Thursday, January 22, 2009

What's On starting January 22

Major Cineplex fails again! Refuses to show Defiance!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, January 22

by Thomas Ohlson

Best Bets: Defiance. Australia. [Special note: Australia is now only shown at Vista, and in a Thai-dubbed version!]

Highest recommendation for Defiance! Again Major Cineplex is snubbing its nose at Chiang Mai audiences by showing the excellent film Defiance throughout Thailand, but not here in Chiang Mai. I’m making an exception and listing it here anyway, for those who may be going to Bangkok or Pattaya soon. A brilliant film! With Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber (see picture).

And Major Cineplex failed to bring in High School Musical 3: Senior Year despite posters and previews that promised it for today. It’s a fun film of music and dancing.

And, just like they did with the first part of Red Cliff, both Major Cineplex and Vista are bringing Part 2 to Chiang Mai in a Thai-dubbed version only, with no English subtitles, thus effectively destroying this large-scale Chinese epic.

Australia has left Major Cineplex, leaving only the Thai-dubbed version at Vista (with no English subtitles). After seeing it yet again, its charms have grown on me, and if you like an occasional epic-type film like this, you probably would like this very much. The Thai-dubbed soundtrack may not be as much of a drawback as you might think, because except for the boy Brandon Walters and Nicole Kidman, who speak fairly clearly, the heavy Aussie accents of everyone else nearly prevents all the other actors in the film from being understood, at least for this American.

There’s still no sign that the hit film Slumdog Millionaire will be shown here in Thailand. It’s a terrific film that won four prizes at the Golden Globes awards, and is in hot contention for the Academy Awards. It’s gotten universal acclaim (see “not-coming attractions” below). The Academy Awards can be seen here live at 8 am on February 23.

This is Issue Number 13 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* Red Cliff: Part II / Chi bi: Xia - Jue zhan tian xia / สามก๊ก 2 โจโฉแตกทัพเรือ: China [Hong Kong] War/ Action/ Drama/ History – 141 mins – The second and final half to John Woo's magnum opus Red Cliff, and a continuation of the legendary “Battle of Red Cliff,” a decisive battle during the period of the Three Kingdoms in China, as told in the Chinese classic novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. An epic of grand scale in the Chinese manner. Produced and directed by John Woo (Broken Arrow, Face/Off). Both Chiang Mai theater chains should be ashamed of themselves for showing this large and beautiful film in a Thai-dubbed version only, with no English subtitles.

* Hod Na Haew / โหดหน้าเหี่ยว 966: Thai Comedy/ Drama. More comedy with popular Thai comedians from TV. Directed by Rerkchai Paungpetch.

The Elephant King: US/ Thai Drama/ Romance – 92 mins – Filmed for the most part in Chiang Mai. Explores the twisted symbiosis between two American brothers--one domineering and nihilistic, the other guileless and introspective--as they binge on drink, drugs, and women in Chiang Mai, in our beloved Space Bubble Disco, among other local sights. A domineering mother dispatches her young, introverted son Oliver off to Chiang Mai to do everything he can to lure his reckless, older brother back home to the U.S. to face pending fraud charges. Oliver finds the intoxication of Chiang Mai hard to resist, especially when it has a face as alluring as Lek's. As Oliver falls deeply in love for the first time, Jake slips deeper into despair, and the seams of their relationship begin to come undone. When the true extent of Jake's decadence and self-destruction is revealed to Oliver, he is forced to decide whether he will save his brother's life or his own. Directed by Seth Grossman. Rated R in the US for sexual content, drug use, language and some violence. Mixed or average reviews: 46/41 out of 100.

The Chiang Mai Mail has an article on this film and its producer Tom Waller written by Mark Whitman in its January 6 issue, which you can find online at:

One interesting quote from the producer: “Some aspects of the film are controversial and show the underside of Chiang Mai and Thailand, but we hope it’s a revealing and entertaining portrait of what happens when expats and Thais collide and the two cultures shed new light on each other.”

