Basterds & an evil child enliven Chiang Mai!
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, August 20, 2009
… through Wednesday, August 26
by Thomas Ohlson
Best Bets: Orphan. InglouriousBasterds.
Picture at right shows Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds.
Now online! with a listing of movie times that I try to keep completely up to date, as much as possible in the uncertain world of movie times. Go to:
And there’s a blog for Pattaya, too, at:
Bangkok International Film Festival: Sep 24 to 30. (Schedule promised by Sept. 5th.)
EU Film Festival in Chiang Mai: 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 43 of Volume 4 of these listings. Next change next Thursday.
Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week
* Inglourious Basterds: US/ Germany/ France, Drama/ Action/Adventure/ War – 153 mins – Quentin Tarantino's long-awaited, exceptionally bloody tale of Jewish-American troops on the hunt for Nazi scalps in World War II France, starring Brad Pitt. Rated R in the US for strong graphic violence, language, and brief sexuality. In Thailand it’s rated “18+” under the new ratings system which went into effect August 11. “18+”[see logo at right] is an advisory rating that suggests viewers should be 18 or older to see the movie. Early reviews: Generally favorable: 74/70 out of 100.
Reel Views, James Berardinelli: With Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino has made his best movie since Pulp Fiction. He has also made what could arguably be considered the most audacious World War II movie of all-time. The sheer unpredictability of where all this is going makes it compelling from beginning to end. Even the film's occasional artistic flourishes (such as chapter titles and out-of-period music pieces) work within the context of what Tarantino is trying to accomplish. This is clearly an attempt by the director to expand his range and step outside of the comfort zone in which he has worked for the majority of his career.
Tarantino brings to Inglourious Basterds his not inconsiderable knowledge of films. The movie is awash in references - some subtle, some obvious - that run the gamut from D-grade exploitation flicks to A-list classics. This is not, as has been reported in some places, a remake of the 1978 feature The Inglorious Bastards, although the title is an homage. Reportedly, some of Tarantino's nascent versions of the screenplay used elements of the earlier film, but those are mostly gone in the final edition. This is pretty much 100% Tarantino, which could be good or bad, depending on your opinion of the man's work.
Tarantino loves dialogue and, between taut, brutal action sequences, there's a lot of talking. The conversations aren't as elliptical as some of those in the director's previous efforts, but there are some intriguing moments - a Nazi providing a detailed comparison between Jew-hunting and rat-hunting, a 20 questions-like guessing game with the answer of "King Kong," and a reverse Cinderella encounter in which having a foot to fit the shoe is not a good thing. (Tarantino gets his trademark foot fetish shot in this scene.) There is a point to the talk, however, that goes beyond the filmmaker showing off his skill with words. All these scenes precede instances of sudden, violent action and the threat of bloodshed is heavy in the air. With every sentence, the tension mounts. Tarantino uses these sequences to prime the audience, teasing them until the suspense is nearly unbearable, then releasing it in one explosive burst.
Watching Inglourious Basterds, I was reminded of Paul Verhoeven's Black Book and Bryan Singer's Valkyrie, both of which contain themes and ideas that are echoed here. This is no Schindler's List. It's not about nobility or sacrifice. It's about the dirty, bloody side of war. Yes, there's heroism, but a lot is hidden away in order for those who receive medals to retain a patina of valor. Inglourious Basterds is suffused with dark humor - so much so that it's tempting to label it an action/comedy. There are laugh-out-loud moments, and not one guffaw is the result of something unintentional. This is nothing new for Tarantino, who has always interwoven humor with violence, but its incorporation here, amidst some of his bleakest material, is refreshingly unsettling.
Most Tarantino films feature at least one high-profile actor in a major role and, in this case, it's Brad Pitt. From his opening speech about the mission - one that recalls monologues from The Dirty Dozen and Patton - Pitt is clearly in character. His capabilities as an actor are often overlooked because of his high-profile off-screen image, but he takes chances and rarely gives a bad performance. As Raine, he's in top form, getting most of the best lines and generating a lot of the humor. The role is unlikely to garner Pitt an Oscar nomination, but it will be remembered.
