Disasters – real and imagined!
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, January 14, 2010
… through Wednesday, January 20
by Thomas Ohlson
Best Bets: Avatar. 9. Sherlock Holmes.
Special showings: (see details below, just before the movie times)
Premier showing of a documentary by Galen Garwood, Panom, Cousin to the Clouds, The Story of Elephants and Humans, on Friday, January 15, at 7 pm at the Theater, Chiang Mai University Art Center.
“Payap Air” at Payap University – a series of 5 films on the Atmosphere, Biosphere, and Society, beginning Thursday, January 21 at 5 pm with Home (2009) by YannArthus-Bertrand.
This is Issue Number 11 of Volume 5 of these listings, our fifth year!
Picture at right is from 9.
Major Cineplex has a special: All regular seats 60 baht on Wednesdays, except for premium films.
There seem to be apocalypses all around us: in the movies we watch, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the bottles we throw away . . . [See 9 or Avatar, and Payap for the real stuff.]
Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week
* 9 / ไนน์: US, Animation/ Adventure/ Fantasy/ Sci-Fi – 79 mins – A post-apocalyptic nightmare in which all of humanity is threatened. I loved it, but then I love good animation and nightmares in which all of humanity is threatened! Starring the voices of Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau, Christopher Plummer, John C. Reilly, and Crispin Glover. Director ShaneAcker’s distinctively original and thrilling tale is produced by visionary filmmakers Tim Burton (The Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Nightwatch). Mixed or average reviews: 60/60 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes: Although its story is perhaps too familiar and less complex than some might wish, 9 is visually spectacular, and director ShaneAcker's attention to detail succeeds in drawing viewers into the film's universe.
“When 9 (The Lord of the Ring’s Elijah Wood) first comes to life, he finds himself in a post-apocalyptic world. All humans are gone, and it is only by chance that he discovers a small community of others like him taking refuge from fearsome machines that roam the earth intent on their extinction. Despite being the neophyte of the group, 9 convinces the others that hiding will do them no good. They must take the offensive if they are to survive, and they must discover why the machines want to destroy them in the first place. As they'll soon come to learn, the very future of civilization may depend on them.” --© Focus Features
Newsday, Rafer Guzman: One of the first images in the post-apocalyptic animated film 9 comes as a shock: The dead bodies of a mother and her infant, still sitting in their car. What's more, these aren't the only corpses you'll see in this dark, fearsome fable produced by the relentlessly gothic Tim Burton. Fans of sophisticated, adult-oriented animation may savor Acker's elaborate visuals. Younger children, however, might wonder why they sat through all the terror.
Roger Ebert: The best reason to see it is simply because of the creativity of its visuals. They're entrancing.
The first images are spellbinding. In close-up, thick fingers make the final stitches in a roughly humanoid little rag doll, and binocular eyes are added. This creature comes to life, walks on tottering legs, and ventures fearfully into the devastation of a bombed-out cityscape.
This visionary world was first created as a short subject by Shane Acker, a student at UCLA, and was nominated for a 2006 Oscar. At the time I found it "an atmosphere of creeping, crashing, menace... elaborated as a game of hide and seek, beautifully animated and intriguingly unwholesome." So it is still, as the first figure, named "9," meets his similar predecessors #1 through #8, and they find themselves in battle against a Transformer-like red-eyed monster called the Beast.
One might question the purpose of devising a life form in a world otherwise without life, only to provide it with an enemy that wishes only to destroy it. The purpose, alas, is to create a pretext for a series of action scenes, an apocalyptic battle that is visually more interesting than, but as relentless as, similar all-action-all-the-time movies. This is a disappointment. Remembering the promise of his original short, I look forward to what Acker would do at feature length, especially with a producer like Tim Burton to watch his back.
The characters look similar, but easy enough to tell apart, not least because they have their numbers stitched on their backs. They also have different visual characteristics, and are voiced by distinctive actors, including Christopher Plummer as their fearful leader, #1, and Jennifer Connolly as the token female #7. The usefulness of gender in a species without genitalia is not discussed, not even wistfully.
