Revolutionary Road disappears before arrival!
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, February 5
by Thomas Ohlson
Best Bet: Defiance. Inkheart.
Highest recommendation for Defiance! Last Friday, Major Cineplex, after two weeks of showing it throughout Thailand, finally relented and unexpectedly brought Defiance to Airport Plaza for four showings a day. But now it’s down to only one showing a day, at 6:55 pm. A brilliant film! I hope you enjoy it!
And at last Slumdog Millionaire has been scheduled for Thailand for February 26, but there’s no indication yet that it will show up here. This terrific film won four prizes at the Golden Globes awards, and now has been nominated for ten Oscar awards. It’s gotten universal acclaim (see “Now scheduled” below).
The Academy Awards can be seen here live on TV at 8 am on February 23, with the red carpet arrivals starting at 6:30 am. On True Visions cable system, it’s on True Inside – channels A17 or D19. It’s going to be a curious show, which finds what many consider the presumptive best picture, Slumdog Millionaire, with no acting nominations, while The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which leads the pack with 13 nominations, is viewed as an underdog. The American audience for last year’s Oscar show hit an all-time low of about 32 million viewers, but while American ratings languished, international interest in the Oscars appears to have remained strong.
These are my comments on the movies playing at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, February 5, 2009. 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 15 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!
Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week
Cancelled: Milk: The assassination of Harvey Milk, with Sean Penn, among the top contenders for the acting Oscar. Nominated for Oscar best picture and best director – eight nominations total. Directed by Gus Van Sant. Was once scheduled for this date, but now not to be shown in Chiang Mai; for Bangkok only, and may be postponed there until Feb 26.
Cancelled: 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. Was thought to be another top Oscar contender, but was actually shut out completely at the nominations. Was scheduled for this date, but now has been cancelled.
Cancelled: Revolutionary Road: A preview of this was shown here only last week, but now a no-show. Kate Winslet won her Golden Globes award #1 for best actress for her role in this film, but she was not nominated for an Oscar. This is a brilliant 2-character drama set in the 1950’s based on a 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.
* Underworld: Rise of the Lycans: US Action/ Fantasy/ Horror/ Thriller – 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 (Tony Blair in The Queen, David Frost in Frost/Nixon) and Bill Nighy (Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) revisit their roles from Underworld in this prequel to the horror-action hybrid. Directed by Patrick Tatopoulos. Rated R in the US for bloody violence and some sexuality. Mixed or average reviews: 46/43 out of 100.
Reviewers are saying that the movie is for the most part an amusing and enjoyable foray into a mythic medieval world, with Sheen robustly dynamic as a character a little like a Spartacus of the Lycans, leading enslaved humans and werewolves in a rebellion against their cruel vampire masters, who are led by the sly and stylish Nighy as the blue-eyed vampire king oozing elegant menace.
* Before Valentine: Thai Romance/ Drama – 90 mins – Four takes on love, made by three directors: Songsak Mongkoltong (The Screen at Kamchanod), Pornchai Hongrattanaporn (Bangkok Loco), and Seri Pongnithi (Ghost in Law, Art of the Devil 1).
Inkheart: Germany/ UK/ US Adventure/ Family/ Fantasy – 106 mins – Fantasy fans should love this. It’s a vast undertaking with a lot of thought and artistry going into the creation of an entire fantasy world with its own very unique rules, and I found the attention to detail enjoyable. Plus it has an excellent cast. Based on Inkheart, a children's novel by the prolific German author Cornelia Funke (who has been likened to J.K. Rowling), and the first part of her Inkworld series, detailing the adventures of bookbinder and his 12-year-old daughter, who is a voracious reader. He is a Silvertongue, a “reader” – 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: 47/48 out of 100. Shown in a Thai-dubbed version only at Vista, with no English subtitles. For English, go to Airport Plaza (with Thai subtitles).
You may notice something strange about the film – there are two endings! Next week I’ll tell you how that came about.
Stutterers will probably boycott this film, as before Brendan Fraser takes it over, the job of “reader” was taken by a stutterer, who is played mercilessly for comedy. Since he stutters, the spells didn’t work properly and the characters he “read” to life came out of their books only partially formed, and incomplete, with some of the words still imprinted on their faces and bodies. Sort of messy! And a lot of them are truly unpleasant people to begin with, if not evil. [I did feel that there wasn’t enough distance from them to make the moviegoing experience pleasurable. Sort of a Narnia film without the humor.]
The film is very literature-oriented, and a lot of book loving is present, with an attempt to suggest what fascinating worlds lurk between the covers of books. But it’s a two-edged sword, because in the film a lot of terrible things happen when you read a book aloud. So here in Thailand where the cultural imperative seems to be to not read books to begin with, you can now have mothers all over Thailand telling their kids, “You see what terrible things happen when you read books! Don’t let me ever catch you with a book!!”
I think there will be those who think that the girl (who is supposed to be 12 but looks about 28) is as obnoxious as Will Smith’s kid was in The Day the Earth Stood Still. However, maybe to make up for it, Helen Mirren is a hoot! Just a pleasure to watch every second, and she looks like she had a ball hamming up the part.
Reel Views, James Berardinelli: Edward Zwick's adaptation of the true-to-life story of Nechama Tec's book about the Bielski partisans, this movie is less about the struggle against the Nazis than it is about the fight for survival. Although there are battles, Defiance spends most of its time exploring the difficulties of surviving as fugitives in the midst of a Soviet winter.
