A less than mind-blowing Airbender.
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, July 29, 2010
… through Wednesday, August 4
by Thomas Ohlson
Best Bet: Inception.
This is Issue Number 39 of Volume 5 of these listings.
Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week
* The Last Airbender: US, Action/ Adventure/ Family/ Fantasy – 1 hr 43 mins – Generally unfavorable reviews: 20/28 out of 100. (Bold scores are from Metacritic / light scores from Rotten Tomatoes.) The Metacritic score is only one point away from being labeled “Overwhelming dislike.” I still can’t believe the disappointment this is turning out to be! I was so looking forward to this, because the source material is brilliant and powerful and hugely popular; and also because I really want M. Knight Shyamalan to have another success, and not be just a one shot director. With this marvelous story and this young boy, I was hoping for something as truly good as his first film, which also starred a young boy, The Sixth Sense.
Alas, it’s not to be. I have seen this (not in 3D) and I have to agree with the reviews, which are some of the worst in recent memory. It really is an incomprehensible, ugly mess. A part of the problem might be that at the last minute at the studio’s demand the film was shortened by 25 minutes, and hastily transformed into 3D by a post-production process of questionable quality.
You have a choice of seeing it in either 2D or 3D at Airport plaza; at Vista it’s only in 2D and is Thai-dubbed.
I am really fond of the source material: the 61-episode American animated television series on Nickelodeon, titled Avatar: The Last Airbender. That series, and this film, are set in an Asian-influenced world of Chinese martial arts and element manipulation, especially drawing on aspects of traditional Chinese and Japanese culture, and on Indian religions.
This hugely successful Emmy Award-winning series has just concluded an extended run here on Thai TV, and I watched it, and am hooked on it. Buy the series and see that instead of this film.
Rotten Tomatoes: Goodness, what happened to M. Night Shyamalan? In the decade since The Sixth Sense, his reputation as a wunderkind has taken a steep dive, one that won't be revived with The Last Airbender, which critics are calling an incomprehensible, ugly mess. Based upon the popular Nickelodeon cartoon, Airbender tells the story of Aang (Noah Ringer), who utilizes his rare element-manipulation skills to bring peace to a war-torn fantasy world. The pundits say Airbender's baffling exposition and retrofitted 3-D effects make for a viewing experience that's hopelessly muddled in both plot and visuals.
Consensus: Despite flashy special effects, The Last Airbender squanders the potential of its popular source material on an incomprehensible plot, laughable dialogue, and a joyless sense of detachment.
io9: A lavish parody of big-budget fantasy epics. It's got everything: the personality-free hero, the nonsensical plot twists, the CG clutter, the bland romance, the new-age pablum. It's an absurdist masterpiece, in which a million things happen but nothing takes place. (In completely flat 3-D.) Stuff happens, and then more stuff happens, and what does it mean? We never know, because it's time for more stuff to happen. You start out laughing at how random and mindless everything in this movie is, but about an hour into it, you realize that the movie is actually laughing at you, for watching it in the first place.
* Shanghai: US, Drama/ Mystery/ Romance/ Thriller – 1 hr 46 mins – Directed by Mikael Håfström (director of 1408, starring John Cusack), with Li Gong, Ken Watanabe, John Cusack, and Yun-Fat Chow. A '40s period piece which revolves around an American expat who returns to a corrupt, Japanese-occupied Shanghai four months before Pearl Harbor and discovers his friend has been killed. While he unravels the mysteries of the death, he falls in love, and discovers a much larger secret that his own government is hiding. Shot in Bangkok and London. Hasn’t really been released anywhere yet except here and Kazakhstan. Rated 18+ in Thailand. Airport Plaza only.
The project was set to roll early 2008 in China but the authorities blocked the shoot just weeks before production was set to begin. China's exit meant walking away from sets that had been built at a cost of $3 million. Weinstein Co. shifted the shoot to London and Thailand, where sets were built re-creating Shanghai's old colonial architecture.
Wise Kwai: This long-in-the-works 1940s-set spy thriller was actually filmed in Bangkok two years ago, but The Weinstein Company delayed its release until a busy calendar could be freed up to give it the exposure they wanted. Set in 1941 Shanghai in the months leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the story has John Cusack as an American investigating the death of his friend. He becomes romantically involved with a local woman, played by Gong Li, who's the wife of a triad leader (Chow Yun-fat). Ken Watanabe, David Morse, Jeffery Dean Morgan, Franka Potente and Rinko Kikuchi also star in this film-noir war thriller, directed by Mikael Håfström. Because it hasn't yet had a wide release, critical reception is still a bit mixed.
