Reprieve for Black Swan
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, March 3, 2011
… through Wednesday, March 9
by Thomas Ohlson
This is Issue Number 18 of Volume 6 of these listings, in our sixth year!
The current festivals lineup:
9th World Film Festival of Bangkok: Nov 4 to 13, 2011.
2nd Luang Prabang Film Festival in Luang Prabang: Dec 3 to 10, 2011.
[No Doi Saket Film Festival this year, but planned for 2012.]
Black Swan was scheduled to end its run yesterday, but has been extended, for who knows how long. Only one showing a day, late at night (at 9:30), after the kiddies who come for Rapunzel (with whom the film shares the cinema) are all home and snug in bed. That makes it kind of late, but it gives you another chance to see this hugely artistic creation. I saw it again yesterday, thinking it was my last chance. It really needs to be seen in a cinema with digital sound, like the one at Airport Plaza. The music and the sound design are an experience to undergo. I’m amazed at the craft of this film. It’s pointless to argue with the film for not being what you would like it to be; it has its own vision, and fulfills it with incredible artistry and skill. No use complaining about the hand-held cameras, that was expressly desired by the director, to give a documentary feel to it.
It’s part psychological horror film as much as an homage to the daily grind and paid a ballet dancer needs to undergo. So many tightly controlled aspects, it’s just a pleasure of filmmaking. Do see it, and do see it in a cinema with a great sound system. See it at Airport Plaza.
Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week
* Rapunzel / Tangled (3D): US, Animation/ Comedy/ Family – 1 hr 40 mins – For some reason, this film is known as Tangled in the US and Rapunzel here. After receiving healing powers from a magical flower, the baby Princess Rapunzel is kidnapped from the palace in the middle of the night by wicked Mother Gothel. Mother Gothel knows that the flower's magical powers are now growing within the golden hair of Rapunzel, and to stay young, she must lock Rapunzel in her hidden tower. Rapunzel is now a teenager and her hair has grown to a length of 70 feet. The beautiful Rapunzel has been in the tower her entire life, and she is now curious about the outside world. One day, the bandit Flynn Rider scales the tower and is taken captive by Rapunzel. Rapunzel strikes a deal with the charming thief to act as her guide to travel to the place where the floating lights come from that she has seen every year on her birthday. And thus Rapunzel is about to have the most exciting and magnificent journey of her life. In Disney Digital 3D at Airport Plaza, 2D at Vista. Generally favorable reviews: 71/75 out of 100. (The scores, on a basis of 100, are from two web sources. The first, in bold, is from Metacritic.com, and the other is from RottenTomatoes.com. Movies released in the US only.)
Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: While far from Disney's greatest film, Tangled is a visually stunning, thoroughly entertaining addition to the studio's classic animated canon.
Globe and Mail, Jennie Punter: Tangled, Disney’s 50th animated feature, is a splendid tribute to the best moments from decades past but also a thrilling example of what could be the future of animated family entertainment from the studio. They really pulled out all the stops on this one.
Tangled is glorious-looking, action-packed, and laugh-rippled with a few fine story-advancing musical numbers. It’s a lively rendition of Rapunzel that swaps the social status of the two romantic protagonists, turns the old evil hag into a svelte passive-aggressive mother-type and adds two new animal characters (a cute chameleon who perches like so many twittering birds in cartoons of yore, and a fearless cop horse with the tenacity of a sniffer dog) that only Disney animators could so memorably portray.
The painterly look of hand-drawn animation from Disney’s first golden era and the physicality of the best swashbuckling adventure films of that same time are delivered with the latest techniques in camera positioning, editing, special effects and 3-D to enhance the action to heart-pounding effect, underline gags and create romance.
* Easy A: US, Comedy/ Drama – 1 hr 32 mins – Oh, Wow! This is funny! Can’t remember when I laughed so much. And it’s sharp, and a little biting, but in the end sweet. Sort of a cross between Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and a gay Huckleberry Finn. You’ll see when you see it, which I hope you do. “When a white lie about losing her virginity gets out, a young high school girl decides to make the rumor mill work to her benefit. Things get out of control as she adds to the list of conspirators and eventually realizes the consequences of perpetuating the lie.” With a terrific Emma Stone and an inspired cast of supporting players including the ever-enjoyable Stanley Tucci. Generally favorable reviews: 72/73 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: It owes a huge debt to older (and better) teen comedies, but Easy A proves a smart, witty showcase for its irresistibly charming star, Emma Stone.
The Hollywood Reporter, Kirk Honeycutt: A high school romp that turns a stale genre upside down with sly wit and sharp satire.
Roger Ebert: Easy A offers an intriguing middle ground to the absolute of sexual abstinence: Don't sleep with anybody, but say you did. It's a funny, engaging comedy that takes the familiar but underrated Emma Stone and makes her, I believe, a star.
* Biutiful: US, Drama – 2 hrs 28 mins – This is a story of a man in free fall. On the road to redemption, darkness lights his way. Connected with the afterlife, Uxbal is a tragic hero and father of two who's sensing the danger of death. He struggles with a tainted reality and a fate that works against him in order to forgive, for love, and forever. Rated R in the US for disturbing images, language, some sexual content, nudity, and drug use. Mixed or average reviews: 58/64 out of 100. At Vista only, in Spanish, with English and Thai subtitles.
Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: Javier Bardem's searing performance helps to elevate Biutiful, as does Alejandro González Iñárritu's craftsmanship, but the film often lapses into contrivance and grimness.
