Naresuan arrives without English subtitles! Should have them Sunday.
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, March 31, 2011
… through Tuesday, April 5
by Thomas Ohlson
Best Bets: Naresuan. The King’s Speech. Rango. The Adjustment Bureau.
Unlikely Bet: Sucker Punch. (I don’t recommend this, only because I don’t want to put up with the flak I’d get, but it’s the most fascinating film I’ve seen since Inception.)
The Man himself!
This is Issue Number 22 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.]
Film director MC Chatrichalerm Yukol can’t seem to ever make a deadline. He’s already four years late for this chapter of The Legend of King Naresuan, and even so, they didn’t get the English subtitles done in time for any of the prints in Thailand for the opening today. Small wonder; the rumors are that they were still editing the film last week. Well, nearly. Here in Chiang Mai they expect the English subtitled version to arrive Sunday at Vista, and I image the same for Major. But, it’s still not a sure thing.
Next week’s movies change on Wednesday, April 6, Chakri Memorial Day, commemorating the establishment of the Chakri Dynasty. And again the next week, Wednesday, April 13, the official beginning of you-know-what – three unholy days of bedlam! Hey, here’s an idea! Why don’t you spend those three days in a movie theater? Your chances of getting doused there are minimal. Maybe they’ll have the English subtitles by then.
Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week
* The Legend of King Naresuan Part III: Naval Battle / ตำนานสมเด็จนเรศวรมหาราช 3 ภาคยุทธนาวี: Thai, Drama/ War – The third chapter of the King Naresuan epic, continuing the story of Thai's chivalric king and warrior in the Ayudhya era who fought against the invasion of Burmese troops that aimed to overpower the Ayudhya Kingdom. This is the one the sparked a mini-scandal because of the unbelievable huge amount of money the Thai government gave this film for expenses. The Thai Culture Ministry announced that half of its much-touted new program to encourage film artists, called Thai Khem Kaeng (Strong Thailand) fund, with a budget of 200 million baht. The Ministry announced that 100 million of that fund would be awarded King Naresuan Parts III and IV. What is less known is that that obscene sum of money was actually for only one scene in the movie, the epic elephant battle between the 16th century Siamese monarch Naresuan the Great and a Burmese prince. (The Bangkok Post’s Kong Rithdee wrote: “Even Avatar didn't spend 100 million baht on one scene.”) The other 100 million would be divided among 48 or so film projects (out of 295 submissions). A huge cry of “Foul!” arose among filmmakers, critics, and the public decrying such a lopsided distribution. And the Culture Ministry was forced to admit that it didn’t know that the final two films in the series were already receiving 330 million baht in government funds from the Commerce Ministry. In the end, the Culture Ministry said “sorry” and said it would make matters right by reducing the amount they would give the Naresuan film from 100 million baht to about 46 million baht, and ask for this amount to be returned to the Ministry from profits, when they can.
The Great Elephant Battle is in the final film, and is still to be shot. This time around, we have to settle for The Great Naval Battle. The filming of the story of King Naresuan began in 2002 and is still continuing on the huge set built in Kanchanaburi (and which is open to the public). Nearly the whole army garrison in Kanchanaburi is in the movie as extras, plus hundreds of elephants, horses, and other animals. Sort of a 10-year public works project in the province.
Wise Kwai: Four years in the making, and repeatedly delayed from year to year as the production dragged on and on, the third entry in director MC Chatrichalerm Yukol's Naresuan franchise finally hits the big screen this week with The Legend of King Naresuan Part III: Naval Battle (ตำนานสมเด็จพระนเรศวรมหาราชภาค 3 ตอน ยุทธนาวี, Tamnan Somdej Phra Naresuan Maharaj Part 3: Yutthanawee).
Having proclaimed sovereignty, King Naresuan the Great (Lt. Colonel Wanchana Sawasdee) faces a new threat from a spy in his midst. The traitor's flight in a Chinese junk leads to the vaunted river battle with an armada of royal barges. Later, Naresuan clamps a sword in this teeth as he battles the Burmese.
Along with Lt. Col "Bird" Wanchana, the cast returning for this outing includes Sorapong Chatree as the wise warrior monk, "Peter" Nopachai Jayanama as Naresuan's boyhood friend Lord Rachamanu, Taksaorn Paksukcharoen as the king's companion Lady Maneechan, Chatchai Plengpanich as King Thamaracha, Grace Mahadumrongkul as the king's sister Princess Supankulayanee, and Inthira Charoenpura as the warrior woman Lurkin.
