Shootouts and sorcerers!
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, July 23, 2009
… through Wednesday, July 29
by Thomas Ohlson
Best Bets: Harry Potter. Public Enemies.
It’s here, and you’re sure to see it, so go! Harry Potter, of course! Left to right: Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape, Emma Watson as Hermione Granger, Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, and Dame Maggie Smith as Professor Minerva McGonagall.
Bangkok International Film Festival: Sep 24 to 30.
EU Film Festival in ChiangMai: Nov 5 to 15.
World Film Festival in Bangkok: Nov 6 to 15.
EU Film Festival in Bangkok: Nov 19 to 29.
This is Issue Number 39 of Volume 4 of these listings.
Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week
* Public Enemies: US, Action/ Crime/ Drama/ History/ Thriller – 140 min – With Johnny Depp as the criminal John Dillinger and Christian Bale as G-man Melvin Purvis in this Great Depression-era drama about the FBI’s attempts to stop a gangster crime wave. The film features a strong supporting cast, including Billy Crudup, Channing Tatum, Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Dorff, Rory Cochrane, and Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard (for her role as Edith Piaf in the 2007 La môme / La vie en rose). Rated R in the US for gangster violence and some language. Generally favorable reviews: 70/63 out of 100.
This is a difficult film for me to talk about, because I think it’s a mess, albeit a brilliant mess, and I don’t want to unnecessarily discourage you from seeing it, because it offers many pleasures. It’s an impeccably crafted film, with some fine performances, vast attention to period detail, an innovative use of high-definition video instead of film, and a fascinating era recreated. Still, it’s a hodge-podge in my opinion, and doesn’t gel into anything coherent.
I’ll have more to say next week, but my biggest complaint about the film is that we seem to be expected to know and understand the characters before going to see the film, I suppose because it is a real life story. But as a film, it could have introduced and developed the many secondary characters more to help us understand them better – those of us who know little about Dillinger, his life, or Purvis and the early years of the FBI.
Public Enemies is a film adaptation of Bryan Burrough's Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34. The book was adapted for the movie by director Michael Mann and two screenwriters, but the film seems like it’s simply a quick survey of the book, dropping names and places, and showing short scenes here and there, with reckless abandon. We feel like we’re expected to read the book to know who is who, and how all these characters and events relate.
The time frame of the movie is from a prison breakout at Michigan City, Indiana, on September 26, 1933, to the shooting death of John Dillinger outside the Biograph movie theater in Chicago on July 22, 1934, with a short (entirely fictional) epilogue between Billie and agent Winstead a few weeks or months after. However, a number of incidents that definitely took place after Dillinger’s death are falsely shown as happening during the film’s time period.
For a movie that purportedly prides itself on historical detail, it plays fast and loose with the facts about the Dillinger gang. For instance "Baby Face" Nelson, who is clearly seen shot and killed during the Little Bohemia Lodge firefight in the film, was actually killed by FBI agents on November 27, 1934 - four months later than Dillinger. Pretty Boy Floyd, killed in the beginning of the movie by Purvis, was actually killed on October 22, 1934, exactly 3 months after Dillinger died. In the film, J. Edgar Hoover is shown in front of a Senate subcommittee being excoriated for the Bureau's performance. The incident takes place sometime between the 1933 start of the film and Dillinger's death; in reality, the subcommittee hearing in which Senator McKellar publicly lashed out at Hoover didn't occur until 1936, two years after Dillinger's death. When John goes to the movie theater the night of his death, a Porky Pig cartoon is on. Looney Tunes brought Porky to the screens for the first time in 1935. You are duped into thinking the director cares about historical details with all the period sets, cars, news stories on the radio, etc, but actually many facts are falsified and major parts of the plot are just made up.
Roger Ebert: The movie is well-researched, based on the book by Bryan Burrough. It even bothers to try to discover Dillinger's speaking style. Depp looks a lot like him. Mann shot on location in the Crown Point jail, scene of the famous jailbreak with the fake gun. He shot in the Little Bohemia Lodge in the same room Dillinger used, and Depp is costumed in clothes to match those the bank robber left behind. Mann redressed Lincoln Avenue on either side of the Biograph Theater, and laid streetcar tracks; I live a few blocks away, and walked over to marvel at the detail. I saw more than you will; unlike some directors, he doesn't indulge in beauty shots to show off the art direction. It's just there.