Hollywood Reporter, Kirk Honeycutt: Understand that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Biutiful" has a strong, linear narrative drive. Nevertheless, and most of all, it's a gorgeous, melancholy tone poem about love, fatherhood and guilt.
Some scenes are absolutely wrenching to behold. Others hit home with a punch to the solar plexus. Spain -- and Barcelona to be specific -- has beckoned forth the wistful poet in the Mexican-born filmmaker. His response to this summons is a film that, while about death, is teeming with life in all its tangled messiness.
* The Adjustment Bureau: US, Romance/ Thriller/ Sci-Fi – 1 hr 45 mins – On the brink of winning a seat in the US Senate, ambitious politician David Norris (Matt Damon) meets beautiful contemporary ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt)-a woman like none he's ever known. But just as he realizes he's falling for her, mysterious men conspire to keep the two apart. David learns he is up against the agents of Fate itself – the men of The Adjustment Bureau – who will do everything in their considerable power to prevent David and Elise from being together. In the face of overwhelming odds, he must either let her go and accept a predetermined path...or risk everything to defy Fate and be with her. Mixed or average reviews: 57/61 out of 100.
Empire, Helen O'Hara: The themes of screenwriter George Nolfi’s first feature film as director will delight philosophers. Does free will exist, or are we travelling along pre-determined paths — and if so, who determines them, and to what extent? Where does chance end and design begin? Can we fight Fate? Luckily for us, Nolfi’s execution will excite everyone else, for this metaphysical love story/thriller manages the very difficult trick of remaining intriguingly intelligent while unfailingly placing entertainment well ahead of explanation.
In other words, the script merrily skips any laboured exposition on exactly who — or what — the ubiquitous shady men in the sharp suits and anachronistic hats are. It positively sprints past any lengthy monologues establishing why they do what they do — and, for that matter, barely lingers on the “what” they’re doing. There’s a suggestion that the Adjusters may be angels, which would certainly explain their Wings Of Desire-esque propensity for standing on rooftops wearing overcoats, and there’s mention of a Chairman with a Plan, but it’s never particularly dissected. All the better, since it’s in establishing the detail that brain-bending thrillers like this tend to fall apart.
Instead, we experience The Adjustment Bureau as does the film’s protagonist David Norris (Matt Damon): as a strange and all-powerful force twisting events to its own ends. It’s Inception for romantics, a love story told through the medium of science-fiction — or maybe not; it’s hard to peg this by genre. By keeping the pace quick, the explanation light and the characters strong, Nolfi achieves the near-impossible: a film puzzle you won’t mind leaving unexplained.
* Unknown: US, Action/ Drama/ / Mystery/ Thriller – 1 hr 53 mins – Dr. Martin Harris awakens after a car accident in Berlin to discover that his wife suddenly doesn't recognize him and another man has assumed his identity. Ignored by disbelieving authorities and hunted by mysterious assassins, he finds himself alone, tired and on the run. Aided by an unlikely ally, Martin plunges headlong into a deadly mystery that will force him to question his sanity, his identity, and just how far he's willing to go to uncover the truth. With Diane Kruger, January Jones, and Liam Neeson. Mixed or average reviews: 56/58 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: Liam Neeson elevates the proceedings considerably, but Unknown is ultimately too derivative -- and implausible -- to take advantage of its intriguing premise.
Salon, Andrew O’Hehir: What do you get when you combine an A-minus cast that seems almost randomly assembled; an identity-loss plot that Mixmasters bits of Inception, Memento, Salt and perhaps a half-dozen other movies; wintry Berlin locations; and a little-known Spanish director who is arguably most famous for making a horror film with Paris Hilton? To my enormous surprise, what you get in Unknown is a stylish and muscular thriller with some nifty twists and turns, a wicked sense of humor, several terrific performances and not one or even two but three of the best car chases in recent action-flick history.
My task here is to convince you that Unknown is pretty damn good without totally overselling a film that admittedly mashes up totally familiar ingredients: a good-looking guy, an icy blonde, a missing briefcase, a car accident, a faintly sinister European city and some bad guys in a black SUV. This is a studio thriller released in February, people, not the second coming of Hitchcock. Keep your expectations reasonable and director Jaume Collet-Serra will exceed them, delivering an exciting and unjaded entertainment with tremendous atmosphere, one that will keep you guessing almost to the final frame.
There's more than a touch of Cold War spy thriller to the script (adapted from a French novel by Didier van Cauwelaert), even though the question of who's spying on whom and why remains mostly subterranean. From the moment Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson), an American botanist, and his wife, Liz (Mad Men star January Jones), arrive in Berlin for a biotechnology conference, the air seems full of secrets. Wet, driving snow obscures the war monuments and makes the driving dangerous, and by the time they reach their hotel near the Brandenburg Gate, Martin realizes what we already know: His briefcase, with all its important papers, has been left behind at the airport.
From the front desk, Liz turns and gives her husband a long, implacable stare as he grabs another cab to go retrieve the MacGuffin-ish valise. Martin won't be seeing either the lost luggage or the wife for some time, because minutes later he and the taxi are plunging into the river Spree after a horrific accident. Heroically, the female driver smashes the rear window and pulls him out. But she then melts away into the crowd, and the next thing Martin knows, he's waking from a four-day coma in a Berlin hospital, with no ID, no wife, no suitcase and seemingly no identity at all.
