Tale of a revengeful White House: Fair Game!
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, January 20, 2011
… through Wednesday, January 26
by Thomas Ohlson
Best Bets: Hereafter. Fair Game. The Tourist.
A perceived enemy is “Fair Game”!
This newssheet is also online! Go to:
This is Issue Number 12 of Volume 6 of these listings, in our sixth year!
South East Asian Film Festival, Payap University: Feb 3 to 6. Info at http://filmfestival.payap.ac.th/?page_id=56.
French Cinema Week, Alliance Française: Feb 7 to 11.
(Use slider on the right of the site to view film information.)
Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week
* Fair Game: US, Action/ Biography/ Drama/ Thriller – 1 hr 44 mins – Director Doug Liman’s fact-based drama of former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson; his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson; and the events of 2003, when her identity as a CIA operative was leaked after her husband wrote an op-ed piece criticizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Generally favorable reviews: 69/71 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.) At Vista only, with thanks for bringing this to Chiang Mai.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Joe Williams: For a nation at war with its own values, Fair Game is a compelling, pertinent and scrupulously true political thriller in the honorable tradition of All the President's Men.
New York Observer: Rex Reed: Figuring anybody cold and diabolical enough to join the C.I.A. deserves whatever they've got coming, I didn't pay much attention to the Valerie Plame spy scandal when it hit the front pages in 2003. But Fair Game, with Naomi Watts as the suburban housewife with twins who was also a covert intelligence operative playing a big role in the outbreak of the war in Iraq, clears up the murky facts and shines a klieg light on the dark, shadowy corridors of the George Bush White House. The story takes on a vital new importance.
Plame, the attractive blond secret agent who made a fool out of Dick Cheney after disclosing the truth about the fact that there were no "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, and her husband, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), a former ambassador to Niger under President Clinton who dispelled the false rumors circulated by the State Department that Niger was selling uranium to Saddam Hussein to build a nuclear bomb, were labeled traitors. When the White House declared war on Iraq and ignored Joe's investigative reports that no uranium purchase ever took place, he wrote a New York Times editorial about the lies the Bush-Cheney administration was feeding the American public and all hell broke loose. Retaliating against her husband's disagreement with the government, the Bush gang leaked Valerie's secret C.I.A. status to the Washington press, destroying her career, endangering her life, and wrecking her marriage.
Roger Ebert (November 3, 2010): It seems to come down to this: The Bush administration had decided to go to war in Iraq. Scrambling to find reasons to justify the war, it seized on reports that the African nation of Niger had sold uranium to Iraq. Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador to Niger, was sent to seek evidence. He found none. In fact, he found such sales would have been physically impossible.
His report was ignored. We went to war. The non-existent uranium sales were cited. He wrote an article in the New York Times reporting on what he found, or didn't find, in Niger. In an attempt to discredit him, someone in the administration leaked the information to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent.
Cheney's aide, Scooter Libby, was tried and convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury, sentenced to prison, and his sentence quickly commuted by Bush. Cheney was angry he wasn't pardoned outright. In the film, we see that Plame, under a variety of aliases, ran secret networks of informants in Bagdad and other Middle Eastern cities. When the administration blew her cover, several of her informants were killed; some reports say 70. Then the Bush spin doctors leaked the story that she was only a CIA "secretary."
The spinning is still going on. Doug Liman's Fair Game, based on books by Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson and starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, is unusually bold for a fictionalization based on real events. Using real names and a good many facts, it argues: (1) Saddam Hussein had no WMD; (2) the CIA knew it; (3) the White House knew it; (4) the agenda of Cheney and his White House neocons required an invasion of Iraq no matter what, and (5) therefore, the evidence was ignored and we went to war because of phony claims.
Well. That's what the film says. There will no doubt be dissent. Few people are happy to be portrayed as liars and betrayers. What amazes me is that Fair Game doesn't play the game of using fictional names. They're all right there, including Cheney personally ordering the intelligence to be falsified.
Naomi Watts looks uncannily like the real life Plame, but that's beside the point; what I related to was the serious, workmanlike tone of her Plame, who doesn't see herself as a heroine but as a skilled operative. She has scenes where she devastates other characters with what she knows about them and how she can use that information. Sean Penn plays Ambassador Wilson, more combative than his wife, outraged by the way administration leakers try to destroy them. The film is realistic about the ways the Plame-Wilson marriage almost failed.
What's effective is how matter-of-fact Fair Game is. This isn't a lathering, angry attack picture. Wilson and Plame are both seen as loyal government employees, not particularly political until they discover the wrong information. The implication is that if the Bush administration hadn't suppressed their information and smeared them, there might have been no Iraq war, and untold thousands of lives would have been saved.