Picture: Dillinger and Depp
John Dillinger was shot to death by FBI agents on the night of July 22, 1934 while exiting Chicago's Biograph Theater, where he had attended a screening of 'Manhattan Melodrama.' While the Biograph Theater was still operating at the time of the production of 'Public Enemies,' the interior had been converted into a number of smaller venues, and no longer resembled the Depression-era movie palace it had been at the time of Dillinger's death. Production scouts for 'Public Enemies' found that the Paramount Theatre in nearby Aurora, Illinois, resembled the Biograph Theater of 1934 enough to double as that venue. For that reason, the interiors for two scenes were filmed there: The scene in which John Dillinger and his cohorts attend a movie and are alarmed to see themselves and their photographs featured during a newsreel, and the scene taking place immediately prior to Dillinger's death. The exterior of the Biograph Theater during the latter scene, however, depicts that actual historic venue, 'dressed' to appear as it did in 1934. It is said that when Dillinger's body was lying in the street outside the Biograph theater, many by-standers dipped handkerchiefs in his blood to keep as a souvenir.
Trivia: Just before John Dillinger goes to the movies the night he is killed, when John is washing and shaving, the camera pans across a table where we see his pocket watch, gun, glasses, and a money belt. According to Anna Sage (aka "The Woman in Red"), Dillinger was wearing a money belt with $3,000 inside. However, when Dillinger was killed the money belt was nowhere to be found. Historians have speculated that Sgt. Martin Zarkovich, who was a part of Purvis's posse at the theater, stole the money.
The New York Times, Manohla Dargis: A grave and beautiful work of art.
* Dear Galileo / หนีตามกาลิเลโอ: Thai, Comedy/ Drama – 90 mins – A pleasant enough outing about girls on their own in Europe – low-keyed and low-powered, slow and meandering. From Nithiwat Tharathorn, one of the famed “Fan Chan Six” – i.e., one of the six neophyte directors who collaborated while in University on what is probably the most enchantingly delightful Thai film ever, Fan Chan (My Girl) (2003). All six have since gone on to direct other films; this is Nithiwat’s second film on his own; his first solo film was the sweet Seasons Change (2006) about students at a music college. In Dear Galileo he continues his examination of students in love as two teenage girls plan to backpack for a year in the "Big Three" of Europe – London, Paris, and Rome. Filmed on location in Europe. When they’re short of money, they get jobs in Thai restaurants for a while.
Apparently it’s based on the director's own experiences of living and working abroad. “People dream of a happy life in London or Paris with lots of spare time to travel around, but it's not like that,” he says. “When you work in a restaurant, you spend most of your time indoors and you stay in a small space to save money.”
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: US/ UK, Adventure/ Fantasy/ Mystery/ Romance – 153 mins – This, the latest and darkest Harry Potter episode, set a new worldwide opening day box office record, with an astounding one-day global box office gross of more than $104 million. Generally favorable reviews: 78/73 out of 100.
I think it’s a dazzling film with brilliant cinematography, fantastic effects, and moments of emotional power. But I think you’ll find it incoherent unless you’re a close follower of the previous films, or have immersed yourself in the books. If not, large sections of the film will make absolutely no sense whatsoever. If you've read the book, you can plug the plot holes with what you know. Otherwise, all the characters seem to know things the audience is never privy to.
And you’ll also be at a disadvantage if you have problems with rapid-fire British accents, particularly lower class Ron Weasley’s. And Hermione, who seems hell-bent on blurting out whole speeches in as few nanoseconds as possible.
This movie sends shivers up and down your spine even before it begins! The moment the Warner Bros. logo appears you’re overwhelmed with foreboding – never have a seen a logo with more menace to it. And then comes the fantastic opening sequence of a world being attacked by random terror. This opening part has been filmed in IMAX 3D, and I do want to see it at the IMAX theater in Bangkok just for this sequence alone.
Worth seeing for the great art direction and scenic design alone. But for all the rest as well. It’s really well directed, with excellent performances, and an exciting story.
Rotten Tomatoes: The Harry Potter franchise has maintained a level of quality nearly unmatched in recent times. And the latest, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is no exception. The production design is moody and impeccable, the tension is palpable, and there's a welcome strain of humor to the proceedings. In addition, the three principal actors –Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson – have grown into their roles, and the supporting players are outstanding.