Let's tread carefully here: Unknown isn't an amnesia movie, exactly. Martin knows who he is, or at least he thinks he does, but the world doesn't seem to agree. Oh, the staff at the Hotel Adlon confirm that Dr. and Mrs. Harris are staying there, but when Martin approaches Liz and begins explaining his absence, she cuts him off in best Hitchcockian-blonde fashion: "Excuse me -- do I know you?" Yes, of course she's with her husband, and here he is: Martin Harris, played by Aidan Quinn, complete with name tag, expensive suit and pompous demeanor. So Neeson's version of Martin is faced with unpalatable alternatives: Either his head injury has caused dementia and disorientation, or his identity has been stolen -- by unknown persons for unknown reasons -- and his own wife is involved.
Saying much more would be unfair, except that there are clues all along about what's really going on -- and that I'm actually looking forward to watching this one again to see how well the mystery holds up. This isn't exactly the most challenging or varied Liam Neeson performance, but the actor's gloomy-growly mode works well for an utterly isolated character, pursued by shadowy villains, who must go off the grid into the Berlin underworld, where he eventually reconnects with Gina (Diane Kruger), the missing taxi driver, an Eastern European immigrant who has her own reasons for being invisible. Martin is also troubled by recurring dreams and flashbacks out of the Inception/Shutter Island playbook, which suggest that his own perception of reality is muddier than he thinks. Indeed, there are so many references to Christopher Nolan movies in Unknown that it approaches the level of homage.
Martin and Gina lead their pursuers on a couple of those high-energy, wildly careening vehicle chases I was talking about, and better still, they entrust their mystery to Ernst Jürgen (the great Bruno Ganz), a wisecracking ex-Stasi man turned slow-motion private eye, who is such a great character he deserves his own entire movie. Ernst regrets the demise of the East German security state and doesn't care who knows it, and problems such as Martin's do not especially surprise him. "We Germans are experts at forgetting," he says dryly, in a voice that sounds like someone pouring coal down a chute.
Collet-Serra builds a tangible mood of menace, based partly on what we know about Germany's past and partly on the contemporary paranoia surrounding such topics as terrorism and industrial espionage. You may or may not figure out what's going on with the two Martin Harrises and that biotech conference, but Unknown is probably more about its masterful tone, style and momentum than its plot per se. There's a brief scene between Ganz and Frank Langella -- two of the great actors of our time or any other -- that's worth the price of admission all by itself. I'm not entirely sure January Jones is an actress so much as a living ice sculpture, but she sure looks good in haute couture, and plays a key role in delivering a malicious little surprise just before the end of this midwinter delight.
* Love Julinsee Rak Man Yai Mak / เลิฟ จุลินทรีย์ รักมันใหญ่ มาก: Thai, Drama/ Romance – Squeaky-clean teen love during a music festival.
Wise Kwai: M-Thirtynine's upcoming teenage romance Love Julinsee Rak Man Yai Mak caused a stir a few months back when the teaser clip was banned by censors who deemed it unsuitable because it showed almost-kissing youngsters in school uniforms. The lustful, love-drunk glances the kids were giving each other probably also unsettled some cultural minders, who after seeing it perhaps needed to spend some time in their bunks. Others were probably crying their eyes out it was so gosh darn sad.
The offending teaser has since been removed from M-Thirtynine's official YouTube channel, but you can probably find it around if you spend a second or two looking. I guess the message to kids is: Take off your school uniforms and then make out.
The new trailer's been out for a few weeks now. Cleansed of any inappropriate images, it has almost no kissing and plays up the M-Thirtynine-style of choppily edited comic quips. It's still pretty syrupy, so be forewarned if such melodramatic romance makes you sick to your stomach. I know I needed to hurl after watching it.
Directed by Chainarong Tampong and Sakol Tiachareon, the ensemble romance is four stories against the backdrop of the show by costumed rock band Paradox at last year's Big Mountain Music Festival. One story has the girl Nao (Tisanat Sornsuek) and the guy Yoh (Alex Rendell) waiting for each other to say "I love you". Musician Pla (Irada Siriwut) goes to the concert to forget her playboy ex-boyfriends. Fon (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk) looks back at the cute romance she had in school with an underclassman (Nuttapong Piboonthanakiet), which included sharing shredded fish snacks. Yok (Jirayu La-Ongmanee) and Eue (Monchanok Saengchaipiangpen) are lifelong best friends who've taken things to the next level of being boyfriend and girlfriend.
* Space Battleship Yamato: Japan, Action/ Adventure/ Drama/ Sci-Fi – 2 hrs 11 mins – In 2199, five years after the Gamilons began an invasion of Earth, the planet has been ravaged by the aliens' bombs. The remnants of humanity have fled underground to escape the irradiated surface. One day, former pilot Susumu Kodai discovers a capsule sent from the planet Iscandar that tells of a device that can remove the radiation from the Earth's surface. The Earth Defense Force rebuilds the battleship Yamato with a new type of propulsion system to make the 148,000 light year trip to Iscandar in hopes of saving the Earth. Within one year, the radiation will drive the rest of humanity to extinction. At Vista only, in Japanese, with English and Thai subtitles.
Japan Times, Mark Schilling: The Space Battleship Yamato franchise, known abroad under such titles as "Star Blazers" and "Space Cruiser Yamato," began life in 1974 as a TV cartoon space opera, then generated a hit animated film in 1977. Two more TV series and four more films followed, concluding the saga with the 1983 feature Final Yamato.
Series creator and producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki and series director Leiji Matsumoto fought in court for years about the "Yamato" copyrights, finally agreeing in 2003 to share them. Nishizaki subsequently directed a "Yamato" animation that did indifferent business following its theatrical release in December 2009. On Nov. 7 of this year, he died after falling into the sea from a boat called, appropriately, "Yamato."