The Bangkok Post also has an article on this film by Joe Cummings (the travel writer, band leader, and Chiang Mai resident) in last week’s Real Time section (January 2, page R5), which you can find online at:

Among other interesting things Joe says: A number of Chiang Mai residents, including myself, were swept up in the production as extras, technical advisers, location providers, or simple onlookers. Naturally we're all keen to view the results.

One of the primary characters in The Elephant King is Chiang Mai itself. A montage of muddy city walls and steaming moats, 7-Elevens and abandoned housing estates, Space Bubble disco and Wat Chet Yot, night markets and old wooden houses, the city's paradoxical grit and grace have never before been so well-captured in any feature film, Thai or international. The script in fact turns Chiang Mai into a microcosm of Thailand, thrusting Western stereotypes about the country to the fore - and then turning them inside out.

Defiance: US Drama/ Action. [Showing throughout Thailand, but not in Chiang Mai. If you’re traveling to Bangkok or Pattaya, be sure to catch it!] I thought this a superb war drama and thriller with a lot of thought in it. A must-see in my opinion. Based on an extraordinary true story, Defiance is an epic tale of family, honor, vengeance, and salvation in World War II. The year is 1941 and the Jews of Eastern Europe are being massacred by the thousands. Managing to escape certain death, three brothers take refuge in the dense surrounding woods they have known since childhood. There they begin their desperate battle against the Nazis. Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell star as brothers who turn a primitive struggle to survive into something far more consequential - a way to avenge the deaths of their loved ones by saving thousands of others. Directed by Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond, Glory, The Last Samurai). Rated R in the US for violence and language. Only mixed or average reviews: 57/57 out of 100, but I thought it riveting, and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to see something substantial and provocative.

Australia: Australia Drama/ Adventure – 165 mins – As an old-fashioned epic it does its job beautifully. And an epic was what Director Baz Luhrmann deliberately set out to make. Note this extraordinary statement of intent in an interview I saw on TV: "I wanted an entertainment that was a banquet of cinema, that I could invite all people of all ages to sit at that table and eat that cinematic sustenance!" Such innocence and enthusiasm! Rather endearing.

Set against the backdrop of World War II, Luhrmann gives us in grand style a sweeping tale of an English woman (Nicole Kidman) who inherits a sizable cattle ranch “down under.” When English cattle barons plot to take her land, she reluctantly joins forces with a rough-hewn drover (Hugh Jackman) to drive 2,000 head of cattle across hundreds of miles of the country's most unforgiving land, only to face the bombing of Darwin, Australia, by the Japanese forces that had attacked Pearl Harbor only months earlier.

True, it is full of the clichés all epics have, but I doubt if many in the Chiang Mai audiences have ever seen the referents, the originals, so they’re not clichés to them; they’re experiencing them for the first time. We say the situations are old hat, but most of the young in Chiang Mai have never had a hat, so it’s not old hat to them!

Several of my acquaintances have been thoroughly thrilled by the film, as have I. And listen to Roger Ebert: “What a gorgeous film, what strong performances, what exhilarating images and – yes, what sweeping romantic melodrama. The kind of movie that is a movie, with all that the word promises and implies.”

And here is my friend Ric Richardson who though now living in Chiang Mai is an Australian historian and novelist, and an expert in all things Australian, and who’s portrait of a drover, Brogan, in his book of that name, is as far as I’m concerned the ultimate authentic portrait.

Ric Richardson: For authenticity, characterization, handling of the aboriginal situation, drama, and story, I give it 9-3/4 out of 10. I loved it and shed many tears. I commend it highly for telling life just as it bloody was then, with all the roughness and uncouthness . . .

In true epic style, the film clocks in at 165 minutes, so make yourselves comfortable for the ride. Mixed or average reviews: 53/57 out of 100. Now being shown only at Vista and in a Thai-dubbed version only, with no English subtitles.

