Thursday, February 26, 2009

What's On starting February 26

Revolutionary Road finally wends its way to Chiang Mai!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, February 26

by Thomas Ohlson

Best Bets: Revolutionary Road. Valkyrie. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

To avoid like the Plague: Confessions of a Shopaholic.

I thought the Academy Awards show seen here last Monday was a great and entertaining show, the best in years, with many things of interest, and much excitement, and a lot of emotional moments.

Slumdog Millionaire won the top prize as best picture, as well as awards for directing, adapted screenplay, original score, film editing, original song, sound mixing, and cinematography.

Kate Winslet won the prize for best actress for The Reader. Sean Penn won the prize for best actor for Milk.

Very few of the movies in contention at the Academy Awards in the various categories have been shown here in Chiang Mai, or are planned for showings here in the future. Slumdog Millionaire is finally scheduled now for Thailand after a long wait, but only at one theater in the whole country, the Apex at Siam Square in Bangkok, on March 5 – with “sneak previews” beginning today at 8 pm every day at the Apex Lido 2. I suggest you write a message to the movie powers-that-be if you would like to have Slumdog Millionaire and other Oscar nominated movies shown here in Chiang Mai. Let them know your thoughts!

For Vista theater at Kadsuankaew you can visit:

and leave a comment by clicking on the comment link at the bottom of the item about Slumdog Millionaire. Or you can address an email to Tommy [Thavatchai Rojanachotikul] at

For Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza you can leave a message on their website at:

Make sure you indicate that the message is for the person who schedules films for Chiang Mai. Mention the too-cold temperatures in the cinemas as well, if you’ve a mind to. And at all these spots, it would be helpful if someone who can write Thai would leave a message in Thai as well.

At the end of this report is my list of movie times for Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and for Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, February 26, 2009. Attached is the same list in Word format. 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 18 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!

Now online! This newssheet is now online, and with a listing of movie times that will hopefully be up to date, as much as possible in the uncertain world of movie times. Go to:

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* Revolutionary Road: US/ UK, Drama/ Romance – 119 mins – Kate Winslet received one of her two Golden Globes this year for her performance in this film – as best actress. It received three Oscar nominations: supporting actor (Michael Shannon – for a brief but potent turn as a mental patient who sees through the phoniness surrounding him), and for art direction and costume design for its pristine recreations of 1950s fashion and design. Indeed the careful attention to the details of 1950’s life is one of the joys of this film. Or one of its horrors, if it brings back bad memories.

This is a brilliant 2-character drama set in the 50’s based on a novel by Richard Yates, with brilliant performances by Leonardo DeCaprio and Kate Winslet, brilliantly directed by Sam Mendes. In other words, just brilliant! I loved it. However, it’s done very badly at the box office here in Thailand – about as bad as possible – probably because it’s mostly talk. But what great talk! Between two actors at the top of their form, together again for the first time since their legendary performances as the Titanic’s doomed lovers. It’s a real pleasure to watch them interact on the screen. They are both just very good actors.

I highly recommend this film, and urge you to see it.

Rated R in the US for language and some sexual content/nudity. Generally favorable reviews: 69/68 out of 100.

The story: Frank and April Wheeler live a life of suburban plenty that seems on its surface to represent the essence of the post-World War II American dream. In reality, however, the pair is haunted by the thought that they have betrayed their youthful dreams and are trapped in a conventional lifestyle that falls far short of the more bohemian existence they had imagined for themselves. Determined to identify themselves as superior to the mediocre sprawl of suburbanites who surround them, they decide to move to France where they will be better able to develop their true sensibilities, free of the consumerist demands of capitalist America.

Roger Ebert: 'Revolutionary Road" shows the American Dream awakened by a nightmare. It takes place in the 1950s, the decade not only of Elvis but of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. It shows a young couple who meet at a party, get married and create a suburban life with a nice house, a manicured lawn, "modern" furniture, two kids, a job in the city for him, housework for her, and martinis, cigarettes, boredom and desperation for both of them.

The Wheelers, Frank and April, are blinded by love into believing life together will allow them to fulfill their fantasies. Their problem is, they have no fantasies. Instead, they have yearnings -- a hunger for something more than a weary slog into middle age. Billy Wilder made a movie in 1955 called "The Seven Year Itch" about a restlessness that comes into some marriages when the partners realize the honeymoon is over and they're married for good and there's an empty space at the center.

Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and April (Kate Winslet) can't see inviting futures for themselves. Frank joins the morning march of men in suits and hats out of Grand Central and into jobs where they are "executives" doing meaningless work -- in Frank's case, he's "in office machines." He might as well be one. April suggests he just quit, so they can move to Paris, she can support them as a translator at the American Embassy and he can figure out what he really wants to do. Translating will not support their Connecticut lifestyle, but ... Paris! What about their children? Their children are like a car you never think about when you're not driving somewhere.

Frank agrees, and they think they're poised to take flight, when suddenly he's offered a promotion and a raise. He has no choice, right? He'll be just as miserable, but better paid. In today's hard times, that sounds necessary, but maybe all times are hard when you hate your life. Frank and April have ferocious fights about his decision, and we realize that April was largely motivated by her own needs. Better to support the neutered Frank in Paris with a job at the embassy, where she might meet someone more interesting than their carbon-copy neighbors and the "real estate lady," Helen Givings (Kathy Bates).

Helen makes a tentative request. Can she and her husband bring their son John (Michael Shannon) over for a meal? He's in a mental institution, and perhaps some time with a nice normal couple like the Wheelers would be good for him. John comes for dinner, and we discover his real handicap is telling the truth. With cruel words and merciless observations, he chops through their facade and mocks their delusions. It is a wrecking job.

Remember, this is the 1950s. A little after the time of this movie, Life magazine would run its famous story about the Beatniks, "The Only Rebellion Around." There was a photo of a Beatnik and his chick sitting on the floor and listening to an LP record of modern jazz that was cool and hip and I felt my own yearnings. I remember on the way back from Steak 'n Shake one night, my dad drove slow past the Turk's Head coffeehouse on campus. "That's where the Beatniks stand on tables and recite their poetry," he told my mom, and she said, "My, my," and I wanted to get out of that car and put on a black turtleneck and walk in there and stay.

The character John is not insane, just a Beatnik a little ahead of schedule. He's an early assault wave from the 1960s, which would sweep over suburbia and create a generation its parents did not comprehend. What he does for the Wheelers is strip away their denials and see them clearly.

Frank and April are played by DiCaprio and Winslet as the sad ending to the romance in "Titanic," and all other romances that are founded on nothing more than ... romance. They are so good, they stop being actors and become the people I grew up around. Don't think they smoke too much in this movie. In the 1950s everybody smoked everywhere all the time. Life was a disease, and smoking held it temporarily in remission. And drinking? Every ad executive in the neighborhood would head for the Wrigley Bar at lunchtime to prove the maxim: One martini is just right, two are too many, three are not enough.

The direction is by Sam Mendes, who dissected suburban desperation in "American Beauty," a film that after this one seems merciful. The screenplay by Justin Haythe is drawn from the famous 1961 novel by Richard Yates, who has been called the voice of the postwar Age of Anxiety. This film is so good it is devastating.

Village Voice: A film that, by the end, turns into a far more unsettling haunted-house story than The Amityville Horror. Even after Frank and April's climactic knock-down, drag-out argument, chez Wheeler is markedly undisturbed—sitting there, biding its time, waiting to devour its next victims and their futile ambitions.

* Outlander: US Action/ Sci-Fi – 115 mins – Full-bodied Sci-Fi escapism that should satisfy your cravings for both action and Norse mythology in one fell swoop. During the reign of the Vikings, Kainan (James Caviezel), a man from a far-off world, crash lands on Earth, bringing with him an alien predator known as the Moorwen. Though both man and monster are seeking revenge for violence committed against them, Kainan leads the alliance to kill the Moorwen by fusing his advanced technology with the Viking's Iron Age weaponry. Mixed or average reviews: 40/48 out of 100.

* Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li: Canada/ India/ US/ Japan, Action/ Adventure/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 98 mins – Adapted from the popular series of “Street Fighter” video games first released in 1987, followed by a sequel in 1991. Undercover Interpol agent and female fighter Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) seeks justice after she discovers that her father has been murdered. Some location shooting in Bangkok. No reviews yet.