Hype over Takashi Yamazaki's live-action film Space Battleship Yamato has been building in Japan and abroad since it was announced in the summer of 2009. One reason was the ¥2 billion budget, a huge amount for a Japanese film, much of which has been lavished on effects.
Another is director Yamazaki, who confirmed his A-list status with his two smash "Always" films (2005 and 2007), nostalgic dramas set in a downtown Tokyo neighborhood in the late 1950s.
But for the local audience, especially, the biggest draw is star Takuya Kimura, who has been voted the most popular male entertainer and sexiest man in show business/ Japan/ the universe in poll after poll since his rise to the top with the pop group SMAP in the early 1990s.
Space Battleship Yamato is accordingly one of Japan’s biggest domestic releases this year. Yamazaki, working with scriptwriter Shimako Sato (a director in her own right who also happens to be Yamazaki's wife), has made a film that is good, uncomplicated fun for kids, and with plenty of CG spectacle and thrills (if not in the ever-more common 3-D).
At the same time, Space Battleship Yamato is not only packed with references to the original "Yamato" series, but also contains various thematic elements, from old-fashioned patriotism to contemporary eco-consciousness, that give older fans more to chew on than the usual kiddy popcorn fare.
Despite the manga-esque tone, with its comic and dramatic exaggerations, the movie takes itself seriously as drama. This is not an easy balancing act to pull off, but Yamazaki's principals, starting with Kimura's cocky pilot Susumu Kodai, are both cartoonishly heroic and recognizably human — that is, likably flawed. Think Harrison Ford's cheeky pilot in Stars Wars, but with a better hairdresser.
The story begins in 2194, when an alien force, the Gamilas, invade Earth and wipe out most of humanity. Five years on, the survivors are living as fugitives underground, while the planet has become a radiated wasteland from alien bombings. One day, Kodai, who has quit piloting but not surface adventuring, is knocked flat by the landing impact of a capsule from outer space. It turns out to be from Iscandar, a planet 148,000 light years from Earth — and has the unexplained power to locally, if not completely, destroy the deadly radiation.
The chief of the Earth defense forces decides to send the Yamato, a space ship outfitted with a faster-than-light "wave-motion engine," to Iscandar to obtain the technology that can revive the planet before humanity becomes extinct. With the white-bearded, rock-steady Capt. Okita (Tsutomu Yamazaki) in command, the fearless Kodai at the helm and the rest of the handpicked crew, the Yamato makes it past the Gamilas fleet in Earth orbit — but many perils still await.
The parallels with the real Yamato — a massive battleship sunk by Allied air power on a suicidal voyage to Okinawa in the closing days of World War II — are obvious, as is the Yamato-damashii (Japanese spirit) that Kodai and his comrades share with the real Yamato's heroic crew, most of whom went down with the ship.
The film is plotted like its Hollywood models, as big action scenes interrupt the dramatics with predictable regularity. The climax, however, is quite Japanese in sentiment, if Hollywood in scale. But how to interpret the crew's often repeated salute, with the right fist thumping the heart? Vaguely fascistic? Goofily innocent and sincere? By the end of the 22nd century, I just hope we humans are still around, silly salutes included.
Faster: US, Action/ Crime/ Drama/ Thriller – 1 hr 38 mins – An ex-con sets out to avenge his brother's death after they were double-crossed during a heist years ago. During his campaign, however, he's tracked by a veteran cop and an egocentric hit man. With Billy Bob Thornton and Maggie Grace. Rated R in the US for strong violence, some drug use, and language. Mixed or average reviews: 44/49 out of 100.
From all I can gather, and from the previews, it’s looks like unrelenting action, meaning plenty of bloody killings, fights, automobile chases and crashes. And not one bit of anything that makes sense. If this is what you like, go!
Roger Ebert: Faster is a pure thriller, all blood, no frills, in which a lot of people get shot, mostly in the head. Rotate the plot, change the period, spruce up the dialogue, and this could have been a hard-boiled 1940s noir. But it doesn't pause for fine touches and efficiently delivers action for an audience that likes one-course meals.
The New York Times, Stephen Holden: Faster, a turgid, ultraviolent parable of revenge and forgiveness, is as muscle-bound as its monosyllabic antihero, Driver (Dwayne Johnson), an indestructible human Superman with a metal plate in his head. Released from prison after serving time for a bank robbery, this high-speed tank runs over anything in his path or shoots it on the spot.
The Eagle: US/ UK, Adventure – 1 hr 54 mins – In 2nd-Century Britain, two men – master and slave – venture beyond the edge of the known world on a dangerous and obsessive quest that will push them beyond the boundaries of loyalty and betrayal, friendship and hatred, deceit and heroism. This Roman epic adventure is directed by Kevin Macdonald and based on Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic novel The Eagle of the Ninth. With Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, and Mark Strong. Mixed or average reviews: 56/53 out of 100. At Airport Plaza only.
In 140 AD, the Roman Empire extends all the way to Britain – though its grasp is incomplete, as the rebellious tribes of Caledonia (today’s Scotland) hold sway in the far North. Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) arrives in Britain, determined to restore the tarnished reputation of his father, Flavius Aquila. It was 20 years earlier that Rome’s 5,000-strong Ninth Legion, under the command of Flavius and carrying their golden emblem, the Eagle of the Ninth, marched north into Caledonia. They never returned; Legion and Eagle simply vanished into the mists. Angered, the Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the building of a wall to seal off the territory; Hadrian’s Wall became the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire – the edge of the known world.
