Aliens arrive in two films!
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, April 9
by Thomas Ohlson
Best Bets: [none].
Here are my comments on the films playing in Chiang Mai at Major Cineplex at Airport Plaza and at Vista at Kadsuankaew for the week beginning Thursday, April 9, 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 24 of Volume 4 of these listings – in our fourth year!
Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week
* Rahtree Reborn / บุปผาราตรี 3.1: Thai, Horror/ Romance – 90 mins – Starring Love of Siam heartthrob Mario Maurer, in a new career move, and Cherman Boonyasak, who played his putative sister in that film. It’s a sequel to Yuthalert Sipapak’s famous horror films Bup Pha Rahtree and Rahtree Returns, set in the same apartment where the haunting story has been told before. Surrounded by the tranquility of this apartment, a horrible spirit in room 609 is lurking, soon to be awakened. This time the terrors are tripled. Directed again by Yuthlert Sippapak. There’s a bloody barber’s chair and straight razors in some of the movie’s posters. Shades of Sweeney Todd, again!
* Race to Witch Mountain: US, Adventure/ Fantasy/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 98 mins – A perfectly acceptable action/ adventure film for children (mostly) with all the standard chills and thrills. Well done of its type, and the ex-Rock Dwayne Johnson is (mostly) charming as a Las Vegas cabbie who enlists the help of a UFO expert to protect two children with paranormal powers from the clutches of an organization that wants to use the kids for their nefarious plans. Early reviews: Mixed or average: 51 out of 100.
Roger Ebert: Innocuous family entertainment.
Variety: Strikes a deft balance of chase-movie suspense and wisecracking humor, with a few slam-bang action setpieces that would shame the makers of more allegedly grown-up genre fare.
* Monsters vs Aliens: US, Animated/ Action/ Sci-Fi – 94 mins – An animated feature that has gotten what has to be called rave reviews from a number of reviewers, and some others highly critical. I found it half imaginative and amusing, half irritating – the really irritating part being Reese Witherspoon’s shrill voice, and her character, shown here, the creepy All-American-cheery-housewife-but-liberated-woman type. The bug is more fun. Mixed or average reviews: 56/59 out of 100.
The Charlotte Observer, Lawrence Toppman: The movie may best be appreciated by people who know the references. All five monsters come from low-budget science fiction films of the 1950s. The towering Ginormica (Reese Witherspoon) was inspired by “Attack of the 50-Foot Woman.” The missing link, silent in “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” has Will Arnett's voice here. Roaring, wordless Insectosaurus is a “Godzilla” slug magnified by radiation, while Bob the Blob (Seth Rogen) comes from – well, “The Blob.” Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie) has a counterpart in “The Fly,” where another scientist acquires the characteristics of an insect after a failed experiment.
Los Angeles Times Betsy Sharkey: "Nice" is the adjective that seems to surface most in trying to pin down the film's most salient quality, which means that while the film is enjoyable enough, it is unlikely to become a classic for us, or a Shrek sort of franchise.
Sassy Players / Taew Nak Te Teen Rabert / แต๋วเตะตีนระเบิด: Thai, Comedy/ Drama– 90 mins – A gay teen soccer comedy in the vein of “Satree Lek" (Iron Ladies), the internationally popular comedy about a gay and transgender men's volleyball team. There’s a little bit of everything in the film – something for everyone. It’s fun, if your proclivities lie in this direction. Directed by Poj Arnon (Bangkok Love Story).
A girl's school decides it wants to field a team to contest national secondary school football championships, and calls for applications from young men. It ends up with 16 applicants, seven of whom are katoey - or as they tell their coach, not 'real' men at all. Can football players of the third gender prove their mettle on the pitch? See the movie to find out . . .
Knowing: Australia/ US, Drama/ Mystery/ Thriller – 130 mins – Delightful! And a lot of fun, in a gloomy sort of way. Particularly if you like Nicolas Cage. A teacher opens a time capsule that has been dug up at his son's elementary school; in it are some chilling predictions – some that have already occurred and others that are about to – that lead him to believe his family plays a role in the events that are about to unfold. Starring Nicolas Cage and directed by Alex Proyas (I, Robot). Mixed or average reviews: 41/42 out of 100.
