A new comedy, a gentle tale, and some terror! Australia accurate!
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, January 8
by Thomas Ohlson
Best Bets: Australia.
Here are my commnets for the movies playing in Chiang Mai at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, January 8, 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 11 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!
Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week
* 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: 46/52 out of 100.
I must admit I didn’t care for it all that much, but I seem to be in the minority. Here’s a more positive review:
A Nutshell Review, Stefan S: It's a somewhat muted Carrey we get, as gone out the window are the over the top antics and rubbery face, and in comes a fine balance between getting the laughs, as well as having some dramatic flair in crafting a believable working class character who is jaded with work and life in general, opting instead to coast through life almost like a recluse.
And when a friend told me that this character was somewhat familiar, I understand his point. I suppose most of us could probably identify with the very routine lives that we're leading, juggling work and whatever effort we can muster to have a semblance of balance, either with family, friends, or spending some quality time investing in oneself. But this means regressing into the tried, tested and safe, losing that spark that comes with the randomness of living, and the gaining of experience that would have been gained. In fact, it brought back some memories that I was once a Yes Man myself, and I won't deny that somewhere along the way I've taken a detour, though it was a conscious decision at that.
Jim Carrey plays Carl Allen, a junior loans officer at a bank who spends his time at work, and his personal life, in saying no to everyone and to opportunities, ignoring calls and well meaning efforts from friends to bring him out of his shell. But a life changing seminar (I've been to something similar, even though it was just a preview) with pop music, enthusiastic energizer-bunny type attendees, and an enigmatic speaker, would convince him to take the plunge into make a covenant to say yes to every opportunity that comes by. Not that he has any choice since the self-help guru is played by Terence Stamp, and nobody has the audacity to say no to him.
. . . And please say Yes too to sitting through the end credits - that little skate man idea looks totally awesome!
* 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 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, 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 / 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. The story has been described by the producers in these words: “The mother of nine-year-old Kati is suffering from an incurable illness, and Kati must go through steps of happiness and sorrow, bonding and separation, having her hopes fulfilled and losing something she loves in order to learn the lessons of life and grow up with confidence and the courage to live on.”
I found it mostly a very slow and sweet depiction of the rural life in Ayutthaya on the banks of Chao Phraya river, of some Thais who are a bit better off than most. I need to 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. 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 definitely 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; I was particularly struck by the extended sequence of a group bicycling through a stunningly beautiful countryside. The movie is best described I believe as a loving tone poem of a film to a certain Thai way of life and living.
Kong Rithdee, the movie critic of the Bangkok Post, had an interesting article on this film in last week’s Real Time section (January 2, page R1), which you can find online at:
In the article, he says: The Happiness of Kati [won] the Sea-Write Award in 2006 and became a whopping bestseller that surpassed even the publisher's predictions. Now in its 57th edition with over 200,000 copies sold and having been translated into at least six languages, Ngarmpan's novella about a girl who journeys to a mournful reunion with her ailing mother has acquired a larger life than the writer had ever imagined. Slowly Kati's existence has grown into something of a popular fable, and her status as an imaginary celebrity has grown too much for that slender book to contain.
So after nearly four years, the character carefully sculpted by the author's supple prose is now being reincarnated.
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 – Not doing too well in Thailand, or in the US. On its opening weekend here in Thailand last week it came in sixth place at the box office, and this last weekend (Jan 1-4) it came in sixth again, with very disappointing income. When I saw it at Major Cineplex there were a total of seven people in the audience. I wouldn’t be surprised if this, its third week, will be its last. Rather a shame; as an old-fashioned epic it does its job well.
And an epic was what Director Baz Luhrmann deliberately set out to make. He made this extraordinary statement of intent in an interview I saw on TV: "I wanted an entertainment that was a banquet of cinema, that I could invite all people of all ages to sit at that table and eat that cinematic sustenance!" Such hubris! But also such innocence and naiveté! Rather endearing.
Set against the backdrop of World War II, Luhrmann gives us in grand style a 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 drover (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.
According to Studio Briefing, Australia is continuing to take a drubbing from film critics in their end-of-the-year round-ups, as well as from the Chiang Mai Mail’s critic-at-large, Mark Whitman, in an article you can read here. He calls it “excruciating.” In the San Francisco Chronicle, critic Mike Lasalle listed it as "worst film of the year," calling it "a rollicking, rip-roaring bore with obvious special effects, cringe-inducing moments of fake tenderness, and a start-and-stop narrative that had more endings than the third Lord of the Rings movie."
But several of my acquaintances have been thoroughly thrilled by the film. And listen to Roger Ebert: “What a gorgeous film, what strong performances, what exhilarating images and – yes, what sweeping romantic melodrama. The kind of movie that is a movie, with all that the word promises and implies.”
True, it is full of the clichés all epics have, but I doubt if many in the Chiang Mai audiences have ever seen these referents, the originals, so they’re not clichés to them; they’re experiencing them for the first time. We say the situations are old hat, but most of the young in Chiang Mai have never had a hat, so it’s not old hat to them!