Tony Jaa, at one time slated to portray a slave, does not appear in the cast. After production of Jaa's Ong-Bak 2 hit a snag, Tony was dropped from Naresuan. "Deaw" Chupong Changprung was reportedly to take Jaa's place, but I don't see any sign of him either.
"Tok" Supakorn Kitsuwon, star of such movies as Monrak Transistor and Fah Talai Jone, plays a role I think was meant for Jaa or Deaw, of a shirtless screaming dude with long scraggly hair.
The lavish, sweeping concept of the Naresuan films builds on what "Than Mui" Chatrichalerm started with his 2002 historical epic Suriyothai, which was the most expensive Thai film at the time and still holds the box-office record with earnings of 500 million baht.
With a cast of thousands, including a literal army of extras (actual Royal Thai Army soldiers) and a purpose-built studio in Kanchanaburi Province, the scale of the Naresuan films is like nothing ever attempted before in Thailand. Even Hollywood isn't making movies like this anymore – they just use CGI.
(Click on link for complete review.)
* Hop: US, Animation/ Comedy/ Family/ Fantasy –1 hr 38 mins – Blending state-of-the-art animation with live action, it tells the comic tale of an out-of-work slacker (James Marsden), who accidentally injures the Easter Bunny’s teen-aged son (voiced by Russell Brand) and must take him in as he recovers. As he struggles with the world's worst houseguest, both will learn what it takes to finally grow up – it says here. Actually, from the previews, looks like fun. Early reviews: mixed or average: 42/40 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.)
IMDb viewer: Hop is a beautifully animated, funny, exciting family film. The plot is more sophisticated than Alvin and the Chipmunks, making it much more interesting and enjoyable for adults, and the bunnies and chicks are adorable!
A mom: Hop is a winner. Entertainment literally for the whole family. Not too scary for youngsters, with just enough adult humor to make them chuckle. Some of the snarky dialogue made my cynical teen actually laugh out loud – always a miracle. (The dogs are a little scary for smaller children.)
Village Voice, Nick Schager: Smoothly integrating its cuddly-cute CG protagonists into live-action material, Hop configures its story as a not-too-syrupy, springtime-set holiday (with nods to Christmas) fable of self-actualization and family unity. Despite its scattered frenzy, Hop—thanks to its fondness for smushing together seemingly incongruous elements and Marsden’s goofy, bug-eyed mugging—is just demented enough to deliver a fleeting sugar rush.
Boxoffice, Pete Hammond: Effortlessly blends state of the art CGI with winning animation. This Easter confection is fun for every member of the family, despite marketing that suggests it may be intended for only the youngest of the bunch. The story of the Easter Bunny's teen son and his quest to make a name for himself is richly funny and entertaining. This wonderfully clever, hip hoppin' delight will be loved by believers of all ages.
The King’s Speech: [only at Vista] (Deserves to be seen on a big screen.) UK/ Australia, Drama/ History – 1 hr 58 mins – In my view a beautiful motion picture, with everything you could wish for. Oscar nominations for best picture (and won), best director (Tom Hooper – and won), best actor (Colin Firth – and won), best supporting actor (Geoffrey Rush), best supporting actress (Helena Bonham Carter), original screenplay (and won), 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. Rated R in the US for some language; 15+ in Thailand. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 88/86 out of 100. Only at Vista, and now only twice a day, at 3:30 pm and 9:30 pm – See it while you still can!
The multi-award-winning cast includes Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth, Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi, Timothy Spall, and Michael Gambon.
Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: Colin Firth gives a masterful performance in The King's Speech, a predictable but stylishly produced and rousing period drama.
Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern: No screen portrait of a king has ever been more stirring – heartbreaking at first, then stirring. That's partly due to the screenplay, which contains two of the best-written roles in recent memory, and to Mr. Hooper's superb direction.
Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert: What we have here is a superior historical drama and a powerful personal one.
St. Petersburg Times, Steve Persall: Like Bertie's struggle, there's so much wonderment to articulate about this film that being mistaken for a stammering idiot is a risk. See it, then say it for yourself: The King's Speech is the best movie of 2010.
Sucker Punch: US/ Canada, Action/ Fantasy/ Thriller – 1 hr 49 mins – Most imaginative film since Inception. A young girl (Baby Doll) is institutionalized – locked away in a mental asylum by her wicked stepfather – where she will undergo a lobotomy in five days time. Faced with a horrible reality, she retreats into a fantastical world of her imagination where she and four other female inmates at the asylum plot to escape the facility. Unrestrained by the boundaries of time and place, she is free to go where her mind takes her, but her incredible adventures blur the lines between reality and fantasy as Baby Doll and her companions battle various creatures and enemies to retrieve five items they need that will allow them to break free from their captors. Generally unfavorable reviews: 35/34 out of 100.