Christoph Waltz [picture right] won an acting award at Cannes for his portrayal of Landa the Jew Hunter, and it's one of those deliciously twisted roles designed to unsettle audiences. He's like the lion who curls up at your feet and purrs as you stroke it, then suddenly jumps up and rips off your arm. It's a charismatic portrayal that shows how insidious evil can be. Perhaps that's unfair - Landa is not so much evil as he is coldly logical, amoral, and opportunistic. The character is a formidable adversary; Waltz is a formidable thespian.
There's a little stunt casting involved, although not as much as there might have been had scheduling conflicts not kept Adam Sandler from appearing. The role he was to play went to Eli Roth. It's interesting that the director of the "torture porn" Hostel movies should appear as a soldier who loves to beat Nazis to a pulp with a baseball bat while everyone around cheers. ("It's the closest thing we have to a movie," comments Raine at one point.)
Inglourious Basterds isn't as fresh and freewheeling as Pulp Fiction, but Tarantino is now an established director and a known quantity. That he is able to successfully pull off some of what he does in this movie is a testimony to his skill at both writing and directing. Yes - he borrows heavily and shamelessly from other movies, but it's in the unique fusion of those sources and styles that he achieves his success. Despite having so many antecedents, InglouriousBasterds quickly carves out its own niche. The running length is a gaudy 153 minutes, yet the film moves so smoothly and the moving parts come together so cleanly that the time passes easily. This is the movie I have been awaiting since Pulp Fiction. It's one hell of an enjoyable ride into the nightmare that was Nazi-occupied France, and thinking you know how it all ends doesn't make it so.
The New Yorker, David Denby: Inglourious Basterds is not boring, but it’s ridiculous and appallingly insensitive—a Louisville Slugger applied to the head of anyone who has ever taken the Nazis, the war, or the Resistance seriously. Not that Tarantino intends any malice toward such earnest people. The Nazis, for him, are merely available movie tropes—articulate monsters with a talent for sadism. By making the Americans cruel, too, he escapes the customary division of good and evil along national lines, but he escapes any sense of moral accountability as well. In a Tarantino war, everyone commits atrocities. Like all the director’s work after Jackie Brown, the movie is pure sensation. It’s disconnected from feeling, and an eerie blankness—it’s too shallow to be called nihilism—undermines even the best scenes.
* Buppha Rahtree 3.2: Rahtree's Revenge / บุปผาราตรี 3.2: Thai, Horror/ Romance – The incremental sequel to Buppah Rahtree 3.1: Rahtree Reborn that continues the romantic-horror story of the revengeful ghost of Buppha and her love struck cartoonist. There’s the creepy little girl again, Rahtree herself (Chermarn Boonyasak), playing with a straight razor, Mario Maurer is back, all bloody, and the comic troupe is all present and accounted for.
Orphan: US/ Canada/ Germany/ France, Drama/ Horror/ Mystery/ Thriller – 123 mins – This is a dandy little horror film! I thoroughly enjoyed it! A husband and wife who recently lost their baby adopt a 9-year-old girl who is not nearly as innocent as she claims to be. Rated R in the US for disturbing violent content, some sexuality, and language. Mixed or average reviews: 42/52 out of 100.
If you enjoy a good spooky horror film now and then, I recommend you check this out. It’s quite well done.
But there’s an interesting side note to this showing, which is apropos of Thailand’s new film ratings system which started in a slow stuttering way on August 11, and throws into relief the whole question of film censorship in Thailand. There are two glaringly obvious censorship cuts in this film as shown here in Chiang Mai, clear for all to see – one having to do with sex, one having to do with violence. They are just crude chops in the film, no question of pixilation or the like. You can’t miss them.
It has ever been thus in my time in Thailand. There has been one current of censorship that has gone the pixilation, fuzz, or blob route, and at the same time an independent cutting current that, with authority to do so or not, just simply cuts a scene or a part of a scene that someone somewhere finds objectionable.
I have a feeling that these kinds of cuts will continue, no matter what film rating system may be enacted.
Roger Ebert: Here is a shamelessly effective horror film based on the most diabolical of movie malefactors, a child. . . .
You have to hand it to Orphan. You want a good horror film about a child from hell, you got one. Do not, under any circumstances, take children to see it. Take my word on this.