This topic has been so poisoned by misinformation that a rational discussion seems impossible. I suppose the question becomes, how well does Fair Game work as a movie? I suspect it will work better the more you walk in agreeing with it. The portrait it paints of the Wilson-Plame marriage is a very personal one, based on conflicting personalities under pressure. Penn plays Wilson as a hotheaded idealist, fueled by outrage. Watts makes Plame an ideal spy: secretive, concealing, under the radar. Perhaps she would rather her husband had bitten the bullet like a good soldier. They're surrounded by press attention, and she finds her CIA work belittled by Bush administration spin doctors and her contacts overseas trashed. Joe obviously didn't prevent the war. If he'd kept quiet, her own CIA work would not have been destroyed.
One interesting element in the movie's version is the cluelessness of George W. Bush. In this version, it's possible he didn't fully realize how flawed his information on Niger was. The svengali is Cheney. That's the collective narrative that emerges from a group of similar films, like Rod Lurie's Nothing But the Truth and Oliver Stone's W. The implication was that he wanted Scooter pardoned because Scooter was acting on his orders. It's unlikely Scooter would have been acting on his own.
Of course, there’s the other viewpoint, and charges that the film “rehashes the old No-Weapons-of-Mass-Destruction complaint.” So to be somewhat fair, here’s a sample of that:
New York Press, Armond White: This insufferable mixture of partisan principle and exploitation-movie gimcrack is part of the contemporary political and cultural carelessness now rampant in movies, TV, the press, and the Internet. Liman epitomizes the new, insensitive media hackery. Unlike the old sociallyconscious protest films (once called “problem pictures”), Fair Game typifies the new genre in which characters act out the cynicism of our disenchanted media elite rather than pursue hokey ol’ social responsibility. The star power and acting skill that Watts and Penn bring to this MSNBC-style narrative (she’s perfectly cast for feminine anguish; he for liberal egotism) is intended to glamorize a privileged partisan perspective.
Patriotism gets replaced by Left Liberals’ self-justifying determination to dissent like 1960s radicals. I call such movies “Clooneys”—derived from George Clooney’s politically naive, arrogantly liberal screeds Goodnight and Good Luck, Syriana, Michael Clayton and The American—that attempt moral persuasion through unscrupulous dramatic manipulation. A pouty anti-Americanism—born of the selfloathing liberals felt ever since their disenfranchisement by Bush’s 2000 election—fuels this degradation of the action and political flick. Clooneys are never above employing fear, tension, torture, killing, treason, and sedition due to misguided nostalgia for ’70s-style Hollywood radical chic.
* Lud See Lud / หลุดสี่หลุด: Thai, Action/ Drama – 2 hrs 15 mins – Anthology of four stories, a combination of action, thriller, comedy, and drama, but it looks to focus on the horror with some action and comedy thrown in. Ananda Everingham (Shutter, The Red Eagle) stars in the more action-oriented segment. Note it’s a long one.
* Hereafter: [opened Jan 15] US, Drama/ Fantasy – 2 hrs 9 mins – That redoubtable director and notable old man, Clint Eastwood, is still making terrific movies, and at age 80! This is his latest directorial effort, and it’s a good one. Matt Damon is one of three people Eastwood studies, each with a different experience of an aspect of life after death. What do these people believe, what causes them to think that way, and what is the truth? Fascinating dramas on the topic, well done. I found it solid and fascinating. Mixed or average reviews: 56/60 out of 100. At Airport Plaza only.
Rotten Tomatoes, Consensus: Despite a thought-provoking premise and Clint Eastwood's typical flair as director, Hereafter fails to generate much compelling drama, straddling the line between poignant sentimentality and hokey tedium. [Note: I really disagree with this.]
San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle: That Clint Eastwood has become a great filmmaker is something few would contest, yet the nature of his greatness is as surprising as it's little understood. You can talk about the pristine technique - the new film, Hereafter, provides lots of examples. But what's much more fascinating and enriching is Eastwood's Olympian vision, the sympathetic and all-encompassing understanding of the pain and grandeur of life on earth.
This vision is consistent in Eastwood's late work, no matter who is doing the screenwriting, and it boggles the mind to realize that this is coming from a guy who, until he was about 60, was best known as an action hero. Make no mistake, Eastwood's directorial output, from "Mystic River" on, constitutes the 21st century's first cinematic marvel, and Hereafter is among the best things he has ever done.
Eastwood takes us into the story from the opening shots. From a hotel, we see a beach resort, filmed with the kind of color saturation we might see in an old postcard. The effect is reassuring, but misleading. A vacationing French journalist (Cecile De France) goes into the village to buy presents. And suddenly, there's a rumbling, the sight of a rising wave, and within seconds, buildings are washed away, and cars, trucks, and people are all caught in a rushing flood.
