Thursday, February 19, 2009

What's On starting February 19

Valkyrie plots its way to Chiang Mai!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, February 19

by Thomas Ohlson

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

To avoid like the Plague: Confessions of a Shopaholic.

The biggest movie event of the year – the Academy Awards – can be seen here live on TV at 8 am this next Monday, 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. The producers of the awards are having to scramble to keep their promise of “biggest movie event” because the contenders for best picture – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, and Slumdog Millionaire – are still relatively little-seen by the movie-going public, not only here in Thailand, where only Benjamin Button has opened, but also around the world, and even in the US.

And also all five of those pictures put together have accumulated less than half the box office of The Dark Knight, which was really snubbed in the nominating process. It's reported that the producers are quietly trying to liven up the proceedings by asking studios to provide scenes from future films.

What follows is my comments on the movies showing at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, February 19, 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 17 of Volume 4 of these listings in their print format – in our fourth year!

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* Valkyrie: US/Germany Drama/ History/ Thriller/ War – 120 mins – The near-miss assassination of Adolf Hitler by a ring of rebel German army officers on July 20, 1944, starring a restrained and excellent Tom Cruise as Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, the aristocratic German officer who led the heroic attempt (codenamed “Valkyrie”) to bring down the Nazi regime and end the war by planting a bomb in Hitler's bunker. Directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns). I was impressed by the supporting cast that includes Bill Nighy (fresh from his chores as lead vampire in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans), Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp, and Kenneth Branagh. Mixed or average reviews: 56/60 out of 100.

* Luang Pee Kub Phee Ka Noon / หลวงพี่กับผีขนุน: Thai Comedy – 90 mins – A swindler hides out in a monastery by becoming a monk. With the popular Mum Jokmok (Petchtai Wongkamlhau) and the usual stable of TV comedians.

* The Wrestler: US Drama/ Sport – 115 mins – Mickey Rourke whose portrayal of an over-the-hill athlete has already won him a wheelbarrow full of accolades, including a Golden Globe, 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. Was scheduled for this date, but now not to be shown in Chiang Mai; Bangkok only, at five cinemas.

* Doubt: US Drama/ Mystery – 104 mins – With pathologically severe nun Meryl Streep, as a hatchet-faced authoritarian who sows doubt about the relationship of a priest and a boy. The priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) denies the innuendoes, and much of the film’s quick-fire dialogue tackles themes of religion, morality, and authority in a battle of wills between the two. The film held me captivated; I think it a dizzying and dazzling display of dramatic fireworks, and you should end up with a variety of doubts. Nominated for 5 Oscars, 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. Scheduled for this date, now not to be shown in Chiang Mai; it’s in Bangkok, and at only one cinema, the Scala.

* 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. . . “. Not showing in Chiang Mai; Bangkok only, and only four cinemas.

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.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans: US Action/ Fantasy/ Horror/ Thriller – 92 mins -- 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. (Somebody involved in the making of this movie must really enjoy whipping; I for one really did not appreciate the extended scenes of bloody lashings.) Mixed or average reviews: 46/46 out of 100.

Overall, I thought this quite terrific of its kind, and 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. I thought the cinematography and the sets excellent, somehow reminding me of the early Frankenstein and Wolf Man movies. Understand, this movie is derivative and silly, and still inescapably inessential. But I enjoyed it!

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/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 111 mins – Visually flashy. The deadly world of “psychic espionage” where artificially enhanced paranormal operatives have the ability to move objects with their minds, see the future, create new realities, and kill without ever touching their victims. Chris Evans plays a man who has remarkable paranormal powers and finds himself on the run from unseemly government agents, including the dangerous Henry (Djimon Hounsou), who want to utilize his abilities for their own means. It has a convoluted script, and despite director Paul McGuigan's visual flair, it’s really hard to follow. Generally negative reviews: 39/43 out of 100.

