Thursday, March 12, 2009

What's On starting March 12

The Reader arrives! Benjamin takes his buttons and departs!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, March 12

by Thomas Ohlson

Best Bets: The Reader. Bolt. Watchmen.

I find it astonishing that The Reader has appeared at our Major Cineplex, especially after the poor showing of Revolutionary Road, but here it is. The chain should be commended for bringing this fine film to Chiang Mai. I suggest you take advantage of its presence, because it most certainly will not be here long.

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, March 12, 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 20 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* The Reader – US/ Germany, Drama/ Romance – 124 mins – Directed by Stephen Daldry. Kate Winslet won two Golden Globes this year, and one of them was for best supporting actress for her role in this film. And she won the Oscar for the role as well, but as best actress. Anyway, it’s a fine fine film! Even if somewhat removed and emotionally distant. Kate’s performance is something definitely not to be missed. I recommend it and urge you to see it. It’s an absolute marvel that it showed up here in Chiang Mai at all – cheers to the Major Cineplex chain for bringing it in, especially right after the disastrous run of Revolutionary Road.

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, 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. . . “. That’s the underage boy at the left, and the male with his back to you in the picture to the right, David Cross, who was 17 when filming began. [To avoid legal consequences, the crew delayed the filming of the sexually explicit scenes until after his 18th birthday on July 4, 2008.] The lady in the picture is of course Kate Winslet, playing Hanna. Also starring Ralph Fiennes.

Rated R in the US for some scenes of sexuality and nudity. Mixed or average reviews: 58/60 out of 100.

Roger Ebert: There are enormous pressures in all human societies to go along. Many figures involved in the recent Wall Street meltdown have used the excuse, "I was only doing my job. I didn't know what was going on." President Bush led us into war on mistaken premises, and now says he was betrayed by faulty intelligence. U.S. military personnel became torturers because they were ordered to. Detroit says it was only giving us the cars we wanted. The Soviet Union functioned for years because people went along. China still does.

Many of the critics of The Reader seem to believe it is all about Hanna's shameful secret. … [Sentence deleted as a spoiler!] …. Others think the movie is an excuse for soft-core porn disguised as a sermon. Still others say it asks us to pity Hanna. Some complain we don't need yet another "Holocaust movie." None of them think the movie may have anything to say about them. I believe the movie may be demonstrating a fact of human nature: Most people, most of the time, all over the world, choose to go along. We vote with the tribe.

To read the whole of Ebert’s thought-provoking piece, click here – but do it after you’ve seen the film, so as not to destroy the story.

* Miss You Again / A-Nueng Kidthueng Pen Yang Ying / อนึ่ง ... คิดถึงเป็นอย่างยิ่ง: Thai, Comedy/ Drama – 90 mins – The third entry in veteran director Bhandit Rittakol’s romance series that began in 1992 with I Miss You, then I Miss You 2 in 1996. It's a teenage movie about old school friends trying to save their financially-troubled school from closing and being sold to a big supermarket company.

* Dragonball Evolution: US, Action/ Adventure/ Fantasy/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 100 mins – This film doesn’t open in the US/UK until April 8; they’re trying it out on us here in Asia! It’s the tale of a little boy, Son Goku, who grows into a powerful man known as Dragonball. As a young warrior Son Goku seeks to fulfill his grandfather's dying request to find the great Master Roshi (Chow Yun Fat) and gather all seven Dragonballs to prevent the evil Piccolo from using the magical orbs to take over the world. The film is based on the very popular Japanese manga by Akira Toriyama, whose work not only included best-selling graphic novels, but also video games and a phenomenally successful television series. What started out as a successful manga, grew into a world-wide phenomenon and is now probably the most popular Japanese series, world-wide. The manga Dragonball which started in 1984 and its sequel Dragonball Z boasted a total of 519 issues, which were later condensed into the 42 volume version which is still being published to this day. [The cover of the first of these tankōbon volumes is shown at right.] Over 150 million volumes of the series were sold by 2007. The television spin-off of 1986, drawn by different artists, lasted an amazing 508 episodes. This live-action film is directed by James Wong (Willard, Final Destination, Jet Li’s The One).

Bolt: US Animation/ Comedy/ Family/ Fantasy – 96 mins – John Travolta does a superb job voicing Bolt, a canine TV star convinced of his superpowers who sets out on a cross-country journey to find his owner. I found this whole enterprise a complete delight, containing many moments of real heart. If you at all enjoy animation, don’t miss this one. Great for kids – and adults! Very obviously made for the 3D effects, but shown here only in regular old 2D. Generally favorable reviews: 67/65 out of 100.

Watchmen: US/ UK/ Canada – Action/ Drama/ Fantasy/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller– 163 mins – I have to admit that this film simply blew me away! I think that once you accept the violence and the comic-book origins, you will find this a monumental film. If you liked The Dark Knight or A Clockwork Orange, you should appreciate this. (It’s monumentally long as well, so be prepared.) Directed by Zack Snyder (who gave us 300), it’s complex and multi-layered, and is set in an alternate 1985 America in which costumed superheroes are a part of everyday life, Richard Nixon is in his fifth term as president, and the US won the war in Vietnam – which is now the 51st State. And that’s just for starters! Amidst all the blood there’s a lot of philosophy, and a lot to think about and debate before you see it again. Rated R in the US for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, and language. Mixed or average reviews: 56/53 out of 100.