Hearing a rumor that the Eagle has been seen in a tribal temple in the far north, Marcus is galvanized into action, and sets off with his slave Esca across Hadrian’s Wall. But the highlands of Caledonia are a vast and savage wilderness, and Marcus must rely on his slave to navigate the region.
Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: The Eagle has a pleasantly traditional action-adventure appeal, but it's drowned out by Kevin Macdonald's stolid direction and Channing Tatum's uninspired work in the central role.
Roger Ebert: The Eagle is a rip-snorting adventure tale of the sort made before CGI, 3-D and alphabet soup in general took the fun out of moviegoing. So much does it evoke the energy of traditional sword-and-shield movies that I had to bring the term "rip-snorting" out of retirement; it's rarely needed in this era of sleek technology. Here we see for the most part the actual actors trekking through real locations, instead of quasi-animation.
The story is one I dimly recall, about the disappearance of the Roman Ninth Legion, which marched north from the colony of England into the unknown wilds of Scotland and was never heard from again. It tells of an uneasy bond between a centurion named Marcus (Channing Tatum) and a slave named Esca (Jamie Bell), who join on a mission to discover what happened to the Ninth Legion and its proud symbol, a golden eagle.
I Am Number Four: US, Action/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 1 hr 50 mins – Another week, another tale of a teenager with supernatural powers. In I Am Number Four, our hero is neither a vampire nor a wizard, but an alien. With Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, and Dianna Agron. Generally unfavorable reviews: 35/48 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: It's positioned as the start of a franchise, but I Am Number Four's familiar plot and unconvincing performances add up to one noisy, derivative, and ultimately forgettable sci-fi thriller...
Roger Ebert: I Am Number Four is shameless and unnecessary. That's sad, when a movie casts aside all shame, demonstrates itself willing to rip off anything that might attract audiences, and nevertheless fails. What we have here is a witless attempt to merge the Twilight formula with the Michael Bay formula. It ends with sexy human teenagers involved in an endless special effects battle with sexy alien teenagers who look like humans, in a high school and on its football field.
Hanamizuki / Flowering Dogwood Tree /ハナミズキ: Japan, Drama – 2 hrs 8 mins – A movie based on the song Hanamizuki by Yō Hitoto released in 2004 and very popular in Japan, as is this film. Ill-fated love, what else? At Vista only. It’s in Japanese, with Thai and English subtitles.
The Reel Bits, Richard Gray: One of the bigger productions for the Japanese film industry this year – with filming taking place in Hokkaido, Canada and New York – it has also been a box office hit in its native Japan.
... the strongest performance comes from Toma Ikuta. His pretty-boy looks (despite spending most of his life roughing it on a boat) notwithstanding, Ikuta brings a real emotional weight to a character that may have otherwise been just another boy from the wrong side of the tracks.
Hanamizuki is not going to be for all tastes, and the words “date movie” spring to mind almost immediately. Hanamizuki is a sweet, if not especially memorable, romance story that never truly distinguishes itself from the crowd. Director Doi Nobuhiro, coming largely from a television background, adds little flair to proceedings, nor does he have much of a voice in this fairly by-the-numbers production. Fans of straight romance stories won’t care and have a packet of tissues ready to roll from the outset.
Heroic Cinema, Samson: Hanamizuki is a personal favorite of mine amongst all the films that I have seen at this year’s Japanese Film Festival. It is perhaps not as accomplished in various aspects as a few of the others, but it has managed to touch me and tug at my heartstrings in a way that no other films have done.
Based on the lyrics of a moving love song by Yo Hitoto (played in full at the end of the film), this story about 2 young lovers is set in Hokkaido. Sae is a college girl who falls in a love with Kohei, a handsome young fisherman. The relationship is strong until Sae decides to move to Tokyo to fulfill her dreams. There, she meets Kitami, a talented photographer who happens to share her dreams…
Yui Aragaki gives a wonderful performance as the main character, though at times her stunning good looks actually serve as a distraction. The male lead, Toma Ikuta, is charming as the fisherman whom Sae loves. He starts off boyish but as the story goes on, he becomes a mature young man. There is much chemistry between Aragaki and Ikuta, which is key to the success of the film.
Hanamizuki begins with the line ‘May your love bloom for a hundred years.’ For the 2 hours that follow, viewers get to go on a journey with the film’s 2 main characters, as their relationship develops and matures, turning from pure innocent love to deep undying love. It is quite an emotional journey, consisting of both happiness and bitterness, but bittersweet never feels as good as this.
Director Nobuhiro Doi certainly knows how to draw emotions from the audience... Hanamizuki is a beautiful and romantic film. It comes as no surprise that it became a box office hit upon its release in Japan earlier this year. If you have dreamed of love, found love, or been waiting for love, I would wholeheartedly recommend this film to you.
Panya Raenu / ปัญญา เรณู: Thai, Comedy/ Drama: Panya Raenu is a story of friendship and dreams that centers on a young boy named Panya who has a talent for singing, but is too poor to afford a local music contest. However, with his determination and the support of his friends, Panya hopes to win the contest. At Airport Plaza only.
Wise Kwai: a sweet and sentimental childhood romantic comedy that looks to be channeling the same kind of nostalgia as the 2003 hit Fan Chan. Here, instead of being set in a Thai-Chinese town in central Thailand, the story is set in Isaan and involves a village boy Panya. He has his eyes on a local cute girl but is hounded by the chubby girl Reanu. Music plays a part in this movie as well, with the kids getting involved in a song and dance contest. A few of the familiar comedians make appearances in supporting and cameo roles.