Roger Ebert: Knowing is among the best science-fiction films I've seen – frightening, suspenseful, and intelligent and, when it needs to be, rather awesome.The plot involves the most fundamental of all philosophical debates: Is the universe deterministic or random? Is everything in some way preordained or does it happen by chance? If that questions sounds too abstract, wait until you see this film, which poses it in stark terms: What if we could know in advance when the Earth will end?
Los Angeles Times, Betsy Sharkey: Whatever else Proyas has done in Knowing, he has created an ending that is sure to divide audiences into camps of love it or hate it, deeming its message either hopeful or hopelessly heavy-handed. For me, it doesn't quite work; still I'm glad he took the risk.
San Francisco Chronicle, Peter Hartlaub: If you see only one bad movie this year, definitely make it Knowing. The first major disappointment from director Alex Proyas is a disaster movie, a horror picture, a "Da Vinci Code"-style thriller and an end-of-days religious film all at once.
SmartCine: “What do you believe?” Does everything happen for a reason? Is there a purpose or is it completely accidental or coincidental? MIT Professor John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) seemed to believe that everything is just coincidence and that there is no higher, driving purpose. That is until he ran into a 50 year old sheet of paper filled with numbers retrieved by his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) from the opening of his school’s 1959 time capsule. After finding the meaning of the code, his beliefs along with his faithlessness began to shift. Whatever you believe one thing is for sure, life is fragile and can end at any given moment. That is a somber reality that this movie strongly points out and it adds to the dreariness of this film. This movie is eerie, mysterious, chilling, penetrating, and depressing. There are religious undertones hinted upon throughout which gave the movie a little more edge. But this is not a movie for the weak-hearted. I’ve been feeling kind of paranoid after watching it. If it was able to do that to me, it’s got to be good.
The best aspects of this film are the special effects and the cinematography in general. From the awesome satellite type images towards the beginning of the movie of the U.S. east coast which slowly zoomed in towards Boston, to the jaw-dropping disaster scenes, the special effects work for this movie is top notch. It made the movie that much more realistic and thus that much gloomier. The visuals cut in through your eyes and tore straight to your heart. The cinematography also had the same effect. It really made this movie more of a mystery thriller than a dramatic thriller. There were some moments that I would even consider scary. This is not just another typical Nike Cage action flick. This is more along the lines of a Day After Tomorrow or even more like a Day the Earth Stood Still. There is plenty of hopelessness and inevitability which will keep you grounded. So if this movie is so somber, why bother to see it? It is a really good production with a very interesting storyline that doesn’t exactly end in total catastrophe. There is a light of hope in the midst of this darkness. Many of you might be turned off by the way this movie is resolved, but I didn’t mind it at all. One of the weaker aspects of this film, however, is the script. It didn’t seem to keep up with the intensity of the story. The acting on the other hand was pretty good. Nick gave a standard performance, nothing spectacular but good enough for the context. Chandler was borderline freaky with his role which gave it more mystery. His was arguably the best performance. Rose Byrne plays Diana Wayland, the daughter of the author of the sheet of numbers. Like Nick, there was nothing spectacular about her performance but good enough for the context. One thing that amazed me is the resemblance between her and Lara Robinson who plays Diana’s mother Lucinda back in 1959. Lara was sharp with her brief but effective role. She reminded me of the girl from The Ring . . . freaky. Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City, I, Robot) has done another mesmerizing piece of work. He co-wrote, co-produced, and directed.
Khan Kluay 2 /ก้านกล้วย2: Thai, Animation/ Adventure– 90 mins – Khan Kluay, the legendary elephant, is back in action in this sequel to the animated movie Khan Kluay. Set after the victory at Ayuthaya against the invasion of the powerful Burmese Empire, when Khan Kluay is appointed King Naresuan's royal elephant.