Directed by Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300, and, amazingly, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole – a truly brilliant animated film) and starring Abbie Cornish, Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens.
Alright, now. Let’s see how to put this. Best thing, I guess, is to try and ignore the question of whether it’s good or not. Sounds crazy? Okay, so be it, nevertheless it’s really questionable about how good this film is. It’s a mish mash of many different styles and genres. But I really like it, and am so awfully glad I saw it. It has more imagination in it than a hundred of your ordinary films, and best of all it’s the product of one person, who imagined it, wrote it, directed it, and produced it. Maybe two people, because his wife Deborah is the chief producer, and seems to be deeply involved in all aspects of the creation, as she has been for all of Zack Snyder’s films since 300. So maybe it’s a team effort of Zack and wife Deborah.
You probably won’t like it, most people don’t. It’s an adolescent boys’ wet dream fantasy on top of an ugly story of a life so bad it drives the heroine into psychosis. In this case, however, it’s a shared psychosis with four other girls, and the “quests” they have in the psychotic world have repercussions in their real lives. In Inception, the characters share dreams, here they share psychoses. Sucker Punch has much in common with Inception. Director Snyder jokes that the film only utilizes three levels of reality, as opposed to the four levels in Inception, because Inception had a bigger budget.
Zack Snyder is a fan of the movie Inception, and he and his wife are friends with Inception director Christopher Nolan and his wife Emma Thomas, who has been the chief producer of all his films since Doodlebug and Memento. In fact, the two couples are joining forces on a future project, producing together the restart Superman: Man of Steel, co-written by Christopher Nolan and which Zack Snyder is directing, due here in December 2012; it stars Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/ Superman, with Kevin Costner as his father.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to make fun of Sucker Punch. It may not make a lot of rational sense, but it seems to make emotional and visual sense to me. I think it resonates deeply with a human being’s fantasies and fears. I imagine it’s doomed to be ridiculed for years to come, and yet have an influence on future films that will surprise everyone.
I thought it a lot of fun. It’s bizarre, but ends up being unique and wonderful – a gritty, violent, fantasy-based, primarily female-driven story. Music by Led Zeppelin and Lords of Acid.
And watch out for the sucker punch!
Los Angeles Times, Betsy Sharkey: Sucker Punch, Zack Snyder's violent mash-up of Dickensian dark morality with Moulin Rouge couture is stun-gun gorgeous, psychosexually unnerving, fantasy action-riffic and most definitely not for the faint of heart. Starring the pretty pout of Emily Browning's Babydoll — sporting machine guns, Mary Janes, black stockings and little else — the film is, existentially speaking, a Freudian nightmare gunning for debate as much as entertainment.
Some will see the worst sort of objectification in its Victoria's Secret-esque femme front line that also includes the scantily clad corps of Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, and Jamie Chung. Others will argue that Sucker Punch's sexy guerrillas represent female empowerment, to say nothing of the benefits of diet and exercise. I'd suggest the film is a wonderfully wild provocation — an imperfect, overlong, intemperate and utterly absorbing romp through the id that I wouldn't have missed for the world.
Though Sucker Punch has the fresh feel of something new, the warrior princess leitmotif tracks back to Greek legend and has turned up in fiction and film ever since. The stories are sometimes cheeky in the way of Angelina Jolie's sharp-shooting siren in Lara Croft. Sometimes, the twisted tales go darker as did Quentin Tarantino's cut in Kill Bill Vols. 1 and 2, with a brutalized and sexualized Uma Thurman.
Snyder goes darker still, opening Sucker Punch with a look through a rain-soaked window at why Babydoll's such a mess. Her mother's death has triggered a sinister free-fall that includes a narrow escape from her lecherous stepfather's evil intentions, the accidental shooting of her little sister and her immediate incarceration in a Vermont mental institution that prefers its crazies be virginal beauties. Technically the film is set in the '60s, but it feels more like the '40s when lobotomies were all the rage.
The blurring of reality and fantasy is there in every frame and echoes the grim storybook quality found in the graphic novel world and the fantasy look favored by gothic video games — a sort of "Guernica" of comic-book chaos. The vision is so precise and so specifically rendered.