Trail of the Panda / Xiongmao hui jia lu /熊貓回家路: China, Family – 87 mins – Pandering to the Panda craze sweeping Thailand, this film seems tailor-made for Thais. It’s a Disney live action film directed by Chinese director Yu Zhong and shot in the wilderness of Wolong, Sichuan (destroyed during the massive earthquake of May 2008). It’s about a little panda cub who is separated from its mother and then rescued by an orphaned boy. Made in conjunction with China’s Wolong Panda Reservation, it’s a plea for preserving the existence of pandas. (The parents of Lin Ping, the new Chiang Mai Zoo panda cub born May 27, are from the Wolong Panda center.) The story is sweet and the film has several things to recommend it – including the very winning 11-year-old boy who stars, the loving shots of the countryside, the animal photography – and overall it’s a good film for families with kids.
Here’s a bit more background from a Chinese information agency:
The film went into production in February 2008. The 28 crew members, including director Yu Zhong, were trapped in the mountains for four days after the earthquake shook Sichuan and neighboring provinces. They had been shooting the movie at the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in the Wolong nature reserve, not far from the epicenter Wenchuan.
The magnitude 8.0 quake left more than 80,000 people dead or missing, 370,000 injured and at least 15 million displaced.
Also lost in the quake was the 10-year-old female panda playing Pang Pang’s mother; she died in the quake, leaving three orphans. Another cub is still missing.
A total of 14 panda cubs and two adult bears joined the filming, with half a dozen 6-month-old cubs taking turns to play Pang Pang. Real pandas appear in most of the scenes, but computer technology was used in some scenes, such as one where a cub falls off a cliff.
Most of the 140-odd captive pandas in the reserve were later moved to another breeding base in Sichuan and some zoos elsewhere. Construction of a new panda protection center in Wolong will start before August. "We hope that the film sends a message to audiences everywhere that there are still people who live there, and there are still pandas living there," said Jennifer Liu, producer and writer of "Trail of the Panda.”
I wondered about that scene! It really looked to me as though the filmmakers just threw an expendable panda off the cliff into the raging waters to get a good shot. I didn’t want to believe it, but I’m a bit cynical. I’m happy to know that I’m mistaken. This time anyway.
Jija - Raging Phoenix / Jija - Due Suai Du/ จีจ้า ดื้อ สวย ดุ: Thai, Action/ Romance – 110 mins – A bit unusual Thai martial arts action film starring the amazing girl from Chocolate, Jija Yanin, [picture left] a true female action icon, who here combines her stunning martial arts style with a love story and break dancing, led by the amazingly athletic B-Boys Thai. A rather odd mix of a film, but it should please martial arts fans.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: US, Action/ Adventure/Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 107 mins – It’s from Hasbro the toy-makers, and is very much like Transformers – Critic-proof nonsensical mayhem, and very loud, but stylish. Make sure you take your earplugs! Generally negative reviews: 32/40out of 100.
G.I. Joe was far from being a guaranteed success, given its blatant gung-ho U.S. military theme, not particularly appealing to overseas audiences (to say the least). But they solved that problem by simply changing the US combat group into an international combat group, expanding the original team of U.S. military operatives to include operatives from other countries. Then they deliberately set the film in a number of foreign locales, and featured an international cast including Korean actor/ singer/ heartthrob Byung-hun Lee, British actress Sienna Miller, the superb French-Moroccan actor Said Taghmaoui, and the well-regarded South African stage and screen actor Arnold Vosloo. The strategy appears to have worked.
I actually found it quite a bit more enjoyable than Transformers, which I guess might not be saying much. But if you like an occasional action flick, I think this is one of the better ones. With Dennis Quaid and Marlon Wayans (he was a lot of fun!). Directed by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy and it’s two sequels, and Van Helsing).
Empire, Dan Jolin: The trick with Stephen Sommers is not to take him too seriously. . . . Hugging the dumb and making it fun is Sommers’ strength.
Joblo.com:G.I. Joe may not be a great movie, but it sure is a hoot and a half, just make sure to find that inner child in you that still likes to play pretend. GO JOE!
Philadelphia Inquirer David Hiltbrand: A brazen, earsplitting, eye-popping, oddly satisfying action extravaganza.
