The Reader extended for a few more showings!
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, March 19
by Thomas Ohlson
Best Bets: The Reader. Bolt. Watchmen.
Wonder of wonders, The Reader has been extended at Major Cineplex, though for how long is a question, perhaps only a few more showings. I find it astonishing that it appeared here at all, let along last more than a week. Many thanks to Major Cineplex for bringing this fine film to Chiang Mai. I suggest you see it while you can to experience the story and the Oscar- winning performance of Kate Winslet.
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 19, 2009. There is also information on film programs at the Alliance Française and CMU’s Film Space for the next three weeks.
Special report: International Dance Festival 2009. See the special section below. Plans still seem to be in a state of flux for this – not unusual – but most posters and flyers indicate that there will be free performances at Airport Plaza this Saturday and Sunday from 5 to 7 pm, but there are some reports that those have been cancelled. Additional performances are still scheduled for Airport Plaza, and at the Chiang Mai City Arts and Culture Center and Museum, and at the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi. I’ll try to keep you informed with updates to this newsletter. The Oplas Teatro Company of Umbria, Italy, with its performance of “Touch” – shown here – seems particularly interesting. At the last report, it is scheduled for Monday, March 23, at the Chiang Mai City Arts and Culture Center at around 6 pm.
This is Issue Number 21 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!
Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week
* 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 be that person, by all means go! Directed by Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness). Generally negative reviews: 36/46 out of 100.
And, should you plan on going, don’t find out too much about the story beforehand. That would spoil whatever excitement the film might offer you. However, you might ponder two things, should you wonder what that strange title might mean:
1) Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and what the pledge of a pound of flesh physically refers to.
2) The actual weight of a human heart.
* 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!
The powers that be decided that title, however accurate, was a little too explicit, so the new posters say เชือด ก่อน ชิม, or Cheuat gon chim, or roughly, "carve before tasting", which still gets the point across but isn't so in your face, even if the posters and trailers are all very graphic.
If you’d like to see some previews, click here. I don’t know why you’d want to, but …
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. It’s a fine fine film! Kate’s performance is something definitely not to be missed. I recommend it and urge you to see it. Also starring Ralph Fiennes and the young David Cross. It’s about an unrepentant Nazi war criminal – a female guard at a concentration camp – and her affair with a young boy. 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. Rated R in the US for some scenes of sexuality and nudity. Mixed or average reviews: 58/60 out of 100.
Reelviews, James Berardinelli: It’s a difficult film in that it shows how the horror of Auschwitz was hidden behind a curtain of ordinariness. At one point during The Reader, one character condemns not only the likes of Hanna but the whole of the previous generation of Germans for their willful ignorance of what was happening to the Jews. This question of responsibility and culpability has left a deep scar on the collective German consciousness that even now has not healed, and there are indications of it spread throughout The Reader. … There is enough intelligent, compelling material here to make it worthwhile as a meditation about the post-World War II implications of the Holocaust upon the German psyche and as the tale of the tragedy suffered by one man because, at a vulnerable time of his life, he fell in love with the wrong person.
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.
About the director, Stephen Daldry: Following the lead of such esteemed stage directors as Nicholas Hytner and Sam Mendes, Stephen Daldry made his name in the British theater world before he moved to films, succeeding on his first cinematic foray with Billy Elliot (2000).
U.K. native Daldry began his stage career early in life, doing youth theater and spending time as a circus clown. After attending university at Sheffield, Daldry headed to London, where he began to draw attention for his work at the fringe theater the Gate. Daldry went on to direct over 100 plays, including the long-running, 1992 Tony Award-winning revival of An Inspector Calls and David Hare's one-man show Via Dolorosa, and was appointed the director of the Royal Court Theatre at age 32.
During his stint at the Royal Court, the British film production company Working Title began to groom Daldry for a movie career, starting with the short film Eight (1998). Taking a leave of absence from the theater, Daldry subsequently helmed his first feature, Dancer, retitled Billy Elliot so as not to be confused with fellow Cannes Film Festival entrant Dancer in the Dark (2000). Set in northern England, against the gritty backdrop of the 1984 coal miner strikes, Billy Elliot's story of a boy's desire to be a ballet dancer was praised and damned for its sentimentality, with critics declaring it either a moving story of nonconformity triumphant, or "emotional pornography." Regardless, Billy Elliot became a local and international smash, earning raves for young acting neophyte Jamie Bell's performance as the titular boy and Oscar nominations for screenwriter Lee Hall, supporting actress Julie Walters, and director Daldry. Daldry followed his freshman triumph by directing Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris, and Nicole Kidman in The Hours (2001). Adapted by playwright David Hare from Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Hours gracefully interweaves three stories about a critical day in the lives of Kidman's Virginia Woolf as she struggles to write her esteemed 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway, Moore's unhappy 1950s housewife who finds solace in Woolf's book, and Streep's 2001 incarnation of Clarissa "Dalloway." Finding visual analogues for the novel's challenging interiority and deftly juggling the scenarios' thematic echoes concerning the women's search for meaning in their lives, Daldry and Hare earned kudos for adapting an "unadaptable" book, while Streep, Moore and Kidman's superb performances garnered further raves for Daldry's direction. Bolstering the film's pre-Oscar buzz, The Hours won the Best Picture prize from the National Board of Review and appeared on the American Film Institute's 2002 Ten Best Films list. When the Academy Award nominations were announced in February of 2003, few were surprised that The Hours earned nine nominations in all, including one for Best Director.