Dame Maggie Smith
The appearance of Dame Maggie Smith in the film, again as schoolmistress Minerva McGonagall, was a mixed delight for me. She is one of my favorite actors, and I love the way she has delicious fun with a line. But – sadly and shockingly – she struck me as being extremely frail and, beneath all the makeup, not at all well. Being the trouper she is, she worked on this film whilst undergoing radio-therapy as treatment for breast cancer, a fight against the disease she has been waging for some time; she has had a tumor removed and undergone chemotherapy. Friends describe her as "typically brave and understated.” One added: "The last thing she wants to do is to make a fuss about it."
Here’s a nonsensical piece of trivia I discovered in watching the movie: For months I’ve been referring to the film as Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, until it dawned on me finally that the real spelling is Half-Blood Prince, with a hyphen. But I noticed in the film itself, in the annotated text book on potions, the book of such great significance in the movie, twice the Half-Blood Prince wrote, “This book belongs to the Half Blood Prince.” No hyphen. Another piece of the puzzle, another mystery.
And what really does “Half-Blood Prince” mean, anyway? Well, in the world of Harry Potter, Half-blood is the term applied to wizards who come from magical and Muggle parents, or anyone with part-Muggle ancestry. A Muggle being, of course, the series' name for the non-magical majority of people. Half-bloods are the most common kind of wizard blood, far outnumbering both pure-bloods and Muggle-borns. Rowling has stated that of the Hogwarts annual intake, 50% are Half-bloods. Pure-blood supremacists view Half-bloods as inferior to them, although superior to Muggles and Muggle-borns. Rowling draws several parallels between the Pure-blood supremacists and Nazi ideology, particularly in the upcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; for example: the belief that Pure-blood Wizards have the right to subjugate the Muggle world and view themselves as being a "master race", laws requiring Muggle-borns to register with the Ministry of Magic, the establishment of Blood Purity Laws which restrict which people witches or wizards can marry, the rounding up of Undesirables. Voldemort is a Pure-blood advocate, even though, ironically, he is a Half-blood himself, as his father, Tom Riddle, Sr., was a Muggle.
Harry Potter too is a Half-blood, as his father, James, was pure-blood and his mother, Lily, was a Muggle-born. Professor Snape is also a Half-blood, as his father Tobias Snape was a Muggle. And, to clear up another little mystery, the one who declares himself the “Half-Blood Prince” in the potions textbook is a "Prince" simply because that was his mother's maiden name. Can’t tell you here who that is, because that would take away the mystery. For more information on all this, check out “Harry Potter universe” at Wikipedia.
The Outing of Dumbledore
It’s been reported in a number of places that the author, J.K. Rowling, when reading through the script for the film, came upon a line where Dumbledore mentioned a girl he had a crush on when younger. After reading that, she informed the filmmakers that in fact Dumbledore was gay and that his only romantic infatuation was with the wizard Gellert Grindelwald, whom he later had to defeat in a wizard duel. According to Daniel Radcliffe, after Rowling ‘outed’ his character, Sir Michael Gambon began "camping it up" on the set. But as if to disprove the insinuation, Sir Michael Gambon became a father for the third time last month, at age 68. He once said that he lies during interviews to make them more interesting. When an interviewer once asked him if he had problems with playing a gay man he replied by saying it was easy because he used to be a homosexual but was forced to quit because it made his eyes water.
We see a bit of this homosexual infatuation in the next film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with Jamie Campbell Bower (see picture) playing Gellert Grindelwald when he and Dumbledore were teenagers and Dumbledore fell in love with him. Bower last played Anthony Hope in the film of the musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Picture: Dumbleldore’s love, Gellert Grindelwald,
played by Jamie Campbell Bower,
in the next film in the series.
