Friday, March 6, 2009

What's On starting March 5

Revolutionary Road departs!

Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, March 5

by Thomas Ohlson

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

Revolutionary Road has left town after one week of very disappointing showings. According to the generally-accepted box office reports of Mojo, Revolutionary Road took in on average only US$292 over the whole four days of the last weekend at each location where it played ($73 a day), very nearly at the bottom of the list. As compared with say Outlander, which took in US$2,684 at each location for the whole four-day weekend. It really doesn’t pay to bring in some films. Tough business!

Here are my comments for the movies currently playing in Chiang Mai at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, March 5, 2009. Attached is the same list in Word format. 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 19 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!

Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week

* Bolt: US Animation/ Comedy/ Family/ Fantasy – 96 mins – John Travolta does a superb job voicing Bolt, a canine TV star convinced of his superpowers who sets out on a cross-country journey to find his owner. I found this whole enterprise a complete delight, containing many moments of real heart. If you at all enjoy animation, don’t miss this one. Great for kids – and adults! Very obviously made for the 3D effects, but shown here only in regular old 2D. Generally favorable reviews: 67/65 out of 100.

* Watchmen: US/ UK/ Canada – Action/ Drama/ Fantasy/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller– 163 mins – I have to admit that this film simply blew me away! I had the same reaction I had the first time I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey. Which was, “What?! What did I just see?” I think that once you accept the violence and the comic-book origins, you will find this a monumental film. If you liked The Dark Knight or A Clockwork Orange, you should appreciate this. (It’s monumentally long as well, so be prepared.) Directed by Zack Snyder (who gave us 300), it’s complex and multi-layered, and is set in an alternate 1985 America in which costumed superheroes are a part of everyday life, Richard Nixon is in his fifth term as president, and the US won the war in Vietnam – which is now the 51st State. And that’s just for starters! Amidst all the blood there’s a lot of philosophy, and a lot to think about and debate before you see it again. Rated R in the US for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, and language. The reviews so far vary wildly, so we’ll call them for the moment mixed or average: 57/61 out of 100.

Clint Morris, Moviehole: Might just be the best-written, best-performed and most meaningful superhero movie ever made. Unlike a lot of caped-crusader movies, it actually has a point to make.

Roger Ebert: A film experience of often fearsome beauty. . . . The film is rich enough to be seen more than once. I plan to see it again, this time on IMAX, and will have more to say about it. I’m not sure I understood all the nuances and implications, but I am sure I had a powerful experience. It’s not as entertaining as “The Dark Knight,” but like the “Matrix” films, LOTR and “The Dark Knight,” it’s going to inspire fevered analysis. I don’t want to see it twice for that reason, however, but mostly just to have the experience again.

Kyle Smith, New York Post: Director Zack Snyder's cerebral, scintillating follow-up to "300" seems, to even a weary filmgoer's eye, as fresh and magnificent in sound and vision as "2001" must have seemed in 1968, yet in its eagerness to argue with itself, it resembles "A Clockwork Orange." Like those Stanley Kubrick films - it is also in part a parody of "Dr. Strangelove" - it transforms each moment into a tableau with great, uncompromising concentration. The effect is an almost airless gloom, but the film is also exhilarating in breadth and depth.

There is more going on in the spectacular opening-credits sequence than in the three "Spider-Man" flicks combined. "Watchmen" author Alan Moore (who considers the film a bastard stepchild and demanded not to be mentioned in those credits) possesses a superpower denied nearly all of his competitors: irony. A yellow smiley face stained with blood is his Bat logo.

It takes a good hour just to introduce characters and back story. Decoding all of this is one of the film's singular pleasures, so I won't give away much. (I took care to maintain total ignorance going in.)

The idea is an alternate history of postwar America, one in which we won the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon has been elected president five times. As of 1985, the age of superheroes has come and gone, and the US and the Soviet Union are doing the nuclear tango.

The narrator and self-appointed truth-seeker is Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), a devout cynic in a mask of weirdness who is trying to solve the murder of a fellow vigilante in a ravaged and rubbished New York City that carries a "Taxi Driver" stench.