There have been tidal waves in movies before, but what makes this one so effective (aside from being perfectly realized on the technical end) is that Eastwood stays with De France. He doesn't show us an overview, so that we might get our bearings. Rather, we experience the catastrophe from one person's terrified and completely subjective vantage point. It's as close as you'll ever be to a tidal wave without getting wet.
Hereafter features three central characters that have been touched by death. The newswoman drowns and is revived. A construction worker (Matt Damon) in San Francisco is cursed with an ability to talk to the dead. (If he touches someone, he finds himself in communication with that person's dead relatives - so much for his love life.) And a little boy in London develops an all-consuming desire to talk to a recently deceased loved one. These stories play out separately, then gradually move toward one another. ...
Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan: Over the years, Eastwood has very much become a director we expect to deliver the unexpected, and he's done that here. Hollywood once upon a time made films exploring these kinds of issues, but in today's climate only a filmmaker like Eastwood, determined to never do the same thing twice, would have the nerve and the clout to take it on.
Though its subject matter is unusual, the compelling thing about Hereafter is the way it places spiritual themes squarely in the kind of Hollywood context that attracts stars like Matt Damon and top Belgian actress Cécile de France. What's surprising and satisfying about this film are its determination to deal with unconventional material in a classical way.
Hereafter was also a departure for screenwriter Peter Morgan, best known for fact-based stories like Frost/Nixon and The Queen. He apparently wrote the script after the death of a friend and, because it was so out of the ordinary for him, put it away for years.
Morgan's script turns out to be a fine match for Eastwood's fluid, unassuming directing style. His direct, unadorned approach pares everything down to its essence, the better to express the core of the narrative in the most direct and effective way possible. This is quiet but potent filmmaking that believes nothing is more important than the story it has to tell.
Roger Ebert: Clint Eastwood's Hereafter considers the idea of an afterlife with tenderness, beauty and a gentle tact. I was surprised to find it enthralling. I don't believe in woo-woo, but then neither, I suspect, does Eastwood. This is a film about the afterlife that carefully avoids committing itself on such a possibility. The closest it comes is the idea of consciousness after apparent death. This is plausible. Many near-death survivors report the same memories, of the white light, the waiting figures and a feeling of peace.
One of the characters seems to have a genuine psychic gift. But is he in fact communicating with people beyond the grave? Some form of telepathy might be possible, and he may simply be receiving what his subjects desire or need to be told by their dead loved ones. He brings nothing from beyond the grave that his clients could not have formed in their living minds.
This is a subject that lends itself to sensation and psychic baloney. It's astonishing how many people believe New Age notions, which have the attraction of allowing believers to confer supernormal abilities on themselves and others without the bother of plausibility. Eastwood's film will leave such people vaguely uneasy. It believes most psychics are frauds. It supposes one who seems to be the real thing, but what, exactly, is he real about?
This is a film for intelligent people who are naturally curious about what happens when the shutters close. Eastwood tells three primary stories. The stories meet at the end, in one of those coincidences so beloved by multiple-strand movies. Is this possible? Yes. Is it likely? No. A coincidence never is. That's why we notice them. Throughout the film, the characters behave in ways that seem reasonable enough, and possibilities are left open, which is as it should be. We must live the lives we know and not count on anything beyond the horizon.
Hereafter stars Matt Damon as George, a man who sincerely believes he's able to have communication with the dead, but has fled that ability and taken a low-profile job; Cecile de France as Marie, a newsreader on French television; Bryce Dallas Howard as Melanie, a young cooking student with a fearful dark place inside; Richard Kind as a man mourning his wife; and Frankie and George McLaren as twin brothers, one of whom is struck by a truck and killed.
I won't describe here the traumatic surprises some of them experience. In the surprises as in everything else, Hereafter is believable. There are terrifying events, but Eastwood handles them not for sensation but to show how close we all are, at any moment, to oblivion. In the case of Marie, she undergoes the near death experience we often hear reported, with the white light and the figures. Are people in such a state already dead, or are they experiencing visions generated by the human mind in its final shutdown mode?
The powers of the Damon character seem to be authentic, although what they prove is hard to say. There is a moment handled with love and delicacy in which he says something that is either true or isn't, but is a kindness either way. When he holds a stranger's hands he experiences a flash of telepathic insight, but the movie never declares that his insights literally come from dead spirits.
Eastwood and his actors achieve a tone that doesn't force the material but embraces it: Not dreamlike, but evoking a reverie state. These characters are not hurtling toward the resolution of a plot. There is no "solution" to their stories. There are various degrees of solace, or not. They don't punch the dialogue. They lack the certainty to impose themselves. George in particular is reserved and sad, because his power has become a burden to him.