Bangkok Post, Kong Rithdee: Khan Kluay, a Thai feature-length 3D animation, splashed brilliant colours on the big screen with the intent of making us proud. And while our chests are certainly swelled with the pride and joy that Thai artists have produced an animation of startling technical achievement - one that's breathtakingly close to the flag-bearers like Pixar - the movie also force-feeds us Thais with the pride deeply associated with a primitive brand of patriotism. Considering that the film is supposed to be a children's treat, the 150-million-baht Khan Kluay presents a pretty yet profoundly odd package, especially when the young elephant of the title receives a pep-talk on how he should be proud to sacrifice his life for his country by battling, who else, the invading Burmese.
The sharp note of jingoism, when the cerulean pachyderm becomes the royal steed of King Naresuan in his historic elephant duel against Phra Maha Uparacha of the Burmese army, renders its final 20 minutes unusually intense for a kid-oriented cartoon. In the traditions of Disney or Pixar animations, the heroes, animal or men, will not be directly responsible for the deaths of the bad-guys (a lot of blood-thirsty creatures die in The Lion King, but Simba didn't actually maul them to death). So there's something disturbing when Khan Kluay performs his final act of bravery against the satanic, mammoth-like Burmese elephant - and we're told that in war, even animals have no choice but to kill for their countries.
The moody tone of the final act is a contrast to the jolly humour of the film's first hour, when both children and adults will find it difficult not to fall in love with the orphaned, plump, sky-blue, cuddlier-than-Dumbo Khan Kluay (voiced by Anyarit Pitaktikul and later Puri Hiranyapruek). Separated from his herd, Khan Kluay wanders the forest and bumps into a pink girl-elephant Chaba Kaew (voiced by Nawarat Techaratanaprasert). After we learn that even elephants are capable of puppy love, Chaba Kaew brings Khan Kluay to the training camp of Uncle Mahout, who endures the bullying of Burmese marauders and whose duty is to supply war elephants to the palace upon request.
Fast & Furious 4: US,Action – 107 mins – Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, shown here, re-team for the ultimate chapter of this film franchise built on speed and cars, which started in 2001 with the hugely popular The Fast and the Furious. Although this is the fourth of the series, time-wise it fits in between the second and the third films. It’s almost entirely about car races and car crashes. Look, some people seem to like it! Mixed or average reviews: 45/45 out of 100.
Variety:A series that's provided a successful, moderately enjoyable ride up to now blows its tires, gasket and transmission on its way to flaming out in Fast & Furious. Trying to refill the franchise's tank by bringing back the four stars of the 2001 original, the producers forgot to get a script worth shooting, resulting in a picture that's all hollow posturing and indiscriminate action cut in incoherent Quantum of Solace fashion. These deficiencies may not matter that much at the box office, where the "Furious" films have continued to prosper, particularly internationally, but this is by far the weakest entry of the four.
Hollywood & Fine: Acting isn't really the point of Fast & Furious. Indeed, this cast can barely act interested.
New York Times: Led by Vin Diesel, an inexpressive chunk of man whose actorly range is largely restricted to the occasional furrowing of a brow, the cast is slotted into a narrative involving revenge against a Mexican drug cartel, outlandish vehicular mayhem, flaunting of custom bodywork (both automotive and anatomical), and settings that encourage people to wear tank tops.
Salon: Diesel, as always, has some charm: He's the kind of cueball lug that guys can admire for his coolness and that women wouldn't mind cuddling up to, and here he delivers even the lamest dialogue with just a hint of a wink -- he's clearly trying to have fun, hoping we will, too. Walker, on the other hand, is a lost cause. He has appeared in plenty of movies since The Fast and the Furious -- including 2 Fast 2 Furious and the Disney sled-dog drama Eight Below -- and still hasn't managed to grow a personality. With the exception of one brief scene, in which he gets to choose the car he'll be driving in the line of duty (with the mischievous greediness of a little kid, he wants them all), he has all the charisma of a potted plant.
Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert: Exactly and precisely what you'd expect. Nothing more, unfortunately. You get your cars that are fast and your characters that are furious. . . . I admire the craft involved, but the movie leaves me profoundly indifferent. After three earlier movies in the series, which have been transmuted into video games, why do we need a fourth one? Oh. I just answered my own question.
The Shinjuku Incident /Xin Su shi jian: China, Action/ Drama– 120 mins – Featuring Jackie Chan in a dramatic rather than a fighting mode. This troubled project has been in the planning stages for almost 10 years according to director Derek Yee. And now it seems the film will not be exhibited in mainland China at all, due to censorship concerns over the portrayal of Chinese living abroad, which will really hurt the financial prospects for this film, China being Chan’s biggest market. But it seems it will be shown in Japan, despite an overwhelmingly negative portrayal of the Japanese. Shown here in a Thai-dubbed version only, without English subtitles.
Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, April 16
State of Play: US/ UK, Crime/ Drama/Thriller – 118 mins – With Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, and Helen Mirren. Handsome, unflappable U.S. Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) is the future of his political party: an honorable appointee who serves as the chairman of a committee overseeing defense spending. All eyes are upon the rising star to be his party's contender for the upcoming presidential race. Until his research assistant or mistress is brutally murdered and buried secrets come tumbling out.Based on the BBC mini-series of the same title, a team of investigative reporters work alongside a police detective to try to solve the murder of a congressman's mistress.
The International: US/ Germany/ UK, Crime/ Thriller – 118 mins – With Clive Owen and Naomi Watts.An Interpol agent attempts to expose a high-profile financial institution's role in an international arms dealing ring. In this gripping thriller Interpol Agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) are determined to bring to justice one of the world's most powerful banks. Uncovering myriad and reprehensible illegal activities, Salinger and Whitman follow the money from Berlin to Milan to New York to Istanbul. Finding themselves in a high-stakes chase across the globe, their relentless tenacity puts their own lives at risk as their targets will stop at nothing – even murder – to continue financing terror and war.Rated R in the US for some sequences of violence and language. Mixed or average reviews: 52/54 out of 100.
Roger Ebert: Not since the days of silent movies have bankers as a group been cast so ruthlessly as villains. They used to wear waxed mustaches and throw widows and orphans out into the storm. Now the mustaches are gone. "Banker" has been incorporated into the all-embracing term "Wall Street." The bankers in "The International" broker arms deals, sell missiles under the counter and assassinate anyone who gets too snoopy. First they throw you out into the storm, then they blow you up.
Whether this is a fair portrait is not the purpose of a film review to determine. It is accurate of the bankers on view here, and given the face of Armin Mueller-Stahl, once familiar as a good guy, now enjoying a new career as a ruthless villain. His bank, based in Luxembourg as so many schemes are, has been assassinating nosey-parkers for getting too close to their operations, which involve investing in African rebels, nuclear weaponry and arming both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The movie has a scene in it Hitchcock might have envied, a gun battle ranging up and down the ramps of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Why there? Because the visuals are terrific.
Crank: High Voltage: US, Action – The indestructible hopped-up hitman Chev Chelios, played to the hilt once again by Jason Statham, returns in Crank 2: High Voltage, picking up where the first film left off -- except this time, Chelios is chasing a Chinese gangster who hijacked his heart and substituted it with a mechanical one that needs to be jolted regularly with an electric charge to stay pumping. Rated R in the US for frenetic strong bloody violence throughout, crude and graphic sexual content, nudity, and pervasive language.
And looking forward:
Apr 30 X-Men Origins: Wolverine: US/ New Zealand/ Australia, Action/ Fantasy/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 97 mins – Marvel Enterprises, following hard upon the highly successful reemergence of their comic book franchise in 2008 with Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr., and then a month later The Incredible Hulk, with Edward Norton, has topped them both with their latest, Wolverine, starring Hugh Jackman. A superb action film for anyone who likes the genre, with excellent performances by Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, and many others.