Other members of the team - the cast includes Billy Crudup, Carla Gugino, Matthew Goode (of "Match Point"), Patrick Wilson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (from "Grey's Anatomy") and Malin Akerman (the bride in the remake of "The Heartbreak Kid") have fallen prey to self-aggrandizement, self-doubt, dissipation, and moral fatigue. One is into marketing his own action figures; another is into margaritas.

In an ordinary superhero movie, you'd just be waiting for everyone to snap out of it, climb into the spandex, save the day, and bankroll the sequel. But there's so much dread and disgust around "Watchmen" that it isn't clear where it's heading. It's even more serious and political than "The Dark Knight," with the same ambivalence about mythology versus truth, though it doesn't seem to affirm any stance. It drills still deeper than the Batman/Joker core that underlies many of its characters and into questions of God and man. The essential silliness of the comic-book medium (the most important character is called "Dr. Manhattan," and he looks like the love child of Mr. Clean and a Smurf) is held to a minimum.

There are so many competing ideas within "Watchmen" that it is built to be viewed repeatedly and debated religiously. Among comic-book movies, only the two most recent Batman entries compete with it for complexity. It's not clear who the hero is, if there even is one.

The street fights are inventive and exciting, but the real struggles are those in which glowing nostalgia puts the ever-disappointing present in a headlock, or one oversimplification kicks another in the teeth. Rioters take to the streets - in order to rout vigilantes, and to the tune of "I'm Your Boogie Man." Disco apocalypse.

Despite the burden of a story in which "it's too late, always has been, always will be," "Watchmen" levitates with a prophetic fury worthy of the Jimi Hendrix cover of "All Along the Watchtower" that blasts over a key scene. Other fantasy movies are playing checkers. This one plays chess, with grandmaster panache.

Tidbit: The title is taken from a line by the Roman poet Juvenal, "Who watches the watchmen?" warning about abuse of power. Shortly after the comic series was published in 1986, the line appeared as epigraph in the Tower Commission's report on the Iran-Contra scandal.

* Best in Time / Kwamjam San Tae Rak Chan Yao / ความจำสั้น แต่รักฉันยาว: Thai Romance/ Drama – 90 mins – Yongyooth Thongkongtoon’s romantic drama centers on a young vet (“Pae”) who struggles to forget his first love (Yarinda Bunnag), but when he meets her again years later she doesn't seem to remember him at all. “Pae” (Arak Amornsupasiri) is lead guitarist for the rock band Slur and made his acting debut in The Body. A love story by the director of Iron Ladies and Metrosexual.

* Power Kids / Haa Hua Jai Hero / 5 หัวใจอีโร่: Thai Action/ Comedy – 90 mins – Except for the fights, a film of mind-boggling ineptitude about kids battling terrorists in a hospital. Sloppy script and plotting, sloppy directing and photography – none of which seemed to bother the audience, who seemed to enjoy it immensely. Also has sloppy English subtitles.

Outlander: US Action/ Sci-Fi – 115 mins – Full-bodied Sci-Fi escapism that should satisfy your cravings for both action and Norse mythology in one fell swoop. During the reign of the Vikings, Kainan (James Caviezel), a man from a far-off world, crash lands on Earth, bringing with him an alien predator known as the Moorwen. Though both man and monster are seeking revenge for violence committed against them, Kainan leads the alliance to kill the Moorwen by fusing his advanced technology with the Viking's Iron Age weaponry. Mixed or average reviews: 40/48 out of 100.

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li: Canada/ India/ US/ Japan, Action/ Adventure/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 98 mins – Only for die-hard “Action” fans in my opinion. Has received mostly dreadful reviews, with which I have to concur, but there is a place for things like this, and some people like them. Adapted from the popular series of “Street Fighter” video games first released in 1987. Undercover Interpol agent and female fighter Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) gives up her career as a concert pianist to seek justice after she discovers that her father has been murdered. She is something like a female Batman for being rich, brooding, and orphaned. Interesting location shooting in the Bangkok slums, but I am not sure this movie is something Thailand needs the world to see right at this juncture, wallowing as it does in the corruption and poverty that permeates Thailand. But, it’s just an action flick after all. Reviews: Extreme dislike or disgust: 17/24 out of 100.

Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times: Reveling in the vivid Bangkok locations, Geoff Boyle’s photography is crisp and bright, and Dion Lam’s action choreography unusually witty. A restroom tussle between Chun-Li and a slinky lesbian villain is wonderfully inventive and humorously revealing.

Valkyrie: US/Germany Drama/ History/ Thriller/ War – 120 mins – This has a really very good script; it’s intelligent, makes sense, the dialogue is terse and expressive, and the plotting is very solid. One of the better scripts in recent memory, about 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 the currently showing Underworld: Rise of the Lycans), Tom Wilkinson (who we saw here in Michael Clayton), Terence Stamp, and Kenneth Branagh. It is also a project that takes its research seriously, and has gone to great lengths to insure the accuracy of what is portrayed. Wherever possible, they used the original locations for an added degree of truth to the story. For many reasons, I think it is a movie to be seen. I recommend it. Mixed or average reviews: 56/60 out of 100.

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, but lost out to Slumdog Millionaire. Received Oscars for best art direction (and set decoration) – the sense of time and place, and the attention to the details of the period settings, were mind-boggling – and they completely changed every 20 minutes; and for best achievement in makeup – which indeed was wizardry; and for best achievement in visual effects – which was richly deserved for the wizardry involved in making the aging in reverse very convincing indeed. Very much worth seeing for the marvels of filmmaking art and craft. I have one friend who lived in New Orleans at the time a scene in the movie was set, and he was astonished by the accuracy with which the time and place were recreated.

As you must know by now, it’s 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 get into this premise, but I seem to be in the minority. It’s so utterly nonsensical, that I could not get emotionally involved, even at 166 mins. Directed by David Fincher (Zodiac, Fight Club). The screenplay is by Eric Roth, who wrote Forrest Gump, which this reminds me of. Generally favorable reviews 69/72 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.

Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, March 12

Seven Pounds: US, Drama/ Romance – 118 mins – Will Smith is an IRS agent who is depressed and guilt-ridden about mistakes from his past. He sets out to make amends by helping seven strangers. When he meets a beautiful woman with a heart condition, and he falls in love with her, his plans suddenly become very complicated. Woody Harrelson also appears as a blind pianist who befriends Ben. Directed by Gabriele Muccino. Generally negative reviews.

Miss You Again / A-Nueng Kidthueng Pen Yang Ying / อนึ่ง ... คิดถึงเป็นอย่างยิ่ง: Thai, Comedy/ Drama – The third entry in veteran director Bhandit Rittakol’s romance series that began in 1992 with I Miss You, then I Miss You 2 in 1996. It's a teenage movie about old school friends trying to save their financially-troubled school from closing and being sold to a big supermarket company.

Dragonball Evolution: US, Action/ Adventure/ Fantasy/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 100 mins – The young warrior Son Goku seeks to fulfill his grandfather's dying request to find the great Master Roshi (Chow Yun Fat) and gather all seven Dragonballs to prevent the evil Piccolo from using the magical orbs to take over the world. Based on the popular Japanese manga by Akira Toriyama, whose work not only included best-selling graphic novels, but also video games and a phenomenally successful television series. Directed by James Wong (Willard).

In Limbo

Here’s the current status on some other Oscar contenders of note which were scheduled at one time for Chiang Mai, then withdrawn. I think it would be nice if they all showed up here eventually, but it looks as though we’ll have to fight to get them. And given the dreadful reception of Revolutionary Road here, it doesn’t seem to make much sense from the point of view of the movie chains. Except possibly for Slumdog Millionaire.

