The Wolfman returns after 70 years!
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, February 11, 2010
… through Wednesday, February 17
by Thomas Ohlson
Best Bets: Avatar. The Wolfman. Percy Jackson.
BAFTA Awards: Feb 22 Thai time. (The British “Oscars” by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts)
Academy Awards (the “Oscars”): Mar 8 at 8 am Thai time on the “E!” channel on True Visions (silver and platinum packages only). Actual awards show itself starts at 8:30 am. Arrivals show begins 6 am.
Or, you can watch a delayed and slightly shortened version on a big screen at the RatiLanna Riverside Spa Resort, beginning at 6:30 pm on Mar 8 as a benefit for Care for Dogs Foundation. Welcome cocktails, soft drinks, and a buffet are included in the 750 baht price of the ticket, with all proceeds going to Care for Dogs Foundation, made possible by the generosity of the RatiLanna Resort. For information go to the foundation’s website at
This is Issue Number 15 of Volume 5 of these listings, our fifth year!
At right, Benicio Del Toro in the remake
of The Wolfman
Special showings: (see details below)
“Payap Air” at Payap University – a series of 5 films on the Atmosphere, Biosphere, and Society, which began January 21 and runs every Thursday at 5 pm until February 18. It’s basically a series documenting the upcoming death of civilization on Planet Earth. Today: Blind Spot, about the crossroads we are at which offers two paths, both with dire consequences. If we continue to burn fossil fuels our ecology will collapse, and if we don’t, our economy will. Next Thursday, the last in the series: What a Way to Go, in which a middle-class guy comes to grips with “Peak Oil,” climate change, mass extinction, and the demise of the American lifestyle.
Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week
* The Wolfman: UK/ US, Horror/ Thriller – 110 mins– Starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving; directed by Joe Johnston. I think the trailers look exciting and stylish! Rated R in the US for bloody horror violence and gore; 18+ in Thailand. Vista has a Thai-dubbed version as well as an English version.
Urban Cinefile, Andrew L. Urban: Some 70 years after Lon Cheney created The Wolfman, Universal returns to Blackmoor with Benicio Del Toro in the lead role and a team of superior special and visual effects engineers to revive The Wolfman, in an effort to reschedule him from the Saturday matinee slot to prime time. Written and crafted with great sensitivity, this is high class gothic horror.
And to get a class act, you need class actors: Del Toro has what it takes to create a complex, brooding and tragic wolfman whose family history hangs over him like the sword of doom. Emily Blunt is perfect as the desirable and vulnerable but strong willed Gwen, destined to love him to the nth degree; Anthony Hopkins brings his gravitas to the role of Sir John, whose enormous unkempt manor is symbolic of his inner corrosion. Hugo Weaving is wonderfully detailed as the detective from the Yard determined to track down the killer on the moor; Geraldine Chaplin is surprisingly effective as Maleva the Gypsy mystic; and Art Malik has an important cameo as Sir John's long-time house servant, Singh.
While the intention is to make The Wolfman relevant to contempo audiences, the screenplay focuses on fleshing out the original story and recreating the period (1891) without trying to be tricky in rewriting the myth. There is no attempt to foist the story's deeper symbolism about the fusion of man & beast and the excellent production design is faithful to the genre without being burdened by it. Danny Elfman's music also pays tribute to the gothic traditions with its dark tones and urgent warnings, adding a visceral edge to the story. The make up effects fused seamlessly with the digital effects are faultless, adding to the credibility factor and pushing our imaginations into the film's world.
But it's not the effects that make the film so effective: it's the characters who resonate and touch us on a deeper level.
The Wolfman is a satisfying piece of entertainment in that tradition of cinema which offers audiences extreme thrills without risking their own lives and which relies on our primal fears of the unknown - and even in today's internet-informed age, there are still many dark unknowns, irrational fears, and mysterious dungeons to explore.
* Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief: Canada/ US, Adventure/ Fantasy – 119 mins – The Mount Olympus gods are not happy: Zeus' lightning bolt has been stolen, and high school student Percy Jackson is the prime suspect. Even more troubling is the sudden disappearance of Percy's mother. As Percy finds himself caught between angry and battling gods, he and his friends embark on a cross-country adventure to catch the true lightning thief, save Percy's mom, and unravel a mystery. Wow! Logan Lerman is Percy, and others in the cast are Catherine Keener, Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, and Uma Thurman. Directed by Chris Columbus. Based on a best-selling children's novel by Rick Riordan.
A sequel is already announced for next year, so stay around after the closing credits for a teaser.
Cast: Logan Lerman, Catherine Keener, Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Uma Thurman. Director: Chris Columbus.
To right, Logan Lerman as Percy
Urban Cinefile, Andrew L. Urban: It's a rich film, filled with detail, but never buried by it, and it works both as a primer for Greek mythology and a vibrant fantasy. There are parent-child references, from a scalding for gods who abandon their children for life in Olympus land, to mothers who sacrifice all for their children.
Talking points include Medusa (Uma Thurman in a wonderful high camp turn) who reveals her snake-filled head, in one of the film's masterstrokes of visual effects; and the beasts of the gods, some breathing fire, others bearing many deadly heads.
Also memorable is Steve Coogan's decadent Hades, dressed in distressed Mick Jagger wear. And don't leave before the end credits...
Sunday Courier Mail, Ben McEachen: Enjoyable and creative, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief yearns to be the first in a successful series of movies based on a successful series of books. The hero is young, male, "special," and has a five-lettered first name ending in "y". He suddenly discovers he has magic powers which somehow hold the key to the fate of the universe.
Percy has a goofy male mate and an empowered gal pal, who must help him save the day because the adults are too busy following ancient laws. Percy has to battle incredible creatures and super-beings in a procession of special-effects spectacles.
Shall we continue? … There is passion and spark to Percy Jackson which warrants sequels. Lerman is bound for stardom and his dorky swagger charges a viable hero.
Film Ink, Andrew McMurty: Logan Lerman plays Percy with impressive teenage charisma finding the right balance between his character's misfit loner demeanor and his spirited sense of adventure. Lerman proves he can hold his own against a cast which includes Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, and Rosario Dawson, who all make welcome appearances. And with at least four more books to turn into films, Lerman and the Percy Jackson franchise look like they will be around for a while yet.
* Valentine’s Day: US, Comedy/ Romance – Intertwining couples and singles in Los Angeles break-up and make-up based on the pressures and expectations of Valentine's Day. Directed by Garry Marshall, with a star-studded ensemble, including Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Jennifer Garner, Shirley MacLaine, Bradley Cooper, Ashton Kutcher, Jamie Foxx, Queen Latifah. Early reviews: Mixed or average, 43/40 out of 100.
* Confucius / Kong Zi / 孔子 / ขงจื๊อ: China, Biography/ Drama – 108 mins – Set in 6th Century BC, this is the life story of the highly-influential Chinese thinker and philosopher, from his days as a court official through battles and political intrigues, to his old age as a disillusioned sage. With Chow Yun-Fat, directed by Mei Hu. Shown in Chiang Mai only in a Thai-dubbed version, with no English subtitles.
From the news on 20 January: Never one to be shy about exerting their muscle and showing some homegrown love, the Chinese government has decided to yank Avatar from 1,628 2D screens this week in favor of the Chow Yun-Fat biopic Confucius. The reasons? A little bit of this and a little bit of that. Mostly, it’s China, baby. According to a report in the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, the move was made at the urging of propaganda officials who are concerned that Avatar is taking too much market share from Chinese films and drawing unwanted attention to the sensitive issue of forced evictions. Millions of Chinese have been uprooted to make way for high rises and government infrastructure projects.