Snyder is doing his best visual work since the arresting pen-and-ink styling of 2006's 300, joining one of a handful of filmmakers like Tim Burton, whose deep imprint becomes a signature.
The story exists on three levels. The first and least explored is the harsh reality of the mental institution. Next is a low-grade fantasy, with Babydoll imagining that she's actually imprisoned in a brothel with the girls forced to put on a burlesque review in a swanky men's club. The third, a high-grade, super-octane dreamscape of battles, obstacles and conquests, comes when Babydoll closes her eyes and starts to dance.
The extreme other worlds are the best by far, with Babydoll facing off against giant samurais in one, World War I-era zombie soldiers in another, and fire-breathing dragons in yet another, all exquisitely imagined.
SuckSeed / ห่วยขั้นเทพ: Thai, Comedy/ Musical – Approx. 2 hrs 20 mins – Inspired by the rhythm of rock 'n roll, the film tells a story of teenage boys who set up their rock band called SuckSeed just to impress the girls, but things get complicated when a girl joins the group. Wise Kwai’s rating: 4 stars out of 5: “Great!"
Wise Kwai: SuckSeed doesn't suck. In fact, it's pretty awesome.
The romantic comedy about loser Chiang Mai schoolboys who form a rock band succeeds as it celebrates the underdog spirit in framing an enjoyable and entertaining portrait of failed romance, faulty friendships, and shaky musicianship.
Chayanop Boonprakob directs, reviving a concept he first explored as an indie filmmaker making a comical mockumentary about a crappy band that was shown a few years back at the Thai Short Film & Video Festival. He subsequently took a job as a flight attendant for Thai Airways, but landed at film studio GTH when producer Jira Maligool came calling.
The story of SuckSeed Huay Khan Thep (SuckSeed ห่วยขั้นเทพ) traffics in the same nostalgic sentimentalism about childhood as the 2003 GTH hit Fan Chan, and indeed Chayanop has acknowledged it as a major influence.
... Aside from the music that's actually performed by the actors, SuckSeed is propelled by appearances from top Thai rock and pop acts in stylish music-video vignettes that bolster the story and underscore the emotional moments for the characters. Pod, the lead singer of Moderndog, serenades young Ped with the song "... Before" ("...ก่อน ”), a ballad that was memorably used as a motif in Wisit Sasanatieng's Citizen Dog.
Pu Blackhead turns up in a hilarious music video shot in a market and is complete with slow-motion and freeze moments of the market vendors and Pu mugging for the camera. Blackhead was at its height 10 years ago, but is not quite popular now, so Pu's appearance was a blast from the past.
Other musicians turning up are falsetto-voiced singer Dak from Big Ass, making a leap from a bridge, as well as the frontmen from the bands Paradox and So Cool. Actor-musician "Pe" Arak Amornsupasiri even turns up in a brief shot that had the audience shouting in surprised recognition.
And the rock band Bodyslam, the reigning music act in Thailand at the moment, plays an integral part.
... Oh, and thumbs up for the English subtitles on the Thai theatrical prints – they are clear and do not resort dumbed-down "dubtitles" to get across references to Thai culture. When it's explained there are only two kinds of music in Thailand – Grammy and RS – there are parenthesis to note that they are the country's two biggest record labels.
Gnomeo and Juliet: UK/ US, Animation/ Adventure/ Comedy/ Family/ Fantasy/ Romance – 1 hr 24 mins – A version of Shakespeare's play, set in the world of warring indoor and outdoor gnomes. Garden gnomes Gnomeo (voice of McAvoy) and Juliet (voice of Blunt) have as many obstacles to overcome as their quasi namesakes when they are caught up in a feud between neighbors. Caution, be advised: contains plastic pink flamingos and lawnmower races. Mixed or average reviews: 53/56 out of 100. At Airport Plaza only.
Rotten Tomatoes consensus: While it has moments of inspiration, Gnomeo and Juliet is often too self-referential for its own good.
Vanishing on 7th Street: US. Horror/ Mystery/ Thriller – 1 hr 30 mins – An apocalyptic thriller/ horror about a group of people who must avoid darkness to stay alive. I found the film Irritatingly dark and murky visually, and with characters who engage in some truly nonsensical behavior; the film often seems to me to be laughably maladroit. There are long sections, however, which build a nice sense of dread and mystery. An unexplained blackout plunges the city of Detroit into total darkness, and by the time the sun rises, only a few people remain – surrounded by heaps of empty clothing, abandoned cars, and lengthening shadows. A small handful of strangers that have survived the night – Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo (one of my most favorite actors – terrific here, given what he had to work with), and 13-year-old newcomer at the time Jacob Latimore – each find their way to a rundown bar, on 7th Street, whose gasoline-powered generator and stockpile of food and drink make it the last refuge in a deserted city. With daylight beginning to disappear completely and whispering shadows surrounding the survivors, they soon discover that the enemy is the darkness itself, and only the few remaining light sources can keep them safe. As time begins to run out for them, the darkness closes in.