Valkyrie: US/Germany Drama/ History/ Thriller/ War – 120 mins – This has a really very good script; it’s intelligent, makes sense, the dialogue is terse and expressive, and the plotting is very solid. One of the better scripts in recent memory, about the near-miss assassination of Adolf Hitler by a ring of rebel German army officers on July 20, 1944, starring a restrained and excellent Tom Cruise as Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, the aristocratic German officer who led the heroic attempt (codenamed “Valkyrie”) to bring down the Nazi regime and end the war by planting a bomb in Hitler's bunker. Directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns). I was impressed by the supporting cast that includes Bill Nighy (fresh from his chores as lead vampire in the currently showing Underworld: Rise of the Lycans), Tom Wilkinson (who we saw here in Michael Clayton), Terence Stamp, and Kenneth Branagh. It is also a project that takes its research seriously, and has gone to great lengths to insure the accuracy of what is portrayed. Wherever possible, they used the original locations for an added degree of truth to the story. For many reasons, I think it is a movie to be seen. I recommend it. Mixed or average reviews: 56/60 out of 100.

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, but lost out to Slumdog Millionaire. Received Oscars for best art direction (and set decoration) – the sense of time and place, and the attention to the details of the period settings, were mind-boggling – and they completely changed every 20 minutes; and for best achievement in makeup – which indeed was wizardry, see the picture of Brad Pitt playing Benjamin Button as a young boy at the end of his life; and for best achievement in visual effects – which was richly deserved for the wizardry involved in making the aging in reverse very convincing indeed. Very much worth seeing for the marvels of filmmaking art and craft. I have one friend who lived in New Orleans at the time a scene in the movie was set, and he was astonished by the accuracy with which the time and place were recreated.

As you must know by now, it’s 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 get into this premise, but I seem to be in the minority. It’s so utterly nonsensical, that I could not get emotionally involved, even at 166 mins. Directed by David Fincher (Zodiac, Fight Club). The screenplay is by Eric Roth, who wrote Forrest Gump, which this reminds me of. Generally favorable reviews 69/72 out of 100.

ReelViews, James Berardinelli: Either you believe Benjamin's situation or you don't. The screenplay attempts to provide a little grounding for the reverse aging, but it's not especially convincing. As a result, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button must be viewed on its own terms, as a fairy tale, or it utterly fails. One thing that helps is the movie's amazing attention to period detail. During the 1920s, it feels like the post-WWI flapper era. The Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War times are all effectively reconstructed and special effects are used to enhance the visual experience, not to detract from it by overwhelming the viewer. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is every bit as impressive to look at as the summer blockbusters, but there's a real story to go along with the pretty images and potent atmosphere.

Although the movie is presented as a series of vignettes, its full impact is not felt until the whole is absorbed. Even the 2005 scenes with Caroline by her mother's bedside feed into what Fincher and Roth are saying about chaos theory, fate, and the sometimes unforgiving jolts imparted by change. In the end, Benjamin's reverse-aging is just a filter that allows us to gain a slightly skewed perception about the process of living and, perhaps by looking through that glass darkly, a better understanding of human nature. Is that too much for a mainstream movie to achieve? Perhaps, and I'm not sure The Curious Case of Benjamin Button takes us as far down that path as it might hope to. But there's no denying the film's power of compulsion and the sense that, when it's all over, it means something. Most viewers will be entertained and moved, and some will find their intellect aroused.

[Just kidding about the picture of the boy Button being Brad Pitt in makeup; they used a stand-in here.]

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans: US Action/ Fantasy/ Horror/ Thriller – 92 mins -- 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 (Tony Blair in The Queen, David Frost in Frost/Nixon) and Bill Nighy (Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) revisit their roles from Underworld in this prequel to the horror-action hybrid. Directed by Patrick Tatopoulos. Rated R in the US for bloody violence and some sexuality. (Somebody involved in the making of this movie must really enjoy whipping; I for one really did not appreciate the extended scenes of bloody lashings.) Mixed or average reviews: 46/46 out of 100.