My Bloody Valentine 3D: US Horror/ Thriller – 101 mins – It’s an unpretentious gory and senses-assaulting slasher film, and an effective mix of old-school horror stylings and modern 3D technology. It is shown here in the 3D version, with the audience using cardboard 3D glasses, and the effects are good. Rated R in the US for “graphic brutal horror violence and grisly images throughout, some strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language.” Mixed or average reviews: 51/52 out of 100.

Confessions of a Shopaholic: US Comedy/ Romance – 112 mins – Nonsense wherein Isla Fisher plays a fun-loving girl who is really good at shopping.

Claudia Puig, USA Today: Not only is it an unfunny movie shrilly told, it probably is the most ill-timed and appallingly insulting movie in recent memory. How could any studio be so out of touch as to release a movie glorifying the compulsive shopping habits of an air-headed spendthrift during this dismal state in the global economy? Besides its insensitivity, it bombards us, like a too-cluttered closet, with a clueless heroine, laugh-repellant slapstick shtick, and an unconvincing by-the-numbers romance.

Melissa Anderson, Village Voice: Plays like both a supremely outmoded chick-lit adaptation and an outrageously obscene gesture as the economy continues to swallow up livelihoods, homes, and hope.

However, Roger Ebert thought it was funny and cute. Generally negative reviews: 38/42 out of 100.

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).

I thought this pretty dreadful. If you’re of a Thai mentality, you might consider this a charming and harmless essay on adolescent love (even if some of the characters happen to be adults). If you’re of a Western mentality, you might consider this blatant brainwashing of Thais to accept western consumerism. The idea being that you have to show your “love” on Valentine’s Day or you’re not patriotic, and not human, and just not with it, by buying your beloved many flowers and much candy and several greeting cards, and by eating out at restaurants way over your means, and buying your girl a diamond ring. The film is sponsored by a floral outfit (Miss Lilly Flowers), a restaurant chain (Chester’s), and so on, with much painful product placement. Just how indigenous is Saint Valentine to Thai culture anyway? Especially since it appears that the whole association of some Saint Valentine with romantic love seems to have been an invention of Geoffrey Chaucer in 1382. At any rate, I’m afraid the film has really dippy music, dippy dialogue, dippy situations, and dippy emotions.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, February 26

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 scheduled for Feb. 26 here, but now not to be shown in Chiang Mai; Bangkok and Pattaya only.

Slumdog Millionaire: US/UK Crime/ Drama/ Romance – 120 mins – Improbably (a third of the movie is in Hindi, after all), this film is now nominated for Oscar best picture and best director – and eight other awards. Scheduled for Feb. 26, but at the present time not to be shown in Chiang Mai; Bangkok and Pattaya only.

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) [Note: Millions will be given a showing at Film Space on March 14], Sunshine (2007)).

Rated R in the US for some violence, disturbing images, and language. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 86/83 out of 100.

Alliance Française schedule

At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm

At Alliance Française on Friday, February 20: La Bête humaine / The Human Beast (1938) by Jean Renoir – 100 mins – France Drama. Black and white. English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 79 out of 100.

With Jean Gabin, Simone Simon, Fernard Ledoux.

Séverine and her husband Roubaud kill their former employer on a train. Jacques an engineer witnesses the murder but does not report them to the police as he is deeply in love with Severine. However, during an epileptic fit, he kills her...

Alliance description

Film Society of Lincoln Center: "A love story of the railroads," transformed from the Zola novel into a darkly predestined narrative, a beautiful example of "poetic realism" at its height. In this railwayman driven to murder, Jean Gabin perfectly incarnates a flawed soul who falls in love with another man's wife (Simone Simon, ever catlike) and plots with her to kill her inconvenient husband. Some remarkable sequences depicting the milieu in which the protagonist works and plays are shot in a simple, nearly documentary style that catches the rhythms of life on and around trains; and a brutal murder intercut with scenes from workers' festivities is not to be forgotten.