Directed by Brad Anderson. Rated R in the US for language. Mixed or average reviews: 50/51 out of 100.
SF Chronicle, Amy Biancolli: This is a terrible movie. It has no business being as terrible as it is, because it boasts a perfectly acceptable horror premise (residents of Detroit mysteriously wink out, eaten by that enigmatic black mass) and a perfectly acceptable cast (John Leguizamo, Thandie Newton, and Hayden Christensen). It also boasts a normally interesting director in Brad Anderson, the man behind the cold machinations of Transsiberian and the emaciated oddness of The Machinist.
I didn't know Anderson had terrible in him. Then again, most filmmakers have the potential for terrible deep within them, lying dormant until just the wrong combination of factors arouse it and bring it to light.
In Vanishing on 7th Street, all it takes is cheap-looking visual effects and a script greasy with cliches. It also takes some malevolent and invisible force - perhaps a lingering stomach bug - that prods the cast into spasms of sweating, huffing, crying, sputtering, and other ill-advised spectacles of desperate overacting. Setting all but a few scenes in darkness doesn't help; neither does squishing the actors and much of the "action" into a single downtown bar, its jazzy neon sign flickering in the night.
The effects are schlocky beyond belief. They consist of whispering silhouettes and oozy black fingers that arrive out of nowhere, with no explanation, and snuff out all available light while snatching Midwesterners from their business suits.
NPR, Jeannette Catsoulis: Since 2001, director Brad Anderson has been so immersed in terror — Session 9, The Machinist, episodes of Fringe, and two cable horror anthologies — that we tend to forget how skilled he is at love. With Next Stop, Wonderland, and Happy Accidents, he wrote and directed two of the best romantic comedies of the past 30 years. And as I was watching Vanishing on 7th Street, another supernatural tale of relationships subordinated to inexplicable phenomena, I couldn't help wishing he would take a break from boogeymen and return to his roots.
Not that Vanishing isn't a highly respectable piece of genre entertainment, one with a little more class than most. Structured like an old Twilight Zone episode or a Stephen King short story, the film follows four survivors of an unexplained global blackout who awaken to discover that most of the population has disappeared — right out of its clothing. (One of the film's eeriest motifs is those ubiquitous bundles of abandoned outfits, including, hilariously, a set of false teeth.)
Converging on a run-down bar helpfully outfitted with a stuttering generator and a Motown-and-soul-stocked jukebox, the survivors ponder their plight. Daylight hours are mysteriously decreasing, and arrogant TV anchor Hayden Christensen wants to grab a truck and try to outrun the encroaching blackness. But the geeky movie projectionist (John Leguizamo) has a concussion, the former addict (Thandie Newton) needs to find her baby, and the gun-toting preteen (Jacob Latimore) misses his mom.
And then there are the shadows, crawling over the walls and whispering like unseen spirits whenever the lights flicker. Thank goodness there's alcohol.
Unfolding in a blasted Detroit ("It wasn't that complicated to make the city desolate and devoid of life," admits Anderson in the press notes), Vanishing (inspired in part by the 16th century disappearance of the American colonists on Roanoke) is an apocalyptic drama that feels too insubstantial for the big screen. A frustratingly opaque script (by Anthony Jaswinski), whose religious and supernatural elements are never fully fleshed out, leaves the normally terrific Leguizamo out to lunch, while Newton exhibits her usual stagy mannerisms — one part Joan of Arc, one part mental patient. The surprise here is Christensen, that bland blond of the Star Wars prequels: Working with a character who's believably self-centered, he anchors the film with more authority than his previous work would lead anyone to expect.
But in a movie where characterization takes second place to chills, it's cinematographer Uta Briesewitz (who also shot Next Stop, Wonderland and the magnificently creepy Session 9) who shines. Working the minimalist story for maximum fright, he manipulates his digital camera to skin-crawling effect, flitting between creeping fingers of blackness and fizzing halos of luminance. Computer-generated effects are used sparingly, so when they appear — a plane tumbling from the sky in swift silence — they are jarringly effective. Add Lucas Vidal's brooding score and the result is a primal journey to a ho-hum destination.
