Thursday, January 28, 2010

Whats On starting January 28

Still the Best Drama: Avatar

Still the Best Drama: Avatar!


Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, January 28, 2010


… through Wednesday, February 3


by Thomas Ohlson


Best Bet:  Avatar.


BAFTA Awards: Feb 22 Thai time. (The British “Oscars” by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts)

Oscar nominations for Academy Awards announced: Tue Feb 2 at 5:30 pm Thai time.

Academy Awards: Mar 8 at 8 am Thai time. Arrivals show at 6 am.

This is Issue Number 13 of Volume 5 of these listings, our fifth year!


At right, romantic view

from Crude Impact


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 early death of civilization.


These are tremendously important topics being presented in this series, which should lead to intensive discussion and debate. I only wish the organizers could arrange for the film series to be repeated at a location more in-town and convenient, say at CMU Art Museum, or even the Alliance Française. Not that there is anything that one can do about the problems presented, as the evidence marshaled in the films just about proves that it’s too late already, and it’s just a matter of ten or twenty years before disaster strikes where we live. All that seems to remain is to be prepared, by adopting a mind-set that accepts that disaster is coming, by being prepared for gasoline that becomes increasingly too expensive to buy, that gas vehicles are less and less feasible and that one must find some other way of getting around, perhaps bicycles or walking. That electricity will be in ever-shorter supply, and we must learn to live with a lot less dependence on it. And also to make sure you live in an area that will not be flooded by rising sea levels. That you are in an area where there will be a good (if ever-diminishing) supply of drinking water. And perhaps stockpile arms (that you learn how to use) and ammunition to protect you and your loved ones from those who might want to take what you have. It’s going to be a different world, and those who cannot adapt to it are doomed to extinction.

At least that’s what the terrifying message of these films seems to be. I dare anyone to see this series of films and come away with anything but a certainty of imminent disaster. But what do you think?


There was a very interesting discussion online about the film being shown today, Crude Impact. A viewer took issue with the director for   “The overly obvious attempt to provide an "uplifting" ending” which the viewer maintained “is a) tiresomely American b) patently false. The "message" is, change some lightbulbs, buy some local produce, talk to politicians, and we can make GOOD CHANGE. I don't buy it in the least.”


The director, James Jandak Wood, responded, “Tiresomely American? Perhaps. Patently false. That's a bit strong. I did struggle with whether it was better to end without a hopeful message and leave people terrified. But in the end, I felt people could be terrified but also realize that something could be done and they damn well better do it now. I got to a point that the idea of sitting around in sophisticated discussions pissing and moaning about our fate is a waste of time. The fact is if we do make changes, we can impact the outcome. 100 million fluorescent bulbs replacing incandescent bulbs WILL reduce carbon output equivalent to a million cars. Now, you may want to be cynical and say those things don't matter. Perhaps you're right. Perhaps we're screwed no matter what politicians we elect, no matter how much we reduce our energy consumption, whether we eat organic local foods or buy green apples from New Zealand from a London grocer.


“But it's better to get people to do something to help, agreed? If we're screwed, it's better to go out trying. And if there is hope, we'd better get our butts in gear, because it'll take an enormous effort. I think most people need a hopeful view to take action. My objective was to get people to do something. Ending a film with dire predictions and no call to action seemed fruitless. But I understand the other point of view.”


The whole discussion can be read by clicking here.



Now playing in Chiang Mai    * = new this week


* 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.


* The September Issue: US, Documentary – 90 mins – Wow, where did they come up with this? Out of the blue, Major Cineplex is throwing this one at us. They did have posters and previews for this, but that was months ago. No indication recently that they even knew this film existed. Inscrutable!


Anyway, this is a documentary – and apparently a very entertaining one - chronicling Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour's preparations for the 2007 fall-fashion issue. That issue of Vogue weighed nearly five pounds, and was the single largest issue of a magazine ever published. With unprecedented access, The September Issue, directed and produced by R. J. Cutler, tells the story of the legendary Vogue editor and her larger-than-life team creating the issue and ruling the world of fashion. Generally favorable reviews: 69/70 out of 100.


Rotten Tomatoes: This doc about the making of Vogue's biggest issue and its frosty editor-in-chief is fascinating eye candy and light-on-its-feet fun.


Anna Wintour, the legendary editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine for twenty years, is the most powerful and polarizing figure in fashion. Hidden behind her trademark bob and sunglasses, she has never allowed anyone to scrutinize the inner workings of her magazine. Until now. With unprecedented access, filmmaker R. J. Cutler’s new film The September Issue does for fashion what he did for politics in The War Room, taking the viewer inside a world they only think they know.