* Milk: US, Biography, Drama – 128 mins – The assassination of Harvey Milk, with Sean Penn, who won the acting Oscar. Nominated for Oscar best picture and best director – eight nominations total. A second Oscar was won for best writing for a screenplay written directly for the screen, given to Dustin Lance Black. The story of California's first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, a San Francisco supervisor who was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone by San Francisco Supervisor Dan White. Directed by Gus Van Sant. Rotten Tomatoes: Anchored by Sean Penn's powerhouse performance, Milk is a triumphant account of America's first openly gay man elected to public office. Rated R in the US for language, some sexual content and brief violence. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 84/83 out of 100. Was scheduled for Feb. 26 here, but now not in the planning for Chiang Mai; playing now only at the Apex Lido in Bangkok.

* Slumdog Millionaire: US/UK, Crime/ Drama/ Romance – 120 mins – Improbably (a third of the movie is in Hindi, after all), this film won Oscar best picture and best director – and awards for adapted screenplay, original score, film editing, original song, sound mixing, and cinematography. At the present time not to be shown in Chiang Mai; now playing at only two cinemas in the whole of Thailand: the Apex Lido and the Apex Scala at Siam Square in Bangkok.

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.

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.

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.

* 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, 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. 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 once on the schedule for Chiang Mai, but has been withdrawn; now playing only in Bangkok, at one cinema, the Apex Lido.

* 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 (no wins), 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. Not now on the schedule for Chiang Mai; it’s in Bangkok, and at only one cinema, the Apex Lido.

* The Reader – US/ Germany, Drama/ Romance – 124 mins – Directed by Stephen Daldry. Kate Winslet won her Golden Globes award #2 for best supporting actress for her role in this film, and won the Oscar for 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. David Hare, who was 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 now on the schedule for Chiang Mai; it’s in Bangkok, and at only one cinema, the Apex Lido.

Alliance Française schedule

At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm

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.

Neil Young: Night in the city: factory-worker François (Jean Gabin) is a cornered man. He shot a person dead in his garret flat atop a multi-storey tenement, and the police are closing in fast. As he stoically awaits his fate, François ponders the circumstances which have led to his grim situation: romantic entanglements with youthful, teddybear-hugging gamine Françoise (Jacqueline Laurent) and jaded woman-of-the-world Clara (Arletty), both of them - in some way - involved with cruel, cynical vaudevillian (or should that be 'vaudevillain'?) Valentine (Jules Berry).

Director Carné and his four cinematographers (Philippe Agostini, Andre Bac, Albert Viguier and an uncredited Curt Courant) do their energetic utmost to distract us from the shortcomings of what's fundamentally a rather thin excuse for a plot. The lighting and camerawork are consistently striking - especially during the indoor sequences - and many of the techniques must have seemed groundbreaking back in 1939. Likewise much of the language is rather spicier than one might expect for the era, the gruffly amiable François's argot packed with harsh, colloquial swear-words such as cul and fout le camp (roughly "arse" and "fuck off", though these are left coyly untranslated in most English-language subtitles).

Gabin is typically engaging and sympathetic as the hapless François, with Arletty (particularly good in an underwritten role) and Laurent providing an effective study in contrasts as his paramours. But the film's love triangle - actually more of a 'quadrangle' - never really comes into proper focus, so episodic and halting is the flashback-heavy screenplay by Jacques Viot (story) and Jacques Prévert (dialogue). So while the film occasionally manages to evoke a potent atmosphere of moody, doomy fatalism, it doesn't really provide much substance to justify its surfeit of ever-so-Gallic style.

At Alliance Française on Friday, March 13: Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie / The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) by Luis Buñuel – 102 mins – France/ Italy/ Spain, Comedy/ Drama/ Fantasy. English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 93/86 out of 100.

With Stéphane Audran, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Bulle Ogier, Michel Piccoli, Delphine Seyrig.