Rango: US, Animation/ Action/ Adventure/ Comedy/ Family/ Western – 1 hr 47 mins – It’s a delight! I had a great time. Rango is an ordinary chameleon who accidentally winds up in the town of Dirt, a lawless outpost in the Wild West in desperate need of a new sheriff. Directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Johnny Depp, it’s the first full-length work of animation created by the special-effects company Industrial Light & Magic. Generally favorable reviews: 75/76 out of 100. At Vista only. Not in 3D!
Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: Rango is a smart, giddily creative burst of beautifully animated entertainment.
Morrow McLaughlin: It’s hard to describe how well Depp does Rango. It’s so good, it’s a bit scary – like this may be the most talented individual on the planet.
Roger Ebert: Rango is some kind of a miracle: An animated comedy for smart moviegoers, wonderfully made, great to look at, wickedly satirical, and (gasp!) filmed in glorious 2-D.
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. At Vista only, and only once a day now, at 9:30 pm. See it while you can!.
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.
May show up any time
127 Hours: (I‘m still hopeful it will show up here – It had been playing just recently at Major in Pattaya) US/ UK, Drama – You do want to see this, believe me! It’s 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. It was nominated 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, in the United States. 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, 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.
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.
Scheduled for April 6 - Wednesday
Battle: Los Angeles / World Invasion: Battle LA: US, Action/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – 1 hr 56 mins – For years, there have been documented cases of UFO sightings around the world – Buenos Aires, Seoul, France, Germany, China. But in 2011, what were once just sightings will become a terrifying reality when Earth is attacked by unknown forces. Generally unfavorable reviews: 37/47 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: Overlong and overly burdened with war movie clichés, Battle: Los Angeles will entertain only the most ardent action junkies.
... and looking forward
Apr 13 (Wed): Mars Needs Moms!: US, Animation/ Action/ Adventure/ Comedy/ Family/ Sci-Fi – 1 hr 28 mins – Nine-year-old Milo (Seth Green) finds out just how much he needs his mom (Joan Cusack) when she's nabbed by Martians who plan to steal her mom-ness for their own young. Just opened in the US and England, and it seems no one went to see it. Shaping up as one of the biggest flops ever (see below). Mixed or average reviews: 51/52 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: The cast is solid and it's visually well-crafted, but Mars Needs Moms suffers from a lack of imagination and heart.
New York Times, Brooks Barnes: In the movie business, sometimes a flop is just a flop. Then there are misses so disastrous that they send signals to broad swaths of Hollywood. Mars Needs Moms is shaping up as the second type.
Walt Disney Studios spent an estimated $175 million to make and market Mars Needs Moms, which sold $6.9 million in tickets at North American theaters in its opening weekend. That grim result puts the 3-D animated adventure on track to become one of the biggest box-office bombs in movie history, on par with such washouts as The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Cutthroat Island and The Alamo.
Apr 13 (Wed): Let the Bullets Fly / 讓子彈飛 [ 让子弹飞 ]: China, Action/ Comedy – 1 hr 28 mins – Set in China during the warring 1920s, notorious bandit chief Zhang descends upon a remote provincial town posing as its new mayor, an identity that he had hijacked from Old Tang, himself a small-time imposter. Hell-bent on making a fast buck, Zhang soon meets his match in the tyrannical local gentry Huang as a deadly battle of wit and brutality ensues. Written and directed by Jiang Wen, starring Jiang Wen and Chow Yun Fat. The film is hugely popular in China, and is on the verge of being China’s biggest box-office hit. Rated 18+ in Thailand.
Hollywood Reporter, Maggie Lee: Machiavellian mind games, a twisted vendetta, and high-octane gun slinging among a bandit posing as a governor, his strategist, and a small-town kingpin are the stuff of adventure and trenchant humor in the Chinese western, Let the Bullets Fly. As an allegory on power, corruption and rough justice, it has flashes of intelligence and political acumen.
Actor-auteurJiang Wen directs with a macho, devil-may-care bravadothat expresses the anarchy and rapacious opportunism of warlord-dominated China in the 1920s.
* = 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.
At Alliance Française on Friday, April 1: L'Atalante / Le Chaland qui passe (1934) by Jean Vigo – 88 mins – France, Drama/ Romance. Black and white. No English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 87 out of 100.
With Michel Simon, Dita Parlo, Jean Dasté.