Every August a record-breaking number of people can’t wait to get their hands on the September issue of Vogue. The 2007 issue was and remains the biggest ever, weighing over four pounds, selling thirteen million copies, and impacting the $300-billion global fashion industry more than any other single publication. An intimate, funny and surprising look at Anna Wintour and her team of larger-than-life editors as they create this must-have Bible of fashion, Cutler explores the untouchable glamor of Wintour’s Vogue to reveal the extraordinarily passionate people at its heart. He takes us behind the scenes at Fashion Week, to Europe, on shoots and reshoots, and into closed-door staff meetings, bearing witness to an arduous, entertaining, and sometimes emotionally demanding process.


At the eye of this annual fashion hurricane is the two-decade relationship between Wintour and Grace Coddington, incomparable Creative Director and fashion genius. They are perfectly matched for the age-old conflict between creator and curator. Through them, we see close-up the delicate creative chemistry it takes to remain at the top of the ever-changing fashion field.--© Roadside Attractions


Rolling Stone: R. J. Cutler has crafted a subversively entertaining documentary detailing the blood, sweat and tears Vogue editor Anna Wintour exacted from her staff to produce the mammoth 2007 issue of the fashion Bible. It’s all pre-economic collapse, meaning we get to watch the fashionably rich enjoy their privileges while everyone else, well, let them eat cake. For a while, the movie seems all delicious frosting with the British Wintour captaining her ship of fashion with style and — given the way her family sniffs at her allegedly frivolous job — defensive grace. But the real grace here belongs to Grace Coddington, Vogue’s creative director who hasn’t let the romance of fashion drain out of her despite pressures from the great God of advertising. In fact, watching Coddington play yin to Wintour’s yang proves lively and instructive. All lasting magazines, including this one, reflect the battle between church and state, edit and advertising, art and commerce. Wintour steers a tight ship. Coddington reminds her that Vogue has a history based on something more than profit. In the end, they’re a winning combination.


Roger Ebert: Vogue is ruled by the famous Anna Wintour, who is said to be the single most important person in the world of fashion. When she says "yes," it happens. When she says "no," it doesn't. She says "no" frequently. She rarely deigns to explain why, but it would appear that most people believe she is right. She is always right about her own opinion, and in fashion, hers is the opinion that matters most.

The documentarian R. J. Cutler followed Wintour for months during the preparation for September 2007, which was expected to set a record. There cannot have been a page she wasn't involved with. This seems to be a woman who is concerned with one thing above all: The implementation of her opinion. She is not the monster depicted by Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada" (2006), but then how could she be?


Perhaps it was "The Devil Wears Prada," based on a novel by one of her former assistants, that motivated Wintour to authorize this documentary. She doesn't otherwise seem like the kind of woman who craves attention, since, after all, she is the focus of the eyes of everyone who matters to her. She doesn't throw handbags at her assistants as Streep does in the 2006 movie, but then she knows too much about cameras to make that mistake.


What comes across is that she is, after all, a very good editor. Like Hugh Hefner, William Shawn, Harold Hayes or Graydon Carter, she knows exactly what she wants, and her readers agree with her. When she cringes at the sight of a dress, we're inclined to cringe along with her. The question arises: What possible meaning is there in haute couture for the vast majority of humans who have ever lived? None, of course.


Old photographs show she has worn the same hairstyle since time immemorial, perhaps because to change it would be a fatal admission that she cares what people think. In public, she always wears the same dark glasses, which provide maximum concealment; "armor," she calls it.


Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: 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. I thought it would be shown in3D, but I was wrong; Avatar continues in the 3D cinema.


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.


Avatar: US, Action/ Adventure/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 162 mins – Now the highest grossing film in the world ever, bypassing Titanic just this last Monday. It got a lot of help, of course, from higher-priced tickets for 3D and Imax showings. At the Golden Globes award ceremony last week where the film won awards for best drama and best director, James Cameron said in accepting the awards, “Avatar asks us to see that everything is connected, all human beings to each other, and us to the Earth. And if you have to go four-and-a-half light years to another, made-up planet to appreciate this miracle of the world that we have right here, well, you know what, that's the wonder of cinema right there; that's the magic.” Yeah, right on! A film that shows the wonder of cinema. That it is. 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. 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. 


The 2D English version has now departed Airport Plaza, leaving only the 3D version.


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| 14:55| 18:15| 21:35| 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/ ThrillerGolden Globes best actor award went to Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes. This is 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. A bit of the old Holmes shows through. Purists, however, will not be amused. Jude Law plays the stalwart Watson. Mixed or average reviews: 57/58 out of 100.


