Thursday, February 4, 2016

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening February 4-10, 2016

The Revenant

After several months of delays, The Revenant finally comes to Thailand.

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, an Oscar-winner for last year's Birdman, the fact-based historical adventure is the account of American frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who was attacked by a bear and then betrayed and left for dead by his hunting party in the early 1800s. He claws his way out of a shallow grave and goes on an epic journey through the snow to take revenge.

Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter also star.

As has been touted in the numerous stories released to promote the film during its vigorous awards-season campaign, The Revenant was made under often-punishing conditions, plunging DiCaprio into frozen Canadian rivers and into live animal carcasses. Despite the cold weather and hardships, the production had trouble locating places to film snow. The crew eventually was forced to pack up and leave Canada, trekking to the far southern tip of Argentina to find adequate amounts of the white stuff.

Much-hyped, The Revenant won three Golden Globe Awards and is the leading Academy Award nominee, with 12 Oscar nods, including including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for DiCaprio (his fourth acting nom and likely his to win), Supporting Actor for Hardy and Best Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki.

Critical reception is generally positive. Rated 15+

Also opening

Room – While The Revenant has garnered much of the attention this awards season with its very prominent campaigning, the small indie feature Room has quietly been racking up accolades for its performances by Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay. The story is about a woman and her five-year-old son who have been held captive in a single room for years. One day, the mom sees a chance for the boy to escape, allowing him to experience the real world for the first time. It's nominated for four Academy Awards – Best Picture, Best Director for Lenny Abramson (Frank), Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. Critical reception is almost universally positive. Rated 13+

The Danish Girl – One of the first patients to undergo sexual reassignment surgery is covered in this highly fictionalized historical drama, which has been winning awards and nominations. Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne star as a Danish painter couple whose relationship evolves after the wife asks her husband to pose as a woman for a portrait. This awakens a longing inside, and the husband decides he is a she named Lili. Directed by Tom Hooper (The King's Speech, Les Misérables), The Danish Girl has been a major nominee, with Golden Globe, Academy Award and Bafta nods for both Vikander and Redmayne, who was a big winner last year for his turn as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Critical reception is generally positive. This opened in a sneak preview last week and now moves to general release. Rated 18+

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – Zombie-comedy hijinks meet Jane Austen in this horror romp that has heroine Elizabeth Bennett (Lily James) and her socialite gal pals as highly-trained martial arts warriors. They kick into high gear to combat an undead plague. But the willful Elizabeth must put also aside her differences with the snobby Mr Darcy (Sam Riley) to defeat the zombie menace. Critical reception is mixed. Rated 15+

Dirty Grandpa – Just before his wedding, a strait-laced young man (Zac Efron) is tricked into driving his recently widowed grandfather (Robert De Niro) to Florida. The foul-mouthed old man wants to cut loose, and indulge in the booze, drugs and sex on offer during the college Spring Break. Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) also stars. This movie has been widely reviled by critics and has been termed among the worst and most embarrassing of the late-career efforts of De Niro. Rated 18+

Extraction – I imagine Bruce Willis banks in the same place as Robert De Niro. He cashes another paycheck with this drama that mostly went straight to video in the States but has been deemed as good-enough filler for the Thai multiplexes. The Die Hard star is a retired CIA operative who is taken hostage by terrorists. His only hope for rescue is his son (Kellan Lutz), a deskbound CIA analyst, who launches an unsanctioned rescue mission. Gina Carano (Haywire) also stars. Critical reception is overwhelmingly negative. Rated 15+

Also showing

The Friese-Greene Club – David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Haskell Wexler, all beloved film figures we lost in the past month or so, are paid tribute in February at the Club. Rickman is a ghost humorously haunting his widow (Juliet Stevenson) in tonight's offering, the 1990 romantic comedy Truly, Madly, Deeply. Cinematographer Wexler's talents are on display in 1966's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which also showcases the abilities of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as a bickering couple. Saturdays are devoted to "Variety's 'kinkiest movies ever made", a list that exists as a backlash to Fifty Shades of Grey, which the Club hates. This week's entry is Secretary, with James Spader in one of his creepiest roles. He's the sadomasochistic boss of a new secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Sundays are devoted to director Billy Wilder, starting with the 1944 film-noir thriller Double Indemnity, starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson. Bowie's films screen on Wednesdays. He's a vampire in next week's offering, The Hunger, a pre-Top Gun effort by Tony Scott. Shows are at 8pm. The FGC is down an alley next to the under-renovation Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22. For more details, check the club's Facebook page.