Quarantine: US Horror/ Mystery/ Thriller – 89 mins – A television reporter and her cameraman are trapped inside a building quarantined by the US government after the outbreak of a mysterious virus which turns humans into bloodthirsty killers. It has the single hand-held camera style of such recent movies as Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project, and George Romero's Diary of the Dead. Sort of a “diegetic camera.” Some people find the faux “one actual camera” trick leads to heightened reality; others find that the constant jiggling of the picture and rough-shod editing gives them a headache – some are actually made physically sick. I myself find it simply unnecessarily irritating, and I wish they wouldn’t do it. If you think you can put up with the camera style, you will find this to be a quite frightening movie, as I did, once the introductory first 20 boring minutes are over. Quarantine is an English-language remake of the 2007 Spanish horror film [Rec]. (Do you get the reference? “[Rec]” is what you see in an upper corner of a viewfinder when you’re recording.) A number of reviewers consider [Rec] one of the best horror films of recent years, and superior to this remake. A [Rec] 2 is now filming. Rated R in the US for bloody violent and disturbing content, terror, and language. Mixed or average reviews: 53/57 out of 100.

The Happiness of Kati / ความสุข ของกะทิ: Thai Family/ Drama – 90 mins – Based on a novel by Ngarmpan "Jane" Vejjajiva and the winner of the 2006 S.E.A Write Award. The novel has become one of the most beloved and well-known contemporary children’s books in Thailand, and has been translated into nine languages.

I found it mostly a very slow and sweet depiction of an idealized rural life in Ayutthaya on the banks of Chao Phraya river, of some Thais who are better off than most. I emphasize the word “slow”; it is not until an hour has passed that we begin to get an idea of what the movie is about. We only then meet Kati’s mother and find out that she is seriously ill, supposedly dying from Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) – but I don’t believe that is specified in the movie. The problem for me is that this illness is not dramatized. The mother, in fact, after we finally meet her, does not look ill at all. She says she’s not strong enough to hug her daughter, but she seems strong enough. Weak maybe, but not so seriously. We do see her get an injection once, and are told (but don’t see) that she drops things. As far as illness is concerned, that’s it. Very unconvincing. After this encounter with her mother, Kati has an extended and beautifully photographed scene where she is crying on a lonely beach. But we haven’t seen anything that should cause such crying, but rather joy at finally being reunited with her mother.

There’s really not enough believable conflict in the script to make it a compelling drama. It is well-acted, however, and beautifully and lovingly photographed by cinematographer Tanon Sattarujawong; I was particularly struck by the extended sequence of a group bicycling through a stunningly beautiful countryside. I think the movie is best described as a loving tone poem of a film to a certain old-fashioned Thai way of life and living. This is the first directing exercise by Genwai Thongdeenok.

Kong Rithdee, the movie critic of the Bangkok Post, has a thoughtful review of this film which you can find here. He says it is “earnest, pretty, but altogether sullen and flat . . . surprisingly cold and ceremonial.”

Bangkok reviews: mixed or average: 55 out of 100.

Bedtime Stories: US Comedy/ Family/ Fantasy – 100 mins – Starring Adam Sandler in a surprisingly pleasant and amusing family comedy about a hotel handyman whose life changes when the lavish bedtime stories he tells his niece and nephew start to magically come true. He attempts to take advantage of the phenomenon, incorporating his own aspirations into one outlandish tale after another, but it's the kids' unexpected contributions that turn his life upside down. The director is Adam Shankman, the one who gave the sparkle to Hairspray. Generally negative reviews: 34/41 out of 100. But those that did like it seemed to like it very much.

Variety: Sandler has delivered on his promise to make a movie his kids can enjoy. What's more, he's managed to do so without alienating his core audience. While the comedy -- about a hotel handyman whose outlandish tales spring to life -- clearly skews to a younger demographic, there's enough sophomoric humor here to reassure the Sandler faithful.

Blue Sky of Love / ฟ้าใส ใจชื่นบาน: Thai Drama. A supposedly comic view of the bloody events of 6 October 1976, when student protests created a revolutionary period in Thai history. It’s the story of a university girl who wishes to follow her ideals and work for the people’s interest, and leaves her comfortable life in Bangkok to join an army of the Communist Party in a remote forest, and then falls in love. Directed by Krekchai Jaiman and Napaporn Poonjaruen.