Yak Dai Yin Wa Rak Kan / อยากได้ยินว่ารักกัน / Best Supporting Actor: Thai, Drama/ Romance – 115 mins – Director: Alongkod Eurpaiboon. Now the top Thai film in Thailand, this is a romantic comedy-drama about two childhood friends, one of whom was always in the shadow of his better-looking, more-popular friend. And when they grow into adults, nothing changes. A minor variation on the standard Thai rom/com, exploiting the inscrutable mysteries of the Thai courtship rituals.


32 Thun-Wah / 32 ธันวา: Thai, Comedy/ Romance – 120 mins – 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


The Spy Next Door: US, Action/ Comedy/ Family 92 mins – With Jackie Chan. A former CIA spy looks after his girlfriend's three kids, and one of them accidentally downloads a top-secret formula, leading to a run-in with a Russian terrorist. Jackie Chan fans may be running to see this – it’s the top film in Thailand - but people in the real world think it’s a sad little movie entirely designed to set up Chan’s stunt sequences as he fights with pots, pans, and ladders. Reviewers say it’s flat and witless – one of Chan's worst ever, a juvenile, generic, sitcommy mess that utterly fails to thrill or amuse. But, what do they know? Generally unfavorable reviews: 27/30 out of 100. 



Scheduled for Chiang Mai cineplexes on Thursday, February 4, 2010


My Valentine: Thai, Comedy/ Romance – 90 mins – What would happen if a girl who really hates Valentine's Day was destined to meet three different young men who all have the same goal: to win her heart?


Oppai Volleyball / おっぱいバレ: Japan, Comedy/ Drama– 102 mins – Plot: A beautiful young junior high school teacher promises to show her boobs to the can't-win boys' volleyball team if they win a game. But when this inspires them to greatness, can she bear to bare all? Literally Translated Title: Boobs Ball.


Time Out, Edmund Lee: Viewer expectations are high for Oppai Volleyball, for three main reasons: a) “Oppai” means breasts and often refers to the larger varieties; b) the film tells the story of a young and pretty middle-school teacher, Mikako, who promises to show her boobs to the boys’ volleyball team if they practice hard and win a match; c). Mikako is played by swimsuit model turned actress Haruka Ayase (Cyborg She, Happy Flight), whose oppai are, shall we say, rather respectable.


But first, let’s make it clear: sorry geeks, you’re not going to see Ayase’s boobs – nor much of anything below her neck – in this movie. Instead, what you get is a zany coming-of-age comedy about the team’s five horny dorks, whose knowledge of the sport is somewhat less than that of breasts. (In the film’s wacky opening sequence, the boys simulate the sensation… by grasping the wind with their hands.)Their perverted innocence is somehow matched by Mikako’s, whose unwavering loyalty to the students gradually has her believe that her boobs don’t just belong to her, but represent ‘the dream of all of us’ (audience unfortunately not included).


In essence a mediocre feel good story blessed with a racy title, the film’s one-joke premise soon stretches thin with the boys’ constant “Oppai!” chanting. Nonetheless, Oppai Volleyball may still find itself a place in film history, being possibly the first movie to ever feature a pair of boobs as its MacGuffin.


Beyond Hollywood: Although Oppai Volleyball is basically a one joke film, it certainly makes the very most of it, and even non Japanese speaking viewers will come away having the word for ‘boob’ burned into their brains after hearing it howled every few minutes. Much like its young characters, the film really is breast obsessed, with lots of gags revolving around associated wordplay or the boys trying to catch an eyeful. However, despite this, and the fact that it is hard to shake the feeling that there is something essentially not quite wholesome about the story, the film is a fairly innocent affair without anything perverse or distasteful. Most of the slapstick is innocuously amusing stuff, and as such its hard not to root for the team as they give their all in the name of getting Ayase to shed her top. This does make for some very funny moments, such as the boys constant chanting of ‘boobs!’ at decidedly inappropriate moments, or Ayase’s priceless motivational speech, which involves her whipping them into a battle frenzy by telling them ‘do your best to see my boobs!’

Alliance Française schedule

At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm

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, January 29:  Mon petit doigt m'a dit... / By the Pricking of My Thumbs (2005) by Pascal Thomas – 105 mins – France, Comedy/ Mystery. English subtitles. Adapted from the mystery thriller by Agatha Christie.


With Catherine Frot, André Dussolier, Geneviève Bujold.


An elderly woman who disappears. A village that, behind all its gossip, hides a dark secret, a house split in half, tombs that are better left untouched, a doll that reappears from the past, a terrifying lawyer who wears a death mask. It will take some doing for Prudence and Bélisaire Beresford, who have Hercule Poirot’s patience and Agatha Christie’s humor, to uncover the astounding truth...

