Oscar bonanza! Two of the year’s best performances by an actor!
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, March 26
by Thomas Ohlson
Best Bets: Milk. The Wrestler.
It’s Oscar season at Major Cineplex! Wonder of wonders! The Reader for the past two weeks, and now two more Oscar contenders this week! The Wrestler, with an impressive acting job by one-time has-been Mickey Rourke, and the movie many think was the best movie of last year, Milk. It’s astonishing these are appearing here at all, so many thanks to Major Cineplex for bringing these films to Chiang Mai. Only a sparse number of showings. See them while you can.
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, March 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 22 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
* Milk: US, Biography/ Drama/ Romance – 128 mins – Some amazing performances in a mesmerizing film about the assassination of Harvey Milk, with Sean Penn, winner of the acting Oscar. An Oscar also went to Dustin Lance Black for the script, as the best original screenplay. It was also nominated for Oscar best picture and best director – eight nominations total. Directed by Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting). Rated R in the US for language, some sexual content, and brief violence. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 84/83 out of 100.
IMDb viewer: Everything comes together in this one – Let's get one thing out of the way. Is it entertaining? And how! Sean Penn's best performance to date – Oscar quality; Emile Hirsch riotously perfect (best "supporting?"); James Franco heartbreaking; Diego Luna, devastating; Josh Brolin, flawless. Not one false note in any of the actors – a very complicated story unfolds with absolute clarity. I will be seeing this one again just for the screenplay. I was very gratified that no attempt is made to be "delicate" about Harvey Milk's personality, either his sex life or his out-sized ego, which perhaps ironically for some, makes him all the more heroic. The finest "political" film I think I've ever seen. It does more than dramatize a strong true story, it captures convincingly the truth about a whole political movement. (One that's as freshly active as today's headlines: Prop 6 or Prop 8 — does it ever end?) There is an ease and familiarity to the "scene" — to the historical period and place — with very few, small anachronisms, as far as I could tell. This is also the most assured work of Gus Van Sant, a genuine film artist, who here delivers a complete drama with real visual style and brazen wit. The blending of documentary footage is the most seamless I can remember seeing anywhere. The crowd scenes are remarkable, and all of the location shooting miraculously right. For a couple of fast, fast hours, I felt as though I had spent a couple of days — hilarious, intense, inspiring days — immersed in 1970s San Francisco. This movie does what all movies should do. See it.
Roger Ebert: Sean Penn amazes me. Not long before seeing Milk, I viewed his work in Dead Man Walking again. Few characters could be more different, few characters could seem more real. He creates a character with infinite attention to detail, and from the heart out. Here he creates a character who may seem like an odd bird to mainstream America – and makes him completely identifiable.
Reel Views, James Berardinelli: Milk feels like an important picture, but not in a way that makes it tedious to watch. There's no pretentious sheen to the proceedings. In fact, the essential story is comprised of basic elements: the triumph of the underdog, David vs. Goliath, and the American tragedy of a strong voice silenced too soon. Knowing how the story ends merely emphasizes the importance of the steps taken to get to that point. . . For those who are not dissuaded by the homosexual subject matter (and it would be unrealistic to pretend that the film's potential box office will not be depressed as a result of this), Milk represents a thought provoking, cathartic, and mostly true tale of politics and courage.
* The Wrestler: US Drama/ Sport – 105 mins (originally 115 mins) – Mickey Rourke’s portrayal of an over-the-hill athlete has won him many accolades, including a Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination as best actor. I think it’s truly quite a wonderful performance of a loser of a professional wrestler – Randy the Ram – who you wouldn’t ordinarily care about. But you end up caring about this man considerably. I even got caught up in the so-called “sport” – which I have always … well, despised. So, give it a try. Directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain). Rated R in the US for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use. Seems heavily censored and about 10 minutes shorter than the US release. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 81/83 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes: Mickey Rourke gives a performance for the ages in The Wrestler, a richly affecting, heart-wrenching, yet ultimately rewarding drama.
Sidewalks, Richard Lee: This independently-produced film follows Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a long-time professional wrestler, who’s now middle-aged and alone. While trying to continue and make income in the wrestling world in small, independent and semi-pro matches, the documentary-styled film also shows Robinson’s personal life out of the ring: trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and starting a potential relationship with an aging stripper (Marisa Tomei).