Nine is the youngest, probably the smartest, and certainly the most daring, leading the others, against #1's wishes, to poke around the ruins. These look left over from a city from the past, not the future, and a 1940ish newsreel reports on a devastating global war triggered by a Hitleresque dictator. Was the Beast left behind to wipe out any survivors, and assure final victory even in the absence of victors?
San Francisco Chronicle, Peter Hartlaub: This action adventure is a big treat for more mature animation and science-fiction fans and a triumph for the young director.
Box Office, Pete Hammond: 9 is a brilliantly animated and welcome treat for moviegoers searching for adventure, inspiration, and complete originality..
* Mulan / Hua Mulan: US/ China, Adventure/ Drama/ Romance – 114 mins – Based on the Chinese folk heroine Hua Mulan. When her country is threatened by invaders, a young girl defends herfather by sneaking away from home and dressing up as a man to join an all-male army where she eventually assumes a historically critical role in defending her nation in a time of war. Director: Jingle Ma, Writer: Ting Zhang. At Airport Plaza only, and in a Thai-dubbed version only with no English subtitles.
* Kru Bann-Nok / ครูบ้านนอกบ้านหนองฮีใหญ่ / To Sir With Love: Thai, Comedy/ Drama – 90 mins – “The life of a volunteer teacher who determines to teach children in the backcountry, and fight against the outlaw that wants to claim his life.” Written and directed by SurasriPadham. With Petchtai Wongkamlao (Mum Jokmok).
Thailand's Ministry of Culture is supporting this film, as it did last year’s teen drug picture Samchuk (which I liked very much). The Ministry explains, “We give them support in the form of promotion. Our minister will be present at the film's opening, and we arranged the cast to meet up with the prime minister for a photo-op. This is to boost the profile of the film, which we believe to carry good messages.” The Ministry’s logo can be seen on posters for the film.
Wise Kwai: Kru Bannok Ban Nonghi Yai, ครูบ้านนอกบ้านหนองฮีใหญ่, literally the "the country teacher of Ban Nonghi Yai,” is directed by SuraseePatham, and is a remake of the veteran director's 1978 social drama about an idealistic teacher at an impoverished rural school. Many regard it as a classic. Surasee explained why he's remaking his beloved film in an article in The Nation a couple weeks ago:
"I want to complete it like I intended the first time. Today, I have more experience and much better technology to hand. I want to fix the mistakes we made the first time 'round."
The new movie stars Pichet Kongkarn as the teacher. Bringing star power to the project is popular comedian Petthai Wongkumlao, aka Mum Jokmok, who portrays the school's headmaster. Stunt guru Panna Rittikrai has an appearance as the village's hermit.
The English title is To Sir, With Love. I don't know what to think about that.
* Yak Dai Yin Wa Rak Kan / อยากได้ยินว่ารักกัน / Best Supporting Actor: Thai, Drama/ Romance – 90 mins – Director: Alongkod Eurpaiboon. At Airport Plaza only.
Wise Kwai: A second-generation star makes his debut in Yaak Dai Yin Wah Rak Kan (อยากได้ยินว่ารักกัน or literally "I want to hear that you love me"). The English title is Best Supporting Actor.
It's the first film for young "Guy" Nawapon Lumphoon, the son of a former celebrity couple, singer-actress MarshaWattanapanich and singer-actor "Nui" Ampol Lumphoon.
The romantic comedy-drama is about two childhood friends, Song (Thongpoom Siriphiphat), who was always in the shadow of his better-looking, more-popular friend Gao (Guy). Song eventually breaks away and tries doing his own thing, but is going nowhere. His life brightens with he meets a young woman (Rujihas Korkiat), who's heartbroken over her old boyfriend. Can you guess who that was?
Also making his film debut is Tul Waitoonkiat, the witty singer and songwriter of the popular Bangkok alternative rock band Apartmentkhunpa. He plays the film's comic relief as the owner of a record shop.
It's the second feature by "Book" Alongod Uabhaibool. He directed a fantasy in 2003 called Koo Tae Patihan, The Whistle.