There's a sweet subplot involving Melanie (Howard), who he meets as a partner in a cooking class. She has experienced loss. George doesn't want to enter her mind. He yearns for a normal life. The ability to read minds would be an unbearable curse. The way his gift affects their relationship is stark and poignant. Marie, the newsreader, is played by Cecile de France in such a fresh and likable way that our sympathy is engaged and we understand that whatever happened to her in the first terrifying scene has fundamentally changed her. Frankie McLaren, as the solemn and earnest little boy seeking his dead twin, takes a character that could have been bathetic and makes him simple and transparent. And notice Richard Kind, so affecting as a man who has lost his wife.
The movie is an original screenplay by Peter Morgan (The Queen). Eastwood told me Morgan doesn't believe in an afterlife. I don't know if Eastwood does, either. His film embodies how love makes us need for there to be an afterlife. It is the film of a man at peace. He has nothing to prove except his care for the living.
Burlesque: US, Drama/ Musical/ Romance – 2 hrs – A big, bold, brassy retelling of the old show-business story: A small-town girl ventures to Hollywood to become a star. She finds herself starting off in a burlesque club run by a former dancer. With star turns by Cher and Christina Aguilera, refereed by the stable and sane Stanley Tucci. Terrific music and dancing, and if that’s what you’re in the mood for, this will do very nicely indeed. Rated R in the US for language throughout, drug content, some violence, and sexuality. Mixed or average reviews: 48/48 out of 100. At Airport Plaza only.
Rotten Tomatoes, Consensus: Campy and clichéd, Burlesque wastes its talented cast (including a better-than-expected Christina Aguilera) on a movie that wavers uncertainly between "bad" and "so bad it's good."
The Onion A.V. Club, Nathan Rabin: Burlesque is a terrible film that will delight nearly everyone who sees it, whether they're 12-year-old Christina Aguilera fans or bad-movie buffs angling for a guilty pleasure.
The Warrior’s Way: New Zealand, Action/ Fantasy/ Western – 1 hr 40 mins – Certainly not for everyone, but for sure it will be either a delight or a torture, depending on how you react to surreal and over-the-top filmmaking. I loved it! It is visually stunning, and extraordinarily violent, with the violence lovingly photographed and choreographed. I don’t usually like this much violence, but it’s actually rather distanced and refined here. This modern martial arts western stars Korean actor Dong-gun Jang playing an Asian warrior-assassin forced to hide in a small town in the American Badlands. With Geoffrey Rush, Kate Bosworth, and Danny Huston. Rated R in the US for strong bloody violence. Mixed or average reviews. I say: fantastical! Mixed or average reviews: 45/46 out of 100. At Airport Plaza only.
Rotten Tomatoes, Consensus: Perfectly, thoroughly divisive, The Warrior's Way will either be delightful or unbearable, depending on your tolerance for surreal, shamelessly over the top collisions of eastern and western clichés.
Variety, Joe Leydon: A visually inspired multi-genre amalgamation, a borderline-surreal folly that suggests a martial-arts action-adventure co-directed by Sergio Leone and Federico Fellini.
Movieline, Michelle Orange: If writer/director Sngmoo Lee’s feature debut isn’t the first revisionist udon western, surely it will wind up being close to the only one. A shame, in a way, because I suspect a little company would only confirm that it’s also one of the best.
“We will never know the extent of the damage movies are doing to us,” Pauline Kael wrote in the 1970s, grappling with her response to the increase in graphic onscreen violence. “But movie art, it appears, thrives on moral chaos.” A sober, searching theory, and yet the ecstatic violence in The Warrior’s Way offers a less dire possibility: What movies seem to have done to Sngmoo Lee is soak into his cerebral cortex, where their tropes and signifiers have mingled and mutated, reduced to their aesthetic essence rather than their gratuitous, desensitizing potential. His ode to wuxia and Westerns suggests a director getting extensive, extended kicks by mashing genres not from an academic remove but by hand, and with glee.
The result is way out there — so far that you won’t quite recognize the terrain, and still feel strangely at home. The look has the impossible feel of a CGI soundstage: Not cheap, not even necessarily fake, just… weird. The film opens with the sanctification of Yang (Dong-gun Jang) as “The Greatest Swordsman in the History of Mankind.” An assassin who kills old ladies between sips of tea, he has his heart tweaked by an infant whose parents he has just filleted. He heads out on a lonesome journey, knowing his own clan will not forgive him for harboring an enemy, no matter how well she wears a onesie. Yang is a cinematic archetype so self-reflexive he even pauses to contemplate his title as it appears on the screen. So it follows that his trek into unknown territory might lead him into not just a new world but a whole new genre.