In typical Buñuel fashion The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie surrealistically skewers the conventions of society. The film depicts a series of profoundly frustrating dinner parties. The well-to-do guests gather for especially delectable dinners, but their host does not appear. Every time they are about to begin eating, some bizarre event prevents them. Adding to their tantalization is the dream state many of them enter, with each dream exploring some deeply symbolic or perverse aspect of their lives. Many of the dreams are also of interrupted dinners…

Alliance description

Luis Buñuel's scathing and surrealistic political comedy masterpiece about a wealthy group of friends repeatedly prevented from beginning their elaborate dinner by increasingly strange events. No matter how hard they try to enjoy the meal and the privileges money affords, everything from closed restaurants to terrorists conspire to thwart their pleasures...and soon it seems that the violence is even pervading their dreams. Academy Award Nominations: 2, including Best (Original) Story and Screenplay. Academy Award: Best Foreign Language Film.

At Alliance Française on Friday, March 20: Pierrot Le Fou / Jenny Lamour (1965) by Jean-Luc Godard – 110 mins – France Crime/ Drama. English subtitles.

With Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina, Dirk Sanders, Raymond Devos.

Ferdinand meets an old love, Marianne. But at her place, they fall upon a cumbersome corpse. They then decide to flee the killers through France to an island where they might be safe… One of Jean-Paul Belmondo’s best roles in this “Nouvelle Vague” film.

Alliance description

Film Space schedule

At Film Space on Saturdays at 7 pm

March is “The Month of Bad Luck Money” at Film Space.

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.

At Film Space Saturday, March 7: 6ixtynin9 / Ruang talok 69 (1999) by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang – 118 mins – Thai, 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.

Twitch, Todd: Without a doubt one of Thailand’s brightest lights is writer / director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. He exploded onto the international scene with the absolutely stunning Last Life in the Universe. . . . In 1999’s 6ixtynin9, Lalita Panyopas stars as Tum, a low ranking employee in a Bangkok financial services firm – an industry sector that has been hit hard by an economic recession. Tum arrives at work one morning to find an impromptu staff meeting in session. The firm has been forced to lay off three employees and, unwilling to single anyone out for termination, the unlucky trio is decided by drawing lots. Tum, of course, is one of the unlucky three sent packing. This places her in a horrible situation. She has been financially supporting her parents and younger siblings and is now a single woman with no support network and little to no chance of finding legitimate work in the midst of the current hard times. Faced with the real prospect of having to turn to prostitution to make ends meet Tum begins shoplifting and fantasizing about suicide. Until one morning she discovers a box left outside her door, a box full of money, and sees a possible way out for herself. Here enters the continual case of mistaken identity brought on by a faulty apartment door number (the film’s title is a play on this), rival gangs, illegal passports, dope smoking youth, over exuberant police officers, nosy neighbors, an amputation and rather a lot of blood.

The summary makes 6ixtynin9 sound like a fairly busy, high energy film but like all of Ratanaruang’s other films it is actually a very quiet, meditative piece. Much like Japan’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Ratanaruang loves to dress his films up in genre convention when they are actually psychological mood pieces. The gangsters are window dressing, what really matters here is that Tum is a woman in an incredibly difficult situation with some harsh moral decisions to make. How will she bear up under the stress? What path will she choose? The obvious point of comparison is Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave – a film that shares several significant plot points – but where Boyle’s film revolves around issues of greed Ratanaruang’s turns on desperation. How far are you willing to go to survive?

Key to making the film work is Panyopas’ performance as Tum and she does an admirable job charting Tum’s progression from a woman caught up by forces beyond her control into becoming one of those forces herself. She is giving very little dialogue to work with and has to rely on body language, frequently carrying her character entirely through her eyes. She has a quiet sense of grace and strength to her, more than enough to allow you to buy into the wildly excessive situation Ratanaruang drops her in to.

Where the film struggles a little bit is in the balancing of humor with the darker, more serious elements. Ratanaruang has a bit of a dreamer in him, as well as a healthy dose of absurdism, and he struggled to mesh those impulses with the ‘real-world’ feeling he also wants to maintain in his films until he finally struck a perfect balance with Last Life. There are some awkward moments here where you can tell he’s aiming for humor but the situation is paced and played just a little too realistically to laugh, and also some character moments that just don’t seem to fit with the tone of the rest of the film. Which is not to say that 6ixtynin9 isn’t a good film – it is, very – but fans of Last Life will need to approach this as an example of a master still learning and experimenting with his craft rather than coming in expecting the degree of balance, polish and subtlety of his most recent work.