Bodyguards and Assassins / Shi yue wei cheng / 十月圍城: China/ Hong Kong, Action/ Drama/ History – 139 mins – Dr. Sun Yat-sen, "father of modern China", came to the British colony Hong Kong in the beginning of the 20th Century, for just one morning to meet a dozen revolutionaries from all over China to plan a major insurgence to overthrow the Qing imperial dynasty and form the first republic in China. Waiting for him is an army of assassins deployed from the imperial palace. He needed an hour with the fellow revolutionaries and that hour was critical because it would lay a foundation for a successful revolution. In order to provide him with the best possible chance of success, the local revolutionaries set up a decoy with a double going all over town, including visiting his aged mother. The first 80 minutes set up the story and establish the characters; the last hour is all gut-spilling action.
Produced by Peter Chan (The Warlords, The Eye) and directed by Teddy Chan (or Chen) (The Accidental Spy), this is an action/drama film featuring an all-star Chinese cast including Donnie Yen, Leon Lai, and Nicholas Tse. The preview for the film which I saw, though Thai dubbed, had both Chinese and English subtitles; would that the film itself was the same! In Bangkok it's in the original Mandarin and Cantonese with English and Thai subtitles at the Siam and SFW Central World. Here in Chiang Mai it’s at Vista only, and unfortunately shown in a Thai-dubbed version only with no English subtitles.
Twitch, James Marsh: Those expecting [the usual] period action epic may be left wanting by Teddy Chen's Bodyguards and Assassins. The director takes his time to develop characters, position them carefully within a clear historical context, and fully explore their relationship to each other and personal politics, before letting them off the leash to wreak bloody carnage.
Hong Kong, circa 1906, is fantastically recreated on screen, thanks to a combination of vast outdoor sets seamlessly complimented by CGI landscapes. And it is here where the influence and involvement of producer Peter Chan Ho-Sun can be most acutely felt. Bodyguards and Assassins boasts lavish production values, bringing a much-needed authenticity to the proceedings that director Chen effectively capitalizes on to build atmosphere, tension and an intricate web of characters.
Suffice to say that the film is more of a political drama than is perhaps hinted at in the film's marketing, but an engrossing and highly effective one. The context of this turbulent and volatile period of Chinese history is carefully executed and Chen ensures the drama is always placed ahead of any particular political agenda. And ultimately it is all for the audience's benefit. The second half is a tense and riveting piece of action cinema featuring some impressive fight sequences and numerous wince-inducing moments of bone-crushing violence, certainly worthy of the foundations so deliberately laid before it.
The background and story setup of Bodyguards and Assassins.
Wikipedia: In 1905, Sun Yat-sen (called "Sun Wen" in the film) intends to come to Hong Kong (then a colony of the British Empire) to discuss his plans for revolution with fellow Tongmenghui members to overthrow the corrupt and crumbling Qing Dynasty. Empress Dowager Cixi sends a group of assassins led by Yan Xiaoguo to kill Sun. Revolutionary Chen Shaobai arrives in Hong Kong a few days before Sun's arrival, to meet Li Yutang, a businessman who provides financial aid for the revolutionaries. As Sun Wen's arrival day draws near, trouble begins brewing in Hong Kong as ChenShaobai's acquaintances are murdered and Chen himself is kidnapped by the assassins during a raid. Li Yutang decides to officially declare his support for the revolutionaries after the newspaper agency is closed by the British authorities, who maintain a policy of laissez-faire towards China's political situation. Li rallies a group of men, including rickshaw pullers, hawkers, and a beggar, to serve as bodyguards for Sun Wen when he arrives. Li's son LiChongguang is chosen to act as a decoy for Sun Wen to divert the assassins away while Sun attends the meeting and leaves Hong Kong safely.
IMDb viewer: Make no mistake, Bodyguards and Assassins is almost the complete antithesis of the "mindless action movie." in fact, action sequences get "cut-off" at every opportunity just to remind you who and what these people are fighting for... so that the violence is always awash with the tragedy, not the thrill, of witnessing the "march of history."