A Nutshell Review, Stefan S: The film happens to be a somewhat troubled project, with the shoot being blocked just weeks before production was scheduled to begin, then faced with the abandoning of sets and the relocation to Thailand and London, followed by question marks on its release date. Well, it's finally here, and I'd think it was well worth the wait, given no scrimping on its production values, and director Mikael Håfström splashing plenty of noir in his approach to tell a tale of spy versus spy set against Shanghai in 1941, where the city has yet to fall to the Japanese, and thus becoming a hotbed for resistance movements, with plenty of foreigners still in country setting up protective enclaves for their own citizens.
While it may be a Hollywood production, the cast was predominantly Asian, assembling some of the largest names in the region for this project. John Cusack plays the lead character Paul Soames, a naval intelligence agent sent to Shanghai to investigate the death of a good friend. We witness a series of intriguing events unfold, dealing with crossed loyalties and flimsy alliances. Going under the cover of a journalist with pro-Nazi sentiments, he works his charisma and know-how to get to the upper echelons of German society in the city, and from there, linking himself up with Germany's new ally, Japan.
Yes, this film looks more like an Asian film, which reunites Hong Kong's Chow Yun-Fat with China's Gong Li again after their collaboration in Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower, and Japanese stars Ken Watanabe and Rinko Kikuchi even given a small role. All of them recognizable names, all of them lending their star power to the film and delivering stellar performances.
There's no one dimensional character here, with supposed villains surprisingly having a heart when protecting their loved ones against harm, and how everybody will use everything within their power to ensure that family, friends and even strangers stay safe in a time of danger. A recommended ensemble thriller that has a strong underlying romantic thread, beautifully crafted to highlight the frustrations of love, and that of survival in a black, white, and grey world.
The Hollywood Reporter, Elizabeth Kerr: Shanghai, a would-be World War II epic romance with a chaser of intrigue, comes with a boatload of production gossip because of China's refusal to allow shooting in the country and an editing process that lasted nearly two years.
The film, which finally made its debut at the Shanghai International Film Festival, is no game-saver for the Weinstein Co. as it lacks the stylistic and narrative punch needed to separate itself from the pack. In Asia, pan-continental stars Gong Li, Chow Yun-fat and Ken Watanabe will generate interest. Domestically, the film will face its biggest hurdle in its undetermined release date.
Despite its Thai shooting locations, Shanghai has a nice hard-boiled vibe and a sense of semi-exotic danger. The film tries to be a romance, political thriller and historical drama but winds up merely muddled and scattered.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice: US, Action/ Adventure/ Comedy/ Drama/ Fantasy – 1 hr 50 mins – Directed by Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure 1 & 2). You remember the plot: A sorcerer leaves his workshop in the hands of his apprentice, who gets into trouble when the broomstick he's tasked to do his chores for him somehow develops a mind of its own.
Well, anyway that’s the plot of the segment in Walt Disney’s Fantasia which is supposedly the origin of this movie. It is said that the idea was mostly Nicolas Cage's, who wanted to make a feature length movie based upon the Fantasia segment. The cast is made up of Nicolas Cage as Balthazar Blake, a sorcerer and computer simulation expert, based on the magician portrayed in Fantasia; Jay Baruchel as Dave Stutler, an average college student who becomes Blake's apprentice – he is based on the character played by Mickey Mouse in Fantasia; and Alfred Molina as an evil magician. Mixed or average reviews: 46/50 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes: The Sorcerer's Apprentice provides plenty of wizards and sorcery, for those who can't wait for the next Harry Potter installment. What it lacks, say critics, is originality and inspiration. Jay Baruchel stars as a college kid who finds himself in the midst of a battle against the forces of evil, one that's being spearheaded by Merlin disciple Balthazar (Nicolas Cage). The pundits say Apprentice is passable stuff, and its decent action scenes should please the kiddies, but overall it's a bland enterprise with an overabundance of CGI effects.
Emmanuel Levy: With many cooks in the writing, this CGI adventure is structurally disjointed and dramatically uninvolving, and the chemistry between reliable star Cage and charming Baruchel is not strong, which explains why the producers stress the literary pedigree.
JoBlo’s Movie Emporium, Chris Bumbray: Fairly fun, and occasionally exciting, but so bombastic that you'll feel more like you're being bombarded, than actually watching a film.
Tukky / Tukky Chao Ying Khai Kob / Princess Tukky / ตุ๊กกี้ เจ้าหญิงขายกบ: Thai, Comedy/ Romance – Thai fantasy tale of an ugly princess in a magical land.