The delineation is made clear: Lee contrasts the oily blacks of Matrix-inflected martial-arts action with the red dust of a failing frontier town, where Yang finds Lynne (Kate Bosworth) and the circus that stopped by and never left. Lynne has her own creation myth, and it involves a pervert Colonel (Danny Huston) and his posse riding into town for a little action. His attempted rape of Lynne as a young girl led to his disfigurement and the death of her family. The mystical stranger puts her through the kind of self-defense course they don’t teach at the Y; he learns from her the joys of growing things (and cleaning them; he becomes the town launderer) instead of slicing the life out of them. He seals up his weapon (steady!), lest his enemies hear the sword crying with the souls of his victims. The poker-faced wuxia warrior has to play by the rules of the morally reconstructed, vaguely asexual Western hero; it’s no wonder he looks confused.
It’s hashy and broad and full of beans, but the mark of Lee’s humor and affection for his material (Shane and Unforgiven figure heavily) is evident in his ability to configure clichés into something new. Striking on a flavor that’s wonky but not empty and self-conscious yet appealingly sincere is not as simple as dumping incongruous ingredients into the pot; it’s all in the simmer. The climactic battle suggests the success of the dish, and finds some of the more piquant aesthetic similarities between shootouts and shoguns by mapping out their differences — literally: Yang’s clan drops in for a visit just as the townspeople (including a drunkard marksman played with pickled relish by Geoffrey Rush) are gaining ground in their spectacular defensive operation against the Colonel and his massive crew, who come back for more. Lee revels in the poetry of carnage — movie carnage — and despite 360 splatter shots and bouquets of severed heads somehow makes it all seem more kiss-kiss, bang-bang than damaged, or damaging.
The Joneses: US, Comedy/ Drama – 1 hr 36 mins – Surprising, inventive, and crisply, merrily written and directed by Derrick Borte. A brisk, captivating entertainment. Your next-door neighbors are in fact a product placement! Think Ozzie and Harriet on speed. Rated R in the US for language, some sexual content, teen drinking, and drug use. Mixed or average reviews: 55/62 out of 100. At Vista only.
Observer, Rex Reed: The red carpet of greed, materialism and self-promotion has never been tread with so much fiber-punishing wear and tear as by the camera-ready Jones family, in a fresh, scintillating and downright terrific new movie called—what else?—The Joneses. Like one of those obnoxious infomercials designed to max out your credit card faster than you can switch channels, this vicious but clever and highly entertaining indictment of American consumerism masquerading as the American dream will convince you the right people can sell you anything that ticks, flashes, rings, pops, purrs, hums or sparkles—anything except happiness.
Roger Ebert: Everyone wants to keep up with the Joneses. They're good-looking, friendly, popular, affluent, and they always seem ahead of the curve when it comes to what they drive, wear, play and consume. They never boast. They never have to. People just plain want to be like them. And you had better stop reading now, because it's impossible to say more without a spoiler.
OK, for those still in the room, I wonder how many will really be surprised by the big plot “reveal.” From the first moments of dialogue, there seems to be something off about the Joneses. Nothing is made explicit for a time, but they don't seem to relate to one another as family members. There's something they understand and we don't.
The fact is, they ... [that’s enough; see the movie]
The Tourist: US/ France, Action/ Drama/ Thriller – 1 hr 33 mins – Johnny Depp stars as an American tourist whose playful dalliance with a stranger leads to a web of intrigue, romance, and danger. With Angelina Jolie, directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others – a very fine film!). This one is delicious, sensual, and light in a way that mainstream entertainments almost never are these days. It’s one of those movies that “will leave some viewers scratching their heads, wondering why there isn’t more action, more snazzy editing, more obvious crackle between its stars.” But those who like it will love it: It’s a kind of espionage caper that’s visually sensuous, made with tender attention to detail, and an elegant, understated sense of humor. In style and construction, I think it’s quite superb. But it’s received generally unfavorable reviews: 37/41 out of 100. Nevertheless, I suggest you give it a try. Surprisingly, one of the more popular Hollywood movies in Thailand these day.
Movie Line, Stephanie Zacharek: I suspect the people who get The Tourist will simply adore it: It’s the kind of espionage caper that doesn’t get made anymore, a visually sensuous picture made with tender attention to detail and an elegant, understated sense of humor. In style and construction, its spiritual godfather is Stanley Donen’s Charade; thematically, its fairy godmother is Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve. If it were a drink, it would be a Bellini, fizzy and sweet and dry all at the same time.
