Take a break – see fictional violence instead!
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, May 20, 2010
… through Wednesday, May 26
by Thomas Ohlson
Best Bets: Robin Hood. Ong-Bak 3.
To avoid like the plague: Sin Sisters 2.
Perturbed Robin Hood.
This is Issue Number 29 of Volume 5 of these listings.
Yes, if you want to see some fictional violence for a change, you have some dandy choices this week. Really a smörgåsbord of violence. The most extreme, should you care to try it, is Ong-Bak 3.
Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week
* Shrek Forever After - 3D: US, Animation/ Adventure/ Comedy/ Family/ Fantasy – 93 mins – The further adventures of the giant green ogre, Shrek, living in the land of Far, Far Away, this time in 3D. Now domesticated and bored, Shrek makes a pact with deal-maker Rumpelstiltskin to get the real ogre feeling once again, but is duped and sent to a twisted version of Far, Far Away. With Fiona, Donkey, and Puss in Boots, and the voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, and Eddie Murphy. In 3D at Major Cineplex, 2D and Thai-dubbed only at Vista. Early reviews: Mixed or average: 56/57 out of 100.
* Sam Yan / 3 ย่าน / สามย่าน: Thai, Comedy – 105 mins – Usual regurgitation of Thai slapstick comedy. A dead passenger on a bus returns to haunt the driver, etc. Rated 18+ in Thailand. Thai only at Major Cineplex, with English subtitles at Vista.
* Sin Sisters 2 / Poo Ying Ha Bap 2 / ผู้หญิง 5 บาป 2: Thai, Erotic – 110 mins – This is the first time I’ve seen that description on a Thai film at a Cineplex! Looks like that’s what it is, though: soft porn for Thai males. A bit of torture, a bit of bondage, and the usual violence. Awarded the quite restrictive 20+ rating in Thailand – only for those over 20. Story has something to do with five attractive girls who find themselves trapped in an unfamiliar place where a strange voice tells them that one of them must sacrifice her life in a diabolical ritual. And to survive, each of the other girls needs to describe all her sins and sexual experiences, in detail, to satisfy the devilish voice and presumably the males in the audience. The first Sin Sisters has been called one of the worst movies of all time. “This movie is even more sinful,” says director Sukit Narin. Major Cineplex only, with the 20+ rating.
* The Losers: US, Action/ Crime/ Mystery/ Thriller – 97 mins – An action tale of betrayal and revenge, in which the members of an elite Special Forces unit are sent to the Bolivian jungle on a search and destroy mission. But the team – Clay Jensen, Roque, Pooch and Cougar – soon find that they have become the target of a deadly double cross. After being betrayed and left for dead, members of the black ops team root out those who targeted them for assassination. Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, and directed by Sylvain White. Loud, fast, and unrelentingly violent – but it's also funny and well-acted, which will make all the difference for some action fans. Mixed or average reviews: 43/46 out of 100. At Vista only.
Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert: The movie gets the job done, and the actors show a lot of confidence in occupying that tricky middle ground between controlled satire and comic overkill. It's fun.
Robin Hood: US/ UK, Action/ Drama – 140 mins – Ridley Scott's long-brewing visit to Sherwood's most famous forest makes it clear that this reboot isn’t Errol Flynn in green tights, but much more a gladiator, and bringing him to life is Russell Crowe – all grunting and scowling. It promises to be something of an origin story, finding historical context in the legend by telling of Hood's days as an archer in the service of King Richard, before he became a man in tights redistributing the crown's wealth. Robin Hood is a merry man, right? Doesn't he rob from the rich and give to the poor? Well, not in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, and the film suffers from its deviation from the legend, despite its impressive visuals and strong performances. Russell Crowe stars as the titular hero, returning to Sherwood Forrest from the Crusades reluctantly deciding that England needs some cleaning up. To that end, he teams with a motley bunch that will become the Merry Men, as well as the recently widowed Lady Marion (Cate Blanchet); swordplay and archery ensues. The pundits say that although Robin Hood is handsomely produced and well-acted, it's way too downbeat and lacks the sense of fun that made previous big-screen retellings so memorable and exhilarating. Early reviews: Generally favorable: 62/56 out of 100.