Clint Morris, Moviehole: Might just be the best-written, best-performed and most meaningful superhero movie ever made. Unlike a lot of caped-crusader movies, it actually has a point to make.

Roger Ebert: A film experience of often fearsome beauty. . . . The film is rich enough to be seen more than once. I plan to see it again, this time on IMAX, and will have more to say about it. I’m not sure I understood all the nuances and implications, but I am sure I had a powerful experience. It’s not as entertaining as “The Dark Knight,” but like the “Matrix” films, LOTR and “The Dark Knight,” it’s going to inspire fevered analysis. I don’t want to see it twice for that reason, however, but mostly just to have the experience again.

Kyle Smith, New York Post: Director Zack Snyder's cerebral, scintillating follow-up to "300" seems, to even a weary filmgoer's eye, as fresh and magnificent in sound and vision as "2001" must have seemed in 1968, yet in its eagerness to argue with itself, it resembles "A Clockwork Orange." Like those Stanley Kubrick films - it is also in part a parody of "Dr. Strangelove" - it transforms each moment into a tableau with great, uncompromising concentration. The effect is an almost airless gloom, but the film is also exhilarating in breadth and depth. …

There are so many competing ideas within "Watchmen" that it is built to be viewed repeatedly and debated religiously. Among comic-book movies, only the two most recent Batman entries compete with it for complexity. It's not clear who the hero is, if there even is one.

Despite the burden of a story in which "it's too late, always has been, always will be," "Watchmen" levitates with a prophetic fury worthy of the Jimi Hendrix cover of "All Along the Watchtower" that blasts over a key scene. Other fantasy movies are playing checkers. This one plays chess, with grandmaster panache.

The title is taken from a line by the Roman poet Juvenal, "Who watches the watchmen?" warning about abuse of power. Shortly after the comic series was published in 1986, the line appeared as epigraph in the Tower Commission's report on the Iran-Contra scandal.

Best of Times / Kwamjam San Tae Rak Chan Yao / ความจำสั้น แต่รักฉันยาว: Thai Romance/ Drama – 90 mins – Yongyooth Thongkongtoon’s leisurely romantic drama centers on two couples, young and old. A young vet struggles to forget his first love, but when he meets her again years later she doesn't seem to remember him at all. And an elderly man and woman, each alone in the world, meet and fall in love. A love story by the director of Iron Ladies and Metrosexual, which I found tedious and unremarkable, though I did enjoy the performances of the older couple.

Wise Kwai: Yongyooth Thongkongtoon offers his most mature film yet with the romantic drama Best of Times. (Thai title: Kwaam Jam San Dtae Rak Chan Yaao, ความจำสั้น แต่รักฉันยาว, literally "[my] memory [is] short, but my love [is] long.") The veteran director of such comedies as Iron Ladies and M.A.I.D. has put together a lucid yet dreamy rumination on the fleeting passage of time and the connections we make in our all-too-brief moments on this planet. …

It's all very touching and poignant, beautifully filmed and sumptuously scored -- the strings swell at all the predictable moments, just to cue the audience that something significant is happening. …

Less-patient viewers will start checking their watches and cell phones sometime after that cool and funny scene at the black-light bowling alley.

Power Kids / Haa Hua Jai Hero / 5 หัวใจอีโร่: Thai Action/ Comedy – 90 mins – Except for the fights, a film of mind-boggling ineptitude about kids battling terrorists in a hospital. Sloppy script and plotting, sloppy directing and photography – none of which seemed to bother the audience, who seemed to enjoy it immensely. Also has sloppy English subtitles, e.g., “He’s been sleeping like vegetables for months.”

Wise Kwai: Power Kids was in production for more than four years before it was finally released. It wasn't worth the wait. There's no discernable reason for it to have taken as long as it did to finally be released. …

Bad acting and a hole-filled plot are standard equipment with Thai action movies, but it's accepted because there will usually be eye-popping stunts, hard-hitting kicks and bone-crunching punches. This is not the case with Power Kids. While there are a few decent moments, the stunts become repetitive and dull. They play better as a highlight reel or in the trailer.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, March 19

Seven Pounds: US, Drama/ Romance – 123 mins – Rescheduled for this date. I find this a dreadful movie, and it makes me feel very uncomfortable just to talk about it. I think it’s grim, morose, and undone by an illogical plot. However, I have to admit that Will Smith is a charismatic actor, and you can hardly not watch him and get involved. In this unbelievable and exasperating story, Smith is an IRS agent who is depressed and guilt-ridden about mistakes from his past, and he sets out to make amends by helping seven strangers. It’s shamelessly manipulative of your emotions. I’d suggest that you don’t see it, except that somewhere, someone will like this film and be entranced by it, so if you think you might are that person, by all means, go! Directed by Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness). Generally negative reviews: 36/46 out of 100.

Meat Grinder/ Cheuat gon chim / เชือดก่อนชิม: Thai, Horror – 90 mins – A slasher/horror, torture-porn thriller about a noodle-shop lady who serves up a special meat with her dishes. Shades of Sweeney Todd! In case you can’t quite make it out, that’s an eyeball at the end of the chopsticks.

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