Megamind (2D): US, Animation/ Action/ Comedy/ Family – 1 hr 35 mins – Actually, believe it or not, I found this rather cute and funny. But you do have to like animation. About the unhappiness of the most brilliant supervillain the world has ever known ... and the least successful. Over the years, he has tried to conquer Metro City in every imaginable way. Each attempt, a colossal failure, thanks to the caped superhero known as "Metro Man,” until the day one of Megamind’s evil plans actually defeats him. Some hilarious bits of comedy. Generally favorable reviews: 63/67 out of 100. Now at Vista only, in 2D, and Thai-dubbed, with no English subtitles.
Sud Khet Sa Let Pet / Sud Kate Salade Ped / สุดเขตเส ดเป็ด: Thai, Comedy – 1 hr 30 mins – Kohtee Aramboy and Tukkie are among the ever-present Thai comedians in this film, engaged in comic antics much like all that has gone before in Thai comedies. But it’s what sells: this is the top film in Thailand for two weeks now. In Thai only at Vista.
Hor Taew Taek 3 / หอแต๋วแตก แหวกชิมิ: Thai, Comedy/ Horror – More of this dreadful story that is so popular here, about the haunted dorm and its unfortunate owners. After defeating the wicked ghost in Part 2, the three owners face a new wave of horror and horrible comedy when they visit a mysterious fraternity house and meet a handsome vampire. Oh, and werewolf. Another Poj Arnon directorial effort focusing on cross-dressing and gay characters and the laughs that can be got from them. Both the title and the advertising posters have run afoul of the Thai censors at the Ministry of Culture, and have been toned down. More popular than any Hollywood movie at the moment. In Thai only at Vista.
สาระแน...เห็นผี / Saranae Hen Pee: Thai, Comedy – 1 hr 30 mins – Ghosts, mayhem, and Mario Maurer. Two guys run afoul of a mobster and hide out at a Buddhist temple, which, wouldn’t you know, turns out to be haunted. More popular than any Hollywood movie at the moment. In Thai only at Vista.
Gulliver’s Travels (3D): US, Adventure/ Comedy/ Fantasy – 1 hr 25 mins – This is live action, not animated, only remotely related to the famous book. In the present day, travel writer Lemuel Gulliver takes an assignment in Bermuda, but ends up on the island of Lilliput, where he towers over its tiny citizens. Generally unfavorable reviews: 33/39 out of 100.
I’m nearly at a loss for words on this one. Profoundly unfunny and obnoxious, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to see it or enjoy any part of it if they did. I try to inform viewers of what a movie is like and what it’s about without being too judgmental, so they can decide whether it’s something they want to see. So I’ll try: Maybe if you like Jack Black’s style of comedy, you might find this somewhat amusing. Sorry, that’s the best I can do.
Reports have it that the 3D is poor (actually, “cheesy” is the word). I saw it in 2D so can’t comment.
Rotten Tomatoes, Consensus: Though Jack Black is back doing what he does best, Gulliver's Travels largely fails to do any justice to its source material, relying instead on juvenile humor and special effects.
The Onion A.V. Club, Nathan Rabin: With deadening predictability, the filmmakers have reduced a definitive satire about the flaws and foibles of human nature into family-friendly sub-Disney pabulum about an affable slacker who finally musters up the courage to ask a pretty girl at work for a date.
Christian Science Monitor, Peter Rainer: A movie of such stupendous uninspiration that, watching it, I didn't know whether to be affronted or hornswoggled. Movies this monumentally dreadful, after all, don't come along every day.
Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern: The 3-D is cheesy (2.2-D at best) the gags are gross (Gulliver urinates on an 18th-century palace to extinguish a fire), and the production abandons all hope of coherence when the hero fights a climactic battle with a giant robot out of Transformers.
Philadelphia Inquirer, Steven Rea: Murderously unfunny.
Scheduled for January 27, 2011
The Fighter: US, Biography/ Drama/ Sport – 1 hr 55 mins – Highly praised film likely to be a serious contender for many Oscar honors. The Fighter is a drama about boxer "Irish" Micky Ward's unlikely road to the world light welterweight title. His Rocky-like rise was shepherded by half-brother Dickie, a boxer-turned-trainer who rebounded in life after nearly being KO'd by drugs and crime. With Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, giving two outstanding performances. Rated R in the US for language throughout, drug content, some violence, and sexuality. Generally favorable reviews: 79/79 out of 100.