New York Times, A.O. Scott: A spectacle very much in the Ridley Scott tradition (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, and American Gangster). There are lots of swashes buckled, swords clanked and, just in case that doesn’t do the job, a shirtless and chiseled Mr. Crowe. With a romance between Big Hollywood Stars — Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett — and lavish medieval sets that were built, pillaged and burned down over the course of many months.
“Without realizing it we devised a story that is about the forming of Robin Hood, the beginning of the legend and how he came to be as opposed to what people already know,” said director Ridley Scott.
Ong-Bak 3 / องค์บาก 3: Thai, Action – 90 mins – Tony Jaa in the historical martial-arts conclusion of the two-part prequel to the Ong-Bak movie that made him a star in 2003. Rated 18+ in Thailand. It’s incredibly violent.
I object to the level of masochism purveyed by Tony Jaa in this film. Not all of us in the audience can match in sadism what he displays in masochism. It really is too much. For a good half hour at the beginning he is tortured over and over until he’s lifeless, then revived and tortured some more, until his body is a broken, bleeding near-corpse. This is really alien to me, and I object to what he expects me as an audience member to put up with. We’re not all as sadistic as Jaa is masochistic.
Buddha, Jesus, Neo, Luke Skywalker, and
Bruce Lee all wrapped up into one.
It all seems so personal. I’m sure his tortures reflect the way he feels the critics have treated him, and the boss at the film studio that withheld the money to finish his last picture, Ong-Bak 2. I wouldn’t be surprised if the chief torturer bears a remarkable physical resemblance to the studio head.
Aside from this torture and some Buddhist nonsense, the picture is fascinating. Jaa is a true artist, and has expanded the form of the martial arts film in unforeseen ways, incorporating not only many strands of martial arts disciplines, but also many strands of Thai culture, and its dances and rituals and meditational poses. He again incorporates traditional palace dance forms into this film, probably to the dismay of action junkies. He is endlessly inventive, and brings unsurpassed energy, athleticism, and zeal to his projects. And the films, which always have their surreal qualities, are exceptional works of art. He is a treasure to be valued highly.
Iron Man 2: US, Action/ Adventure/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 124 mins – Directed by Jon Favreau, starring Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Glwyneth Paltrow, and Mickey Rourke. It isn't quite the breath of fresh air that Iron Man was, but this sequel comes close with solid performances and an action-packed plot. I was particularly impressed with the work of Mickey Rourke. If you enjoy action movies, you should like this one; it has the requisite sound, fury, and flash. Mixed or average reviews: 57/59 out of 100.
The Bounty Hunter: US, Action/ Comedy – 110 mins – Gerard Butler plays a down-on-his-luck bounty hunter who gets his dream job when he is assigned to track down his bail-jumping ex-wife (Jennifer Aniston). Complications, as they say, ensue... Generally unfavorable reviews: 22/32 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes: Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston remain as attractive as ever, but The Bounty Hunter's formula script doesn't know what to do with them -- or the audience's attention.
Roger Ebert: I stared with glazed eyes at The Bounty Hunter. Here is a film with no need to exist.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010): US, Horror/ Thriller – Freddy Krueger returns in this contemporary re-imagining of the horror classic. A group of suburban teenagers share one common bond: they are all being stalked by Freddy Krueger, a horribly disfigured killer who hunts them in their dreams. As long as they stay awake, they’re okay. Rated R in the US for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror, and language. 18+ in Thailand. Generally unfavorable reviews: 34/37 out of 100.
New York Times, A.O. Scott: Some of the early set pieces — the opening sequence in a diner, for example, or another that unfolds after one of the victims has dozed off in class — dispense their shocks inventively, but for the most part the movie traffics in overly familiar scare tactics, setting up predictable false alarms and telegraphing in advance just when Freddy will pop into the frame and utter one of his labored witticisms.