In Country & Melody 2 / E-Som Somwang 2 / อีส้มสมหวัง ชะชะช่า: Thai, Comedy/ Musical– 115 mins – Som and Somwangfrom the first episode abandon their musical band to pursue their dreams in Bangkok. Somwang gets a job as a singer in a night cafe, and is soon allured by the night life, girls, and fame.
Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, August 27
My Ex / Fan Kao / แฟนเก่า: Thai Horror/ Romance – 90 mins – Ken is a heartthrob of an actor who has a bad boy reputation of loving beautiful girls and dumping them when he finds a new girl. His complicated relationship always leads to much gossip. When Ken'’s wedding is announced, the public’scuriosityfixates on him, and his life will never be the same again. Soon, Ken is convinced that he is threatened by his fanclub and the paparazzi. But when the threats get truly deadly, Ken starts to realize that an envious ghost of one of his many ex-girlfriend is at work, and will never let him go. Director: Piyaphan Chuphet.
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea / Gake no ue no Ponyo / 崖の上のポニョ(2008) by Hayao Miyazaki – 100 mins – Japan, Animation/ Adventure/ Family. An animated adventure centered on the 5-year-old boy Sōsuke, who lives on a cliff, and his relationship with Ponyo, a baby goldfish/ mermaid princess who longs to become human. Shown here earlier this year (April 4) at Film Space. Hayao Miyazaki is the reigning giant of Japanese animation — and the Japanese box office. Every Miyazaki film has been a smash hit, drawing the widest possible audience. In 2001, his coming-of-age fantasy Spirited Away set an all-time Japanese box-office record. Nothing but good things to say about this one!
Bandslam: US, Comedy/ Drama/ Music – 111 mins – Probably the only film ever with a character named “Sa5m.” (Hint, the “5” is silent; it’s a sign of her independence, you know?) A new kid in town, teenager Will Burton, assembles a fledgling rock band to compete against the best in the biggest event of the year, a battle of the bands. Stars Disney Channel superstars Vanessa Anne Hudgens (High School Musical 1, 2, 3) and Alyson Michalka (Phil of the Future, pop duo Aly and AJ),joined byGaelan Connell (Chocolat), Scott Porter (Speed Racer) and Lisa Kudrow ("Friends"). Against all odds, their band develops a sound all its own with a real shot at success in the contest. In picture below right, Vanessa Hudgens as Sa5m, Gaelan Connell as Will Burton and Alyson Michalka as Charlotte Banksasks. It seems a romance brews between Will and Sa5m, who plays a mean guitar and has a voice to die for. Or so it says here in their promotional literature . . . Generally favorable reviews: 66/64 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes: Bandslam is a Disney film about awkward teens who find themselves through the transformative power of music. Sound familiar? Well, critics say this high school musical is a surprise, with more wit and bite than one would expect. GaelanConnell stars as a David Bowie-obsessed kid who's asked to manage the band of a would-be singer-songwriter (Alyson Michalka). Will falls for one of the band's new members (Vanessa Hudgens), and finds he must navigate the minefield of his emotions while preparing his charges for a battle of the bands. The pundits say Bandslam isn't the most original film on the block, but the performances are uniformly strong, and the movie manages to be emotionally true while slightly tweaking teen movie tropes.
And looking forward:
Sep 17 – District 9: South Africa/ New Zealand, Drama/ Sci-Fi/ Action/ Thriller [Language: English and Nyanja – a language of the Bantu language family widely spoken in south-central Africa] – 112 min – 28 years ago, aliens made first contact with Earth. Humans waited for the hostile attack, or the giant advances in technology. Neither came. Instead, the aliens were refugees, the last survivors of their home world. Rated R in the US for bloody violence and pervasive language. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 81/77 out of 100.
Genre master Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings, etc.) produced this science-fiction film, the directorial debut of Neill Blomkamp. He simply gave the director $30 million to make whatever he wanted. The result was this film. Shot in Johannesburg.
Rotten Tomatoes: Technically brilliant and emotionally wrenching, District 9 has action, imagination, and all the elements of a thoroughly entertaining science-fiction classic.
Los Angeles Times, Betsy Sharkey: In a good summer, there's usually a movie that will come out of nowhere and completely wow us. This is a good summer, and that movie is District 9. Though the themes are universal, the director's childhood in South Africa clearly informs the film's sensibility, in this case greatly adding to its distinctive look and feel. It's an impressive first feature for the 29-year-old Blomkamp.