Overall, I thought this quite terrific of its kind, and for the most part an amusing and enjoyable foray into a mythic medieval world, with Sheen robustly dynamic as a character a little like a Spartacus of the Lycans, leading enslaved humans and werewolves in a rebellion against their cruel vampire masters, who are led by the sly and stylish Nighy as the blue-eyed vampire king oozing elegant menace. I thought the cinematography and the sets excellent, somehow reminding me of the early Frankenstein and Wolf Man movies. Understand, this movie is derivative and silly, and still inescapably inessential. But I enjoyed it!

Push: US Action/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 111 mins – Visually flashy. The deadly world of “psychic espionage” where artificially enhanced paranormal operatives have the ability to move objects with their minds, see the future, create new realities, and kill without ever touching their victims. Chris Evans plays a man who has remarkable paranormal powers and finds himself on the run from unseemly government agents, including the dangerous Henry (Djimon Hounsou), who want to utilize his abilities for their own means. It has a convoluted script, and despite director Paul McGuigan's visual flair, it’s really hard to follow. Generally negative reviews: 39/43 out of 100.

Luang Pee Kub Phee Ka Noon / หลวงพี่กับผีขนุน: Thai Comedy – 90 mins – A swindler hides out in a monastery by becoming a monk. With the popular Mum Jokmok (Petchtai Wongkamlhau) and the usual stable of TV comedians.

Confessions of a Shopaholic: US Comedy/ Romance – 112 mins – Nonsense wherein Isla Fisher plays a fun-loving girl who is really good at shopping. Generally negative reviews: 38/42 out of 100.

Claudia Puig, USA Today: Not only is it an unfunny movie shrilly told, it probably is the most ill-timed and appallingly insulting movie in recent memory. How could any studio be so out of touch as to release a movie glorifying the compulsive shopping habits of an air-headed spendthrift during this dismal state in the global economy? Besides its insensitivity, it bombards us, like a too-cluttered closet, with a clueless heroine, laugh-repellant slapstick shtick, and an unconvincing by-the-numbers romance.

Melissa Anderson, Village Voice: Plays like both a supremely outmoded chick-lit adaptation and an outrageously obscene gesture as the economy continues to swallow up livelihoods, homes, and hope.

However, Roger Ebert thought it was funny and cute.

Before Valentine: Thai Romance/ Drama – 90 mins – Four takes on love, made by three Thai directors. At Vista only.

I thought this pretty dreadful. If you’re of a Thai mentality, you might consider this a charming and harmless essay on adolescent love (even if some of the characters happen to be adults). If you’re of a Western mentality, you might consider this blatant brainwashing of Thais to accept western consumerism. The idea being that you have to show your “love” on Valentine’s Day or you’re not patriotic, and not human, and just not with it, by buying your beloved many flowers and much candy and several greeting cards, and by eating out at restaurants way over your means, and buying your girl a diamond ring. The film is sponsored by a floral outfit (Miss Lilly Flowers), a restaurant chain (Chester’s), and so on, with much painful product placement. At any rate, for me the film has really dippy music, dippy dialogue, dippy situations, and dippy emotions.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, March 5

Bolt: US Animation/ Comedy/ Family/ Fantasy – 103 mins – John Travolta voices Bolt, a canine TV star convinced of his superpowers who sets out on a cross-country journey to find his owner. Generally favorable reviews: 67/65 out of 100.

Watchmen: US/ UK/ Canada – Action/ Drama/ Fantasy/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller– 163 mins – “The most celebrated graphic novel of all time.” That’s what they say!! Directed by Zack Snyder (300), this comic adaptation is set in an alternate 1980s America where superheroes are banned. When one of his costumed colleagues is murdered, the outlawed masked vigilante, Rorschach, sets out to investigate the death. A complex, multi-layered mystery adventure, Watchmen is set in an alternate 1985 America in which costumed superheroes are part of the fabric of everyday society, and the Doomsday Clock -- which charts the USA's tension with the Soviet Union -- moves closer to midnight. When one of his former colleagues is murdered, the outlawed but no less determined masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. As he reconnects with his former crime-fighting legion -- a disbanded group of retired superheroes, only one of whom has true powers -- Rorschach glimpses a wide-ranging and disturbing conspiracy with links to their shared past and catastrophic consequences for the future. Rated R in the US for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, and language. Early reviews: Generally favorable: 77 out of 100.