Of more substance I think is whether the film gives an accurate enough view of the country and its relationships with its indigenous people, the Aborigines.
On this score, I will trust my friend Ric Richardson who though now living in Chiang Mai is an Australian historian and novelist, and an expert in all things Australia, and who’s portrait of a drover, Brogan, in his book of that name, is I am sure truly accurate – and for me extraordinarily vivid.
Ric Richardson: For authenticity, characterization, handling of the aboriginal situation, drama, and story, I give it 9-3/4 out of 10. I loved it and shed many tears.
I could find nothing amiss with that movie - I commend it highly for telling life just as it bloody was then, with all the roughness and uncouthness in the pubs and all the snideness among the social set for Lady Ashley deigning to so publicly support her coons (aka boongs).
Only question mark in my mind was the Japanese troops ashore on Mission Island. It is entirely believable that we wouldn't have been told of that invasion during the war, but most unlikely that it has never been told since.
The aborigines --- Yes, VERY well told. Until I'd seen it I pooh-poohed the idea of any Abo leader being called a King - but now, yes, entirely believable that even Lord Ashley himself dubbed that name on the old man - He was not only a tribal elder but tribe medicine-man, guru, pope and everybody's mentor rolled into one - every tribe had such and he was revered and kow-towed to, as if Royalty.
And yes, even I used to stand at the kitchen sink when a kid, washing the dishes, on one leg with the other foot nested into the side of the other knee - my mother used to tell me it made me look like a bloody Abo! It is an eminently comfortable stance for meditating.
EVERY outback station (ranch) had its Abo house and yard help. White women couldn't (or wouldn't) suffer the conditions. (Even Ma Witherspoon in [my novel] Brogan had her 'kitchen coon' and Jim his yellahair Kelly.) As in Brogan, those coons were considered part of 'family'. Not only Back Then, but even today, outback homesteads have their Abos that are dead-ringers for the boy's mother and Aunt in the movie, and the stockmen. Even the Chinese cook was authentic - Thousands of Chinese were brought to Australia in the late 1800 to mine Gold in the south and cut Sugar Cane in the north - many of their descendants became droving or camel-caravan cooks.
And in pub bars, women and coons (aka boongs) were indeed taboo. Even into the 1970s Public Bars (for riff-raff) and Saloon Bars (for gentlemen) were taboo for women. If a man wanted his wife to come and have a beer with him, he had to sit with her in the Ladies' Lounge - every pub had one.
Back to the Abos - yes, they are masters at ESP. Even during the war, in the New Guinea campaign where the Australian and New Zealand armies (supported by the US Navy for supplies. etc.) when they at last turned back the Japs just north of Rabaul, because the weather conditions weren't conducive, in those days, to radio reliability, they took aborigines with them, to send their telepathic messages back to 'base' where others of their tribe would 'receive'... no one has ever answered how they do this, but aborigines DO HAVE powers of mental telepathy!!!
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.
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 uninteresting and not nearly as entertaining as Super Hap, but the Thais in the audience seemed to like it well enough – all except for the extended end sequence where a number in the audience left half-way through. I understand this has been a common occurrence in Bangkok as well. I, too, thought the sequence went on way too long, but overall I enjoyed the last section – the fourth story – the most, which featured the band “August” (also from Love of Siam) and singer “Pitch.” The section has a few nice surprises, and the kids are great.
Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, January 15
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. Rated R in the US for sexual content, drug use, language and some violence. Mixed or average reviews: 46/41 out of 100.
The Chiang Mai Mail has an article on this film and its producer Tom Waller written by Mark Whitman in its latest issue (January 6, page 17), which you can find online at:
One interesting quote from the producer: “Some aspects of the film are controversial and show the underside of Chiang Mai and Thailand, but we hope it’s a revealing and entertaining portrait of what happens when expats and Thais collide and the two cultures shed new light on each other.”
The Bangkok Post also has an article on this film by Joe Cummings (the travel writer, band leader, and Chiang Mai resident) in last week’s Real Time section (January 2, page R5), which you can find online at:
Among other interesting things Joe says: A number of Chiang Mai residents, including myself, were swept up in the production as extras, technical advisers, location providers, or simple onlookers. Naturally we're all keen to view the results.
One of the primary characters in The Elephant King is Chiang Mai itself. A montage of muddy city walls and steaming moats, 7-Elevens and abandoned housing estates, Space Bubble disco and Wat Chet Yot, night markets and old wooden houses, the city's paradoxical grit and grace have never before been so well-captured in any feature film, Thai or international. The script in fact turns Chiang Mai into a microcosm of Thailand, thrusting Western stereotypes about the country to the fore - and then turning them inside out.
Blue Sky of Love: Thai Romance/ Comedy.
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 and thoroughly despicable 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 5: Revolutionary Road – Brilliant film adaptation of 1950’s 2-character drama based on novel by Richard Yates, with brilliant performances by Leonardo DeCaprio and Kate Winslet, brilliantly directed by Sam Mendes. Rated R in the US for language and some sexual content/nudity. Generally favorable reviews.
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.