Sayonara Setsuko: A Tribute to Setsuko Hara – In the run-up to next weekend's Japanese Film Festival, Filmvirus, the Japan Foundation and the Reading Room join for a tribute to one of Japan’s most revered actresses. Three films will demonstrate her legacy, starting with 1946’s No Regrets for Our Youth by Akira Kurosawa, followed by Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring from 1949 and Mikio Naruse’s Repast from 1951. The show starts at 1pm on Sunday, February 7 at The Reading Room on Silom Soi 19.

Cinema Diverse: Director's Choice – Thailand's most celebrated filmmaker, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is still scheduled to make an appearance on Saturday at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center for the closing entry in the BACC's Cinema Diverse: Director's Choice series for 2015-16. His choice is the 2012 Chilean political drama No, starring Gael García Bernal as an advertising man who takes up work for the scrappy "No" campaign that ousted General Augusto Pinochet in a 1988 national plebiscite. Pablo Larraín directs. “This film makes me realize that we were born to be puppets. Our strings are being pulled by different forces. Even the word “Democracy” has its own agenda. By the time we grow up and see the strings, we cannot cut them. All we can do is smile as the scripts tell us to. So much so that sometimes we think that our freedom and happiness are real,” Apichatpong says in translated remarks on the BACC website. He and Bangkok Post film critic Kong Rithdee will host a discussion following the screening. It's a free event, with seats available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you want to go, you'll probably need to queue up early for registration, which opens at 4.30pm. The screening is at 5.30pm in the 220-seat fifth-floor auditorium.

German Open Air Cinema – The crime farce Suck Me Shakespeer closes out the Goethe Institut's annual outdoor screening series. A critically acclaimed 2013 box-office hit, Suck Me Shakespeer follows an ex-convict criminal who lands a job teaching rowdy teenagers at a school that was built over the place he buried stolen loot. The show is at 7.30pm on Tuesday, February 9, outdoors at the Goethe-Institut on Sathorn Soi 1. Meanwhile, the Goethe's regular German Film Series continues with monthly screenings at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center and at the Film Archive. And the Archive and the Goethe have joined for Wim Wenders: A Retrospective, which will feature nine of his films, including a Lumpini Park screening of Wings of Desire on February 25 and the first 3D screening at the Film Archive, with Pina on March 5.

Alliance Française – The website appears to be down. There's Facebook, but it's not the same. In the meantime, I have two movies to list. First, there is a "kids' movie", a 2pm Saturday show of U, a fairy tale about a unicorn that befriends a lonely imprisoned princess. And then the usual free French film next Wednesday is Le Petit Lieutenant, a 2004 crime drama about a fresh academy graduate from Le Havre getting picked for the Paris vice squad and partnered with a senior officer who is old enough to be his mother. She's played by Nathalie Baye. It's at 7pm on Wednesday, February 10, at the Alliance.

Sneak preview

Carol – Another of the big titles of awards season, Carol has been widely praised for its performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as women in a taboo lesbian relationship in the U.S. in the 1950s. Blanchett is the housewife Carol who attracts the curious eyes of shopgirl and aspiring photographer Therese (Mara). They gradually grow closer while Carol is in the midst of a messy divorce. Todd Haynes (I'm Not There, Far from Heaven) directs. Listed among the year's best by many, many critics, Carol has six Academy Award nominations, including best actress for Blanchett and supporting actress for the co-lead Mara. Critical reception is wildly positive. It's in sneak previews from around 8 nightly in most multiplexes before opening in general release next Thursday.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Bangkok Cinema Scene special: Japanese Film Festival, Sayonara Setsuko

The Japan Foundations' annual gift to movie-goers, the Japanese Film Festival, comes to SF World Cinema at CentralWorld during next month’s Valentine’s Day holiday, with a selection of nine romance films under the theme “Shapes of Love”.

Among the highlights is Love and Peace, the latest weird movie from Sion Sono, who tells the story of a struggling rock musician whose life is changed after he comes in contact with a tiny magical turtle that brings him good luck. Winner of the Audience Award at Montreal’s Fantasia fest, critics gave the oddball Love and Peace high marks. “It’s Babe by way of Godzilla, except that here, our human protagonist, Kyo (Hiroki Hasegawa), inhabits the pigsty, while the giant reptile in question has only benevolent intentions,” said Peter DeBrugge of Variety.

The hyper-prolific Sono also has Be Sure to Share, a 2009 drama in which a young man named Shiro is caring for his cancer-stricken father. Shiro reflects on his strained relationship with his strict dad while also keeping a secret about his own illness from his friends and family.