Oct 1 – G Force: In Digital 3D. Major Cineplex is gearing up for this one, going all out and installing Disney Digital 3D in (I understand) either Cinema 5 or 6. This will be the first digital cinema system in Chiang Mai, and I do believe it will be the wave of the future. Bangkok has had digital cinema for awhile, and some showings of the recent digitally made film Public Enemies were shown in “all digital.” The version we saw here in Chiang Mai, though shot in digital, was transferred to film for showing here. One film student who saw both versions said that the one on film was a bit softer that the pure digital form, and as a result he thought the romantic aspect of the movie was more believable.
Oct 1 – Shutter Island: US, Drama/ Mystery/ Thriller – 148 mins – Director Martin Scorsese directsLeonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, MarkRuffalo, andMax vonSydowand in this horror fantasy. Previews look really good to me. It's 1954, and up-and-coming U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels is assigned to investigate the disappearance of a patient from Boston's Shutter Island Ashecliffe Hospital. He's been pushing for an assignment on the island for personal reasons, but before long he wonders whether he hasn't been brought there as part of a twisted plot by hospital doctors whose radical treatments range from unethical to illegal to downright sinister. Teddy's shrewd investigating skills soon provide a promising lead, but the hospital refuses him access to records he suspects would break the case wide open. As a hurricane cuts off communication with the mainland, more dangerous criminals "escape" in the confusion, and the puzzling, improbable clues multiply, Teddy begins to doubt everything - his memory, his partner, even his own sanity.
Oct 22 – Surrogates: US, Action/Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 104 mins – Previews look fascinating to me for this one too. Set in a futuristic world where humans live in isolation and interact through surrogate robots, a cop (Bruce Willis) investigates the murder of the genius college student who invented the surrogates. As the case grows more complicated, the withdrawn detective discovers that in order to actually catch the killer he will have to venture outside the safety of his own home for the first time in many years, and enlists the aid of another agent (Radha Mitchell) in tracking his target down. Jonathan Mostow directs this adaptation of the graphic novel by author Robert Venditti and illustrator Brett Weldele.
Dec 24 – Sherlock Holmes: US/ UK/ Australia, Action/ Adventure/ Crime/ Drama/ Mystery/ Thriller – Detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr. – picture to the right!) and his stalwart partner Watson (Jude Law) engage in a battle of wits and brawn with a nemesis whose plot is a threat to all of England. This new Holmes is rougher, more emotionally multilayered, more inclined to run with his clothing askew, covered in bruises and smudges of dirt and blood. He falls into modern-style funks between cases, lying on the sofa, suffused with anomie, unshaven and unkempt, surrounded by a pile of debris. But when he applies himself, Holmes is as fast with his body — he is a bare-knuckle boxer, a crack shot, and an expert swordsman — as he is with his mind. But … no cocaine. Says the director Guy Ritchie, “It’s a family picture.”
At “Look At This Gallery” on Thursday, August 20, at 7:30 pm:
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) by Stephan Elliott – 104 mins – Australia, Comedy/ Drama/ Musical – Two drag queens and a transsexual get a cabaret gig in the middle of the desert. Generally favorable reviews: 68/68 out of 100.
Just so you’ll know, this film won the 1995 Oscar for Best Costume Design; the famous thong dress, which helped win the award, cost only $7.
James Berardinelli: This often-ribald comedy varies from amusing to hilarious. Most of the best lines are too "colorful" to repeat here. Priscilla is not a film for those who are made uneasy by Benny Hill. The end credits (during and after) contain some of the movie's most inventive humor. Early departers deprive themselves.
While each of the three leads is good, the standout performance belongs to normally-serious veteran actor Terrence Stamp, who has previously appeared in such diverse outings as Billy Budd and Superman (I and II). Here, he brings a quiet dignity to the role of Bernadette. That's not easy to do considering some of the outrageous costumes he's required to wear.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a great deal more appealing than many might suppose it to be. It's a road movie that's anything but typical or traditional. So, whether or not you share the proclivities of Bernadette, Mitzi, and Felicia, the trio's cinematic cabaret is nevertheless something to smile and laugh your way through.
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