DVD Verdict, Judge Steve Evans: Jean Renoir worked in almost every film genre and even invented a few, including the social satire (starting with Boudu Saved From Drowning). Here, he creates a classic noir years before French critics even came up with the label "films noir"—the dark, nihilistic, and cynical cinema that American studios began churning out in the 1940s on thin budgets. Here, he assembled a superb cast of absolutely authentic-looking character actors. Renoir also reunited with Gabin on this picture after their collaboration a year earlier on Grand Illusion.

A superstar in his native France, Gabin was only 34 when he made La Bête Humaine. And yet, he appears much older—conveying the weariness of a man so confused and disappointed by life that he could be easily entranced by the seductive charms of a duplicitous woman.

Simon Simone, the quintessential French femme fatale, would later appear in the most famous of RKO Producer Val Lewton's effective low-budget chillers, Cat People and its sequel, Curse of the Cat People.

Renoir himself appears in an amusing cameo as an outspoken, train-riding hobo whose dialogue is thinly veiled commentary on the moral themes explored in the film. But this is mainly a film dealing in dread and tragedy.

La Bête Humaine contains several scenes of such tightly-coiled suspense that it is not possible to watch without wondering how often Hitchcock held private screenings of the picture for his own education.

In addition to a lifelong fascination with human frailties, Renoir possessed a genetic talent for capturing stunning visuals (he is the son of French impressionist painter Auguste Renoir). Here the director deploys symbolism both subtle and overt to makes his points about fatalism and emotional entanglements. Subtle symbols include the frequent tracking shots from the engineer's perspective on the locomotive, as this inexorable forward movement of the train sweeps the protagonist along to his destiny. More obvious is the camera's chaste panning from a lovemaking scene during a thunderstorm to the lingering shot of a waterspout gushing into a bucket until it slows to a trickle.

La Bête Humaine benefits especially from stark black and white cinematography by the director's nephew Claude Renoir, whose genius with a camera would never surpass his work on Jean Renoir's first Technicolor film, The River. Modern audiences can revel in Claude Renoir's insistence on authenticity: Only one rear-projection image is used (at the climax, as an obvious necessity); every other train sequence was shot on the tracks at 60 mph. During a 45-year career, Claude Renoir would also frame John Frankenheimer's The French Connection II and the James Bond adventure The Spy Who Loved Me, but the work for his uncle is unparalleled.

At Alliance Française on Friday, February 27: Quai des Orfèvres / Jenny Lamour (1947) by Henri-Georges Clouzot – 95 mins – France Crime/ Drama. Black and white. English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 89/85 out of 100.

With Louis Jouvet, Bernard Blier, Suzy Delair, Simone Renant, Rene Blancard, Charles Dullin.

Suzy Delair stars as Jenny Lamour, an ambitious music hall singer who wants to be a star and is willing to befriend the lecherous old men who ogle her act, inspiring the jealousy of Jenny's husband Maurice Martineau (Bernard Blier). One particular fan of Jenny's is a wealthy financial backer who extends repeated invitations to the entertainer to join him at fine restaurants and his expansive mansion. Armed with a gun, Maurice goes to the estate to confront his rival one night but discovers that the master of the house is already dead, his wife having smashed a bottle of champagne over his head to stave off a sexual advance. Soon, a gruff but dedicated detective, Inspector Antoine (Louis Jouvet) is on the case, with Maurice taking the heat for Jenny...

Alliance description

A thriller full of rich complex characters and a dark world view, perhaps attributable to Henri-Georges Clouzot's own experience with Le Corbeau, his previous film which was banned by both Nazi Germany and his French homeland. Brilliantly transforming a classic whodunit plot, the Gallic “Master of Suspense” takes us from the wings and dressing rooms of the Parisian music hall and circus worlds to the drab, airless corridors and holding cells of the Quai's Criminal Investigations Department, in a blend of social realism and psychological cruelty that became his trademark. One of the uncontested masterpieces of the postwar French cinema.

At Alliance Française on Friday, March 6: Le Jour se lève / Daybreak (1939) by Marcel Carné and Jacques Prévert – 89 mins – France Crime/ Drama/ Romance/ Thriller. Black and white. English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 82 out of 100.

