guys argue really cracked me up – and though it seemed to lose its way in sentimentality toward the end, that’s all right. Overall, one of the better Thai comedies I’ve seen.

* 4 Romance / Fan Waan Aai Joop / fhun-waan-aye-joob / ฝัน-หวาน-อาย-จูบ: Thai Romance/ Drama – 90 mins – 4 Romance puts together four love stories directed by four leading Thai filmmakers, with each story offering a different angle on Thai love from a different perspectives and in a different storytelling style: comedy, drama, action, and musical. Directors: Chukiat Sakweerakul (of Love of Siam fame), Prachya Pinkaew, Bhandit Thongdee, and Rachen Limtrakul. Among the large cast are two of the stars of Love of Siam, Mario Maurer and "Pitch" Witwisit Hiranyawongkul, in different segments. I found it pretty much of a bore and not nearly as entertaining as Super Hap, but the Thais in the audience seemed to like it well enough. The most enjoyable section was the last one, featuring the band “August” and singer “Pitch” – that part had a few nice surprises, and the kids are great.

Happy Birthday / แฮปปี้ เบิร์ดเดย์: Thai Drama/ Romance – 90 mins – Starring Ananda Everingham. A weepy love story, and almost incomprehensible to anyone without a deep intuitive understanding of Thai customs and social behavior. For most of us the courting behavior is an unfathomable mystery, and quite foreign. Ananda is a travel photographer who travels around Thailand with his guide/girlfriend, until she has a car accident and ends up in a hospital in a coma, while Ananda waits endlessly at her bedside for her to wake up. Maddeningly tedious to most farangs, I’m afraid, though the Thais I was with seemed to enjoy the first half a good deal. Beautiful location photography.

The Day the Earth Stood Still: US Sci-Fi/ Drama/ Thriller – 103 mins – With Keanu Reeves. I enjoyed this! (Except for the kid, who is hateful!) If you like sci-fi thrillers, you should like this too, when the kid isn’t on screen. You have to be willing to accept a lot of the “aliens invade Earth” conventions. I did, and found it a lot of fun, except for the kid. In this remake of the landmark film of 1951 with Michael Rennie, Keanu Reeves now plays the alien who travels to Earth with a simple mission: to save the planet. He lands his space ship in Central Park and tries without success to announce his plans to the world via a speech at the United Nations. He’s shot and taken into custody instead. So he goes to his backup plan: destroy everything on earth, and then re-populate the planet with clones of the current species. Generally negative reviews: 39/40 out of 100.

I thought the script was terrific of this kind, except for the kid, which leads me to believe his father rewrote his lines and didn’t do it too well. I liked the bit about the US President nowhere to be seen, in fact hiding out, when Earth is invaded, leaving the running of things to others, much like George Bush on 9/11.

Transporter 3: France Action/ Crime – 100 mins – I’ve seen it, and I can attest that it’s an action movie – meaning that there’s a lot of explosions, car crashes, and men being violent and assertive. And it’s all quite well done, and seasoned with just the slightest bit of plot and humor. If that’s what you like, this is for you.

Jason Statham returns for a third time now as Frank Martin, a former British Special Forces soldier turned mercenary, whose specialty is delivering risky items in a timely fashion. In this third installment, Frank who has just relocated to Paris, awakes to find himself with a bomb strapped to his wrist which threatens to blow up should he try to remove it. Mixed or average reviews: 51/50 out of 100.

Roger Ebert: A perfectly acceptable brainless action thriller.

Ong-Bak 2: Thai Action/ Adventure – 100 mins – With Tony Jaa, who also directed. I’m not sure what your reaction will be to this film, for it’s rather difficult and really not too much fun to watch. It’s quite dark, and exceptionally violent. Not for children! But it’s extraordinary in many respects, and approaches almost every aspect of an action film in a new way. And it seems a terribly personal film for Tony Jaa, in which he apparently is trying to exorcise some inner demons. I think it’s a fascinating attempt.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Wednesday, December 31

Bedtime Stories: US Comedy/ Fantasy – 100 mins – Starring Adam Sandler. It's a family-friendly flick about Skeeter Bronson, a hotel handyman, whose life is changed forever when the bedtime stories he tells his niece and nephew start to mysteriously come true. He attempts to take advantage of the phenomenon, incorporating his own aspirations into one outlandish tale after another, but it's the kids' unexpected contributions that turn Skeeter's life upside down. The director is Adam Shankman (Hairspray).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Alliance Française schedule

At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm

At Alliance Française on Friday, December 26: No film shown. Holiday!

At Alliance Française on Friday, January 2: No film shown. Holiday!