Ip Man 2 / Yip Man 2: Chung si chuen kei / ยิปมัน อาจารย์บรู๊ช ลี / 叶问: Hong Kong, Action/ Biography/ History – 108 mins – The second in a trilogy of semi-biographical martial arts films based on the life of Ip Man (1893-1972), a grandmaster of the martial art Wing Chun and the first person to teach Wing Chun openly. One of his students was Bruce Lee. The film focuses on events in Ip's life that took place in the city of Foshan during the Second Sino-Japanese War, as Ip Man grew up in a China torn by racial hatred, nationalistic strife, and warfare. This biopic from director Wilson Yip dramatizes Ip's life story. Thai-dubbed only, and only at Airport Plaza.
Furry Vengeance: US, Comedy/ Family – 92 mins – A real estate developer moves his family from Chicago to Oregon when his job calls for him to oversee the building of a major housing development. But once there he faces a unique group of protesters: local woodland creatures who don't want their homes disturbed. Generally unfavorable reviews: 25/25 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes: A thin premise stretched far beyond serviceable length, Furry Vengeance subjects Brendan Fraser -- and the audience -- to 92 minutes of abuse.
Birmingham Post, Graham Young: If you only take your children to see movies like Up ... they’ll think every film is going to be fantastic. That’s not very good training for the disappointments of life, so Furry Vengeance does have one purpose.
Arizona Republic, Bill Goodykoontz: A stupid, mean-spirited little movie that ranks down there with the worst in recent memory.
At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm
The Alliance Française shows its series of French films in a small room in their building at 138 Charoen Prathet Road. The building is directly opposite Wat Chaimongkhon, near the Chedi Hotel. Tell your taxi "Samakhom Frangset" and/or "Wat Chaimongkhon." A contribution of 30 baht is requested; you pay outside at the information desk of the Alliance Française proper.
At Alliance Française on Friday, May 21, 8 pm: Le Grand bleu / The Big Blue (1988) by Luc Besson – 132 mins – Drama/ Romance. English subtitles. Rated R in the US for sexuality and language. Generally negative reviews: 35 out of 100.
With Rosanna Arquette, Jean-Marc Barr, Jean Reno, Paul Shenar, Sergio Castellitto.
Enzo and Jacques have known each other for a long time. Their friendship started in their childhood days in the Mediterranean. They were not real friends in these days, but there was something they both loved and used to do the whole day long: diving. One day Jacques' father, who was a diver too, dies in the Mediterranean Sea. After that incident Enzo and Jacques lose contact...
– Alliance description
Rotten Tomatoes: Big Blue, with its gorgeous underwater sequences, its exotic ocean-side settings in Greece and Sicily, and its transcendent 1980s electronic score, is director Luc Besson's "baby.” In his first English-language movie, himself an aspiring marine biologist and only twenty-nine years of age when he made this film, Big Blue combines romantic comedy with a deep spiritual quest. Long shots of the ocean define Big Blue, as Besson's camera skims speedily over its silver surface, or floats underwater in deep aqua surrounded by dolphins. A dramatic 20-minute black and white introduction shows protagonists Jacques (Jean-Marc Barr) and Enzo (Jean Reno) as 10-year-old boys free diving (with no oxygen tanks). A transition to color marks a time lapse and now Jacques and Enzo are adults. Enzo is living in Sicily where for 6 years he has been the uncontested free diving world champion. He sends for Jacques, who is living in the Peruvian Andes, and insists that he compete for the title. Jacques comes to Sicily and easily beats Enzo. The competition mounts, each man diving at increasingly life-threatening depths. But when Jacques' girlfriend Johana (Rosanna Arquette) arrives from New York and pleads for the risky dives to stop, the film takes an unexpected turn resulting in an unforgettable dark, mysterious, and torturously beautiful conclusion.