When Juliette marries Jean, she comes to live on his ship, on board of which are, besides the two of them, only a cabin boy and the strange old second mate Père Jules. Soon bored by life on the river, she slips off to see the nightlife when they come to Paris. Angered by this, Jean sets off, leaving Juliette behind. Overcome by grief and longing for his wife, Jean falls into a depression and Père Jules goes and tries to find Juliette…
– Alliance description
Rotten Tomatoes synopsis: Considered by critics to be one of the 20th century's best films, L'Atalante is the final work of French director Jean Vigo's (Zero for Conduct) tragically brief, but brilliant career. After their wedding, Juliette (Dita Parlo) and Jean (Jean Dasté) set out on L'Atalante, the river barge that Jean captains. In a scene representative of the film's lovely, poetic cinematography, Juliette, both desiring and fearing her new life, wistfully walks atop the length of the barge, wedding dress fluttering in the wind. The couple soon settles into wedded bliss, with the companionship of quirky, tattooed bargeman Père Jules. He provides many of the film's unexpected comedic moments (watch for the plethora of cats, and the cigarette smoking belly button). Trouble arises, however, as Jean continually foils Juliette's attempts to learn more of life by listening to the radio and exploring the barge's ports. When a charming traveling salesman/entertainer (Gilles Margaritis) entices Juliette with stories of the charm of Paris, she decides to venture out on her own. The question of whether Jean and Julliette's love will win out over their conflicting ideas, along with the naturalistic, dreamlike visual world that Vigo creates, will keep viewers enraptured to the end.
Passing note: The film's much-lauded cinematography was by Boris Kaufman, the brother of Soviet film maker Dziga Vertov. He would later go on to shoot Hollywood films such as On the Waterfront (1954).
Wikipedia: The film has been praised for its prescient poetic realist style, but it also includes surprising surrealist passages, such as the double exposure Michel Simon wrestling match and a scene in which Jean jumps into the river. Upon its release, the French art historian Élie Faure found the film "classical, almost violent and always tormented, fevered, overflowing with ideas and with fantasy; truculent; a virulent and even demonical romanticism that still remains humanistic".
The film became a favorite of the filmmakers of the French New Wave, whose films contain many allusions to Vigo's work. The French director Francois Truffaut fell in love with it when he saw it at age 14 in 1946: "When I entered the theater, I didn't even know who Jean Vigo was. I was immediately overwhelmed with wild enthusiasm for his work".
L'Atalante was chosen as the 10th-greatest film of all time in British journal Sight & Sound's 1962 poll, and as the 6th-best in its 1992 poll.
Élie Faure, author of Histoire de l'art: "These landscapes of water, trees, little houses on peaceful banks, and boats slowly threading their way ahead of a silver wake: the same impeccable composition, the same power invisibly present because so much a master of itself, the same balance of all the elements of a visual drama in the tender embrace of complete acceptance, the same pearly, golden veil translucently masking the sharpness of composition and the firmness of line. And perhaps it was this simplicity of composition, entirely devoid of flourishes or decorations - classical, in a word - that made me appreciate all the more the pleasure of savoring the very spirit of Vigo's work, almost violent, certainly tormented, feverish, brimming with ideas and truculent fantasy, with virulent, even demonic, and yet constantly human romanticism."
On Friday, April 8, 8 pm: L'Ami de mon amie / My Girlfriend's Boyfriend / Boyfriends and Girlfriends (1987) by Eric Rohmer – 102 mins – France, Comedy. English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 78 out of 100.
With Emmanuelle Chaulet, Sophie Renoir, Anne-Laure Meury, Eric Viellard.
Blanche has recently moved to Cergy-Pontoise, to work at the town hall. During a lunch break she meets the vivacious and immediately likeable Léa. Although not fond of sports, Léa agrees to go swimming with Blanche, at the local pool. There they meet Alexandre, one of Lea's acquaintances, along with Adrienne, his current girlfriend. Blanche finds herself under the spell of the young engineer. The holidays arrive. Léa leaves while Blanche stays on. By chance, Blanche bumps into Alexandre in the street. She clumsily tries to make a pass at him. Soon she's also bumping into Fabien, Léa's boyfriend...
– Alliance description
Roger Ebert: The movie is essentially about bad timing. Two young women are friends, not deep lifelong soul sisters, to be sure, but friends. They see a handsome young man. One likes him, the other gets him, and then, in a sense, they trade, with an additional boyfriend and a few other friends thrown into the mixture. All of the permutations are unimportant, because we are not dealing with the heart here, but with fashion.