At Alliance Française on Friday, January 9: Arsène Lupin (2004) by Jean-Paul Salomé – 131 mins – France/ Italy/ Spain/ UK Action/ Adventure/ Crime/ Mystery/ Romance. English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 80 out of 100.

With Romain Duris, Kristin Scott Thomas, Marie Bunel, Francoise Lépine, Guillaume Huet, Gerard Chaillou, Eva Green, Pascal Greggory, Robin Renucci.

Based on the early years of the French classy hero, this movie provides all the fun you can expect from a classical adventure movie. Fights, stunts, exotic places, wicked villains, and characters you will love to hate or chill for...

Alliance description

Variety: A thoroughly entertaining period romp bursting with intrigue, Arsene Lupin is a keenly crafted take on the gentleman burglar whose adventures in fin de siecle Paris are immortalized in 18 popular novels by Maurice Leblanc (1864-1941). Elaborate treasure hunt has visual sweep and a terrific cast of scheming characters who range from merely craven to genuinely evil. [There is] much to enjoy. In 1882, future nimble-fingered master of disguise Arsene Lupin is a boy (Guillaume Huet) living in Normandy with his mother (Marie Bunel) and father Jean (Aurelien Wilk) -- a rumored thief. Jean is teaching his son to box when government officials arrive to arrest him. Dad's advice prior to making a daring escape will serve the lad well: "Distract your prey -- that's the key. Remember that and you'll never get caught." For those who do not know him, Monsieur Lupin is a gentleman burglar. He is a son of a criminal and has been educated by his father, though he differs in one respect: he has vowed not to kill anyone, however dire the circumstances. Arsène’s universe is much akin to anything written by Alexandre Dumas, with the difference that Arsène lives in the fin-de-siècle, though the problems he faces remain the same: the royalists trying to re-establish the French Monarchy while rich aristocrats scheming to relieve people of their treasures. Arsène also has the problem -- or pleasure depending on your point of view -- much like James Bond, of falling in love with every lovely lady that passes within ten miles of his sight. Thus romance and intrigue, hidden treasures and multiple identities (Arsène is obviously also a master of disguise) are at the heart of any Lupin story.

The 2004 film adaptation from director and co-screenwriter Jean-Paul Salomé is simply titled Arsène Lupin, and is based on the 1924 novel “The Countess of Cagliostro.” It is high on atmosphere and production values (the reported budget being 23 million Euros), though it treats its narrative only as a necessity to get the audience from one skirmish to the other, from one lady’s bed to the other and from one flaming explosion to the next.

Film Space schedule

At Film Space: on Saturdays at 7 pm

Film Space in December has been presenting “A Month of Krzysztof Kieslowski” featuring the Three Colors Trilogy, films of which I am very fond, plus, as the final offering, his The Double Life of Veronique. In January they present simply a series of films by some directors they like.

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.

Saturday, December 27: La Double vie de Véronique / The Double Life of Veronique (1991) by Krzysztof Kieslowski – 98 mins – France/ Poland, Drama/ Fantasy/ Romance. In French and Polish, with English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 77 out of 100.

With Irène Jacob, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Sandrine Dumas, Guillaume de Tonquedec, Aleksander Bardini.

I truly and deeply appreciate the mastery of its filmmaking, and I am endlessly fascinated by it, but I think this film is a mess – a very flawed masterpiece. Nevertheless, it was Krzysztof Kieslowski’s international breakthrough, and it remains one of his most beloved films, and is to be sure a ravishing, mysterious rumination on identity, love, and human intuition. Irène Jacob is incandescent as both Weronika, a Polish choir soprano, and her double, Véronique, a French music teacher. Though unknown to each other, the two women share an enigmatic, purely emotional bond, which Kieslowski details in gorgeous reflections, colors, and movements, aided by Slawomir Idziak’s shimmering cinematography and Zbigniew Preisner’s haunting, operatic score.

More than in most of his films, Kieslowski didn’t seem to know what he wanted to do in this film, and constantly fiddled with it. It started out to be 50% about Weronika in Poland, and 50% about Vèronique in France, but it ended up being one-third for Weronika and the rest for Vèronique. Originally, according to the star Irène Jacob, he wanted to intertwine the two stories, but he ended up keeping them separate except for the brief encounter at the tour bus. Irène Jacob said that he made fifteen different versions of the film. “It was tough, because each one told a different story.” She goes on to say, “He had versions where the movie seemed even more open-ended, and others where he explained things more. . . . I was amazed when I saw the finished film – when I saw how many scenes were missing, I was very surprised. He’d cut so many scenes that I was a bit lost!”

Irène Jacob also said that Kieslowski contemplated several different endings. His cinematographer Slawomir Idziak says that they eventually worked on three different endings which they were hoping to distribute in a random way so that some audiences in Paris would see one ending, and others one of the others. This idea was abandoned due to the cost involved, but the cinematographer states that the present ending incorporates elements of all three endings. And to my mind the result is more of a muddle than it should be.