At Film Space Saturday, March 14: Millions (2004) by Danny Boyle – 98 mins – UK, Comedy/ Crime/ Drama/ Family/ Fantasy.

By the director of the currently acclaimed Oscar winner, Slumdog Millionaire, this is an earlier work also dealing with kids, a family film of limitless imagination and surprising joy, as it follows two brothers dealing with a windfall as a bag containing 265,000 British pounds bounces off a train and into their playhouse. Generally favorable reviews: 74/74 out of 100. It is rare that a family film is both visually sophisticated and emotionally nuanced. Millions, the fantastical tale of two British brothers and the large sack of cash literally dropped onto them... It is rare that a family film is both visually sophisticated and emotionally nuanced. Millions, the fantastical tale of two British brothers and the large sack of cash literally dropped onto them from the sky, is just that--a multi-layered, majestic feast for both the eyes and the mind. Young brothers Anthony and Damian Cunninham, whose initial response to their unexpected fortune is a Robin Hood-esque spree of charity, have only one week to spend their 265,000 British pounds before their nation switches over to the Euro. Though the premise may seem trite or predictable, unexpected details--including Damian's ability to see visions of saints and the recent death of the boys' beloved mother--add complexity to the story. As the 7- and 9-year-old Cunningham brothers, lead actors Alex Etel and Lewis McGibbon prove to be those exceptional child actors who are appealing without being precious and their understated, mature performances add gravity to a largely whimsical film. Danny Boyle, the director best known for stylishly violent films Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, might seem an odd man to helm this comparatively innocent movie. However, Boyle's visual and narrative gifts turn out to be perfectly suited to this modern day fable, adding much-needed flavor to a genre that is all too often ignored by cinematic talents.

Roger Ebert: Millions was directed by Danny Boyle, who made "Shallow Grave," "Trainspotting" and the zombie movie "28 Days Later." Yes, the Danny Boyle. And the original screenplay and novel are by Frank Cottrell Boyce, who wrote "Hilary and Jackie" and "24 Hour Party People." What are these two doing making a sunny film about kids?

I don't require an answer for that, because their delight in the film is so manifest. But they are serious filmmakers who do not know how to talk down to an audience, and although "Millions" uses special effects and materializing saints, it's a film about real ideas, real issues, and real kids. It's not sanitized brainless eye candy. Like all great family movies, it plays equally well for adults -- maybe better, since we know how unusual it is.

One of its secrets is casting. In Alex Etel and Lewis McGibbon the film has found two of the most appealing child actors I've ever seen.

At Film Space Saturday, March 21: Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl / Samehada Otoko to Momojiri Onna / 鮫肌男と桃尻女 (1998) by Katsuhito Ishii – 108 mins – Japan, Mystery/ Action/ Thriller/ Comedy.

The film opens in a surrealistic mountain setting as a young, determined Toshiko (Sie Kohinata), executes a daring escape from her sexually abusive, obsessive and oppressive, lunatic uncle Sonezaki (Yohachi Shimada). Speeding away down the road, she notices a man running hastily through the woods, clad in nothing but underwear. Distracted, she does not notice the car from which he is running...until she collides with it head-on. Rated R in the US for violence, sexuality, and brief language. Mixed or average reviews: 44/43 out of 100.

Bruce Fletcher, Hawaii International Film Festival: "...surreal, violent, funny, lovers-on-the-run adventure... striking cinematography, rapid-fire editing and ultra-rich colors that rise from the young director's shooting more than 80 Japanese TV commercials. The colorful cast is clad in a designer style known as hyper fashion gear, except Samehada (Asano) who dons Takeo Kikuchi designer fashions, down to his TK brand underwear...Arguably, the coolest movie of the year."

Janick Neveux, KFC Cinema: "Sharkskin Man and Peach Hip Girl is one hell of a piece of work...[It] contains a rare collection of colorful characters that has yet to be seen in another movie. You have about 20 or so unique characters, each one extremely different and well-drawn. Most...had a pretty cool style while others were plain bizarre."