In 2008, Daldry returned with his third film, an adaptation of the international best-selling novel The Reader. The movie had a somewhat troubled production, thanks in large part to a disagreement between producers Harvey Weinstein and Scott Rudin, but the film proved to be very popular with Academy voters. They bestowed five nominations on the work, including nods for Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Daldry himself garnered a best director nomination, making him the first director to earn nominations for each of his first three features. ~ Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide
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! 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.
Kyle Smith, New York Post: 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.
Rocktimists: The original Watchmen isn’t just a comic; it’s a commentary upon the comic genre, a satire and a parody of it, and also a love-letter to it. The characters are deliberate archetypes taken to extremes, the universe a fully-defined alternative reality that posits superheroes as “costumed adventurers” out for justice with just masks and martial training rather than laser-eyes and mutant regeneration factors (Dr Manhattan very obviously excepted). I’m assuming you know it’s set in 1985, that Nixon is still in, that a giant radioactive blue god won Vietnam for the USA, that nuclear terror pervades the whole of society, that “costumed adventurers” have been outlawed (hello The Incredibles, again), that someone is plotting to save the world by making everyone think it nearly ended, etc, etc, etc…
But it’s not really about that. It’s about… misanthropy, and violence, and the nature of humanity, and the way we experience time, and sexual deviance, and the justification of bigger-picture politics, and the nature of altruism, and many, many other things, most important of all being comicbooks as a genre, as an artform, in and of themselves.
I thought the Dr. Manhattan effects were great (with the exception of the wang). For those who don’t know, Dr. Manhattan is an atomized physicist who reunites his molecules at a sub-atomic level and in doing so becomes … well, pretty much omnipotent. And blue. So powerful is he that he parades around naked, like a Greek god made of radioactive sapphire. Naked, yes, but for those of you who wondered why his wang had this awkward fuzzy aura around it, well that’s your Thai censors at work. We’re not allowed to see the blue thing the rest of the world can see. Here’s a picture of how it’s supposed to look.
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 testing it on us here in Asia! It’s the tale of young warrior Son Goku, who seeks to fulfill his grandfather's dying request to find the great Master Roshi (a very delightful Chow Yun Fat) and gather all seven magic Dragonballs before the evil Piccolo does. Feels much like being caught inside an arcade computer game, but with less logic. Based on the hugely popular 1984 Japanese manga by Akira Toriyama which lasted for 519 issues and spawned a phenomenally successful television series. This live-action film, directed by James Wong (Willard, Final Destination Jet Li’s The One).), is vastly confusing to all who have not read all 519 manga.
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 when she married his best friend, 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 – and their children don’t like it. Two love stories 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, Nation: 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. …
Kong Rithdee, Bangkok Post: A calibrated drama aimed at achieving warm escapism. … It stays on course, hardly taking risks yet effectively pressing our buttons.
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. In Thai only, without English subtitles.
Kong Rithdee, Bangkok Post: It's not very funny or touching, the acting stagy and amateurish, and despite the contemporary setting, the movie feels like something warped through the gap of time from 20 years ago. Yet in a way, viewing the film as a piece of cultural artifact, there's something refreshing about this mild anachronism, about the way Bandit consciously continues to make films the way he has been for 30 years, unperturbed by the pressure of up-to-date hipsterism that seems to be the priority of most Thai cinema about teenagers.
Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, March 26
Knowing: Australia/ US, Drama/ Mystery/ Thriller – 122 mins – A teacher opens a time capsule that has been dug up at his son's elementary school; in it are some chilling predictions – some that have already occurred and others that are about to – that lead him to believe his family plays a role in the events that are about to unfold. Starring Nicolas Cage.
Khan Kluay 2 / ก้านกล้วย 2: Thai, Animation/ Adventure – 90 mins – Khan Kluay, the legendary elephant, is back in action in this sequel to the animated movie Khan Kluay. Set after the victory at Ayuthaya against the invasion of the powerful Burmese Empire, when Khan Kluay is appointed King Naresuan's royal elephant.