... and looking forward
Feb 3: The Child’s Eye: Hong Kong, Horror – 1 hr 37 mins – Directed by Danny Pang (some have it by both of the twins, and written and produced by both Danny and Oxide Pang), this is touted as Asia's first digital 3D horror film! Stranded in Thailand by the political uprising and airport closure (surely not in Thailand!), a group of friends are unable to return home. Unwillingly, they stay in a shabby hotel (the film was shot in Bangkok), and came across three odd children and a puppy. Soon, strange supernatural encounters begin to occur. The Child's Eye premiered on September 4, 2010 at the Venice Film Festival, and has received negative reviews for the films perceived low-quality script.
* = Coming soon (hopefully)
AF = Alliance Française FS = Film Space
South East Asian Film Festival
The South East Asian Institute of Global Studies at Payap University presents “Lifescapes” – a festival running from February 3 to 6 at Payap University.
Opening and closing receptions, film screenings, discussion panels, and presentations will take place on the Payap University main campus. All films will be subtitled in English (and hopefully Thai also). All activities are free and open to the public.
The organizers write that Lifescapes will screen contemporary films – documentary, docu-drama, dramatic – to showcase thoughtful work with a social conscience. They hopes to raise awareness while celebrating the film culture and filmmakers of Southeast Asia who make meaningful social commentary with their work – showing the “beautiful” without flinching from “grim reality.”
They go on to say they hope to show films that explore regional issues and human rights struggles within mainland Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Laos, Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. The festival will screen films and give audiences and directors the opportunity for discussion. Directors and film-makers are invited to speak, and representatives from NGO’s will host a cross-country forum.
Website for the festival: http://filmfestival.payap.ac.th/?page_id=56
One of the more interesting of the films is:
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Sun. 6 February, 7:00pm
At Major Cineplex Airport Plaza, Cinema 7
This showing of Uncle Boonmee is really quite an event for Chiang Mai, and may be your only chance to see this mysterious film which won the Palme d'Or at the last Cannes Festival.
Tickets: 100 baht (normal seat); 120 baht (honeymoon seat); 300 baht (Opera Chair – 2 persons)
Tickets are now available for purchase at the following places:
Payap University, Mae Khao Campus
Pentecost Building, Room 115
Raan Lao Bookshop
Nimanhaemin Rd, near Soi 2
Cup A Book Cafe
Nimanhaemin Rd, opposite Soi 13
DVD Film & Music
Wing 41 T-junction (off Suthep Rd.)
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, January 21, 2011: La Bête humaine / The Human Beast (1938) by Jean Renoir – 100 mins – France, Drama. Black and white. English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 80 out of 100.
With Jean Gabin, Simone Simon, Fernard Ledoux.
Séverine and her husband Roubaud kill their former employer on a train. Jacques an engineer witnesses the murder but does not report them to the police as he is deeply in love with Severine. However, during an epileptic fit, he kills her...
– Alliance description
Film Society of Lincoln Center: "A love story of the railroads," transformed from the Zola novel into a darkly predestined narrative, a beautiful example of "poetic realism" at its height. In this railwayman driven to murder, Jean Gabin perfectly incarnates a flawed soul who falls in love with another man's wife (Simone Simon, ever catlike) and plots with her to kill her inconvenient husband. Some remarkable sequences depicting the milieu in which the protagonist works and plays are shot in a simple, nearly documentary style that catches the rhythms of life on and around trains; and a brutal murder intercut with scenes from workers' festivities is not to be forgotten.
DVD Verdict, Judge Steve Evans: Jean Renoir worked in almost every film genre and even invented a few, including the social satire (starting with Boudu Saved From Drowning). Here, he creates a classic noir years before French critics even came up with the label "films noir"—the dark, nihilistic, and cynical cinema that American studios began churning out in the 1940s on thin budgets. Here, he assembled a superb cast of absolutely authentic-looking character actors. Renoir also reunited with Gabin on this picture after their collaboration a year earlier on Grand Illusion.
A superstar in his native France, Gabin was only 34 when he made La Bête Humaine. And yet, he appears much older—conveying the weariness of a man so confused and disappointed by life that he could be easily entranced by the seductive charms of a duplicitous woman.
Simon Simone, the quintessential French femme fatale, would later appear in the most famous of RKO Producer Val Lewton's effective low-budget chillers, Cat People and its sequel, Curse of the Cat People.
Renoir himself appears in an amusing cameo as an outspoken, train-riding hobo whose dialogue is thinly veiled commentary on the moral themes explored in the film. But this is mainly a film dealing in dread and tragedy.
La Bête Humaine contains several scenes of such tightly-coiled suspense that it is not possible to watch without wondering how often Hitchcock held private screenings of the picture for his own education.
