Thursday, January 29, 2009

What's On starting January 29

Major Cineplex relents and schedules Defiance!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, January 29

by Thomas Ohlson

Best Bet: Defiance.

Highest recommendation for Defiance! On Friday, Major Cineplex, after two weeks of showing it throughout Thailand, finally relented and scheduled Defiance for Airport Plaza. A brilliant film! I hope you see it!

Major Cineplex again failed to bring in High School Musical 3: Senior Year despite posters and previews that promised it last week. I’ve been told that they ran short of copies, and it’s on its way. It’s a fun film of music and dancing.

And, just as they did with the first part of Red Cliff, both Major Cineplex and Vista are bringing Part 2 to Chiang Mai in a Thai-dubbed version only, with no English subtitles, thus effectively destroying this large-scale Chinese epic for those who don’t understand Thai.

Australia has left town. And there’s still no sign that the hit film Slumdog Millionaire will be shown here in Thailand. This terrific film won four prizes at the Golden Globes awards, and now has been nominated for ten Oscar awards. It’s gotten universal acclaim (see “not-coming attractions” below). The Academy Awards can be seen here live at 8 am on February 23.

Here are my comments on the movies playing in Chiang Mai at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, January 29, 2009. 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 14 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* Inkheart: Germany/ UK/ US Adventure/ Family/ Fantasy – 106 mins – Brendan Fraser and Helen Mirren. Based on Inkheart, a 2003 children's fantasy novel by prolific German author Cornelia Funke (who has been likened to J.K. Rowling), and the first part in Funke's Inkworld series, the other two books being Inkspell (2006) and Inkdeath (2008). In German, the book titles are Tintenherz, Tintenblut, and Tintentod. The fantasy trilogy concerns the adventures of bookbinder Mortimer "Mo" Folchart (played in the film by Brendan Fraser at the insistence of the author) and his 12-year-old daughter, Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett), a voracious reader. As revealed in the film's prologue, Mo is a Silvertongue, a person with the rare ability to bring the characters in a book to life simply by reading the text aloud. Directed by Iain Softley (The Wings of the Dove, Backbeat). Mixed or average reviews: 43/50 out of 100. Shown in a Thai-dubbed version only at Vista, with no English subtitles. For English, go to Airport Plaza.

* Fireball / Tar Chon / ท้า/ชน: Thai Action/ Martial Arts – The world of underground barbaric fighting in Thailand, with a bit of Muay Thai basketball thrown in. Director Thanakorn Pongsuwan (Opapatika).

* Defiance: US Drama/ War – 137 mins – I thought this a superb war drama and thriller with a lot of thought in it. A must-see in my opinion. Based on an extraordinary true story, Defiance is an epic tale of family, honor, vengeance, and salvation in World War II. The year is 1941 and the Jews of Eastern Europe are being massacred by the thousands. Managing to escape certain death, three brothers take refuge in the dense surrounding woods they have known since childhood. There they begin their desperate battle against the Nazis. Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell star as brothers who turn a primitive struggle to survive into something far more consequential - a way to avenge the deaths of their loved ones by saving thousands of others. Directed by Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond, Glory, The Last Samurai). Rated R in the US for violence and language. Only mixed or average reviews: 58/57 out of 100, but I thought it riveting, and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to see something substantial and provocative.

The film has one of my favorite actors in it – Liev Schreiber (shown in picture), for my money a much underappreciated actor. I have seen him in many stage productions in New York City, most notably as Hamlet in a powerful production by the Public Theater that I will never forget.

Red Cliff: Part II / Chi bi: Xia - Jue zhan tian xia / สามก๊ก 2 โจโฉแตกทัพเรือ: China [Hong Kong] War/ Action/ Drama/ History – 141 mins – The second and final half to John Woo's magnum opus Red Cliff, and a continuation of the legendary “Battle of Red Cliff,” a decisive battle during the period of the Three Kingdoms in China, as told in the Chinese classic novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. An epic of grand scale in the Chinese manner. Produced and directed by John Woo (Broken Arrow, Face/Off). Both Chiang Mai theater chains should be ashamed of themselves for showing this large and exciting film in a Thai-dubbed version only, with no English subtitles.

The Elephant King: US/ Thai Drama/ Romance – 92 mins – Filmed for the most part in Chiang Mai. Explores the twisted symbiosis between two American brothers--one domineering and nihilistic, the other guileless and introspective--as they binge on drink, drugs, and women in Chiang Mai, in our beloved Space Bubble Disco, among other local sights. A domineering mother dispatches her young, introverted son Oliver off to Chiang Mai to do everything he can to lure his reckless, older brother back home to the U.S. to face pending fraud charges. Oliver finds the intoxication of Chiang Mai hard to resist, especially when it has a face as alluring as Lek's. As Oliver falls deeply in love for the first time, Jake slips deeper into despair, and the seams of their relationship begin to come undone. When the true extent of Jake's decadence and self-destruction is revealed to Oliver, he is forced to decide whether he will save his brother's life or his own. Directed by Seth Grossman. Rated R in the US for sexual content, drug use, language and some violence. Mixed or average reviews: 46/41 out of 100.