The Fatality / ตอกตราผี: Thai/Taiwan Mystery/ Horror – An unsuccessful man in Taipei commits suicide, only to wake up in the body of a coma victim in Bangkok. His new life is almost perfect - he now has a stable job, a healthy body, and a beautiful wife, but as the two souls fight for control of the body they start developing supernatural powers over life and death itself, leaving havoc in their wake. A Thai-Taiwanese co-production directed by Tiwa Moeithaisong, who was cinematographer and editor for Bangkok Love Story.

Yes Man: US Comedy – 104 mins – Jim Carrey stars as Carl Allen, a man who signs up for a self-help program based on one simple principle: say “yes” to everything...and anything for an entire year. At first, unleashing the power of “yes” transforms Carl’s life in amazing and unexpected ways, but he soon discovers that opening up his life to endless possibilities can have its drawbacks. I must admit I didn’t care for it all that much, but I seem to be in the minority. Mixed or average reviews: 46/52 out of 100.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, January 29

Inkheart: Germany/ UK/ US Adventure/ Family/ Fantasy – 106 mins – Brendan Fraser and Helen Mirren. Based on Inkheart, a 2003 children's fantasy novel by prolific German author Cornelia Funke (who has been likened to J.K. Rowling), and the first part in Funke's Inkworld series, the other two books being Inkspell (2006) and Inkdeath (2008). In German, the book titles are Tintenherz, Tintenblut, and Tintentod. The fantasy trilogy concerns the adventures of bookbinder Mortimer "Mo" Folchart (played in the film by Brendan Fraser at the insistence of the author) and his 12-year-old daughter, Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett), a voracious reader. As revealed in the film's prologue, Mo is a Silvertongue, a person with the rare ability to bring the characters in a book to life simply by reading the text aloud. Directed by Iain Softley (The Wings of the Dove, Backbeat). Mixed or average reviews: 43/50 out of 100.

Fireball / Tar Chon: Thai Action/ Martial Arts. The world of underground barbaric fighting inThailand.

And looking further afield . . .

Feb 5: Milk – The assassination of Harvey Milk, with Sean Penn, among the top contenders for the acting Oscar. Directed by Gus Van Sant.

Feb 5: Gran Torino – Clint Eastwood stars and directs, about an iron-willed and thoroughly despicable veteran living in a changing world who is forced by his immigrant neighbors to confront his own long-held prejudices. Another top Oscar contender.

Feb 5: Revolutionary Road – Kate Winslet just won her Golden Globes award #1 for best actress for her role in this film. This is a brilliant 2-character drama set in the 1950’s based on novel by Richard Yates, with brilliant performances by Leonardo DeCaprio and Kate Winslet, brilliantly directed by Sam Mendes. I loved it. Rated R in the US for language and some sexual content/nudity. Generally favorable reviews.

Feb 5: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans – Traces the origins of the centuries-old blood feud between the aristocratic vampires known as Death Dealers and their onetime slaves, the Lycans. Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy revisit their roles from Underworld in this prequel to the horror-action hybrid. Directed by Patrick Tatopoulos.

Feb 12: The Reader – Kate Winslet just won her Golden Globes award #2 for best supporting actress for her role in this film. US Drama/ Romance directed by Stephen Daldry.

Feb 12: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – US Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton. 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 like this, but I seem to be in the minority. It’s utterly nonsensical, so you can’t get involved, even at 166 mins. Great makeup! Directed by David Fincher. The screenplay is by Eric Roth, who wrote Forrest Gump, which this reminds me of. Generally favorable reviews 69/72.

Feb 19: Valkyrie – The near-miss assassination of Adolf Hitler by a ring of rebel German army officers on July 20, 1944, starring Tom Cruise as Col. Claus von Stauffenberg. Directed by Bryan Singer.

Feb 19: The Wrestler – 115 mins – US Drama/ Sport – Mickey Rourke just won the Golden Globes award for best actor for his role in this film. 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. The twice-divorced actor recently admitted he could empathize with his character's struggles because of his own turbulent life. Rourke - who spent 15 years in the Hollywood wilderness - said: "Randy has been in the twilight of his career for several years. He thinks he has one more game in him - one more shot. He wants to come back again. I know what that feels like. Randy was somebody 20 years ago and so was Mickey Rourke. When you used to be a somebody and you aren't anybody anymore, you live in what my doctor calls a state of shame. Hollywood is a very unforgiving place, but I took a nosedive all by myself, no one pushed me." Rourke, 56, has suggested he had additional help creating his hulking physique with banned body-building substances. 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.