In addition to a lifelong fascination with human frailties, Renoir possessed a genetic talent for capturing stunning visuals (he is the son of French impressionist painter Auguste Renoir). Here the director deploys symbolism both subtle and overt to makes his points about fatalism and emotional entanglements. Subtle symbols include the frequent tracking shots from the engineer's perspective on the locomotive, as this inexorable forward movement of the train sweeps the protagonist along to his destiny. More obvious is the camera's chaste panning from a lovemaking scene during a thunderstorm to the lingering shot of a waterspout gushing into a bucket until it slows to a trickle.
La Bête Humaine benefits especially from stark black and white cinematography by the director's nephew Claude Renoir, whose genius with a camera would never surpass his work on Jean Renoir's first Technicolor film, The River. Modern audiences can revel in Claude Renoir's insistence on authenticity: Only one rear-projection image is used (at the climax, as an obvious necessity); every other train sequence was shot on the tracks at 60 mph. During a 45-year career, Claude Renoir would also frame John Frankenheimer's The French Connection II and the James Bond adventure The Spy Who Loved Me, but the work for his uncle is unparalleled.
On Friday, February 28: Quai des Orfèvres / Jenny Lamour (1947) by Henri-Georges Clouzot – 95 mins – France Crime/ Drama. Black and white. English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 89/85 out of 100.
With Louis Jouvet, Bernard Blier, Suzy Delair, Simone Renant, Rene Blancard, Charles Dullin.
Suzy Delair stars as Jenny Lamour, an ambitious music hall singer who wants to be a star and is willing to befriend the lecherous old men who ogle her act, inspiring the jealousy of Jenny's husband Maurice Martineau (Bernard Blier). One particular fan of Jenny's is a wealthy financial backer who extends repeated invitations to the entertainer to join him at fine restaurants and his expansive mansion. Armed with a gun, Maurice goes to the estate to confront his rival one night but discovers that the master of the house is already dead, his wife having smashed a bottle of champagne over his head to stave off a sexual advance. Soon, a gruff but dedicated detective, Inspector Antoine (Louis Jouvet) is on the case, with Maurice taking the heat for Jenny...
– Alliance description
A thriller full of rich complex characters and a dark world view, perhaps attributable to Henri-Georges Clouzot's own experience with Le Corbeau, his previous film which was banned by both Nazi Germany and his French homeland. Brilliantly transforming a classic whodunit plot, the Gallic “Master of Suspense” takes us from the wings and dressing rooms of the Parisian music hall and circus worlds to the drab, airless corridors and holding cells of the Quai's Criminal Investigations Department, in a blend of social realism and psychological cruelty that became his trademark. One of the uncontested masterpieces of the postwar French cinema.
At Film Space on Saturdays at 7 pm
January is “The Month of Coming of Age” 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, January 22, 2011, 7 pm: The Virgin Suicides (1999) by Sofia Coppola – 1 hr 37 mins – US, Drama/ Mystery/ Romance. A group of men who live in an affluent American suburb in the '70s are forever changed by their obsession with five doomed sisters who are sheltered by their strict, religious parents after one of them commits suicide. Rated R in the US for strong thematic elements involving teens. Generally favorable reviews: 76/75 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes consensus: Sofia's successful directorial debut lies in the movie's compelling story and the actors' genuine emotions.
At Film Space Saturday, January 29, 2011, 7 pm: Lords of Dogtown (2005) by Catherine Hardwicke – 1 hr 47 mins – US/ Germany, Biography/ Drama/ Sport. A fictionalized account of extreme skateboarding's birth in 1975. Poor teenagers from Dogtown, an area of Venice Beach, California, emerged from relative obscurity to become superstars and make skateboarding into a true counterculture. The Z-Boys, as they come to be known, perfected their craft in the empty swimming pools of unsuspecting suburban homeowners, pioneering a thrilling new sport, and eventually moving into legend. With Emile Hirsch and Heath Ledger. Mixed or average reviews: 56/60 out of 100.
IMDb viewer: This was a great movie on friendship in the '70's, and a look at how the sport of skateboarding took off. I'd wanted to see it for awhile, so with Heath Ledger's death, didn't hesitate anymore. I didn't recognize him as the surf shop owner Skip, for the first several scenes. I think he added poignancy to his role, as did others who, in the film, fought their way to who they are. Interesting to know this is based on lives of people still in the skateboarding business, including the man who started off Tony Hawks career. It's good to have work out there yet to see Heath Ledger's talent shine.
At the Gay Film Series
Next showing January 23, at 7 pm: Amphetamine (2010), a Hong Kong film directed by Scud. Openly gay banker Daniel debates whether to return to Australia or stay in Hong Kong when he meets Kafka, a straight swimming instructor. The young men fall in love, believing that their love can bridge anything, despite their difference in sexuality and Kafka's increasing drug use.
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.”