Dave Kehr, The New York Times: An outlaw-couple-on-the-run story, in a context of harsh social satire and nihilistic despair. Mr. Ishii's background as a hard-working director of television commercials is reflected in his technical facility and flashy compositions, most of which involve gang members dressed in outrageous high-fashion costumes. The adults are rigid, uncool and involved in bizarre sexual practices; the kids are stylish and hot. The picture makes killing look like high-spirited fun and turns violent death into an occasion for giggles and snickers.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Movies Update

Revolutionary Road added to Vista schedule!

Chiang Mai movies alert, Sunday, March 1

by Thomas Ohlson

The film Revolutionary Road has been added to the Vista schedule at Kadsuankaew. Here are the times for both locations today through Wednesday.

Vista: 12:00| 14:15| 16:30| 18:45| 21:00|

Major Cineplex – Sunday: 11:10| 15:15| 20:15| 22:40|

Major Cineplex – Monday-Wednesday: 12:10| 16:15| 21:15|

I highly recommend this film!

Revolutionary Road: US/ UK, Drama/ Romance – 119 mins – This is a brilliant 2-character drama set in the 50’s based on a novel by Richard Yates, with brilliant performances by Leonardo DeCaprio and Kate Winslet, brilliantly directed by Sam Mendes. In other words, just brilliant! I loved it. However, it’s done very badly at the box office here in Thailand – about as bad as possible – probably because it’s mostly talk. But what great talk! Between two actors at the top of their form, together again for the first time since their legendary performances as the Titanic’s doomed lovers. It’s a real pleasure to watch them interact on the screen. They are both just very good actors.

Kate Winslet received one of her two Golden Globes this year for her performance in this film – as best actress. It received three Oscar nominations: supporting actor (Michael Shannon – for a brief but potent turn as a mental patient who sees through the phoniness surrounding him), and for art direction and costume design for its pristine recreations of 1950s fashion and design. Indeed the careful attention to the details of 1950’s life is one of the joys of this film. Or one of its horrors, if it brings back bad memories.

Rated R in the US for language and some sexual content/nudity. Generally favorable reviews: 69/68 out of 100.

Richard Yates, author.

Richard Yates was a poet of post-World War II loneliness and disappointment, creating in his finest stories and in his masterpiece, ''Revolutionary Road,'' indelible, Edward Hopperesque portraits of dreamers who have mortgaged their dreams. Trapped in ill-considered marriages and dead-end jobs, they find themselves living on the margins of the postwar boom, the gap between their modest expectations and the even more modest realities of their day-to-day lives leading to rage, humiliation, and alcoholic despair.

Though many of these characters see themselves as counterfeit F. Scott Fitzgeralds or failed would-be Hemingways, Yates's own distinctive virtues as a writer -- his plain-spoken prose, his feel for contemporary alienation, his ability to make the reader both empathize with his characters and understand the depth of their self-deception -- created a potent legacy, providing a bridge from the naturalism of Dreiser to the latter day realism practiced by writers like Raymond Carver, Richard Ford and Richard Russo. — Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Charles McGrath, The New York Times, December 12, 2008:

RICHARD YATES’S 1961 novel, “Revolutionary Road,” is far from the kind of property that typically becomes a big Hollywood movie, especially one starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in their first post-“Titanic” outing together. For one thing, the book is set back in the mid-20th century — an era that was thought to have about as much entertainment potential as the Bronze Age. The story requires armies of boring fedora-wearing commuters to disembark from Grand Central every morning. The characters wear dopey clothes and drive boatlike cars, and everyone drinks and smokes too much — even pregnant women.

Nor does it help that “Revolutionary Road” is among the bleakest books ever written. It ends unhappily, with a gruesome death, and neither of the main characters is entirely likable to begin with. Partly autobiographical, the novel tells the story of Frank and April Wheeler, who in the mid-1950s move with their two children to the ’burbs (the movie was shot on location in Darien, Conn., a good deal more upscale than the Wheelers’ town) and from the minute they get there hold themselves apart.