The Japanese film industry’s own “master of romance”, Takehinko Shinjo, returns with his fifth feature in Beyond the Memories, in which a heartbroken young woman learns to feel love. Based on a best-selling manga, the story centres on Kanna (Masami Nagasawa), who has been sad since her childhood best friend was killed in a car wreck as he was expressing his love for her. She’s been unable to have feelings for any men since, but then she meets Roku (Masaki Okada), the brooding employee of a manga-publishing house.

Another first love is featured in My Pretend Girlfriend, in which nerdy high-schooler Noburu is tasked by senior student Miyazaki with being the “fake boyfriend” of the new girl in school, Momose, in order to cover up a fling that Miyazaki and Momose are having.

Still another popular manga, “Kinkyori ren ai”, which is also a hit TV series, comes to the big screen as Close Range Love. It’s the story of age-challenged romance, with brainy high-school girl Yuni at the top of her class in all subjects except English. So she is ordered to attend one-on-one sessions with Haruka, the school’s new English teacher, a handsome young man.

Other titles are It All Began When I Met You, which has six love stories involving 10 people; Jinx!!!, about a South Korean exchange student playing matchmaker between an uptight classmate and a shy boy; Poison Berry In My Brain, in which the voices in a woman’s head debate whether she should reach out to a guy she met at a party, and Three Stories of Love (a.k.a. Lovers), which covers the loves and losses of three loosely connected people.

The Japanese Film Festival runs from February 11 to 14 at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld in Bangkok, February 19 to 21 at SFX Maya Chiang Mai, February 26 to 28 at SF Cinema City, CentralPlaza Khon Kaen and March 4 to 6 at SF Cinema City, CentralPlaza Surat Thani. Tickets are Bt120 in Bangkok, Bt80 in Chiang Mai and free in Khon Kaen and Surat Thani. For more details, check or

In the run-up to the Japanese Film Festival, Filmvirus and the Japan Foundation have joined for Sayonara Setsuko: A Tribute to Setsuko Hara, which is set for February 7 at The Reading Room in Bangkok.

On of Japan’s most revered actresses, Hara died last September at age 95. Though she had quit acting in 1963 and had not appeared on screen for more than 50 years, she left behind an unforgettable legacy.

“We invite you to pay tribute to the restrained beauty and effortless talent of Setsuko Hara and remember an exquisite time in world cinema through three movies by three masters of Japanese cinema: Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse,” says Filmvirus, a group of fanatically dedicated Thai cinephiles.

Three films will showcase her legacy, starting with 1946’s No Regrets for Our Youth
by Kurosawa, followed by Ozu’s Late Spring from 1949. Mikio Naruse’s Repast from 1951, completes the triple feature. The show starts at 1pm. For more details, check the Facebook events page.

(Cross-published in The Nation)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening January 28-February 3, 2016

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Michael Bay takes a break from transforming robots and mutant turtles to direct the fact-based military thriller 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, which recounts the September 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. Embassy compound in Libya, and the defense of the place and its people by a small team of private security contractors, all former military special-ops veterans.

James Badge Dale and John Krasinski head the ensemble cast, which also features Pablo Schreiber, Max Martini, Toby Stephens and David Costabile. Chuck Hogan (The Strain, Prince of Thieves) wrote the screenplay, adapted from the book by Mitchell Zuckoff.

Critical reception is mixed. Rated 15+

Also opening

The Boy – Just as Thailand's own creepy doll trend has made headlines, here's a horror film about a haunted toy that's uncannily similar to Thailand's so-called "child angels". The story has a young American woman taking a job as a nanny in a remote English village, only to discover that her 8-year-old charge is a life-sized doll, and that her employers' real son died some 20 years before. After breaking some of the rules concerning the "child's" care, and various disturbing and inexplicable events, she comes to believe that the doll is actually alive. Critical reception is generally negative. Rated 15+

The Finest Hours – In 1952, two oil tankers are sinking off the coast of New England during a severe winter storm. While senior rescuers are sent to fetch the crew of one of the wrecked ships, younger, less-experienced Coast Guardsmen are sent out in tiny lifeboats to the other. Meanwhile, the crew of the ship tries to survive, while on land, there's drama with the wives of the rescuers. The fact-based drama stars Chris Pine, Casey Affleck and Ben Foster. Critical reception is mixed. Rated G.