Not scheduled, at least not yet

Slumdog Millionaire: US/UK Crime/ Drama/ Romance – 120 mins – Most improbably (a third of the movie is in Hindi, after all), this film won four Golden Globes – best picture, best director, best screenplay and best score, major awards that suggests it's a strong Oscar contender. It’s a hybrid of a Bollywood love story and throbbing Hollywood storytelling. I found it terribly disturbing in parts, particularly in the early section dealing with the horrible life of these kids in India and the inhumane way they were treated, with simply ghastly exploitation and torture. I mean, there are some really dreadful things that happen in this movie! Reminded me much of Oliver Twist in this respect.

But it somehow ends as a gloriously uplifting and upbeat song to life and living, and you leave the movie feeling refreshed and happy. However, it dlidn’t quite work this way for one of my friends, who said, “I didn't! It didn't do that for me! It's such an all-encompassing and powerful indictment of Indian society at every level that the tacked-on happy ending didn't feel that glorious to me. The pill was so bitter that the sugar hardly helped.”

What do you think? You will see it eventually, I am sure. It’s a must-see, for a wide variety of reasons. And it races along like a freight-train, so your attention will not wander! The music is particularly appropriate, and I like it very much.

There are three different actors playing each of the three main leads, three each as children, as teenagers, and at 20 years. And two playing some of the other roles. They are all terrific. It was intended that the whole film would be in English, but when the filmmakers found the perfect children they found they had to let them speak Hindi.

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.

Philadelphia Inquirer, Steven Rea: It doesn't happen often, but when it does, look out: a movie that rocks and rolls, that transports, startles, delights, shocks, seduces. A movie that is, quite simply, great.

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.

Reelviews, James Berardinelli: In a way, it's tough to believe that a film that begins with such a hard edge ends up being as enriching and deliriously joyful as this one. The opening sequences have an ominous undertone, with scenes of torture taking place in the bowels of some dark, dank police station. When the victim refuses to give the answers his captors expect, electrodes are attached to his toes and the power is turned on. This scene is one of the reasons why the MPAA in its wisdom elected to give Slumdog Millionaire an undeserved R instead of the coveted PG-13. . . .

It's superbly acted, wonderfully photographed, and full of rich, unconventional location work. The story works on multiple levels - it can be seen as a sweeping romance, as a thriller, or as a glimpse at the ways in which a fast-developing economy is convulsing the fabric of Indian society.

Some films keep viewers on the outside looking in, able to appreciate the production in technical terms but not on other, more basic levels. This is not the case with Slumdog Millionaire. Boyle's feature draws the viewer in, immersing him in a fast-moving, engaging narrative featuring a protagonist who is so likeable it's almost unfair.

Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting (1996), The Beach (2000), 28 Days Later (2002), Millions (2004) – which 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: 86/82 out of 100.

Alliance Française schedule

At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm

At Alliance Française on Friday, January 23: Trafic / Traffic (1971) by Jacques Tati – 96 mins – Italy/ France Comedy. No English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 81 out of 100.

With Jacques Tati, Maria Kimberly, Marcel Fraval.

French comedian/director Jacques Tati once again assumes his "M. Hulot" characterization. This time, the ever-bemused Hulot is assigned to deliver an all-purpose recreational vehicle to an Amsterdam auto show. As Hulot, his driver and the auto company's PR woman set out for the France-to-Holland motor trip, they encounter just about every sort of car-related misadventure known to man, from a slapsticky traffic jam to a malfunctioning service station. Upon arriving in Amsterdam, they learn that the auto show has ended, and now they've got to take the same perilous trip back!

Though not Jacques Tati's best effort, Traffic contains some wonderful sight gags tied in with the theme of modern man's subservience to Technology.