For wrestling … this film may be the closest thing to a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at a wrestling showcase. Set in the independent level, the story shows how the wrestlers prepare for matches and what they may go through following a match. At a special screening where director Darren Aronofsky and Tomei were present, Aronofsky stated that the former wrestling great, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, saw an advance screening of the film, which brought him to tears for its accurate portrayal of wrestlers and their preparation.
According to the director, the wrestling scenes were shot at actual wrestling matches (before and after) at Alhambra Arena in Philadelphia. Several professional wrestlers on the independent front appeared, including The Blue Meanie, Perry Saturn, and Necro Butcher.
The biggest surprise in the film was Rourke, who I wouldn’t recognize if I was standing next to him. Although he was a boxer in his early years, Rourke trained for six months to get himself into shape at 235 for the role. To me, he looks like a carbon copy image of the size and shape of Hulk Hogan. Rourke was very convincing in the role. He appeared in many of the scenes doing his own stunts, as well as improvised segments such as “the walk-in” during his character’s entrance to the ring. Besides Rourke, the other actors were able to improvise in their scenes.
Another highlight was the performance of Wood, who did an exceptional job in playing his daughter. Although she was only in a few scenes, her moments with Rourke truly hit the mark, as they were believable as alienated father and daughter who haven’t seen each other in a long time.
When I talk about Tomei’s performance, most people can only mention how incredible her body looks at age 44. Although she did an illustrious job as a stripper in her scenes, Tomei’s Cassidy doesn’t get the same impact as Rourke’s Robinson. Her character only got a few moments out of the strip joint. I didn’t feel much about the budding relationship for Robinson and Cassidy in the film; it felt forced because she was the only woman he talked to (excluding the girl he met at a bar), and I guess he needed a love interest. The part the “My Cousin Vinny” actress does get is sort of a parallel story to the lead character. They both are older and trying to make a living in their separate gender worlds. Tomei could have starred in her own film about an aging stripper, which could have worked (“The Stripper”).
There are moments in the film that are very realistic, including the matches in the ring. Some of the women (and some men) I was sitting near had a hard time watching some of the action, including the hardcore match with “The Ram” where he fought with ladders and spikes. If you don’t like the sight of blood, then the film will make you feel queasy.
If you were never a wrestling fan, “The Wrestler” should give you an appreciation of the extremely violent sport and what the players may go through each week. Even though I brought up more about the wrestling focus in this review, there are other dramatic moments in the film, including the daughter’s feelings about her dad and Robinson taking odd jobs, which kept the film moving. The movie is basically a sad film, but you will be invested into the story and amazed by strong performances by Rourke and Wood.
“The Wrestler” will likely be remembered as one of the leading sports-theme films, such as “Raging Bull” and “The Champ.”
* Knowing: Australia/ US, Drama/ Mystery/ Thriller – 130 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 and directed by Alex Proyas (I, Robot). Mixed or average reviews: 40/42 out of 100.
Roger Ebert: Knowing is among the best science-fiction films I've seen – frightening, suspenseful, and intelligent and, when it needs to be, rather awesome. The plot involves the most fundamental of all philosophical debates: Is the universe deterministic or random? Is everything in some way preordained or does it happen by chance? If that questions sounds too abstract, wait until you see this film, which poses it in stark terms: What if we could know in advance when the Earth will end?
Los Angeles Times, Betsy Sharkey: Whatever else Proyas has done in Knowing, he has created an ending that is sure to divide audiences into camps of love it or hate it, deeming its message either hopeful or hopelessly heavy-handed. For me, it doesn't quite work; still I'm glad he took the risk.
San Francisco Chronicle, Peter Hartlaub: If you see only one bad movie this year, definitely make it Knowing. The first major disappointment from director Alex Proyas is a disaster movie, a horror picture, a "Da Vinci Code"-style thriller and an end-of-days religious film all at once.
* 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.
Seven Pounds: US, Drama/ Romance – 123 mins – I think this a dreadful movie, and I’m uncomfortable just talking about it – it’s shamelessly manipulative of your emotions. In this unbelievable and exasperating story, Smith is an IRS agent who is depressed and guilt-ridden about an event from his past, and he sets out to make amends by helping seven strangers. But the story is just creepy in its subject matter and its style. Every half a minute there was something that not only offended my sense of logic but ridiculed any emotional involvement I had in the characters. Yes, a very uncomfortable experience for me, but it may not be for you. And Smith does have a presence, and you will get involved. Directed by Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness). Generally negative reviews: 36/46 out of 100.
Variety, Todd McCarthy: An endlessly sentimental fable about sacrifice and redemption that aims only at the heart at the expense of the head. Intricately constructed so as to infuriate anyone predominantly guided by rationality and intellect.