Best in Time / Kwamjam San Tae Rak Chan Yao / ความจำสั้น แต่รักฉันยาว: Thai Romance/ Drama – Yongyooth Thongkongtoon’s romantic drama centers on a young vet (“Pae”) who struggles to forget his first love (Yarinda Bunnag), but when he meets her again years later she doesn't seem to remember him at all. “Pae” (Arak Amornsupasiri) is lead guitarist for the rock band Slur and made his acting debut in The Body. A love story by the director of Iron Ladies and Metrosexual

Power Kids / Haa Hua Jai Hero / 5 หัวใจอีโร่: Thai Action/ Comedy – Five ass-kicking kids fight it out with a terrorist attempting to seize control of a hospital. Power Kids revolves around five kids: Wut, Kat, Pong, Woon, and Jib, who grow up in a martial art school. Their ordinary life twists around when they fight a rowdy gang and it causes Jib's heart disease to relapse. Jib urgently needs to get a heart transplant at a hospital, and the kids unexpectedly are involved in a lethal circumstance when ruthless terrorists occupy the hospital. The time for heroes begins when the kids decide to strike back. With friendship, courage, and hearts larger than their size warrant, the kids want victory.

In Limbo

Some of these Oscar-nominated movies were scheduled at one time for Chiang Mai, then cancelled. I think it would be nice if they all showed up here, but it looks as though we’ll have to fight to get them.

* Milk: US, Biography, Drama – 128 mins – The assassination of Harvey Milk, with Sean Penn, who won the acting Oscar. Nominated for Oscar best picture and best director – eight nominations total. A second Oscar was won for best writing for a screenplay written directly for the screen, given to Dustin Lance Black. The story of California's first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, a San Francisco supervisor who was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone by San Francisco Supervisor Dan White. Directed by Gus Van Sant. Rotten Tomatoes: Anchored by Sean Penn's powerhouse performance, Milk is a triumphant account of America's first openly gay man elected to public office. Rated R in the US for language, some sexual content and brief violence. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 84/83 out of 100. Was scheduled for Feb. 26 here, but now not to be shown in Chiang Mai; scheduled for Bangkok and Pattaya only.

* Slumdog Millionaire: US/UK, Crime/ Drama/ Romance – 120 mins – Improbably (a third of the movie is in Hindi, after all), this film won Oscar best picture and best director – and awards for adapted screenplay, original score, film editing, original song, sound mixing, and cinematography. Scheduled for Thailand for Feb. 26, but at the present time not to be shown in Chiang Mai; scheduled for only one cinema in the whole of Thailand: the Apex at Siam Square in Bangkok, on March 5 – with “sneak previews” beginning today at 8 pm every day at the Apex Lido 2.

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.

Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting (1996), The Beach (2000), 28 Days Later (2002), Millions (2004) [Note: Millions 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.

* The Wrestler: US Drama/ Sport – 115 mins – Mickey Rourke whose portrayal of an over-the-hill athlete has already won him a wheelbarrow full of accolades, including a Golden Globe, 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. 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. Was scheduled for this date, but now not to be shown in Chiang Mai; Bangkok only, at five cinemas.

* Doubt: US, Drama/ Mystery – 104 mins – With pathologically severe nun Meryl Streep, as a hatchet-faced authoritarian who sows doubt about the relationship of a priest and a boy. The priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) denies the innuendoes, and much of the film’s quick-fire dialogue tackles themes of religion, morality, and authority in a battle of wills between the two. The film held me captivated; I think it a dizzying and dazzling display of dramatic fireworks, and you should end up with a variety of doubts. Nominated for 5 Oscars (no wins), 5 Golden Globes, and 3 BAFTA awards, including best actress. Directed by John Patrick Shanley, and adapted by him from his play which won several awards for outstanding dramatic play including the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, the 2004-2005 Drama Desk Award and the 2005 Tony Award. Generally favorable reviews: 70/70 out of 100. Scheduled for this date, now not to be shown in Chiang Mai; it’s in Bangkok, and at only one cinema, the Scala.

* The Reader – US/ Germany, Drama/ Romance – 124 mins – Directed by Stephen Daldry. Kate Winslet won her Golden Globes award #2 for best supporting actress for her role in this film, and won the Oscar for 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. David Hare, who was 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. . . “. Not showing in Chiang Mai; Bangkok only, and only four cinemas.

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