Apparently this film was reissued in a 168 min Director’s cut in 2000. Here is a review of that version:
Spliced Wire, Rob Blackwelder: A giant metaphor for freedom and self-discovery, directed by a young Luc Besson who had yet to discover his self-indulgent streak, The Big Blue is a visceral and turbulent, yet strangely tranquil and beautiful cinematic experience that plumbs the souls of a pair of competitive deep-sea divers who are at once best friends and bitter rivals.
Made in 1988 and reissued this summer  in a 40-minutes-longer director's cut, it's one of those rare films you can't help but be affected by on some level. Its vivid photography and even more vivid performances strike a nerve as the film follows the warm but antagonistic friendship between bombastic Enzo (a pre-"Professional" Jean Reno) and quiet, private and deeply reflective Jacques (a pre-"Zentropa" Jean-Marc Barr) beginning with their shared childhood in a craggy, cliff-side, coastal Greek hamlet. Years later they meet again and form a powerful bond and a dangerous rivalry after discovering they're both record-setting divers who can hold their breaths for super-human lengths of time and plunge to unimaginable depths in professional diving competitions around the Mediterranean.
The narrative structure is clumsy at times and the film has a few weak links, not the least of which is a typically whiny performance from Rosanna Arquette as an American lost soul who falls in love with Jacques but is forever struggling to understand the unspoken, obsessive compulsion that pulls him away from her and toward the sea. But Besson -- who has more recently made the wildly over-produced "The Fifth Element" and "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc" -- keeps the film rooted in compelling emotional impulses while providing a richly detailed palate of visual wonders (case-in-point, the sparse but engulfing diving scenes).
I haven't seen the original version of The Big Blue, so I can't say what Besson has added here to pad the run time so significantly. But I do know the American release was chopped up and re-scored, and this version is true to the director's original vision. The new cut is certainly absorbing, and should be seen on the big screen if you're seeing it at all, but it does feel over-long -- ironically by about 40 minutes.
At Alliance Française on Friday, May 28, 8 pm: Holiday! No film showing. Visakha Bucha Day.
At Film Space on Saturdays at 7 pm
May is “The Month of Surreal” 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. Showings are in a classroom on the second floor or on the roof, weather permitting. A contribution is requested in the donation box at the entrance – you should leave at least 20 baht. Well worth supporting.
At Film Space Saturday, May 22, 7 pm: The First Contact / Naisu no mori / Funky Forest (2005) by Katsuhito Ishii – 150 mins – Japan, Comedy. Eschewing any form of conventional narrative in favor of a series of surreal sketches, this Japanese experimental comedy features a set of quirky and dysfunctional characters. Among them is the... Eschewing any form of conventional narrative in favor of a series of surreal sketches, this Japanese experimental comedy features a set of quirky and dysfunctional characters. Among them are the unlucky-in-love Guitar Brother, his compulsively dancing older sibling, and their younger relative, a chubby Caucasian addicted to junk food.
IMDb viewer: It's as if someone jacked a cable wire into a person's head while they were sleeping and watched the dreams on TV.
Film Journal International, Frank Lovece: Saying, "Oooh, the story unfolds the way a dream does!" is kind of a cop-out, since if nothing has to make sense, then nothing matters. And frankly, there ain't enough drugs on either side of the globe to make fun or palatable a medical exam featuring a guy with grotesquely extended, squirting nipples who pulls people-faced alien leach-thingies from his pants.
Variety, Dennis Harvey: The annals of strange just got thicker with the arrival of Funky Forest: The First Contact, a surreal sci-fi-musical-whatsit whose resistance to thematic or narrative logic renders viewers thoroughly -- but not unpleasantly -- bewildered for 2½ hours. Breathtakingly, often hilariously bizarre, it's nobody's idea of a commercial sureshot.