IMDb viewer: There has been some commotion around this movie concerning whether it did or did not force Avatar from the 2D screens in China. So many IMDb-voters thought it necessary to vote a '1' for this movie without even seeing it. It's a shame because it is a really good movie. I wasn't sure myself if a story around Confucius would be able to entertain me for 2 hours but it surely did! It's a fascinating and emotional story about the later years of Confucius, played by Hong Kong-actor Chow Yun-Fat. It's shows the man behind the myth.
I was very impressed with Chow's acting. I knew he was a great actor but this role is another milestone in his career. His Confucius is warm and gentle and you really feel his emotions. For his performance alone this film is worth watching.
Beware: it might not be for the usual popcorn crowd, wanting to be entertained with lots of action and superficial story lines. It's an inspirational journey! Go see it!
IMDb viewer: A piece of less than subtle propaganda. As a film, this is middling, a little dull, neither atrocious nor sublime. The reason I gave it such a low score is that I am depressed by any film intended as propaganda produced by an authoritarian state. No one believes in Communism any more in China, so the government has been promoting nationalism as a substitute. But with the rise of a serious number of social problems and "incidents of public disorder,” the Chinese government has decided that Confucianism -- with its emphasis on "social harmony,” deference, and obedience to authority -- may be the answer. This is ironic since, as early as the May 4th Movement of 1919, Confucianism has usually been seen in China as propagating blind subservience to authority, patriarchal attitudes to women, and "feudal attitudes".
Confucius was a great philosopher. It's just that I mistrust this film and the motives behind it.
Screen Daily at Sundance Film Festival, Darcy Paquet: Chow Yun-fat is the main attraction in Confucius, a ponderous and weakly-imagined attempt at repackaging the ancient sage for the blockbuster era. Hu Mei’s (For All Eternity) film includes both battle sequences and an attempted seduction of the legendary philosopher in hopes of drawing mainstream audiences, but a lack of narrative development results in a film that is neither entertaining nor enlightening.
At left, the most well-known portrait of Confucius
Despite strong state support, which allegedly involved clearing Avatar off 1,600 2D screens to make way for its release, the $23m Confucius has been weakly received in its native China. Presold widely throughout Asia and to select European territories, Confucius’ hopes of performing better abroad will rest entirely on the star power of Chow Yun-fat, who turns in a subdued but engaging performance in the lead role.
Kong Qiu (Confucius) lives in the turbulent era of China’s Spring and Autumn Period, when the country is fragmented into competing states. A commoner by birth, he rises to positions of influence within the Kingdom of Lu by demonstrating the efficacy of his philosophy. His forward-thinking ideas - such as pleading for the life of a slave slated to be buried alive - earn him enemies, however, including the powerful General Ji Hengzi (24 City’s Chen Jianbin).
Eventually, Confucius’s success at subduing hostile neighboring states through a combination of tactics and wit earns him the position of Acting Minister of the Interior. However resentment spreads within the court, and in 497 B.C. he and a group of disciples embark on a life of wandering exile.
One of the film’s main problems is that, for all of the myriad faces appearing on screen, none of Confucius’ personal relationships are ever given dramatic depth. The highly talented Zhou Xun, awarded second billing in the credits, appears onscreen for barely ten minutes in a one-dimensional role that feels shoehorned in to provide extra star power. Similarly, although the film presents scenes illustrating the devotion of Confucius’ disciples, none of these relationships are properly developed.
Thus it falls to Chow Yun-fat to carry the dramatic weight of Confucius almost single-handedly. In the film’s opening reels he largely succeeds in doing so by imparting a self-confident wit and charm to the central character. However as it moves into the latter reels, Confucius accumulates weight rather than any sense of gravitas, and Chow’s performance is gradually subsumed by narrative inertia.
On a technical level, the film is given a polished, professional look by the likes of DP Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), costume designer Yee Chung-man (Painted Skin), and production designer Lin Chaoxiang. Evocative landscape shots are scattered throughout, but on the whole the film offers few visual or stylistic surprises.