Alliance description

Chicago Reader: Traffic is a masterpiece in its own right--not only for the sharp picture of the frenetic and gimmick-crazy civilization that worships cars, but also for many remarkable formal qualities: an extraordinary use of sound (always one of Tati's strong points), a complex interplay of chance and control in the observations of everyday behavior, and, in some spots, a development of the use of multiple focal points to articulate some of the funniest gags.

At Alliance Française on Friday, January 30: La Grande vadrouille / Don't Look Now - We're Being Shot at (1966) by Gérard Oury – 132 mins – France/ UK Comedy. No English subtitles.

With Bourvil, Louis de Funès, Terry Thomas, Claudio Brook, Andréa Parisy, Colette Brosset.

Augustin Bouvet, painter and Stanislas Lefort, conductor at the Paris Opera, were leading a quiet life in wartime Paris. Until the day they take charge of three British airmen shot down over the city.

A British bomber is shot down over Paris by the Germans. Its crew (Terry Thomas as a flight captain) land there by parachute. With the help of some French civilians (Louis de Funès in the role of a conductor and Bourvil as a house painter) they try to escape over the demarcation line into the southern part of France, still not occupied by the Germans.

Alliance description

Paris 1943. Three Allied parachutists land unexpectedly and turn upside-down the peaceful lives of Stanislas, a conductor, and Augustin, a decorator. The only way to get rid of their unwanted guests is to lead them to the free zone. This was the highest-grossing film in France for more than thirty years!

IMDb viewer: One of the most popular French movies of all time! Starring the famous Bourvil/Louis de Funes tandem it is a highly entertaining caper set in WWII German-occupied France, where these two unlikely heroes reluctantly must help some downed British airmen to escape.

A perennial favorite on French TV during the Christmas or Easter holidays it is one of those rare movies you can watch over and over again without getting tired of it. It runs more than two hours but moves along at an incredible pace. Movie relies big time on the clash of character between de Funes as the self-important musical director of the Opéra de Paris and Bourvil as the simple housepainter. But also the hilarious script, some spectacular set pieces (including a spielbergesque chase by German sidecars) and a surprising finale all add up to making Vadrouille one of the best and most entertaining French movies ever.

Made on a lavish budget by Gerard Oury who would go on to make some other highly successful comedies, mostly starring big French stars as de Funes and Bourvil, but also Jean-Paul Belmondo, Pierre Richard and Christian Clavier. Up to that time movies made in France took war rather seriously, but La Grande vadrouille sparked of an endless string of farces set in WWII which almost invariably depicted the French as very clever and cunning, always outwitting the Germans in the end.

At Alliance Française on Friday, February 6: La Grande illusion / The Grand Illusion (1937) by Jean Renoir – 114 mins – France Drama/ War. Black and white. English subtitles.

With Jean Gabin, Erich von Stroheim, Pierre Fresnay.

During 1st WW, two French officers are captured. Captain de Boeldieu is an aristocrat while Lieutenant Maréchal was a mechanic in civilian life. They meet other prisoners from various backgrounds, as Rosenthal, son of wealthy Jewish bankers. They are separated from Rosenthal before managing to escape. A few months later, they meet again in a fortress commanded by the aristocrat Van Rauffenstein. De Boeldieu strikes up a friendship with him but Maréchal and Rosenthal still want to escape.

Alliance description

Calling on his own experiences as an aviator in WWI as well as those of his comrades, this is Jean Renoir's antiwar masterpiece. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 92 out of 100.

Roger Ebert: It's a meditation on the collapse of the old order of European civilization. Perhaps that was always a sentimental upper-class illusion, the notion that gentlemen on both sides of the lines subscribed to the same code of behavior. Whatever it was, it died in the trenches of World War I.

Film Space schedule

At Film Space: on Saturdays at 7 pm

Film Space in January is presenting a series of films by some directors they like, who also star in these films.

Film Space is to the right and in the back of the CMU Art Museum, in the Media Arts and Design building across from the ballet school. Now that the weather is cool, they are resuming their rooftop showings, weather permitting. You might want to bring something to sit on or lie on. A contribution is requested in the donation box at the entrance. Well worth supporting.

