Friday, March 6, 2009

What's On starting March 5

Revolutionary Road departs!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, March 5

by Thomas Ohlson

Best Bets: Valkyrie. Bolt. Watchmen. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Revolutionary Road has left town after one week of very disappointing showings. According to the generally-accepted box office reports of Mojo, Revolutionary Road took in on average only US$292 over the whole four days of the last weekend at each location where it played ($73 a day), very nearly at the bottom of the list. As compared with say Outlander, which took in US$2,684 at each location for the whole four-day weekend. It really doesn’t pay to bring in some films. Tough business!

Here are my comments for the movies currently playing in Chiang Mai at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, March 5, 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 19 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* 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 had the same reaction I had the first time I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey. Which was, “What?! What did I just see?” 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. The reviews so far vary wildly, so we’ll call them for the moment mixed or average: 57/61 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 is more going on in the spectacular opening-credits sequence than in the three "Spider-Man" flicks combined. "Watchmen" author Alan Moore (who considers the film a bastard stepchild and demanded not to be mentioned in those credits) possesses a superpower denied nearly all of his competitors: irony. A yellow smiley face stained with blood is his Bat logo.

It takes a good hour just to introduce characters and back story. Decoding all of this is one of the film's singular pleasures, so I won't give away much. (I took care to maintain total ignorance going in.)

The idea is an alternate history of postwar America, one in which we won the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon has been elected president five times. As of 1985, the age of superheroes has come and gone, and the US and the Soviet Union are doing the nuclear tango.

The narrator and self-appointed truth-seeker is Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), a devout cynic in a mask of weirdness who is trying to solve the murder of a fellow vigilante in a ravaged and rubbished New York City that carries a "Taxi Driver" stench.

Other members of the team - the cast includes Billy Crudup, Carla Gugino, Matthew Goode (of "Match Point"), Patrick Wilson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (from "Grey's Anatomy") and Malin Akerman (the bride in the remake of "The Heartbreak Kid") have fallen prey to self-aggrandizement, self-doubt, dissipation, and moral fatigue. One is into marketing his own action figures; another is into margaritas.

In an ordinary superhero movie, you'd just be waiting for everyone to snap out of it, climb into the spandex, save the day, and bankroll the sequel. But there's so much dread and disgust around "Watchmen" that it isn't clear where it's heading. It's even more serious and political than "The Dark Knight," with the same ambivalence about mythology versus truth, though it doesn't seem to affirm any stance. It drills still deeper than the Batman/Joker core that underlies many of its characters and into questions of God and man. The essential silliness of the comic-book medium (the most important character is called "Dr. Manhattan," and he looks like the love child of Mr. Clean and a Smurf) is held to a minimum.

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.

The street fights are inventive and exciting, but the real struggles are those in which glowing nostalgia puts the ever-disappointing present in a headlock, or one oversimplification kicks another in the teeth. Rioters take to the streets - in order to rout vigilantes, and to the tune of "I'm Your Boogie Man." Disco apocalypse.

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.

Tidbit: 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 in Time / Kwamjam San Tae Rak Chan Yao / ความจำสั้น แต่รักฉันยาว: Thai Romance/ Drama – 90 mins – 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 – 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.

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 – Only for die-hard “Action” fans in my opinion. Has received mostly dreadful reviews, with which I have to concur, but there is a place for things like this, and some people like them. Adapted from the popular series of “Street Fighter” video games first released in 1987. Undercover Interpol agent and female fighter Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) gives up her career as a concert pianist to seek justice after she discovers that her father has been murdered. She is something like a female Batman for being rich, brooding, and orphaned. Interesting location shooting in the Bangkok slums, but I am not sure this movie is something Thailand needs the world to see right at this juncture, wallowing as it does in the corruption and poverty that permeates Thailand. But, it’s just an action flick after all. Reviews: Extreme dislike or disgust: 17/24 out of 100.

Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times: Reveling in the vivid Bangkok locations, Geoff Boyle’s photography is crisp and bright, and Dion Lam’s action choreography unusually witty. A restroom tussle between Chun-Li and a slinky lesbian villain is wonderfully inventive and humorously revealing.

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; 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.

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.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, March 12

Seven Pounds: US, Drama/ Romance – 118 mins – Will Smith is an IRS agent who is depressed and guilt-ridden about mistakes from his past. He sets out to make amends by helping seven strangers. When he meets a beautiful woman with a heart condition, and he falls in love with her, his plans suddenly become very complicated. Woody Harrelson also appears as a blind pianist who befriends Ben. Directed by Gabriele Muccino. Generally negative reviews.

Miss You Again / A-Nueng Kidthueng Pen Yang Ying / อนึ่ง ... คิดถึงเป็นอย่างยิ่ง: Thai, Comedy/ Drama – 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 – The 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. Based on the 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. Directed by James Wong (Willard).

In Limbo

Here’s the current status on some other Oscar contenders of note which were scheduled at one time for Chiang Mai, then withdrawn. I think it would be nice if they all showed up here eventually, but it looks as though we’ll have to fight to get them. And given the dreadful reception of Revolutionary Road here, it doesn’t seem to make much sense from the point of view of the movie chains. Except possibly for Slumdog Millionaire.

* 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 in the planning for Chiang Mai; playing now only at the Apex Lido in Bangkok.

* 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. At the present time not to be shown in Chiang Mai; now playing at only two cinemas in the whole of Thailand: the Apex Lido and the Apex Scala at Siam Square in Bangkok.

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.

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 once on the schedule for Chiang Mai, but has been withdrawn; now playing only in Bangkok, at one cinema, the Apex Lido.

* 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. Not now on the schedule for Chiang Mai; it’s in Bangkok, and at only one cinema, the Apex Lido.

* 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 now on the schedule for Chiang Mai; it’s in Bangkok, and at only one cinema, the Apex Lido.

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