With Jean Gabin, Arletty, Jacqueline Laurent, Bernard Blier.

Francois, a sympathetic factory worker, kills Valentin with a gun. He locked himself in his furnished room and starts remembering how he was led to murder. He met once Francoise, a young fleurist, and they fell in love. But Francoise was gotten round by Valentin, a dog trainer, a Machiavellian guy...

Alliance description

A tough romantic has his love brutalized by the world and, after committing a crime of passion, barricades himself inside his apartment. It comes as no surprise that a film created in France during 1939, under the cloud of impending war, would be doom-laden and pessimistic in tone, but since it’s a film directed by Marcel Carné and written by Jacques Prévert, it's something of a certainty in any year.

Film Space schedule

At Film Space on Saturdays at 7 pm

During February, Film Space presents “The Month of Iron Hoofter.” March is “The Month of Bad Luck Money.”

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 – you should leave 20 baht. Well worth supporting.

Saturday, February 21: The Love of Siam (2007) by Chukiat Sakveerakul – 150 mins – Thai Drama/ Romance.

Third in the Hoofter series: gay love in Thailand. The granddaddy of Thai gay films, immensely popular. It swept the best picture prizes from all of Thailand's major film awards last year, and was this year’s Thailand submission for Oscar best foreign picture, but did not get nominated. With heartthrobs Mario Maurer and Witwisit “Pitch” Hiranyawongkul. The widely acclaimed film is a gentle drama that encompasses family dysfunction and homosexual teen puppy love.

Oggs' Movie Thoughts: To label Chukiat Sakveerakul's The Love of Siam as simply a gay teen romance is to misjudge its power and intention. Within the two and a half hour running time of the film, Sakveerakul essays not only the two young leads' reunion and inevitable attraction but also a family's slow and painful road to accepting a long-delayed reality. I would like to think that The Love of Siam, above everything else, seeks to reaffirm the life-affirming values of loving and being loved without sacrificing the portrayal of the very palpable pain that usually accompanies the emotion.

The twenty-minute prologue tracks the histories of young Mew and Tong, who are both schoolmates and neighbors. They form a very close friendship which was abruptly ended when Tong's family had to move out when Tang (Laila Boonyasuk), Tong's elder sister, went missing during a trip in Chiang Mai, causing the family tremendous and irreparable sorrow. Years later, Mew (Witwisit Hirunwongkul), lead singer and composer for an up and coming boy band, again crosses path with Tong (Mario Maurer), who is struggling at home with his domineering mother (Sinjai Plengpanich) and alcoholic father (Songsit Rungnopakunsri). The two reconnect and inevitably fall for each other, disrupting whatever peace they have grown accustomed to.

To make matters more complicated, Mew's Chinese neighbor Ying is hopelessly in love with Mew, not knowing of his homosexual tendencies. On the other hand, Tong is currently dating Donut, presumably not knowing of his own homosexual tendencies too. Tong's family, more specifically the father who's been spending days and nights drinking, is still suffering from the loss of Tang. June (also played by Boonyasuk), Mew's band manager who looks a lot like Tang, is then recruited to pose as the long lost daughter, momentarily easing the father of his staggering pains.

The Siam in the title refers to Siam Square, a shopping district in Bangkok where most teens hang out to shop, dine, meet, and have fun. Siam Square, in the eyes of the Bangkok youth, has become both the place for welcomes and farewells, of declarations of love and hurtful break-ups, of chance encounters and scheduled meetings. In the film, the popular venue is not only the setting for Mew and Tong's reunion and the numerous other events in the story but it also represents the unpredictability of the many facets of love which the film so intricately paints. While Siam Square or any other shopping mecca are ordinarily thought of as accessories to the bastardization of love and romance because it commonly equates blatant commercialism with the love's outward depictions like dating, gift-giving, and hanging out, The Love of Siam uses that very element to depict love's many wanderings and permutations. Underneath the glow of the traditionally amiable romance, The Love of Siam strives to say something more about the act of loving, whether romantically or familial: that it is more a nebulous network-like journey to maintain hope than a straight path to the assumed happy ending.