There is a sense in which none of these characters can feel deeply, although they can admittedly experience transient periods of weeping and moaning over their cruel fates. That's because their relationships are based essentially on outward appearances; they choose lovers as fashion accessories. In conversation, they find they have "a lot in common," but that's easy to explain: They all hold exactly the same few limited opinions.
When one girl thinks she has a boy and another girl gets him, there is a sense of betrayal, all right, but it's not the kind of passionate betrayal that leads to murder or suicide. It's the kind of betrayal that leads to dramatic statements like "I'm not ever going to speak to you again!" Rohmer knows exactly what he is doing here. He has no great purpose, but an interesting small one: He wants to observe the everyday behavior of a new class of French person, the young professionals whose values are mostly materialistic, whose ideas have been shaped by popular culture, who do not read much, or think much about politics, or have much depth. By the end of this film you may know his characters better than they will ever know themselves.
At Film Space on Saturdays at 7 pm
April is “The Month of Tremble with Terror” 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.
I well remember the first time I saw The Shining. It was either the day it opened or the day before at a preview, but there was an epilog about two minutes long, since deleted, where Wendy and the boy Danny were discovered warming up and recuperating in a hospital. Anne Jackson plays a doctor here, as she did in an earlier scene. The scene had Wendy in a bed talking with the hotel manager Mr. Ullman who explains that though they looked where Wendy told them to look, they couldn’t find the body of Jack, either in the maze or elsewhere. And then – and then! – Ullman gives Danny a yellow tennis ball, presumably the same one that lured Danny into room 237. The movie then returns to the hotel and looks around a bit at the empty hallways and then shows us the ending we now have, and where the body of Jack really is: in the photograph of partygoers at the July 4th ball in 1921.
The scene was required to be actually physically cut out of prints by projectionists and the film sent back to the studio, by order of Warner Bros. Apparently Stanley Kubrick cut the scene because he felt it was confusing and obscure, and “at the wrong pace and tenor for the film,” and not nearly as effective as the very tightly cut version. I did find a rare print from that scene, shown here.
After playing to generally bad reviews and erratic box-office in America, a further twenty-five minutes were cut.
I rather liked the original ending, and thus the film always feels a little incomplete to me as it is today. The epilogue makes for a softer landing, the horrible things are shown coming to an end for mother and child. Obviously, that’s not what Kubrick wanted.
I’m extraordinarily fond of this film. I think it’s one of the best. Incredible craftsmanship in it. I think the rather low critical response at the opening is an object lesson on how difficult it is to judge challenging films at an initial viewing. Roger Ebert's initial review of the film was unfavorable, but he later re-evaluated it and in 2006, The Shining made it into Ebert's series of "Great Movies."
At Film Space Saturday, April 2, 7 pm: The Shining (1980) by Stanley Kubrick – 2 hrs 22 mins – UK/ US, Drama/ Horror/ Mystery. Frustrated writer Jack Torrance takes a job as the winter caretaker at the ominous, mountain-locked Overlook Hotel so that he can write in peace. When he arrives there with his wife and son, they learn that the previous caretaker had gone mad. Slowly Jack becomes possessed by the evil, demonic presence in the hotel. Rated R in the US. Generally favorable reviews: 61/79 out of 100.
Boston Globe, Bruce McCabe: When you sit down to The Shining, you sit down with normal expectations of being diverted, perhaps even being gripped, but not being undermined. But the film undermines you in powerful, inchoate ways. It's a horror story even for people who don't like horror stories - maybe especially for them.
Empire, Ian Nathan: Alive with portent and symbolism, every frame of the film brims with Kubrick's genius for implying psychological purpose in setting: the hotel's tight, sinister labyrinth of corridors; its cold, sterile bathrooms; the lavish, illusionary ballroom. This was horror of the mind transposed to place.
At Film Space Saturday, April 9, 7 pm: Funny Games (1997) by Michael Haneke – 1 hr 43 mins – Austria, Crime/ Drama/ Mystery/ Thriller. A psychological thriller about an innocent family as they stumble upon a holiday in hell: Anna, George, and their son arrive at their lovely lakeside home on vacation and meet a strange and demanding young man -- a guest of their neighbors – who turns out to have rather violent tendencies. Mixed or average reviews: 41/63 out of 100. In German, with English subtitles.
Film Scouts, David Sterritt: Sadistic, insufferable, clever, and relentlessly compelling.