– Alliance description


Films de France: Shortly after visiting their elderly aunt in a luxury retirement home, Bélisaire and Prudence Beresford are surprised by her sudden death.  Prudence becomes convinced foul play is at work when she learns that one of the other old women she met in the home has mysteriously disappeared.  In her aunt’s possessions, Prudence comes across a painting of a country house, a painting which awakens some dormant memory.  Despite her husband’s objections, Prudence sets out to unravel the mystery...


IMDb viewer: All you can expect from an Agatha Christie novel you will find here: thrills, plot twists, mysterious clues, a surprising final resolution. But, thanks to Pascal Thomas' talent you will be given even more: social comment (old age, family ties, the 2003 heat wave), black humor (jokes about death, madness, etc.), brilliant dialog, plus a wonderful cast of either well-known character actors typed against cast (Geneviève Bujold, Valérie Kaprisky, Maurice Risch, Laurent Terzieff), of talented beginners (Pierre Lescure) or little known but excellent actors (André Thorent, Anne Le Ny). To say nothing of the sizzling leading couple of the always perfect Catherine Frot and André Dussollier.


However what is most enjoyable is the offbeat tone that imbues the whole film. The atmosphere, although apparently realistic, constantly borders on the fantastic.



At Alliance Française on Friday, February 5:  Fanfan la tulipe (2003) by Gérard Krawczyk – 95 mins – France, Adventure/ Comedy/ Romance. English subtitles. Mixed or average reviews: 51 out of 100.


With Vincent Perez, Penélope Cruz, Didier Bourdon, Hélène De Fougerolles, Michel Muller.


In this 2003 remake of the classic 1952 French film, Fanfan la Tulipe (Perez) is a swashbuckling lover who is tricked into joining the army of King Louis XV by Adeline La Franchise (Cruz), who tells Fanfan that by doing so, he will eventually marry one of the king's daughters...

– Alliance description


Plume-noire, Sandrine Marques: To escape marriage, Fanfan (Vincent Pérez), a womanizer, joins Louis XV's army, foils a plot, and finds love with Adeline (Pénélope Cruz), a fortuneteller thirsty for freedom. A remake of a Christian-Jaque film shot in 1952, this Fanfan la Tulipe, from the Luc Besson stable, has neither the epic dimension, nor the panache of the original version, even though the "Besson method,” flanked by long-time drudge Gerard Krawczyk, has proven to be durable.


IMDb viewer: Not the most intelligent film ever made, but for those wishing to see a fun, swashbuckling movie then I would certainly recommend this to them.Fanfan himself is difficult to warm to to begin with but once you get past the cheeky arrogance Vincent Perez makes a fantastic Fanfan and although Penelope Cruz can be difficult to understand for non fluent viewers, due to her strong accent, her performance is still enjoyable enough.


It was obviously never intended to be the most technically brilliant movie ever created but I honestly believe anyone who knows a bit of French should give it a chance. Great for a rainy day!



At Alliance Française on Friday, February 12:  Je ne suis pas là pour être aimé / Not Here to Be Loved (2005) byStéphane Brizé – 93 mins – France, Drama/ Romance. English subtitles.


With Patrick Chesnais, Anne Consigny, Raymond Pellegrin.


Fifty-year-old Jean-Claude Delsart, worn out by his police work, gave up on the idea of life offering any sweet surprises some time ago. But he hadn't counted on just what would happen when he finally got up the nerve to learn the tango...

– Alliance description


Neil Young’s Film Lounge: Still waters run persuasively deep in Not Here To Be Loved, a startlingly dry - and ineffably "French" - comedy/ romance in which almost every word, gesture, and shot is expertly weighted for maximum effect. The story of an unlikely relationship which blossoms between divorced, Prufrock-ish, 50-year-old bailiff Jean-Claude (suitably hangdog Patrick Chesnais) and Francoise (spirited Anne Consigny), the significantly younger woman he meets at a tango class - despite the latter's impending marriage to pudgy would-be novelist Thierry (Lionel Abelanski) - may be, if anything, a little too restrained, slow-burning and subtle for some. Patient (older?) viewers, however, will find many rewards in this deliciously poised, impeccably-observed fable of lonely lives redeemed by the possibility of a second chance.

Film Space schedule

At Film Space on Saturdays at 7 pm


January is The Month of Coincidenceat Film Space. February, “The Month of Hard-pressed Women.


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 20 baht. Well worth supporting.