The year is 1941 and the place is Belarus. Hitler is on the move pushing eastward and the Final Solution is underway. The four surviving Bielski brothers - Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), Asael (Jamie Bell), and Aron (George MacKay) - are forced to hide in the woods after the local police, in collaboration with the Germans, kill the rest of the family. But the Bielskis' time on the run is not destined to be spent alone. Like moths to the flame, other Jewish refugees are drawn to them, until they are more like a dispossessed community than a ragtag group. The bigger the camp gets, the more problems arise. Tuvia and Zus openly clash, with the former advocating a largely peaceful philosophy and the latter wanting to get bloody. Disease, starvation, and cold threaten health and lives as the autumn deepens into winter. And the Germans are on the hunt, offering a reward and seeking the location where Tuvia and the Bielski partisans are holed up.
The principal flaw of Defiance is that some of the high-minded sentiments voiced by Tuvia in flowery speeches seem too noble and unrealistic for the circumstances. Also, while there's nothing specifically wrong with Daniel Craig's performance, it can be a little difficult accepting the actor as a Jew. One suspects Craig's participation in the film might have been a concession to its getting the financing needed. After all, the rest of the cast is not populated by household names. Although Craig has the lion's share of the screen time as well as the plum role, Liev Schreiber provides the most memorable performance - a forceful turn as the conflicted, least idealistic of the Bielski brothers.
The battle scenes are well choreographed and contain enough uncertainty to make them genuinely exciting, but one would expect no less from a man who has overseen Civil War engagements (Glory) and Japanese strife (The Last Samurai). More compelling, however, is the drama associated with the establishment and maintenance of the Bielski partisans' refugee camp, situated deep in a forest during one of the most inhospitable times of the year. Not only are there problems with famine brought on by the inability to grow anything in the freezing cold, but an epidemic of typhus runs rampant through the community. Zwick re-creates each new crisis with immediacy and doesn't bypass other less life-and-death elements of life: faith in God under such trying circumstances; love, sex, and marriage (three of the four brothers become emotionally connected to female refugees); and the friction that occurs between the Bielski group and other partisans in the area. The TV ads for Defiance make it seem like the movie centers on a series of guerilla attacks on the Nazis but, in reality, those moments are a small part of the wider tapestry Zwick has stitched together out of a combination of true history and dramatic license.
Defiance makes explicit the parallelism between a group of Jews fleeing from Nazi death squads and the Exodus. One rabbi prays that God will release the Jews from the curse of being the chosen people so they can stop running and being persecuted. However, the film runs the risk of overplaying its hand when one character remarks on the lack of supernatural intervention in parting the waters during a journey through swamplands.
Central to the film's effectiveness is the transformation of Tuvia from idealist to pragmatist. While he never reaches the level of callousness and brutality displayed by Zus, events force him to reconsider the price of showing mercy. Craig handles the performance well enough for us to believe this character development, but this isn't his best work (for my money, that can be found in either Layer Cake or Casino Royale). Ultimately, the film works not just because of the character arc it provides for its main character but for its ultimate theme of the triumph over adversity.
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 exciting film in a Thai-dubbed version only, with no English subtitles.
Fireball / Tar Chon / ท้า/ชน: Thai Action/ Martial Arts – The world of underground barbaric fighting in Thailand, with a bit of Muay Thai basketball thrown in. Director Thanakorn Pongsuwan (Opapatika).
Hod Na Haew / โหดหน้าเหี่ยว 966: Thai Comedy/ Drama – More comedy with popular Thai comedians from TV. Directed by Rerkchai Paungpetch.
Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, February 12
The Reader – US Drama/ Romance directed by Stephen Daldry. Kate Winslet won her Golden Globes award #2 for best supporting actress for her role in this film, and is now nominated for Oscar 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. It's the fourth best actress nomination for Winslet, who won a Golden Globe for the same part, only as a supporting role. David Hare, who is 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. . . “. Scheduled for Bangkok only; not to be shown in Chiang Mai.
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. 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! – worth seeing for that alone! For sure, Benjamin Button's case grows curiouser still: thirteen Academy Award nominations? Thirteen, really? But look closer: Perhaps Benjamin Button is a big-budget love story with just the right combination of qualities (nostalgic Americana, epic romance) that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences routinely admires. Directed by David Fincher. The screenplay is by Eric Roth, who wrote Forrest Gump, which this reminds me of. Generally favorable reviews 69/72 out of 100.
A Moment in June – Thai Drama/ Romance – 106 mins – Well received Thai drama set partly in Chiang Mai and Lampang; nominated for New Currents award at the Pusan festival. Was the opening film of the World Film Festival in Bangkok last year. Directed by O. Nathapon, who is also active in theater and draws on his theater experience to devise an impressive crossover of cinema and stage through a play-within-a-film. Three couples – gay, elderly and fictive, respectively – engage in a melancholy dance of indecision and regret
Push – US Action/ Thriller.
Feb 13 – Friday the 13th, be warned! Confessions of a Shopaholic – US Comedy. Nonsense wherein Isla Fisher plays a fun-loving girl who is really good at shopping.
And looking further afield . . .
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 whose portrayal of an over-the-hill athlete has already won him a wheelbarrow full of accolades, including a Golden Globe, has now 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. 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.
Feb 19: 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. 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, 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. Highly doubtful this will make it to Chiang Mai given the current thinking of the movie chains here.
Apr 30: Frost/Nixon – Nominated for Oscar best picture and best director – five nominations total. I don’t think it’s either, but there are many reasons to see the film. Washington Post: this year's dose of thinky, political, adapted-from-the-stage fare.
Feb 26: Slumdog Millionaire – US/UK Crime/ Drama/ Romance – 120 mins – Scheduled at last for Thailand, but still a question mark for Chiang Mai. 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 – and is now nominated for Oscar best picture and best director – and eight other awards. And as for the British equivalent of the Oscars, the film is now nominated for eleven BAFTA awards.
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 ended for me as a gloriously uplifting and upbeat song to life and living. However, it didn’t quite work this way for one of my friends, who said, “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.
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: 86/83 out of 100.