Bruce Lee, My Brother / 李小龍: Hong Kong/ China, Biography/ Drama – 2 hrs 9 mins – A dramatic biopic of the martial arts legend as told by his younger brother, Robert Lee. It revolves around Bruce Lee's life as a rebellious adolescent in Hong Kong until he sets off for the USA and conquers the world at the age of 18 with only $100 in his pocket. With Aarif Rahman as the teenage Bruce Lee, who grows up in the bustling company of countless relatives, family acquaintances, childhood pals, and would-be girlfriends. Tony Leung Ka-fai and Christy Chung give compelling turns as Lee’s strict yet caring parents. At Vista only, in Chinese, with English and Thai subtitles.
A Nutshell Review, Stefan S: Based upon the book “Bruce Lee, My Brother” by Robert Lee, Bruce's youngest brother, directors Raymond Yip and Manfred Wong take us on a journey that was begging to be made about the formative, growing up years of Lee Jun Fan / Lee Sai Feng. This film takes a nostalgic look back to the 40s to 60s Hong Kong, focusing on the somewhat wayward youth and teen actor prior to being “exiled” by his dad to the US for his own protection, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Operation: Endgame / Rogues Gallery: US, Action/ Comedy – 1 hr 27 mins – A dry action-comedy about two teams of government assassins working out of a top-secret underground facility using code names from the Tarot deck. When our hero--The Fool--arrives for his first day at work to find that the boss has been killed under mysterious circumstances, he must find the killer before the whole place blows up. Rated R in the US for strong violence and pervasive language including sexual references; 18+ in Thailand. (It includes murder by staple remover and shelf divider.) Mixed or average reviews: 50 out of 100. At Vista only.
The New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis: Mildly amusing for the first 30 minutes, Operation: Endgame is a foul-mouthed spoof of secret-agent silliness.
The Microchip / Chip Hai / ชิป / หาย: Thai, Action/ Comedy – A group of friends try to find a missing microchip which they mistakenly believe is of vast importance and want to return to the owner. Even the people who like it call it cheesy. At Airport Plaza only.
Scheduled for March 10
127 Hours: (Scheduled to open in Thailand this date; for Chiang Mai, uncertain, but if it does, grab your chance! You do want to see this, believe me!) US/ UK, Drama – Fantastic! Sounds grim, but actually not that bloody; the major action is performed with a modicum of taste, in my opinion. And the musical score is a marvel, doing all sorts of things to help you keep things in perspective. Up for the following Oscars: best picture, best actor (James Franco), best adapted screenplay, film editing, original score (the marvelous A.R. Rahman, composer for Slumdog Millionaire), and best original song. This Danny Boyle film, based on true events, features James Franco as hiker Aron Ralston, who becomes trapped under a boulder while canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah. Over the next five days Ralston examines his life and survives the elements to finally discover he has the courage and the wherewithal to extricate himself by any means necessary, scale a 65 foot wall, and hike over eight miles before he is finally rescued. Throughout his journey, Ralston recalls friends, lovers (Clemence Poesy), family, and the two hikers he met before his accident. Will they be the last two people he ever meets? Rated R in the US for language and some disturbing violent content/ bloody images. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 82/82 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: As gut-wrenching as it is inspirational, 127 Hours unites one of Danny Boyle's most beautifully exuberant directorial efforts with a terrific performance from James Franco.
Gantz: Japan, Action/ Crime – The posters for this make it look interesting, but apparently it is a disappointment to fans of the manga, most especially with what is universally decried as abominable English dubbing on all copies of the film distributed outside of Japan.
Rotten Tomatoes synopsis: After trying to rescue a man on the subway tracks, two teens wake up in a room dominated by a mysterious black sphere that sends them to hunt down and kill aliens hiding on Earth.
IMDb viewer: Gantz begins with the tragic deaths of childhood friends Kurono Kei (played by JPop boyband "Arashi" member Ninomiya Kazunari) and Kato Masaru (played by Death Notes star Matsuyama Kenichi) who die trying to save a passenger who had fallen onto some subway rail tracks.
Although they get hit by an express subway train, they find themselves miraculously alive in a mysterious Tokyo apartment room amidst other strangers who had befallen similar tragic and accidental deaths. In the center of the room is a gigantic metallic sphere with a digital screen display and various compartments which house an assortment of advanced and hi-tech weaponry.
The metallic sphere (who calls itself Gantz) informs the assembled contestants that they need to hunt down various alien invaders (disguised either as humans or other objects) in order to earn points. Once 100 points are accumulated and won by any individual contestant, they may choose to either (1) erase their memory and return to normal life or (2) resurrect any of the other contestants who had previously died in a "mission".
Thus begins the epic adventure of these individuals as they play the game to win their freedom and to resurrect their fallen comrades in arms.
May show up any time
The King’s Speech: (Now playing, only at Apex Scala, Siam Square; and SFX Cinema Emporium. But may show up here unannounced) UK/ Australia, Drama/ History – In my view a beautiful motion picture, with everything you could hope for. Oscar nominations for best picture, best director (Tom Hooper), best actor (Colin Firth), best supporting actor (Geoffrey Rush), best supporting actress (Helena Bonham Carter), original screenplay, art direction, cinematography, costume design, editing, original score (Alexandre Desplat), and sound mixing. Tells the story of the man who became King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth II. After his brother abdicates, George ('Bertie') reluctantly assumes the throne. Plagued by a dreaded stutter and considered unfit to be king, Bertie engages the help of an unorthodox speech therapist named Lionel Logue. Through a set of unexpected techniques, and as a result of an unlikely friendship, Bertie is able to find his voice and boldly lead the country into war. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 88/86 out of 100.