Inception: US/ UK, Drama/ Mystery/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 2 hrs 28 mins – Wow! Is this a movie and a half! A true action film, with car chases and gunfights, but for the thinking man! It’s a puzzle in a maze, and very exciting, to the emotions and the mind. I loved it! Has garnered a raft of ecstatic reviews from those attuned to Christopher Nolan’s brand of mind games, and for those who appreciate his sort of thing, this is certainly a not-to-be-missed event. Inception’s opening marked another commercial coup for writer-director Christopher Nolan following his record-breaking The Dark Knight, and it delivered the biggest opening of star Leonardo DiCaprio's career. DiCaprio gives another in his string of outstanding state-of-the-art acting jobs. Also starring Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard; It’s written, directed, and produced by Christopher Nolan, so it’s his baby entirely, and it’s a worthy successor to his memorable Memento. About controlling a person through messing with his dreams. Highly recommended! See it multiple times to get more of what's going on; no one will ever get it all. Generally favorable reviews: 74/74 out of 100.
Rotten tomatoes: Christopher Nolan is on a roll. He took the superhero movie to new heights with The Dark Knight, and now he's back with Inception, which critics are calling an ambitious, dreamy sci-fi heist movie that's quite a mind bender. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Cobb, an American expat skilled in stealing ideas from people's dreams. He's offered an opportunity to return to the States if he can pull off one last big job -- and, naturally, metaphysical complications ensue. The pundits say Inception is a visual marvel and a brainy head trip -- in fact, you'll probably have to see it multiple times to get everything that's going on.
Metromix.com, Geoff Berkshire: The next step in [Christopher] Nolan's evolution as one of the master filmmakers of our time ... combines the jaw-dropping action of The Dark Knight with the ingenious plotting of Memento.
CHUD, Devin Faraci: Inception is a masterpiece. Making a huge film with big ambitions, Christopher Nolan never missteps and manages to create a movie that, at times, feels like a miracle.
Cinematical, Todd Gilchrist: A stunning achievement and the most completely entertaining film I've seen in years.
Despicable Me: US, Animation/ Family – 1 hr 35 mins – I found it completely delightful! And so did the audience I was in. If you like animation, don’t miss it. It’s a complete surprise and has a voice all its own. Generally favorable reviews: 72/72 out of 100. At Vista only, in 2D and Thai-dubbed.
Rotten Tomatoes: Consensus: Borrowing heavily (and intelligently) from Pixar and Looney Tunes, Despicable Me is a surprisingly thoughtful, family-friendly treat with a few surprises of its own.
Killer Movie Reviews, Andrea Chase: a smart, funny, and perceptive animated film that dresses up its unabashed sentimentality with a droll mix of dry humor, deadpan slapstick, and clever writing that is slick, wicked, but never snooty.
Scheduled for August 5
Splice: Canada/ France/ US, Horror/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 1 hr 44 mins – Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, and Delphine Chaneac; Directed by: Vincenzo Natali. Elsa and Clive, two young, rebellious, and to me mostly repulsive scientists defy legal and ethical boundaries to forge ahead with a dangerous experiment: splicing together human and animal DNA to create a new organism. Named "Dren,” the creature rapidly develops from a deformed female infant into a beautiful but dangerous winged human-chimera, who forges a bond with both of her creators - only to have that bond turn deadly. If you have sex with an underage creature that’s only 50% human, does that count? And when your wife has sex with a creature that’s 50% her daughter, is that incest or bestiality? These are the ridiculous moral questions raised by this film. If these questions keep you awake nights, this movie is for you. I found the two leads disgusting human beings and their relationship with each other dismaying demonstration of the worst in human behavior. An unpleasant movie. Rated R in the US for disturbing elements including strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence, and language. Generally favorable reviews: 66/66 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes: Consensus: It doesn't take its terrific premise quite as far as it should, but Splice is a smart, well-acted treat for horror fans.
Salt: US, Action/ Thriller – 1 hr 40 mins – Starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, and Chiwetel Ejiofor; directed by Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger, Rabbit-Proof Fence). Studio synopsis: As a CIA officer, Evelyn Salt (Jolie) swore an oath to duty, honor, and country. Her loyalty will be tested when a defector accuses her of being a Russian spy. Salt goes on the run, using all her skills and years of experience as a covert operative to elude capture. Salt's efforts to prove her innocence only serve to cast doubt on her motives, as the hunt to uncover the truth behind her identity continues and the question remains: "Who Is Salt?" Early reviews: Generally favorable: 65/60 out of 100.