Certain Christians responded to the news of Dumbledore’s gay side with outrage. Laura Mallory, the infamous Georgian minister and mother of four, responded to the news by telling US network ABC, "My prayer is that parents would wake up, that the subtle way this is presented as harmless fantasy would be exposed for what it really is: a subtle indoctrination into anti-Christian values … A homosexual lifestyle is a harmful one. That's proven, medically." Linda Harvey, the president of Mission America, an organization which "monitors both the homosexual agenda directed at children as well as paganism among American youth," asked, "Will we allow our kids to believe it would be perfectly appropriate for the headmaster of any school to be homosexual? … Will some find ways to re-cast homosexuality into something different than the 'abomination' it's called in Scripture?” "It's very disappointing that the author would have to make one of the characters gay," said Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition of America, "It's not a good example for our children, who really like the books and the movies. It encourages homosexuality." On 27 October 2007, Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network called for a ban on the books.
Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs: US, Animation/ Action/ Adventure/ Comedy/ Family/ Romance – 94 mins – Manny, Sid, Diego, and Ellie are back in some extraordinary animation in this third film in the computer-animated Ice Age series. With those creatures in starring roles, we hear again the vocal talents of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, and Queen Latifah – and newcomer Simon Pegg, in a star turn as a crazed weasel. Mixed or average reviews: 50/52 out of 100.
Wongkamlao / Wong-Kum-Lao / วงษ์คำเหลา: Thai, Comedy/ Family – 90 mins – Popular comedian turned director Mum Jokmok both directs and stars in this quite well-received romantic comedy in which Mum plays the heir of the Wongkamlao Family, an extremely wealthy family that runs a jewelry business. He falls in love with the poor English tutor of his younger brother, over the objections of his class-conscious family. (In Thai only, and at Vista only.)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: US, Action/ Adventure/ Sci-Fi – 150 mins – Super-intense! This film has a high noise level, smashing images, a loud and relentless score, and everyone yelling their lines at high speed – if this is your idea of fun, go. Generally negative reviews: 35/41 out of 100, but that doesn’t seem to matter. It’s hugely popular.
Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, July 30
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3: US/ UK, Crime/ Drama/ Thriller – 121 mins – Denzel Washington plays a New York City subway dispatcher who’s day is thrown into chaos by an audacious crime: the hijacking of a subway train. The criminal mastermind, played by John Travolta, is the leader of a highly-armed gang of four who threatens to execute the train’s passengers unless a large ransom is paid within one hour. As the tension mounts beneath his feet, the dispatcher employs his vast knowledge of the subway system in a battle to outwit the criminals and save the hostages. But there’s one riddle about it all: even if the criminals get the money, how can they possibly escape? A reworking of the 1974 film. Rated R in the US for violence and pervasive language. Mixed or average reviews: 55/56 out of 100.
G-Force: US, Action/ Adventure/ Fantasy (CGI & Live Action) – About a team of trained secret agent guinea pigs that takes on a mission for the US government. This squad of guinea pigs is dispatched to stop a diabolical billionaire, who plans on taking over the world with household appliances. Armed with the latest high-tech spy equipment, the highly trained guinea pigs discover that the fate of the world is in their paws. In 3-D in most places, but probably not here. With the voices of Nicolas Cage, Steve Buscemi, Will Arnett, Penélope Cruz. From Walt Disney.
17 Again: A mild comedy about redoing life over again from high school, and generally making the same mistakes again. Rotten Tomatoes: Though it uses a well-worn formula, 17 Again has just enough Zac Efron charm to result in a harmless, pleasurable teen comedy. Mixed or average reviews: 48/51 out of 100.
6.66 Death Happens / ตายไม่ได้ตาย: Thai, Horror – 90 mins – Susie-Susira plays a crime reporter who starts seeing weird and scary things after someone who was supposed to die doesn't die, causing a rip in the fabric between life and death. A dreadful movie, to gauge from the previews and posters.
And looking forward:
Aug 20 – Inglourious Basterds: US/ Germany, Action/ Adventure/ War – Quentin Tarantino's long-awaited tale of Jewish-American troops on the hunt for Nazi scalps in WWII France is unlikely to get usurped as the most bad-ass movie of 2009, thanks to the fact that, well, it's a Quentin Tarantino film. Inglourious Basterds stars Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine, leader of the titular squadron that includes Samm Levine, Eli Roth, and B.J. Novak; along with German actress and Allied agent Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), they attempt to bring down the Nazis -- in the bloodiest way possible. Mike Myers, Cloris Leachman, and Samuel L. Jackson also star in the exploitation throwback, so look forward to a star-studded (and gore-filled) good time. Early reviews: Mixed or average: 56 out of 100.