Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What's On starting December 31

A gentle Adam Sandler comedy!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Wednesday, December 31

by Thomas Ohlson

Best Bets: Australia. Super Hap.

This is my report on the movies playing at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Wednesday, December 31, 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 10 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* Bedtime Stories: US Comedy/ Family/ Fantasy – 100 mins – Starring Adam Sandler in a surprisingly pleasant and amusing family comedy about a hotel handyman whose life changes when the lavish bedtime stories he tells his niece and nephew start to magically 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 his life upside down. The director is Adam Shankman, the one who gave the sparkle to Hairspray. Generally negative reviews: 34/41 out of 100. But those that did like it seemed to like it very much.

Variety: Sandler has delivered on his promise to make a movie his kids can enjoy. What's more, he's managed to do so without alienating his core audience. While the comedy -- about a hotel handyman whose outlandish tales spring to life -- clearly skews to a younger demographic, there's enough sophomoric humor here to reassure the Sandler faithful.

Rotten Tomatoes: Though it may earn some chuckles from pre-teens, this kid-friendly Adam Sandler comedy is uneven, poorly paced, and lacks the requisite whimsy to truly work.

* Deep in the Jungle / ปาฏิหาริย์ รักต่างพันธุ์: Thai Horror/ Action/ Fantasy/ Romance – 90 mins – A soldier falls in love with a woman who is actually a snake. Pretty incomprehensible, too jumpy, too murky, too much gratuitous bone-crunching violence. Consists of a lot of people brutally killing one another and jabbing each other in the neck with hypodermic needles. Seems to be a retelling of “The Snake King's Child”, an old and still popular Cambodian legend that was last depicted in the Cambodian film of that name in 2001. The moral seems to be, don’t mess with a snake in human form – its relatives may not be amused.

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 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. In true epic style, however, 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.

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. 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 Romances / Fan Waan Aai Joop / fhun-waan-aye-joob / ฝัน-หวาน-อาย-จูบ: Thai Romance/ Drama – 90 mins – Four love stories directed by four leading Thai filmmakers, with each story offering a different angle on Thai love 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” (also from Love of Siam) 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 understanding of and empathy with Thai customs and social behavior. For most of us the courting behavior as depicted in the first half of the movie 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.

Transporter 3: France Action/ Crime – 100 mins – This is certainly 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.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, January 8

Yes Man: US Comedy – 104 mins – Jim Carrey stars as Carl Allen, a man who signs up for a self-help program based on one simple principle: say “yes” to everything...and anything for an entire year. At first, unleashing the power of “yes” transforms Carl’s life in amazing and unexpected ways, but he soon discovers that opening up his life to endless possibilities can have its drawbacks. Mixed or average reviews: 45/52 out of 100.

Quarantine: US Horror/ Mystery/ Thriller – 89 mins – A television reporter and her cameraman are trapped inside a building quarantined by the US government after the outbreak of a mysterious virus which turns humans into bloodthirsty killers. It has the single hand-held camera style of such recent movies as Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project, and George Romero's Diary of the Dead. Sort of a “diegetic camera.” Some people find the faux “one actual camera” trick leads to heightened reality; others find that the constant jiggling of the picture and rough-shod editing gives them a headache – some are actually made physically sick. I myself find it simply irritating, unnecessarily, and I wish they wouldn’t do it. If you think you can put up with the camera style, you will find this to be a quite frightening movie, as I did, once the introductory first 20 boring minutes are over. Quarantine is an English-language remake of the 2007 Spanish horror film [Rec]. (Do you get the reference? “[Rec]” is what you see in an upper corner of a viewfinder when you’re recording.) A number of reviewers consider [Rec] one of the best horror films of recent years, and superior to this remake. A [Rec] 2 is now filming. Rated R in the US for bloody violent and disturbing content, terror, and language. Mixed or average reviews: 53/57 out of 100.

The Happiness of Kati: Thai Family/ Drama – 100 mins – “The Happiness of Kati” is a novel written by Ngarmpun "Jane" Jejjajiva. It was the winner of 2006 S.E.A Write Award and a bestseller with more than two hundred thousand copies sold. Besides being one of the most beloved and well-known contemporary children’s book in Thailand, "The Happiness of Kati" is also celebrated internationally. Its translated version has been licensed in nine countries - United States, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, and France.

Kati is a nine-year-old girl whose mother is suffering from an incurable illness. Kati must go through steps of happiness and sorrow, bonding and separation, having her hopes fulfilled and losing something she loves. Nevertheless, Kati has learned through these steps that the sorrow from her losses cannot take away the happiness she has received from her mother's love and bonding. This experience allows the little girl to grow up with confidence and the courage to live on. She knows who loves her, and who her loved ones are.”

And looking further afield . . .

Jan 22: High School Musical 3: Senior Year – A continuation of the hit musical series.

Jan 22: Red Cliff Part 2 – A continuation of the Chinese martial arts epic.