Hod Na Haew / โหดหน้าเหี่ยว 966: Thai Comedy/ Drama – More comedy with popular Thai comedians from TV. Directed by Rerkchai Paungpetch.

The Happiness of Kati / ความสุข ของกะทิ: Thai Family/ Drama – 90 mins – Based on a novel by Ngarmpan "Jane" Vejjajiva and the winner of the 2006 S.E.A Write Award. The novel has become one of the most beloved and well-known contemporary children’s books in Thailand, and has been translated into nine languages. Bangkok reviews: mixed or average: 55 out of 100.

I found it mostly a very slow and sweet depiction of an idealized rural life in Ayutthaya on the banks of Chao Phraya river, of some Thais who are better off than most. I emphasize the word “slow”; it is not until an hour has passed that we begin to get an idea of what the movie is about. We only then meet Kati’s mother and find out that she is seriously ill, supposedly dying from Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) – but I don’t believe that is specified in the movie. The problem for me is that this illness is not dramatized. The mother, in fact, after we finally meet her, does not look ill at all. She says she’s not strong enough to hug her daughter, but she seems strong enough. Weak maybe, but not so seriously. We do see her get an injection once, and are told (but don’t see) that she drops things. As far as illness is concerned, that’s it. Very unconvincing. After this encounter with her mother, Kati has an extended and beautifully photographed scene where she is crying on a lonely beach. But we haven’t seen anything that should cause such crying, but rather joy at finally being reunited with her mother.

There’s really not enough believable conflict in the script to make it a compelling drama. It is well-acted, however, and beautifully and lovingly photographed by cinematographer Tanon Sattarujawong; I was particularly struck by the extended sequence of a group bicycling through a stunningly beautiful countryside. I think the movie is best described as a loving tone poem of a film to a certain old-fashioned Thai way of life and living. This is the first directing exercise by Genwai Thongdeenok.

Kong Rithdee, the movie critic of the Bangkok Post, has a thoughtful review of this film which you can find here. He says it is “earnest, pretty, but altogether sullen and flat . . . surprisingly cold and ceremonial.”

Quarantine: US Horror/ Mystery/ Thriller – 89 mins – Having seen this again yesterday at its last showing at Major Cineplex, I can say that once again I was properly frightened, and again very bored by the first 20 minutes or so. Makes me anxious to see the original. Very bloody it is for sure, and not for everyone.

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 unnecessarily irritating, 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, once the introductory first 20 boring minutes are over. Quarantine is an English-language remake of the 2007 Spanish horror film [Rec]. 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. From The Brothers Dowdle – directed by John Erick Dowdle and written by him and his brother Drew. Rated R in the US for bloody violent and disturbing content, terror, and language. Mixed or average reviews: 53/57 out of 100. Now at Vista only.

Urban Cinefile, Andrew L. Urban: The most authentic English language remake of a foreign language film [REC] bar none, Quarantine not only replicates the story but captures the all important mood and atmosphere.

Just as in [REC] the news cameraman shooting the footage we see as the film wouldn't get a job at a real TV station for his inability to point the camera, frame the subject, and keep focus ... not to mention the sometimes excessive camera movement. But then that's the heightened reality style of the 'hand held horror' subgenre and it works well to disorientate us and instill primal fear.

Jennifer Carpenter is terrific as the news reporter who gets swallowed up in her own story, and leads an excellent cast, all of whom bring a veracity to this remake in the hands of the talented Dowdle brothers.

The most admirable element of the screenplay is the credible premise on which it is built, which I won't divulge, but to say it is far more plausible than most flesh eating movies are able to drum up. Nor de we get the cliché zombies who behave like so many sleepwalkers.

Scary and full of surprises, shocks and a sense of dread, Quarantine is not for the squeamish or fainthearted. Fans of the horror genre will appreciate it, as will those interested in the evolution of this genre.

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.

Roger Ebert: This is a harmless and pleasant Disney comedy.

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. I must admit I didn’t care for it all that much, but I seem to be in the minority. Mixed or average reviews: 46/52 out of 100. Airport Plaza only.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, February 5

Milk: The assassination of Harvey Milk, with Sean Penn, among the top contenders for the acting Oscar. Nominated for Oscar best picture and best director – eight nominations total. Directed by Gus Van Sant. Was scheduled for this date, but now uncertain; may be postponed until Feb 26. For Bangkok only; now not to be shown in Chiang Mai.