From Paris with Love: France, Action/ Crime/ Thriller – 92 mins – Starring John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. A low-ranking intelligence operative working in the office of the U.S. Ambassador in France takes on more than he bargained for when he partners with a wisecracking, fast-shooting, high-ranking U.S. agent who's been sent to Paris to stop a terrorist attack. Rated R in the US for strong bloody violence throughout, drug content, pervasive language, and brief sexuality. Mixed or average reviews: 53/50 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes: A personal aide to the U.S. Ambassador in France, James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) has an enviable life in Paris and a beautiful French girlfriend, but his real passion is his side job as a low-level operative for the CIA. All James wants is to become a bona fide agent and see some real action. So when he's offered his first senior-level assignment, he can't believe his good luck - until he meets his new partner, special agent Charlie Wax (John Travolta).
A trigger-happy, wisecracking, loose cannon who's been sent to Paris to stop a terrorist attack, Wax leads James on a white-knuckle shooting spree through the Parisian underworld that has James praying for his desk job. But when James discovers he's a target of the same crime ring they're trying to bust, he realizes there's no turning back...and that Wax himself might be his only hope for making it through the next forty-eight hours alive.
Avatar: US, Action/ Adventure/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 162 mins – Nine Oscar nominations. Now the highest grossing film in the world ever, bypassing the director’s own Titanic. It’s a very good film. It has ages-old, sure-fire plotlines that strike a lot of sensitive spots in the human psyche. Director James Cameron has produced a major achievement as well as atechnological breakthrough. It’s gotten near-universal reviews from critics and fans. Of course it will win the Oscar! Reviews: Universal acclaim: 84/76 out of 100.
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). Only once a day, weekdays, at 19:05. But check!
The 2D versions in Chiang Mai have now departed; possibly they will return after the film wins the best-picture Oscar. (That’s purely my hypothesis, of course.)
Tai Hong / Die a Violent Death / ตายโหง: Thai, Horror/ Thriller – 90 mins – This omnibus film consists of 4 short shocking stories of death and horror, directed by Poj Arnon (Bangkok Love Story, and all those transvestite horror-comedies).
Wise Kwai: Producer-director Poj Arnon gets in on the horror omnibus trend with Die a Violent Death (Tai Hong, ตายโหง), which weaves together four stories that are ripped from today's headlines of the Thai mass-circulation dailies -- the newspapers that generally have bleeding corpses on the front page.
Joining Poj are three indie directors. The stories involve a dead body in an apartment building's water tank, directed by Tanwarin Sukkhapisit; a ghost in prison, directed by Manus Worrasingha; a New Year's Eve pub fire (mirroring last year's deadly blaze at Bangkok's Santika pub), directed by Chartchai Ketknust; and a ghost in a motel by Poj.
My Valentine / Laew Rak Kor Mun Rob Tua Rao / แล้วรัก...ก็หมุนรอบตัวเรา: Thai, Comedy/ Romance – 90 mins – A girl who hates Valentine's Day meets three young men, each determined to make her his Valentine. The usual Thai rom/com, which one might say is a mixture of cute young Thais and older TV comedians.
Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, February 18, 2010
Shutter Island: US, Drama/ Mystery/ Thriller – 148 mins – Director Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Mark Ruffalo, andMax von Sydow in this horror fantasy. Previews look really good to me. “It's 1954, and an up-and-coming U.S. marshal is assigned to investigate the disappearance of a patient from Boston's Shutter Island Ashecliffe Hospital. He's been pushing for an assignment on the island for personal reasons, but before long he wonders whether he hasn't been brought there as part of a twisted plot by hospital doctors whose radical treatments range from unethical to illegal to downright sinister. The marshal’s shrewd investigating skills soon provide a promising lead, but the hospital refuses him access to records he suspects would break the case wide open. As a hurricane cuts off communication with the mainland, more dangerous criminals "escape" in the confusion, and the puzzling, improbable clues multiply, He begins to doubt everything - his memory, his partner, even his own sanity.”