On no particular evidence the Wheelers consider themselves full of unrealized potential. Frank (drawing on Yates’s experience as a sometime copywriter for Remington Rand) works for Knox Business Machines at what he calls “the dullest job you can possibly imagine,” but thinks of himself as an intellectual, an “intense, nicotine-stained Jean-Paul Sartre sort of man.”

April, like Yates’s first wife, Sheila, has theatrical aspirations, and it’s she who comes up with the solution to their depressing, unfulfilled lives: they’ll chuck everything and move to Paris, where she’ll get a well-paying secretarial job until Frank “finds” himself. For Frank, who has meanwhile begun a grubby affair with a young woman at the office, the plan is an agreeable pipe dream, but April is in deadly earnest about it, and the marriage proceeds to unravel with the inexorableness of Greek tragedy. Watching them is like rubbernecking at a car wreck.

I’m pretty surprised it ever got made,” Blake Bailey, Yates’s biographer, said recently about the movie version, scheduled to open Dec. 26. “It has long been an ambition in Hollywood to make a movie that’s the last word on postwar suburban malaise, but like any highly nuanced work of literary art, ‘Revolutionary Road’ is awfully hard to translate onto the screen.”

By all accounts, that the movie did get made is owing mostly to the drive and enthusiasm of Ms. Winslet, who was taken with the script from the moment she read it. “I loved the emotional nakedness, the brutal honesty about what can sometimes happen in a marriage,” she said in an interview. “And also all the minor characters are so good.”

She began lobbying Mr. DiCaprio, she recalled, after slipping him the script over coffee, and she also worked on Sam Mendes, the director. He was an easier sell in some ways, because he happens to be her husband. “I just told him, ‘Babe, you’ve got to do this,’ ” Ms. Winslet said.

What none of the principals knew then is that for all its gloominess, or maybe even because of it, “Revolutionary Road” is a novel cherished by a passionate and protective coven of admirers who pass it along, the novelist Richard Ford has said, like a secret literary handshake. They cherish its honesty, its uncompromising exactness, the austere beauty of its prose.

But despite its many champions, the book has slipped in and out of print, never quite catching on with a wider audience, and it would probably amuse and irritate the author in equal measure to know that it has been reissued in a movie tie-in edition.

Though he would have hated the term, Yates was a writer’s writer, or even a writer’s writer’s writer. He was extravagantly admired by his peers and by many critics; but popular success, which he cared about more than he let on, maddeningly eluded him. He was dogged by bad luck — “Revolutionary Road,” his first novel and also his best, was a finalist for the 1962 National Book Award but lost to “The Moviegoer” by Walker Percy — and bad timing. At a time when postmodernism and meta-fiction were starting to become fashionable, he clung to the realist tradition of his models Fitzgerald and Flaubert.

Yates could also be his own worst enemy, courtly and cavalier at times but at other times bitter and self-inflated, and after the breakup of two marriages he became almost a caricature of the alcoholic, self-destructive American writer. Gaunt and stooped, perpetually broke, he lived in a series of rented rooms in New York, Boston, and Tuscaloosa, Ala., with squashed cockroaches underfoot. By the end of his life he was doing little else but smoke (even when attached to an oxygen tank), cough, drink, and write. He died in 1992 at 66, though he seemed much older. . . .

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle:

"Revolutionary Road" gets my vote as the best American film of 2008. Why do I love it? Let me count the ways:

1. Marriage, '50s style: The movie, which stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, dissects a marriage, an examination that leads in two distinct and significant directions. The movie captures the timeless torment of the unhappy marriage, in the way the spouses know each other's weak spots and go for the jugular, and in the way arguments can veer out of control from the simplest of beginnings.

. . .

10. Repeat viewings: Finally, this is a movie that can and should be seen more than once. Watch it one time through her eyes. Watch it again through his eyes. It works both ways. It works in every way. This is a great American film.

[For the rest of the review, click on the name above.]