Despite all this, the result is a fascinating film. Just before he began work on his stunning film trilogy Blue, Red, and White, Polish writer/director Krzysztof Kieslowski made a film that could easily have been part of the same series, and probably should have been called Yellow, but was titled The Double Life of Veronique instead. Like the three color films, Veronique is a meditation on the interconnectedness of people, told in poetic style with a visual language that repeats itself with the comforting cadence of a nursery rhyme. It's a film experience, in other words, in which the sensuous nature of the medium takes over, and the plot matters less and less as the film goes on.

The Double Life of Veronique is propelled by an idea, and by the excellent performance of Irène Jacob in dual lead roles—as Weronika, a young woman in Poland, and Vèronique, her identical counterpart in France. Weronika receives the shocking news first: She learns about her double when she spies Vèronique in a busload of picture-snapping French tourists on a plaza in Krakow. Vèronique finds out later, when she develops her snapshots from the trip, and is equally devastated. A doppelganger, in this case, is not a pal who knows what you're going to say before you say it; it means that feelings of loneliness and isolation are passed back and forth between the characters, doubling their despair.

Saturday, January 3: Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? (2008) by Morgan Spurlock – 93 mins – France/ US Documentary. In English. Mixed or average reviews: 45 out of 100.

A Nutshell Review: Of course it will be silly to presume that this film can find the answers to the multi-million dollar question, or even come close to it, so just what was the intention?

Director Morgan Spurlock isn't new to controversy, having burst onto the documentary scene with his real life gorging on MacDonald's for every meal in order to drive home the point that junk food really does junk your well being. So for this new film of his, it stems from his desire to seek out the world's #1 wanted man, and ask him just what floats his boat. He may be putting on his jester cap with his somewhat hilarious introduction, but looking at the preparation with vaccination and even attending some terrorism survival course, he's quite dead set in his mission to find that elusive man.

Until of course you realize that he's hitting all the relative safe havens for the most part, before venturing into the more likely places in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But what he seeks to unearth is the Middle East's attitudes towards Americans, and it seems that the common consensus is that while they have nothing against the people, almost everyone that Spurlock chose to showcase, has issues with the foreign policies. And from interviews with the average Joes, they sure have issues with politics at home more than those that are from abroad. Spurlock also takes opportunity to slam the US foreign policy, and does so through a hilarious animated sequence involving Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty herself, in what would be a realistic case of sleeping with the wrong bedfellows.

Bringing the camera from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, and interview people from the state of Palestine and Israel, what he had presented were compelling arguments for and against, as well as plenty of moderate views that seek to debunk the bulk of western media who find delight in demonizing those in the Middle East. Through the looking glass peering at their everyday lives, the film comes to present the basic need for survival and providing for one's family, no matter one's geography, country, religion, and culture. Naturally there were some feathers ruffled, especially when dealing with closed cultures who clam up, or intolerant folks who have no qualms in using violence, but in general, this documentary serves to be rather tame.

Yes it's gimmicky in its title, and half the time you're not sure whether Spurlock will take that plunge and really head to where he will likely find some inkling of positive leads, but what it has presented instead is something more powerful: that this world really needs to reach out and have everyone take a more tolerant attitude, and to understand one another a lot more, to avoid conflict. This should be a world without strangers, and this documentary manages to show just a glimmer of that hope.

Saturday, January 10: Sayonara Color (2005) by Naoto Takenaka – 119 mins – Japan Romance. In Japanese, English subtitles.

Sayonara Color is the fifth film by Takenaka Naoto, one of Japan’s most respected character actors and the director of Muno no Hlto - Nowhere Man and Tokyo Bivori. Shohei (Takenaka Naoto) works as a doctor in a sea-side hospital. One day a new patient is admitted to the hospital with ovarian cancer. Shohei is surprised to recognize Michiko, his first love from high school. Shohei has been leading a dissolute bachelor life, paying for the company of high school girls and dating an older woman who works in a local bar, but in reality for the last twenty years he has not forgotten Michiko. Unfortunately, though Michiko doesn’t remember him at all.

Shohei becomes more and more and more persistent in his attempts to get her to recall their past. At first she is annoyed by his overtures, but gradually warms to the doctor. Under Shohei’s kind and patient care Michiko’s condition improves and her cancer becomes operable. The operation is a success, but now Shohei himself learns that he has terminal cancer.

Both starring and directing, Takenaka Naoto gives a characteristically eccentric performance as a quirky doctor in love with his patient in this moving drama that affects with both offbeat humor and terminal disease pathos.