The multi-award-winning cast includes Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi, Timothy Spall, and Michael Gambon.
Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: Colin Firth gives a masterful performance in The King's, a predictable but stylishly produced and rousing period drama..
True Grit: (Playing in Thailand now and may show up here any time) Drama, Western – I thought Jeff Bridges was a hoot in this; truly enjoyable! Nominated for these Oscars (but didn’t win a one): best picture, direction (Joel and Ethan Coen), actor (Jeff Bridges), supporting actress (Hailee Steinfeld), adapted screenplay, art direction, cinematography, costume design, sound editing, and sound mixing. The story is as in the original: Following the murder of her father by hired hand Tom Chaney, fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross's (Hailee Steinfeld) determines to bring him to justice. Enlisting the help of a trigger-happy, drunken U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), she sets out with him - over his objections - to hunt down Chaney. Her father’s blood demands that she pursue the criminal into Indian territory and find him before a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) catches him and brings him back to Texas for the murder of another man. Generally favorable reviews: 80/83 out of 100.
* = Coming soon (hopefully)
AF = Alliance Française FS = Film Space
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, March 4: Jour de fête / The Big Day / Holiday (1949) by Jacques Tati – 79 mins – France, Comedy. Black and white (but maybe not). English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 82 out of 100.
With Jacques Tati, Paul Frankeur, Guy Decomble, Santa Relli, Maine Vallée.
François, an easily-distracted French mailman who frequently interrupts his duties to converse with the local inhabitants, as well as inspect the traveling fair that has come to his small community. Influenced by too much wine and a newsreel account of rapid transportation methods used by the United States postal system, he goes to hilarious lengths to speed the delivery of mail while aboard his bicycle.
– Alliance description
All Movie Guide, Paul Brenner: In Jacques Tati's charming -- and essentially plotless -- pre-Hulot first feature, Tati is Francois, a contented and happy postman in a small, unhurried French village. Francois is at ease with his job and leisurely performs his duties, peddling away on his rounds upon his beloved bicycle. Things perk up when a traveling carnival arrives in town. One of the attractions at the carnival is a film depicting the United States Postal Service's fast and efficient postal delivery system. The narrator in the film exhorts, Rapidite, rapidite. Francois takes up the call, and attempts to Americanize his work style.
Films de France, James Travers: Jacques Tati’s first full-length film, Jour de fête paints a beautifully evocative and detailed picture of life in a provincial French town just after the War. The film is actually a longer version of an earlier Tati film, L’école des facteurs and is notable for a number of reasons.
Primarily, the film established Tati as one of the great comic legends of French cinema – his films being widely appreciated way beyond the borders of France. It was also one of the earliest French films to be filmed entirely in color, although the color version could not be developed at the time (because of limitations of photographic technology) and has only recently been released. Luckily, Tati made a black and white version at the same time and this is the version which most people will have seen.
In keeping with Tati’s style, the emphasis is always on the visual – which affords us some spectacular photography, meticulous editing, and some splendid comic antics. Dialogue and music are used sparingly, merely to emphasize the visual message. This is an approach which Tati was one of the few directors to master completely and the enduring success of this film is a testament to his unquestionable genius.
Tati’s impact on French cinema cannot be overstated. Apart from his own personal success, he had a great influence on subsequent directors, such as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, the architects of the French New Wave. Tati’s films remain popular today throughout the world.
On Friday, March 11, 8 pm: Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot / Mr. Hulot's Holiday (1953) by Jacques Tati – 1 hr 54 mins – France, Comedy. In black and white. No English subtitles, but you don’t really need them. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 90 out of 100.
With Jacques Tati, Nathalie Pascaud, Michèle Rolla, Valentine Camax, Louis Perrault.
Mr. Hulot goes on a holiday to a seaside resort, but accidents and misunderstandings follow him wherever he goes. The peace and quiet of the hotel guests don't last very long with Hulot around, because although his intentions are good, they always turn out catastrophically...
– Alliance description
Variety: Tati is the semi-articulate, blundering, but well-meaning clown, reminiscent of the early Mack Sennett types. Whether he is being chased by dogs, setting off a cabin full of fireworks, or blundering into a staid funeral, he is a very funny man.
Roger Ebert: The first time I saw Jacques Tati's Mr. Hulot's Holiday, I didn't laugh as uch as I thought I was supposed to. But I didn't forget the film, and I saw it again in a film class, and then bought the laserdisc and saw it a third and fourth time, and by then it had become part of my treasure. But I still didn't laugh as much as I thought I was supposed to, and now I think I understand why.
It is not a comedy of hilarity but a comedy of memory, nostalgia, fondness, and good cheer. There are some real laughs in it, but Mr. Hulot's Holiday gives us something rarer, an amused affection for human nature--so odd, so valuable, so particular.
The movie was released in 1953, and played for months, even years, in art cinemas. It was a small film that people recommend to each other. There was a time when any art theater could do a week's good business just by booking Hulot. Jacques Tati (1908-1982) made only four more features in the next 20 years, much labored over, much admired, but this is the film for which he'll be remembered.
At Film Space on Saturdays at 7 pm
March is “The Month of True Story” at Film Space.