Saturday, January 24: Hana-bi / Fireworks (1997) by Takeshi Kitano – 103 mins – Japan Crime/ Drama/ Thriller. In Japanese, English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 81 out of 100.

A simultaneously tender and violent masterwork from Takeshi, one of Japan's most popular entertainers. My friend Donald Richie describes it this way in his book A Hundred Years of Japanese Film: A Concise History:

Over-the-hill cop (Kitano) feels dreadful at having let down a police buddy and at the same time neglected a dying wife. He robs a bank to get some money to make amends and scrubs out a gang in the process . . . Kitano's aesthetic take on trendy anarchy has here been turned into something like an art form.

Richie says that it is common in Kitano’s films to have “minimal acting by the director and over-the-top melodramatics by everyone else.” That surely is the case here!

Roger Ebert: The pattern of the movie is: Ordinary casual life, punctuated by sharp, clinical episodes of violence. Nishi hardly speaks (there is little dialogue in the film), and his face shows almost no expression (reportedly because of injuries to Kitano in a motorcycle crash). He is like a blank slate that absorbs the events in the film without giving any sign that he has registered them. When he attacks, he gives no warning; the wrong trigger word releases his rage.

The film is an odd viewing experience. It lacks all of the narrative cushions and hand-holding that we have come to expect. It doesn't explain, because an explanation, after all, is simply something arbitrary the story has invented.

About Film, Carlo Cavagna: If we accept that Japanese art favors minimalism and understatement, then Fireworks must surely be one of the most Japanese films ever. Writer/director/star Takeshi Kitano makes movies that marry poetic beauty with vicious, unglamorous violence — static, understated movies about existences wasted, and rediscovering the joy of being, for a brief time, alive. Rather than a constant presence (overt or implied), violence comes in sudden bursts, as a shocking interruption.

Fireworks concerns Nishi (Kitano), an oft-decorated detective who leaves his partner Horibe (Ren Osugi) alone on a stakeout to visit his terminally ill wife (Kayoko Kishimoto), during which time Horibe is shot and paralyzed. Nishi's subsequent vendetta inadvertently results in the killing of another detective, Tanaka and the wounding of a third, Nakamura. Wracked by guilt and disgusted by the police force's failure to nurture its own, Nishi quits to provide for his colleagues and ease his wife's last days — by any means necessary.

The second half of the film takes an odd Kitano turn, as Nishi and his wife rediscover the simple delights of relaxing at the beach or fooling around with a deck of cards. They play. They set off simple fireworks in a field, whose sudden bursts in the tranquil countryside are like Nishi himself, calm, easily contented, yet explosively violent when set off. Yet even in quiet moments, an aching melancholy lingers between Nishi and his wife, attributable both to her terminal illness and to the recent death of their young child. Death for Nishi, in the form of the yakuza loan sharks hunting him, is also never far away.

As he has in other movies, Kitano the director puts Kitano the actor at the center of Fireworks, where he performs with a disconcerting impassivity. His favorite reaction shot is an expressionless close-up of himself. He never seems to say anything. Rather, other people say things to him. He waits, he considers, and when the moment is right, he acts, with forceful, bloody determination.

Hideo Yamamoto's camera is equally impassive. It rarely pans and almost never zooms. Often Yamamoto and Kitano establish a shot for a second before the action moves into it, and allow the shot to continue running for a moment after the action has left, much as Kurosawa does. This technique serves to emphasize the permanence of the surroundings and the impermanence of the people who pass through them, suggesting life is short. Find ways to enjoy it, Kitano is saying, even if the enjoyment cannot last.

This is where Kitano is a social critic. In Japan, the conformist pressure to dedicate your life to an employer, and to always do your duty, is [very strong]. Nishi and his colleagues spill their blood for the police and the public good, and what do they get in return? Whatever disability payments Horibe might be receiving are insufficient even to buy painting supplies, not that he has any idea how to enjoy his new hobby, which he regards only as a way of passing the time. Work is all Horibe has ever known. Nakamura echoes this sentiment when he observes a girl running with a kite on a beach, and remarks, "I could never live like that." Evidently pensions and medical benefits also leave a lot to be desired, because Tanaka's widow is reduced to working at a fast food counter, and Nishi has borrowed millions of yen to pay for his wife's treatments.