Jan 29: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton. The extraordinary tale of one man, born elderly in 1918, who ages backwards through the 21st century. Based loosely on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Feb 5: Gran Torino – Clint Eastwood stars and directs, about an iron-willed veteran living in a changing world who is forced by his immigrant neighbors to confront his own long-held prejudices.

Feb 5: Milk – The assassination of Harvey Milk, with Sean Penn.

Feb 19: Valkyrie – The near-miss assassination of Adolf Hitler by a ring of rebel German army officers on July 20, 1944, starring Tom Cruise as Col. Claus von Stauffenberg.

Alliance Française schedule

At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm

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.

At Alliance Française on Friday, January 16: Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot / Mr. Hulot's Holiday (1953) by Jacques Tati – 114 mins – France Comedy. In Black and White. No English subtitles, but you don’t really need them. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 90 out of 100.

With Jacques Tati, Nathalie Pascaud, Michèle Rolla, Valentine Camax, Louis Perrault.

Mr. Hulot goes on a holiday to a seaside resort, but accidents and misunderstandings follow him wherever he goes. The peace and quiet of the hotel guests don't last very long with Hulot around, because although his intentions are good, they always turn out catastrophically...

Alliance description

Monsieur Hulot comes to a beachside hotel for a vacation, where he accidentally (but good-naturedly) causes havoc.

Variety: Tati is the semi-articulate, blundering, but well-meaning clown, reminiscent of the early Mack Sennett types. Whether he is being chased by dogs, setting off a cabin full of fireworks, or blundering into a staid funeral, he is a very funny man.

Roger Ebert: The first time I saw Jacques Tati's Mr. Hulot's Holiday, I didn't laugh as much as I thought I was supposed to. But I didn't forget the film, and I saw it again in a film class, and then bought the laserdisc and saw it a third and fourth time, and by then it had become part of my treasure. But I still didn't laugh as much as I thought I was supposed to, and now I think I understand why.

It is not a comedy of hilarity but a comedy of memory, nostalgia, fondness, and good cheer. There are some real laughs in it, but Mr. Hulot's Holiday gives us something rarer, an amused affection for human nature--so odd, so valuable, so particular.

The movie was released in 1953, and played for months, even years, in art cinemas. It was a small film that people recommend to each other. There was a time when any art theater could do a week's good business just by booking Hulot. Jacques Tati (1908-1982) made only four more features in the next 20 years, much labored over, much admired, but this is the film for which he'll be remembered.

Film Space schedule

At Film Space: on Saturdays at 7 pm

Film Space in January is presenting 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, 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.

Saturday, January 17: The Bridges of Madison County (1995) by Clint Eastwood – 135 mins – US Drama/ Romance. In English. Generally favorable reviews: 66/71 out of 100.

The film adaptation of Robert James Waller's wildly popular, bestselling novel. The story takes place in 1965, in the farmlands of Iowa, where bored, middle-aged Italian housewife Francesca has just sent her two kids and husband away to the state fair. Shortly thereafter she encounters Robert Kincaid, a mysterious, rugged, "National Geographic" photographer, on assignment taking pictures of Iowa's covered bridges. The two are immediately attracted to each other, and when Francesca invites Robert back to her home, they begin a romantic, sensual, illicit affair that lasts over the next few days. For Francesca, this is the first time in years that she's experienced passion in her life, and she realizes that maybe she's found her true love. Robert feels the same way, and shortly before her family returns home, asks Francesca to run off with him. Francesca now must make an important decision -- one that will affect the rest of her life and could leave her with many regrets...

Roger Ebert: Almost everybody knows the story by now. Robert James Waller's novel has been a huge best-seller. Its prose is not distinguished, but its story is compelling: He provides the fantasy of total eroticism within perfect virtue, elevating to a spiritual level the common fantasy in which a virile stranger materializes in the kitchen of a quiet housewife and takes her into his arms.

Waller's gift is to make the housewife feel virtuous afterward.

It is easy to analyze the mechanism, but more difficult to explain why this film is so deeply moving -- why Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep have made it into a wonderful movie love story, playing Robert and Francesca. We know, of course, that they will meet, fall in love and part forever. It is necessary that they part. If the story had ended "happily" with them running away together, no one would have read Waller's book and no movie would exist. The emotional peak of the movie is the renunciation, when Francesca does not open the door of her husband's truck and run to Robert. This moment, and not the moment when the characters first kiss, or make love, is the film's passionate climax.

When Eastwood announced that he had bought the novel and planned to direct and star in the movie, eyebrows were raised.

Readers had already cast it in their minds, and not with Eastwood -- or with Meryl Streep, for that matter. There is still a tendency to identify Eastwood with his cowboy and cop roles, and to forget that in recent years he has grown into one of the most creative forces in Hollywood, both as an actor and a director. He was taking a chance by casting himself as Robert Kincaid, but it pays off in a performance that is quiet, gentle and yet very masculine.