At Film Space Saturday, January 30:  See How They Run / Summer Things / Embrassez qui vous voudrez (2002) by Michel Blanc – 103 mins – France/ UK/ Italy, Comedy/ Drama/ Romance. Generally favorable reviews: 74 out of 100.


Empire: A riche bitch queens it over her less fortunate friends, while unaware that husband Bertrand is sleeping with his transsexual secretary.


Reeling Reviews: Writer/director Michel Blanc has whipped up a typically French romantic comedy which is an engaging romp despite its cast of thoroughly unlikable characters. Blanc paces his film so quickly that before one has fully absorbed the ramifications of one character's despicable action, the action has moved on to another bit of bad behavior. See How They Run is deliciously amusing on its surface, yet offers insights into the human condition as an after taste.


Blanc begins his film with a dinner party and ends with a garden party, both hosted by the wealthy Lanniers. Initial impressions of those around the dinner table are tweaked as the script drops in unknown details later on which give us a fresh slant on the characters - Elizabeth's good friend Julie is really her husband's ex-mistress, Jérôme is broke but trying to appease his wife to fill in the void left by the death of a child, Elizabeth may be subconsciously enabling Bertrand to spend time with a male lover to maintain her marital status quo. Blanc also slips sly little jokes throughout his tale. English actress Rampling complains that Touquet is being 'overrun by the English.' Lulu's complaint that mints 'take her throat out' is mistaken for the effect of a certain sexual act when overheard by her husband. Funniest is the affect of a broken typewriter key on a suicide note.


Rotten Tomatoes: Michel Blanc's adaptation of Joseph Connolly's novel Summer Things/Vacances Anglaises romps through scene after scene of riotous romantic upheaval and treachery. The story follows two eccentric families on vacation together in Touquet, France. One family, however, is privately bankrupt and can only afford a trailer on the outskirts of town. Casual infidelity and small deceits are the norm, as almost each character, young and old, becomes involved in a summer tryst.


February is “The Month of Hard-pressed Women” at Film Space


At Film Space Saturday, February 6:  Marie Antoinette (2006) by Sofia Coppola – 123 mins – US/ France/ Japan, Biography/ Drama/ History. Starring Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Judy Davis, Rip Torn, Rose Byrne, Asia Argento, Molly Shannon, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston, and Steve Coogan. Generally favorable reviews: 65/61 out of 100.


Rotten Tomatoes: Lavish imagery and a daring soundtrack set this film apart from most period dramas; in fact, style completely takes precedence over plot and character development in Coppola's vision of the doomed queen.


Philadelphia Inquirer Steven Rea: A gorgeous confection, packed with gargantuan gowns and pornographic displays of pastrystuffs, Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette is also a sharp, smart look at the isolation, ennui, and supercilious affairs of the rich, famous and famously pampered.  



At Film Space Saturday, February 13: Strawberry Shortcakes (2006) by Yazaki Hitoshi – 127 mins – Japan, Drama.


New York Asian Film Festival 2008: Strawberry Shortcakes tells the story of the intersecting lives of four different women in Tokyo: an office worker, a prostitute, an artist, and a receptionist for an escort service. Each of the women is miserable and unfulfilled to varying degrees. The office worker has a boyfriend who won’t commit to her, and is stuck with an unfulfilling job with coworkers who despise her. The prostitute engages in dangerous, unprotected sex with her clients and pines after a college buddy who spurns her affections. The artist suffers from bulimia, and the receptionist is not only deeply lonely, but also is trying to avoid the advances of her skeezy, married boss.


As the plot description suggests, Strawberry Shortcakes is a troubling film. All of the women in the film are rather weak-willed. Most, if not all, of them believe that they will never be happy or fulfilled until they are married. On the other hand, the men in the film are portrayed as uncaring, lecherous, two-timing sleazeballs. Is the film critiquing how members of both sexes destroy their lives by falling into stereotypical patterns of behavior? Or is the film merely reinforcing those stereotypes? The answer is not clear, given that the story is presented in a naturalistic style without an explicit point of view.


Although the film’s politics may be questionable, the film’s aesthetics are unimpeachable. Although the film is shot in a vérité fashion, with long takes and minimal non-diegetic music, its imagery is far from rough-hewn. Most of the film’s shots are remarkably beautiful; the filmmakers have truly managed to find poetry in unexpected places such as back-alleys and grungy rooftops. Notwithstanding their eye for visual beauty, the filmmakers do not shy away from ugliness; scenes in which the women engage in degrading sex are particularly tough to watch. As a final note, all four of the lead actresses should be commended for their fine, fearless performances. The actresses are extremely convincing in their roles, even when they have to pull off tough dialogue, such as conversations with God.