Gran Torino: Clint Eastwood stars and directs, about an iron-willed and thoroughly despicable veteran living in a changing world who is forced by his immigrant neighbors to confront his own long-held prejudices. Was thought to be another top Oscar contender, but was actually shut out completely at the nominations. Was scheduled for this date, but now has been cancelled.

Revolutionary Road: Kate Winslet won her Golden Globes award #1 for best actress for her role in this film. But not nominated for an Oscar. This is a brilliant 2-character drama set in the 1950’s based on a novel by Richard Yates, with brilliant performances by Leonardo DeCaprio and Kate Winslet, brilliantly directed by Sam Mendes. I loved it. Rated R in the US for language and some sexual content/nudity. Generally favorable reviews.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans: Traces the origins of the centuries-old blood feud between the aristocratic vampires known as Death Dealers and their onetime slaves, the Lycans. Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy revisit their roles from Underworld in this prequel to the horror-action hybrid. Directed by Patrick Tatopoulos.

Ip Man: China [Hong Kong] Action – 100 mins – Adapted from the life story of Ip Man, a grand master of the 200-year old “Wing Chun” style of kungfu, and the sifu (master) of legendary kung fu superstar Bruce Lee. A traditional Chinese martial art, Wing Chun has now become very popular with martial arts enthusiasts. Directed by Wilson Yip.

Before Valentine: Thai Romance/ Drama. Four takes on love, made by three directors: Songsak Mongkoltong (The Screen at Kamchanod), Pornchai Hongrattanaporn (Bangkok Loco), and Seri Pongnithi (Ghost in Law, Art of the Devil 1).

And looking further afield . . .

Feb 12: The Reader – US Drama/ Romance directed by Stephen Daldry. Kate Winslet won her Golden Globes award #2 for best supporting actress for her role in this film, and is now nominated for Oscar best actress. Fine fine film! I recommend it. No one expected The Reader to get a best picture nod, along with nominations for director Stephen Daldry, actress Kate Winslet, screenwriter David Hare and cinematographers Chris Menges and Roger Deakins. It's the fourth best actress nomination for Winslet, who won a Golden Globe for the same part, only as a supporting role. David Hare, who is nominated for adapting the screenplay for The Reader from the novel, noted that it’s about "an unrepentant Nazi war criminal having an affair with an underage boy. It puts a lot of people off. . . “. Scheduled for Bangkok only; not to be shown in Chiang Mai.

Feb 12: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – US Drama/ Fantasy/ Mystery/ Romance – with Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton. Nominated for Oscar best picture and best director. The extraordinary tale of one man, born elderly in 1918, who ages backwards through the 20th century. I don’t see how anyone can really like this, but I seem to be in the minority. It’s utterly nonsensical, so you can’t get involved, even at 166 mins. Great makeup! – worth seeing for that alone! For sure, Benjamin Button's case grows curiouser still: thirteen Academy Award nominations? Thirteen, really? But look closer: Perhaps Benjamin Button is a big-budget love story with just the right combination of qualities (nostalgic Americana, epic romance) that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences routinely admires. Directed by David Fincher. The screenplay is by Eric Roth, who wrote Forrest Gump, which this reminds me of. Generally favorable reviews 69/72.

Feb 12: A Moment in June – Thai Drama/ Romance – 106 mins – Well received Thai drama set partly in Chiang Mai and Lampang; nominated for New Currents award at the Pusan festival. Was the opening film of the World Film Festival in Bangkok last year. Directed by O. Nathapon, who is also active in theater and draws on his theater experience to devise an impressive crossover of cinema and stage through a play-within-a-film. Three couples – gay, elderly and fictive, respectively – engage in a melancholy dance of indecision and regret

Feb 12: Confessions of a Shopaholic – US nonsense.

Feb 12: Push – US Action/ Thriller.

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. Directed by Bryan Singer.

Feb 19: The Wrestler – 115 mins – US Drama/ Sport – Mickey Rourke whose portrayal of an over-the-hill athlete has already won him a wheelbarrow full of accolades, including a Golden Globe, has now received a best-actor Oscar nomination. I think it’s quite a wonderful performance of a loser of a professional wrestler – Randy the Ram – that you wouldn’t ordinarily care about. But you end up caring about this man considerably. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. The twice-divorced actor recently admitted he could empathize with his character's struggles because of his own turbulent life. Rourke - who spent 15 years in the Hollywood wilderness - said: "Randy has been in the twilight of his career for several years. He thinks he has one more game in him - one more shot. He wants to come back again. I know what that feels like. Randy was somebody 20 years ago and so was Mickey Rourke. When you used to be a somebody and you aren't anybody anymore, you live in what my doctor calls a state of shame. Hollywood is a very unforgiving place, but I took a nosedive all by myself, no one pushed me." Rourke, 56, has suggested he had additional help creating his hulking physique with banned body-building substances. Rated R in the US for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use. Will have to be heavily censored for release here, I think. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 81/81 out of 100.