Having realized from the box-office and critical success of "The Warlords" (2007) that the Chinese audience is a thinking one (i.e. Chinese blockbusters can be mentally "engaging"), the production team decided to pack a quintessentially Chinese socio-political melodrama into a historical tear-jerking actioner-- presenting the events of 15 October 1905, Hong Kong as the bitter fuse that sparked off the next 6 consecutive years of rebellions (occurring after the end of the movie) leading to the fall of the Qing Dynasty. In fact, the script is so solid that you might find yourself wanting more of the drama than the action-- because the movie is paced/ structured as an unrelenting series of ever-tightening expositions (& related fighting) that reveals more and more about the people and the "fin de siecle" that is the real heart of this film.
The accomplished film-makers mostly manage to weave all the disparate elements into an ensemble act that is not dominated or resolved by "leave-your-brain-at-the-door" action set-pieces or CGI eye-candy. The historical setting called up a whole host of period clichés, but the expert directing and sharp dialog made 3-dimensional characters out of 2-dimensional stereotypes, while veteran actors Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Wang Xue-Qi ably anchored the film as a rhetoric-spewing revolutionary ("The day of reckoning is here!") and his reluctant financial-backer ("how much money do you need this time?").
So this is an "action" movie to watch, if you feel like having a good cry – over all the little people who contributed to the success of the 1911 Revolution... unless you actually need the movie to tell you who Sun Yat-sen is, which means you are not really its target audience. This is Chinese cinema going back to its good old roots of tapping into the collective memory of its blood-stained history – and digging out a few more shades of gray.
Avatar: US, Action/ Adventure/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 162 mins – At the fourth-weekend mark, it’s still leading the pack at the US boxoffice, and apparently most of the world. But here in Thailand it seemingly is not doing all that well. At the moment the Thai rom/com 32 Tan-Wah is in top spot, for the second week.
Nevertheless, Director James Cameron has produced a major achievement and a technological breakthrough. The story involves a band of humans pitted in battle against a distant planet's indigenous population. It’s a film of universal appeal that just about everyone who ever goes to the movies will want to see. The film delivers on all counts. Highly recommended; not to be missed. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 84/76 out of 100.
2D version: In English and Na'vi dialogue, with English and Thai subtitles as needed for both languages. At Airport Plaza only, and two times a day now. But check!
3D version: In English and Na'vi dialogue, with Thai subtitles as needed for both languages. No English subtitles for the Na’vi language (only Thai subtitles). (In Chiang Mai, 3D only available in Cinema 3 at Major Cineplex, Airport Plaza.) Four times a day: 11:35| 15:00| 18:25| 21:50| weekdays. But check!
2D version, Thai-dubbed: Thai-dubbed only. No English subtitles. At Vista Kadsuankaew only, four times a day: 12:00| 15:00| 18:00| 21:00|.
Roger Ebert: Avatar is not simply a sensational entertainment, although it is that. It's a technical breakthrough. It has a flat-out Green and anti-war message. It is predestined to launch a cult. It contains such visual detailing that it would reward repeating viewings. It invents a new language, Na'vi, as Lord of the Rings did, although mercifully I doubt this one can be spoken by humans, even teenage humans. It creates new movie stars. It is an Event, one of those films you feel you must see to keep up with the conversation.
Sherlock Holmes: US/ UK/ Australia, Action/ Adventure/ Crime/ Drama/ Mystery/ Thriller – A new take on the Holmes canon. Once you get over the shock of seeing Sherlock played as an action figure, it isn’t all that bad. Purists, however, will not be amused. Robert Downey Jr. plays Holmes and Jude Law his stalwart partner Watson. Mixed or average reviews: 57/58 out of 100.
32 Tan-Wah / 32 ธันวา: Thai, Comedy/ Romance – 120 mins – Top film in Thailand for two weeks now. It’s yet another Thai “rom/com” with this one taking place on the 32nd of December. A young man with amnesia has forgotten which of his three girlfriends he truly loves. Stars singer Dan Worrawech who was the patient in the nicely scary segment “Ward” in the film anthology Phobia 2 earlier this year.