First team effort for writing-helming-editing trio of Katsuhito Ishii (Shark Skin Boy and Peach Hip Woman, Taste of Tea), TV commercial directors Shin'ichiro Miki and Anika aka Hajime Ishimine is a series of deadpan, oft-fantastical non sequiturs and goofy plot threads. Latter occasionally intersect, but scarcely hint at any game plan. Recurrent elements include idiot TV variety show-style comedy duo "The Mole Brothers"; three hapless "Unpopular With Women Brothers" who look unrelated; three pretty young women first identified as "Babbling Hot Spring Vixens"; a nerdy high school teacher-cum-DJ involved with his star student; and sitcom-style "Homeroom!!!" chapters from a Dadaist school life. Plus peppy choreographed dream sequences, unidentifiable puppet-or-CGI creatures, Cronenberg-style queasiness, and UFO visitations. Delirious, disarming film.
Empire Online: First Contact is a portmanteau of multiple short stories, with non-contiguous chapters, vaguely linked together by common characters. The world inhabited by these characters is very odd - some bizarre events are depicted as night and day -dreams, but others as though they are reality.
There is no through plot to speak of - or rather, each tale has its own limited plot, but there's little to connect each piece. There is a vague theme of people and their dreams, and several of the pieces feature characters following ritualistic behaviours for one reason and another.
What there is, is a collection of ideas, mainly humorous (but not really laugh out loud funny), quirky characters, and a blend of different styles. There are some odd visual effects, such as Naked Lunch-style quasi-sexual rubbery alien creatures, including living musical instruments that plug into the musician via their erm... rear socket. In the long dream sequence of Takefumi, he is made to dance with a variety of odd partners, some of which are animated; in Notti's dream, she plays the violin in the forest, which is "modulated" by a group of female spirit DJs, using dials on trees and rocks, building up to a cacophony of didgeridoo techno.
What you get with such variety in a single film is, inevitably, a mixed bag. It ends up feeling like the directors have collected unused side plots from other films, and stuck them all together in one. And at 2.5 hours, it's overlong and could have lost a bit of excess weight.
...the best bits didn't get enough screen time, and the worst got too much...
At Film Space Saturday, May 29, 7 pm: Citizen Dog / Mah nakom / หมานคร (2004) by Wisit Sasanatieng – 100 mins – Thai, Comedy/ Fantasy/ Romance. Eschewing any form of conventional narrative in favor of a series of surreal sketches, this Japanese experimental comedy features a set of quirky and dysfunctional characters. Among them is the... This is one of my most favorite Thai films. It’s a crazy film, but I just love it.
Pod is a man without a dream. He's a country bumpkin who comes to work at a tinned sardine factory in Bangkok. One day, Pod chops off his finger and packs it in the can, prompting him to go around looking for his lost finger at various supermarkets. The incident convinces him to change his job, and Pod becomes a security guard at a large company. There he meets Jin, a lanky maid who carries a mysterious white book around even though she cannot read a single word written in it. The aimless Pod has a crush on Jin, a dreamy girl who dreams that one day she'll be able to decipher the meaning of the white book. In this bright, color-splashed world of director Wisit Sasanatieng, Bangkokians can grow tails and a dead grandmother can come back as a chatty gecko to deliver a few life lessons to her grandson. It's a world where innocence is so precious and yet impossible to preserve. The unusual love story between Pod and Jin is set against the playfully ironic portrait of Bangkok, the city that offers false dreams and real disillusionment.
Reel Film Reviews: Visually audacious, Citizen Dog is set in a world where corpses drive taxicabs, fingers are easily detachable, and teddy bears walk, talk, and drink heavily. Director Wisit Sasanatieng is clearly going for a vibe of unabashed fantasy, and on that level, the filmmaker certainly succeeds. The story revolves around Pod, a "country bumpkin" who arrives in Bangkok and finds himself falling for a woman named Jin . Sasanatieng, along with his cinematographer, imbues Citizen Dog with a bright and colorful sense of style that effectively carries the film through some of the more uneven sections of Sasanatieng's screenplay. And while it's clear that Citizen Dog won't appeal to everyone, Sasanatieng does a nice job of keeping the tone consistent - ensuring that, at the very least, the movie's never boring.