Variety, Justin Chang: Noyce rolls up his sleeves and delivers an unpretentious piece of action-movie craftsmanship that proves worthy of its star's own consummate professionalism.
Hollywood Reporter, Kirk Honeycutt: While preposterous at every turn, Salt is a better Bond movie than most recent Bond movies, as its makers keep the stunts real and severely limit CGI gimmickry.
Rotten Tomatoes: Now that the Cold War is long over, they don't make thrillers like they used to. Oh, wait, maybe they do. The critics say Salt is a solid, meat-and-potatoes spy flick with a standout performance from Angelina Jolie -- and, unfortunately, a completely preposterous plot. Jolie is Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent who goes on the run after being accused of spying for the Russians. Will she be able to prove her innocence? The pundits say Salt is an effective popcorn movie that firmly establishes Jolie in the upper echelon of action stars, bar gender. However, many also note that even popcorn movies need cohesiveness and believability, and that Salt is often tripped up by its gaping plot holes.
Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: Angelina Jolie gives it her all in the title role, and her seasoned performance is almost enough to save Salt from its predictable and ludicrous plot.
And looking forward
Aug 12: Toy Story 3: US, Animation/ Adventure/ Comedy/ Family/ Fantasy – 1 hr 43 mins – I have seen this, and I think it is inspired. I loved every minute of it. The set-up: Andy, the boy who owns the toys, is now 17 and ready to head off to college, leaving Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie, and the rest of the toy-box gang to ponder their uncertain futures. When the toys are accidentally donated to the Sunnyside Daycare center they're initially overjoyed to once again be played with, but their enthusiasm quickly gives way to horror as they discover the true nature of the establishment under the rule of the deceptively welcoming "Lotso" Bear. Now, all of the toys must band together in one final, crazy scheme to escape their confines and return home to Andy. Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, and many other very talented actors; there are 302 characters in the film! Reviews: Universal acclaim: 92/88 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes: Consensus: Deftly blending comedy, adventure, and honest emotion, Toy Story 3 is a rare second sequel that really works.
Sun Online, Alex Zane: This is an almost flawless example of a movie that will keep pretty much any person of any age enthralled and entertained.
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.
On Friday, July 30, 8 pm: Ensemble, c'est tout / Hunting and Gathering (2007) by Claude Berri – 1 hr 37 mins – France Drama/Romance. English subtitles.
With Audrey Tautou, Guillaume Canet, Laurent Stocker, Francoise Bertin, Hélène Surgère.
The encounter of four people whose paths cross, a fate which results in them coming out of their shells, getting to know and love each other, and living together under the same roof. An office cleaner at night, Grace also does beautiful drawings in her spare time. Philibert, a young aristocrat mad about history, is timid, emotional, and solitary. He lives in a large apartment owned by his family. Franck, virile and tender, is a cook. He deeply loves his grandmother, Paulette, an elderly lady, fragile and amusing. Together they will learn to temper their doubts and sorrows so as to go forward and fulfill their dreams. They’ll discover each other and understand that together they are stronger.
– Alliance Description
Reel Film Reviews: The film marks the latest effort from prolific French filmmaker Claude Berri, who - though pushing 80 - offers up a trio of distinctly authentic 20-something figures and places them within the context of a compelling, surprisingly affecting storyline. This is despite the fact that Philibert ultimately receives short shrift in terms of character development, as he initially comes off as an effete stutterer and eventually (and inexplicably) winds up with a fiancée. Yet this proves not to be as problematic as one might've feared, with Berri's decision to instead place the emphasis on the charming coupling between Franck and Camille ensuring that one can't help but fall hook, line and sinker for the admittedly hackneyed romantic finish (which even includes a variation on the old race-to-the-airport maneuver!) Buoyed by Tautou and Canet's superb work, Ensemble c'est tout is one of those movies that essentially sneaks up on the viewer and makes a far more pronounced impact than one might've initially anticipated.
On Friday, August 6, 8 pm: Ce soir ou jamais / Tonight or Never (1961) by Michel Deville – 1 hr 43 mins – France, Comedy. English subtitles. B&W.
With Claude Rich, Anna Karina, Georges Descrières, Guy Bedos, Françoise Dorléac.
Laurent has to prepare a musical show. That evening, he calls together his collaborators in his apartment under the roofs of Paris who will become the witnesses of his quarrels with his girlfriend. A sophisticated banter in the style of Marivaux or "marivaudage" in the Paris of the early 60s.