Wise Kwai: I didn't understand 32 Thunwa (32 ธันวา). I thought the set-up was too contrived, the jokes were too labored and the conclusion utterly ridiculous. And the English title 32 December Love Error sounds like gibberish. But the movie has raked in around 40 million baht and topped the Thai box office, trouncing the Hollywood heavyweight Avatar.
So what's the point of trying to make sense of this movie?
There is no point. Except to assemble an appealing young cast and have them skitter through a loosely formed succession of gags. Oh, that is the point.
Wise Kwai rating: 2 – Barely watchable.
Bang-Earn-Rak-Mai-Sin-Sud / As It Happens / บังเอิญรักไม่สิ้นสุด: Thai, Drama/ Romance – 120 mins – A romantic comedy about a young man and woman who keep running into each other in various far-off places around the world. At Airport Plaza only and in Thai only with no English subtitles.
Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, January 21, 2010
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – 3D: US, Animation/ Family – 90 mins – I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve seen it and it’s quite enjoyable! Generally favorable reviews: 66/64 out of 100. Will be shown in 3D.
Rotten Tomatoes: Quirky humor, plucky characters, and solid slapstick make this family comedy a frenetically tasty time at the movies.
Inspired by Ron and Judi Barrett's beloved children's book of the same name, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs follows inventor Flint Lockwood (voice of Bill Hader) and brainy weathergirl Sam Sparks (voice of Anna Faris) as they attempt to discover why the rain in their small town has stopped while food is falling in its place. Meanwhile, lifelong bully Brent (voice of Adam Samberg) relishes in tormenting Flint just as he did when they were kids, and Mayor Shelbourne (voice of Bruce Campbell) schemes to use Flint's latest invention--a device designed to improve everyone's lives--for his own personal gain. Mr. T. voices by-the-books cop Earl Devereaux, and James Caan voices Flint's technophobe father, Tim.
New York Daily News, Elizabeth Weitzman: Very likely the most fun your family will have this month.
Variety: Eye-popping and mouth-watering in one, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs spins a 30-page children's book into a 90-minute all-you-can-laugh buffet.
The Spy Next Door: US, Action/ Comedy/ Family – With Jackie Chan. “Former CIA spy Bob Ho (Chan) takes on his toughest assignment to date: looking after his girlfriend's three kids, who haven't exactly warmed to their mom's beau. And when one of the youngsters accidentally downloads a top-secret formula, Bob's longtime nemesis, a Russian terrorist, pays a visit to the family.”
After School: Thai, Drama/ Musical – A group of high school students follow their dream of having their own musical band and becoming artists, spending their time after school in rehearsal.
And looking forward:
Jan 28, 2010 – Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant: US, Action/ Adventure/ Comedy/ Fantasy/ Horror/ Thriller – 109 mins – Darren meets a mysterious man at a freak show who turns out to be a Vampire. Chris Massoglia stars as the young man who mistakenly and unknowingly breaks a 200-year-old truce between two warring factions of vampires, and thus is forced to leave his normal life and go on the road with the Cirque du Freak. Pulled into the fantastic life of misunderstood sideshow freaks and grotesque creatures of the night, he appears to be on the path of becoming a vampire himself, but the book series on which the film is based runs to 12 volumes, so events will move slowly. Mixed or average reviews: 43/40 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes: Vampires are all the rage these days, so it makes sense that the 12-volume Cirque du Freak book series would be adapted for the silver screen. However, with The Vampire's Assistant, critics aren't exactly hailing the birth of a franchise. Chris Massoglia stars as a young man who mistakenly ends a truce in a 200-year-old vampire war; becoming a half-vampire means "dying" to his friends and family and plunging into the bloodsucking world. The pundits say The Vampire's Assistant is overstuffed and scattershot, uneasily mixing scares and laughs while leaving its characters underdeveloped.
Rolling Stone, Peter Travers: Jammed with story threads that don’t cohere, Cirque commits the cardinal sin for a vampire movie: It’s bloodless.