The New York Times, A.O. Scott: The most transcendently, eye-poppingly, call-your-friend-ranting-in-the-middle-of-the-night-just-to-go-over-it-one-more-time crazily awful motion pictures ever made.
Los Angeles Daily News, Bob Strauss: Equal parts bizarre and conventional, Seven Pounds is – if not good – an intriguing film.
And the last word goes, as it often does, to Roger Ebert: Some people will find it emotionally manipulative. Some people like to be emotionally manipulated. I do, when it's done well.
I am fascinated by films that observe a character who is behaving precisely, with no apparent motivation. A good actor brings such a role into focus, as Will Smith does in the enigmatically titled Seven Pounds. Who is he, what does he want, why is he behaving so oddly for an IRS agent? And why won't he kiss Rosario Dawson, when they both so obviously want that to happen?
As Ben Thomas, the man from the IRS, he can get in anywhere and ask any question. But surely the IRS doesn't require him to punch a nursing home supervisor for not allowing an old lady her bath? And why, after he intuits he is speaking to a blind man on the phone, is he so needlessly cruel to him? And why then does he follow the same man (Woody Harrelson) into a restaurant and engage him in conversation?
And why does he check into a fleabag hotel? Doesn't the IRS pay him a salary? And what favor does his lifelong friend Dan (Barry Pepper) owe him? And why is he looking for people who need their own favors? And so on. For much of the first hour of "Seven Pounds," Ben Thomas acts according to a plan that seems perfectly clear, but only to himself. The reason it goes unexplained is that he has no need to explain it to himself, and no way to explain it to anyone else.
I find this more interesting than a movie about a man whose nature and objectives are made clear in the first five minutes, in a plot that simply points him straight ahead.
Will Smith displays a rather impressive range of emotional speeds here. It's quite a performance. And Dawson makes Emily not simply a woman confused, maybe offended, by his behavior, but a woman of instinctive empathy, who does an emotional dance with him, following his lead when he needs to be treated like an IRS agent or like a perfect gentleman or like a man who needs understanding even if she doesn't know what she's supposed to understand.
Should you plan on going, don’t find out too much more 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!
Actually, it’s done with more style and skill than I would have thought possible. The director obviously has a terrific talent, and he pulls some scenes off amazingly well and seems quite in control of his forces. He creates quite a good atmosphere at times. I’m much looking forward to his future films when he deals with more mature and less bloody themes.
Wise Kwai: The Thai title has undergone a change. When it was first promoted it was called ก๋วยเตี๋ยว เนื้อ คน or Guay-dteow neua kon, literally "human meat noodles", like Soylent Green. 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 …
Dragonball Evolution: US, Action/ Adventure/ Fantasy/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 100 mins – 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. Yet they do have hopes of producing a sequel, or generating a franchise, as you will see if you don't leave the when the end credits start.
Best of Times / Kwamjam San Tae Rak Chan Yao / ความจำสั้น แต่รักฉันยาว: Thai Romance/ Drama – 90 mins –Leisurely romantic drama focusing 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. I did enjoy the performances of the older couple.
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. 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. Not very funny or touching. In Thai only, without English subtitles.
Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, April 2
Fast & Furious: US, Action – 107 mins – Vin Diesel and Paul Walker reteam for the ultimate chapter of this film franchise built on speed and exotic cars, which started in 2001 with The Fast and the Furious, an unexpected hit movie. Although this is the fourth of the series, time-wise it fits in between the second and the third films, and is thus not a sequel and not a prequel but (and this is a new word for you) an interquel.
The Shinjuku Incident / Xin Su shi jian: China, Action/ Drama – 120 mins – Featuring Jackie Chan in a dramatic rather than a fighting mode. This troubled project has been in the planning stages for almost 10 years according to director Derek Yee. And now it seems the film will not be exhibited in mainland China at all, due to censorship concerns over the portrayal of Chinese living abroad, but it seems it will be shown in Japan, despite an overwhelmingly negative portrayal of the Japanese. Probably will be shown here in a Thai-dubbed version only.
Sassy Player / Taew Nak Te Teen Rabert / แต๋วเตะตีนระเบิด: Thai, Comedy/ Drama – 90 mins – A gay teen soccer comedy in the vein of “Satree Lek" (Iron Ladies), the internationally popular comedy about a gay and transgender men's volleyball team. Directed by Poj Arnon (Bangkok Love Story).