Film Space is to the right and in the back of the Chiang Mai University (CMU) Art Museum (at 239 Nimmanhemin Road, corner of Suthep Road), 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, March 5, 7 pm: Before Night Falls (2000) by Julian Schnabel – 2 hrs 13 mins – US, Biography/ Drama. An episodic look at the life of Cuban poet and novelist, Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990), from his childhood in Oriente province to his death in New York City. He joins Castro's rebels. By 1964, he is in Havana. He meets the wealthy Pepe, an early lover; a love-hate relationship lasts for years. Openly gay behavior is a way to spite the government. His writing and homosexuality get him into trouble: he spends two years in prison, writing letters for other inmates and smuggling out a novel. He befriends Lázaro Gomes Garriles, with whom he lives stateless and in poverty in Manhattan after leaving Cuba in the Mariel boat-lift. When asked why he writes, he replies cheerfully, "Revenge." Starring Javier Bardem in the title role (as an adult), and a raft of gifted actors in the extraordinarily large cast of characters from this man’s life, including roles taken by Johnny Depp and Sean Penn. In English, Spanish, French, and Russian. Rated R in the US for strong sexual content, some language, and brief violence. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 85/76 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes consensus: An impressionistic, fragmented look at Reinaldo Arenas, Before Night Falls' imagery manages to evoke a sense of the writer's artistry, and Bardem's strong performance holds the film together. Finally, a biopic done well.
Roger Ebert: It tells the story of the Cuban poet and novelist Reynaldo Arenas, who ran away from home to join Castro's rebels but was later imprisoned and persecuted for his homosexuality and his work. Javier Bardem plays him as whimsical, petulant, big-hearted, and brave.
San Francisco Chronicle, Edward Guthmann: In Before Night Falls, Spanish actor Javier Bardem gives a magnificent performance as Reinaldo Arenas, a Cuban poet and novelist who emigrated to the United States on the Mariel boat lift of 1980 and died 10 years later. It's a hell of a part for an actor -- tragic, inspiring, with a vast emotional range -- and Bardem gives it humanity, honesty, and a cumulative power that feels heroic.
Before Night Falls is also a triumph for painter-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel (Basquiat). Basing his film in part on Arenas' autobiography of the same name, Schnabel offers a fusion of dreams, poetry, visual riffs without dialogue and dramatic scenes depicting Arenas' dirt-poor childhood, his love of literature, his sexual awakening and early enthusiasm for the Cuban Revolution, his persecution by the Castro regime, his struggle for freedom.
This film is a major leap for Schnabel, who shot it in Mexico and yet conjures the distinct flavor, sensuality and crumbling glory of Cuba. His pacing, his visual choices, his camera moves and selection of music are always rich and surprising -- as if he'd taken a cursory glance at the Hollywood handbook on standard moviemaking and happily tossed it away.
Schnabel goes in for offbeat casting. This time it's Sean Penn, funny and unrecognizable as a Cuban peasant, and Johnny Depp, who's very good in two opposing roles, as a jailed drag queen and a cruel Army lieutenant.
But this is Bardem's movie: He has a gift for transforming himself with each role, for texturing his characters with physicality. As Arenas, his shoulders are slightly stooped, his arms held close to his sides, his walk languid and slightly effeminate. He isn't playing a standard screen homosexual but an individual whose gestures are specific to him and reflective of his personality. He disappears into the role and allows his body language and big eyes to speak of Arenas' modesty and ingenuousness, his curiosity and thirst for experience. Even when Reinaldo walks out of a bookstore clutching a batch of slim volumes to his chest -- as if to secure them next to his heart -- we learn something about the character.
Unlike Arenas' memoir, which dealt extensively with sex, Schnabel's film focuses on the Arenas' quest for freedom and his efforts to express his rage and passion through writing. We see him jailed on false charges, turned into a fugitive when he escapes, caught and imprisoned in a tiny cell and made to publicly recant his beliefs. "Beauty is the enemy," he's told. "Artists are counter-revolutionary." Finally, an exile in the United States, Arenas reaches the end when he contracts AIDS. It's an horrific and tragic story, but somehow made beautiful through the care and attention of Schnabel's direction and Bardem's tender, unforgettable performance. .
At Film Space Saturday, March 12, 7 pm: The Last King of Scotland (2006) by Kevin Macdonald – 2 hrs – UK, Biography/ Drama/ History/ Thriller. In an incredible twist of fate, a Scottish doctor (James McAvoy) on a Ugandan medical mission becomes irreversibly entangled with one of the world's most barbaric figures: Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker). Impressed by Dr. Garrigan's brazen attitude in a moment of crisis, the newly self-appointed Ugandan President Amin hand picks him as his personal physician and closest confidante. Though Garrigan is at first flattered and fascinated by his new position, he soon awakens to Amin's savagery - and his own complicity in it. Horror and betrayal ensue as Garrigan tries to right his wrongs and escape Uganda alive Rated R in the US for some strong violence and gruesome images, sexual content, and language.. Generally favorable reviews: 74/74 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes consensus: Forest Whitaker's performance as real-life megalomaniac dictator Idi Amin powers this fictionalized political thriller, a blunt and brutal tale about power and corruption.
At the Gay Film Series
Next showing March 13, at 7 pm: Beautiful Boxer (2004), a quite famous Thai film directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham chronicling the real life story of Parinya Charoenphol, a Muaythai boxer who underwent a sex change operation to become a woman. The movie follows her life from a young boy who liked to wear lipstick and flowers, to her sensational career as a Muaythai boxer, to her confrontation with her own sexuality which led to her sex change operation.
Films with a gay theme shown generally every two weeks, with very limited seating, in a private home. Reservations a must to attend films in this series. To reserve: send email to: email@example.com (note the new address), mark in subject area “reserve” with the number in your party. To be placed on the mailing list for advance notice of movies just put in the subject line: “mailing list.”