– Alliance Description
It’s an early film by Michel Deville, about a group of young friends (mostly couples), their relationships, their crises. The movie culminates in a long party where games are played and feelings explode. The film is "Nouvelle Vague" at its best. Anna Karina gives a performance greatly admired by some: “She smiles, she dances, she's ecstatic, she's sad, she cries and has nervous breakdowns - all in one. She's a wonderful actress and human being and it's very interesting seeing Anna Karina in a film not directed by Godard.”
At Film Space on Saturdays at 7 pm
July is “The Month of Consequences” at Film Space. August, “The Month of Telltale.”
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. All films not in English are shown with English subtitles.
At Film Space Saturday, July 31, 7 pm: Life is Beautiful / La vita è bella (1997) written and directed by Roberto Benigni – 1 hr 56 mins – Italy, Drama/ Romance/ War – English subtitles. Mixed or average reviews: 59/56 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes synopsis: An adaptation based on the autobiography of the acclaimed Polish composer, Wladyslaw Szpilman, who detailed his survival during World War II, and... The film is a Chaplinesque fable about the power of imagination set against the stark reality of World War II Europe. The film combines satire,... The film is a Chaplinesque fable about the power of imagination set against the stark reality of World War II Europe. The film combines satire, physical comedy, social commentary and a touch of the surreal into a uniquely moving story of love. At the center of the fable is Guido, an enchanting individual with childlike innocence and grand dreams of owning his own book shop. It's 1939, and he has come to the Tuscan town of Arrezzo with his poet friend Ferruccio. With unabashed humor and joy, the two seek fortune and romance, ignoring the growing anti-Semitism and Fascist government that surrounds them. Guido falls in love with Dora, a beautiful young school teacher, and a fairy tale romance ensues.
Rotten Tomatoes: Consensus: Benigni's earnest charm, when not overstepping its bounds into the unnecessarily treacly, offers the possibility of hope in the face of unflinching horror.
August is “The Month of Telltale” at Film Space.
At Film Space Saturday, August 7, 7 pm: Always: Sunset on Third Street / Always zoku san-chôme no yûhi / ALWAYS 三丁目の夕日 (2005) directed by Takashi Yamazaki – 2 hrs 13 mins – Japan, Drama/ Family – English subtitles. The film won 12 prizes at the 2006 Japanese Academy Awards, including the awards for Best Film, Director, Actor, and Screenplay. It also won the audience award at the 2006 New York Asian Film Festival. Based on Sunset on Third Street (三丁目の夕日, San-Chōme no Yūhi), a Japanese manga series by Ryōhei Saigan. As of 2009, 56 volumes of the manga had been published. It was also a short-lived anime series from 1990 to 1991 and a pair of films, this one, Always Sanchōme no Yūhi, and the sequel, Always Zoku Sanchōme no Yūhi, were based on stories and characters from the manga.
The manga and this film is set in postwar Japan between 1955 and 1964 and focuses on stories illustrating the humor and pathos of ordinary life in the Japan of that era, mainly about the residents of the fictional Tokyo neighborhood of "San-Chome" - "Third Block”. However, many stories take place with one-story characters (not only people but animals and legendary creatures) and in other parts of Japan.
Rotten Tomatoes synopsis: An adaptation based on the autobiography of the acclaimed Polish composer, Wladyslaw Szpilman, who detailed his survival during World War II, and... The film is a Chaplinesque fable about the power of imagination set against the stark reality of World War II Europe. The film combines satire,... Leaving her provincial home, teenage Mutsuko arrives in Tokyo by train to take a job in a major automotive company but finds that she is employed by a small auto repair shop owned by Norifumi Suzuki. Suzuki's hair-trigger temper is held somewhat in check by the motherly instincts of his wife, Tomoe, and his young son Ippei immediately bonds with Mutsuko as if she were his older sister. The Suzuki shop lies almost in the shadow of the Tokyo Tower as it rises steadily above the skyline during construction in 1958. Others in the neighborhood also are striving to better themselves as Japan continues to emerge from the shadow of war. Hiromi has just abandoned her shady life as a dancer to start a sake bar. Abandoned by his single mother, young Junnosuke is first handed off to Hiromi but she passes him off to Ryunosuke Chagawa, a struggling writer who runs a candy shop and only manages to sell adventure stories for boys as his serious novels continue to be rejected. Junnosuke is an avid reader of Chagawa's stories and begins to idolize him upon learning about his authorship. Junnosuke also writes stories, and makes friends with Ippei and others when they discover his tales that show Japan in the hi-tech future of the 21st century.