Kitano never expresses any of his opinions straightforwardly — or the plot, for that matter. Like his impassive protagonist, Kitano says little, and he feeds us the story piecemeal, sometimes via flashbacks spliced into the film with no commentary. It takes a good half hour to forty-five minutes before even the basic premise is discernible. The film is like the dots on Horibe's pointillist painting — Kitano fills in a bit here and a bit there, in no particular order but with painstaking attention to detail, and the big picture gradually emerges. Horibe's artwork in the movie is actually Kitano's own work, much of it serenely whimsical, from the primitive paintings at the hospital to Horibe's figures of animals with flower buds in the place of their heads or eyes. Kitano often juxtaposes a thing — raindrops, cherry blossoms, and, of course, fireworks — with a painting of the thing. Life and art are the same, indistinguishable, like the shot of a blue Mount Fuji set against a blue sky, looking exactly like a two-dimensional Japanese print. The most arresting artwork in the film, though, is a large painting of a snowy landscape at night that, similar to a pointillist work, is actually composed of a multitude of tiny kanji (Japanese) characters that spell out each element of the painting (e.g., the snow is made up of tiny characters that mean "snow"). In the middle, splashed in red, a much larger character violently mars the painting's tranquility. If you haven't yet seen the film, it is best that you find out what the character represents for yourself. The tone of the painting, however, corresponds to the tone of the film. For Kitano, human life is like one of Nishi's fireworks in the countryside — it begins as a spark, then explodes as a momentary, ferociously intense flash in an otherwise serene world.

Saturday, January 31: Annie Hall (1977) by Woody Allen – 93 mins – US Comedy/ Romance. In English. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 88 out of 100.

Filled with poignant performances and devastating humor, Annie Hall represented a quantum leap for Woody Allen and remains an American classic.

Rotten Tomatoes: Often considered the crown jewel in a highly acclaimed and prolific film career, Annie Hall is Woody Allen's only film to have won the Academy Award for Best Picture. This recognition, however, is not what makes the film significant. Annie Hall marks the beginning of the second phase of Allen's career as a filmmaker, abandoning the slapstick of Sleeper and Bananas for more thoughtful comedies (and eventually dramas) that explored human relationships and psychology. Allen's capacity as a creative filmmaker had also grown with the film, as he utilized creative subtitles, split screens, and animation, as well as evincing a sophisticated understanding of the potential of editing and camera movement for comic effect--consider the cutaway to Allen's character Alvy Singer, as seen through the eyes of "Grammy Hall" during the dinner sequence, or shortly afterward the slow pan to Alvy in the passenger seat of a car driven by Annie's unhinged brother Duane. The film is a brutally honest assessment of the prospects of a relationship between two very different people. Allen's Alvy is (like the filmmaker himself) an introverted, neurotic intellectual and a complete mismatch for Diane Keaton's vivacious, flaky Annie Hall. Although the romance is undoubtedly the center of the film, it affords Allen the opportunity to contrast his beloved New York culture with that of the Midwest, where Annie comes from, and Los Angeles, which tempts Annie with the possibility of fame and success as a singer. The city of New York itself plays an important part for the first time in an Allen film, with a great deal of location shooting that serves to highlight the city's character and atmosphere. Finally, the many comedic cameos peppered through the film--from Truman Capote to Paul Simon to media theorist Marshall McLuhan--pay tribute to the deserved reputation that Allen had gained for himself.

February is designated “The Month of Iron Hoofter” by the Film Space curators! What is Iron Hoofter? Well it’s a rhyming allusion – Cockney rhyming slang. Hoofter rhymes with Poofter. Does that help?

Saturday, February 7: Spider Lilies / Ci qing (2007) by Zero Chou – 94 mins – Taiwan Drama/ Romance.

First off in the series: lesbian love and tattoos in Taipei.