Feb 12: Doubt – US Drama/ Mystery with nun Meryl Streep.

Apr 30: Frost/Nixon – Nominated for Oscar best picture and best director – five nominations total. I don’t think it’s either, but there are many reasons to see the film. Washington Post: this year's dose of thinky, political, adapted-from-the-stage fare.

Not scheduled, at least not yet

Slumdog Millionaire: US/UK Crime/ Drama/ Romance – 120 mins – Most improbably (a third of the movie is in Hindi, after all), this film won four Golden Globes – best picture, best director, best screenplay and best score – and is now nominated for Oscar best picture and best director – and eight other awards. And as for the British equivalent of the Oscars, the film is now nominated for eleven BAFTA awards.

It’s a hybrid of a Bollywood love story and throbbing Hollywood storytelling. I found it terribly disturbing in parts, particularly in the early section dealing with the horrible life of these kids in India and the inhumane way they were treated, with simply ghastly exploitation and torture. I mean, there are some really dreadful things that happen in this movie! Reminded me much of Oliver Twist in this respect.

But it somehow ended for me as a gloriously uplifting and upbeat song to life and living. However, it didn’t quite work this way for one of my friends, who said, “I didn't! It didn't do that for me! It's such an all-encompassing and powerful indictment of Indian society at every level that the tacked-on happy ending didn't feel that glorious to me. The pill was so bitter that the sugar hardly helped.”

What do you think? You will see it eventually, I am sure. It’s a must-see, for a wide variety of reasons. And it races along like a freight-train, so your attention will not wander! The music is particularly appropriate, and I like it very much.

There are three different actors playing each of the three main leads, three each as children, as teenagers, and at 20 years. And two playing some of the other roles. They are all terrific.

A brief and wholly inadequate summary of the plot: The life of an impoverished Indian teen who becomes a contestant on the Hindi version of "Who Wants to be A Millionaire?", wins, and is then suspected of cheating. Trailer available here, just click.

Philadelphia Inquirer, Steven Rea: It doesn't happen often, but when it does, look out: a movie that rocks and rolls, that transports, startles, delights, shocks, seduces. A movie that is, quite simply, great.

Roger Ebert: This is a breathless, exciting story, heartbreaking and exhilarating at the same time, about a Mumbai orphan who rises from rags to riches on the strength of his lively intelligence. It tells the story of an orphan from the slums of Mumbai who is born into a brutal existence. A petty thief, impostor and survivor, mired in dire poverty, he improvises his way up through the world and remembers everything he has learned. High-spirited and defiant in the worst of times, he survives. He scrapes out a living at the Taj Mahal, which he did not know about but discovers by being thrown off a train. He pretends to be a guide, invents "facts" out of thin air, advises tourists to remove their shoes and then steals them. . . . The film uses dazzling cinematography, breathless editing, driving music, and headlong momentum to explode with narrative force, stirring in a romance at the same time. For Danny Boyle, it is a personal triumph.

Reelviews, James Berardinelli: In a way, it's tough to believe that a film that begins with such a hard edge ends up being as enriching and deliriously joyful as this one. The opening sequences have an ominous undertone, with scenes of torture taking place in the bowels of some dark, dank police station. When the victim refuses to give the answers his captors expect, electrodes are attached to his toes and the power is turned on. This scene is one of the reasons why the MPAA in its wisdom elected to give Slumdog Millionaire an undeserved R instead of the coveted PG-13. . . .

It's superbly acted, wonderfully photographed, and full of rich, unconventional location work. The story works on multiple levels - it can be seen as a sweeping romance, as a thriller, or as a glimpse at the ways in which a fast-developing economy is convulsing the fabric of Indian society.

Some films keep viewers on the outside looking in, able to appreciate the production in technical terms but not on other, more basic levels. This is not the case with Slumdog Millionaire. Boyle's feature draws the viewer in, immersing him in a fast-moving, engaging narrative featuring a protagonist who is so likeable it's almost unfair.

Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting (1996), The Beach (2000), 28 Days Later (2002), Millions (2004) – which will be given a showing at Film Space on March 14, Sunshine (2007)).

Rated R in the US for some violence, disturbing images, and language. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 86/83 out of 100.

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