Burnt – Bradley Cooper is a troubled two-star Michelin chef who loses his job in Paris. He sobers up while shucking oysters in New Orleans and seeks a fresh start and a third Michelin star with his own eatery in London. He assembles the best chefs he can find and clashes with a strong-willed sous chef (Sienna Miller). John Wells (August: Osage County and TV's Shameless) directs. Critical reception is mixed. Rated 15+

Exposed – Whoa. Poor Keanu. He's a police detective who uncovers evidence of corruption while trying to solve the mystery of his partner’s death. Meanwhile, a  Latina girl (Ana De Armas) is experiencing strange things after witnessing what she believes to be a miracle. The film was originally called Daughter of God, and focused on the girl and her supernatural religious experience, but studio execs wanted the focus on a big-name star, so Lionsgate Premier changed it so it mostly dealt with Reeves' brooding detective. Critics are trashing it. Rated 15+

Finding Calico – A retired school headmaster (Issei Ogata) is left alone after the death of his wife, except for the stray tri-colored cat that his wife used to feed. The widower at first doesn’t care for the feline, but when the cat stops coming around, he rallies the community to find her. Also known as Sensei to Mayoi Neko, a.k.a. Teacher and Stray Cat, it's adapted from a fact-based novel by Chiaki Kizuki. Rated 13+

Khon Muay Kab Rak Thee Taektaang (ฅนมวยกับรักที่แตกต่าง, a.k.a. Boxing in Love) – Former childhood sweethearts – traditional dancer Roong and boxer Yord – are reacquainted years later in Bangkok, where Yord gets mixed up with mobsters. Roengsak Misiri  and Kriangsak Phinthutrasi direct. Rated G

Also showing

The Friese-Greene Club – There's a private screening tonight but the club is open tomorrow for one more film lensed by the great cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. It's Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Saturday, there's one more Paul Thomas Anderson movie for the month, 2012's The Master, which features Philip Seymour Hoffman as the leader of a Scientology-like cult, and Joaquin Phoenix as the drifter alcoholic war veteran who falls under the cult leader's spell. Sunday has Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. Shows are at 8pm. The FGC is down an alley next to the under-renovation Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22. For more details, check the club's Facebook page.

German Open Air Cinema – Queer history comes into focus in The Circle (Der Kreis), in which homosexual schoolteacher Ernst Ostertag (Matthias Hungerbühler) gets involved with a gay-activist publication in Zurich in the 1950s, and falls in love with transgender performer Robi Rapp (Sven Schelker). It won several prizes, including the Teddy Award at the Berlin film fest in 2014. The show is at 7.30pm on Tuesday, February 2, outdoors at the Goethe-Institut on Sathorn Soi 1. It's the second-to-last screening of the series, which wraps up on February 9.

Alliance Française – A small-town woman tries to make it in the big city in Le Beau monde (High Society). Arriving in Paris, she crosses paths with a fashion designer who sponsors her enrollment in a top fashion school. Meanwhile, she dumps her hometown boyfriend and takes up with her sponsor's hi-so son. The show is at 7pm on Wednesday, February 3, at the Alliance.

Sneak preview

The Danish Girl – One of the first patients to undergo sexual reassignment surgery is covered in this highly fictionalized historical drama. Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne star as Dutch painter couple Gerda and Einar Wegener, whose relationship evolves after Gerda asks her husband to pose as a woman for a portrait. Thereafter, Einar decides he wants to be Lili. Directed by Tom Hooper (The King's Speech, Les Misérables), the film has been a major nominee, with Golden Globe, Academy Award and Bafta nods for both Vikander and Redmayne (a big winner last year for his turn as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything). Critical reception is generally positive. It's in sneak previews from around 8 nightly in most multiplexes and opens wider next Thursday. Rated 18+

Take note

Tonight is the opening of Future's Ruins: The Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project Installation at H Project Space. The work of researcher Philip Jablon, it's an exhibition of photos of the old stand-alone movie theaters that used to be common landmarks in cities across the region, but are fast disappearing. The show runs until May 29.

Ahead of the Japanese Film Festival from February 11 to 14 at SF World, there is a sidebar program, Sayonara Setsuko: A Tribute to Setsuko Hara, on Sunday, February 7 at the Reading Room. Put on by Filmvirus, with support from the Japan Foundation, the event will screen three classic films starring actress Setsuko Hara, who died last September at age 95. The films feature her work with three masters of Japanese cinema, 1946's No Regret for Our Youth by Akira Kurosawa, 1949's Late Spring by Yasujiro Ozu and 1951's Repast by Mikio Naruse. The show starts at 1pm. I'll have a complete look at the Japanese Film Fest in the next few days.


The Documentary Club supported the local release of "the iPhone movie" Tangerine. I incorrectly stated last week that HAL Film was behind both Tangerine and 45 Years. Apologies to both the Doc Club and HAL Film for the mix-up.