In fact, The Love of Siam ends without any of its characters fulfilling the traditional conclusions of a love story. There are no happily-ever-afters or expected closures. Instead, the film ends with a mere spark of hope. That hope that closes the film actually opens up million of possibilities for its characters, as numerous as the countless fortuitous encounters in Siam Square that initiate relationships between strangers or abruptly conclude long-standing affairs all within the fateful movement of time. Sakveerakul drafts a bittersweet ode to the complexities of loving, which commercial cinema has tended to avoid throughout the years.

Portrait of a dysfunctional Siam family

Saturday, February 28: Sommersturm / Summer Storm (2004) by Marco Kreuzpaintner – 98 mins – Germany Comedy/ Drama/ Romance.

Fourth in the Hoofter series: gay love in Germany. Tobi and Achim have been best friends for years. As cox and oarsman, they have helped their team win several rowing cups in the past and are now looking forward to the big regatta in the countryside. But this trip is no summer camp anymore and the first problems soon arise. As Achim’s relationship with his girlfriend grows more serious, Tobi starts to realize that his feelings for Achim run deeper than he’s willing to admit to himself. He feels confused, unsure of himself and increasingly left out. When the much-anticipated Berlin girls’ team is replaced by a team of athletic, cliché-busting young gay men, Tobi and his teammates are suddenly forced to grapple with their prejudices, their fears, and, perhaps, their hidden longings. As the tension grows, Tobi, Achim and the others head towards a confrontation as fierce and ultimately as liberating as the summer storm gathering over the lake… Summer Storm highlights the emotional confusion of a young man at the threshold of adulthood. Bolstering the film’s authenticity is the dazzling characterization of Tobi by award-winning young Robert Stadlober (Best Leading Actor at the Montreal Film Festival, 2001). Rated R in the US for sexuality, language, and drug content. Mixed or average reviews: 51/55 out of 100.

Don Willmott, It's a wet hot German summer when a co-ed high-school rowing team hops on its bus and heads off a regional meet/campout in Summer Storm. Issues of burgeoning sexuality abound, and one boy's struggle with his nascent homosexuality comes to the fore.

The center of attention is Tobi (Robert Stadlober), a somewhat dorky but popular team captain who has a dangerously serious crush on his life-long buddy and teammate Achim (Kostja Ullmann). Backslapping best friends, the two are totally comfortable indulging in, um, onanism contests and playing a little slap and tickle in the locker room, but when Tobi plants an impulsive little kiss on Achim's cheek, the freaked-out Achim draws a firm line. After all, he has a girlfriend, and so does Tobi for that matter.

Once the kids make it to the rowing meet campsite, they're amazed to find that one of the competing teams is comprised completely of dewy young gay men who have traveled from Berlin (oh, that explains it). The Queerstrokes, as they're called, are a friendly lot, but they suffer a bit of low-grade homophobia at the hands of Tobi's less worldly teammates.

As Achim and his girlfriend keep sneaking off into the woods for grope sessions, Tobi burns with jealousy. When he finally has his own erotic encounter with one of the Queerstrokes, he's more, rather than less, confused, and as word spreads of his orientation, minor chaos ensues, and the coach worries that they may not win the trophy.

March is “The Month of Bad Luck Money”

Saturday, March 7: 6ixtynin9 / Ruang talok 69 (1999) by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang – 118 mins – Thailand Comedy/ Crime/ Thriller.

In this critically-acclaimed Thai comedy, a young woman named Tum finds a mysterious noodle box full of money on her doorstep, shortly after losing her job. The clever beauty attempts to hold on to the loot and soon finds herself at the center of a thrilling, high-stakes caper between Thai Boxing gangsters, corrupt executives, and the bungling authorities. Rated R in the US for violence, language, and brief sexual humor. Generally favorable reviews: 65/66 out of 100.