Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening May 21-27, 2015

Song of the Sea

A sweet traditionally animated feature from Ireland hits big screens this week with the Academy Award-nominated Song of the Sea, which is inspired by the ancient Celtic folklore about the selkie, mythical creatures that lived as seals in the ocean but could also exist for a time as humans on land.

The story is about a young brother and sister, who live with their lonely lighthouse-keeper father. They discover that their mother was a selkie.

Top Irish screen and stage talents Brendan Gleeson and Fionnula Flanagan are among voice cast.

It is directed by Tomm Moore, whose previous animated feature, The Secret of Kells, was also nominated for the Oscar.

Critical reception is overwhelmingly positive. Rated G


Director Brad Bird, who previously helmed the Pixar animations The Incredibles and Ratatouille as well as Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, makes his return to the Disney fold with Tomorrowland, a promising adaptation of a theme-park attraction.

The sci-fi adventure story is about a curious teenager (Britt Robertson) who comes into possession of a mysterious pin that reveals a hidden futuristic world. It leads her to track down a jaded former boy genius (George Clooney). Chased by mysterious goons, the pair climb into a rocket-powered bathtub and blast off on a mission to uncover the secrets of Tomorrowland.

It's co-scripted by Damon Lindelhoff, writer of Cowboys and Aliens and Star Trek Into Darkness, and is inspired by a 1950s Disney theme park attraction, as well as Walt Disney's own optimistic dreams of utopian societies.

Critical reception is generally positive. In addition to screenings at conventional multiplexes, it's also at IMAX. However, it's not in 3D. So enjoy. Rated G

Also opening

Paa Happy She Taa Yuh (ป้าแฮปปี้ Sheท่าเยอะ a.k.a. Miss Happy or literally "happy auntie") – Popular TV actress and product presenter Khemanit "Pancake" Jamikorn "goes ugly" for her big-screen debut, wearing a frizzed-out wavy mop of hair and funky mismatched baggy blouses and long skirts. She's Meesuk, a young lady who somehow manages to remain cheerful despite a run of bad luck that includes a heart problem and a doctor's diagnosis of one month to live. To survive, she decides she needs to just dance, with moves supplied by her gay best friend (singer Chalatit "Ben" Tantiwut). Rated 15+

A Little Chaos – Alan Rickman directs and stars as a droll King Louis XIV in this historical drama about the romantic entanglements of gifted landscapers competing to design a garden for the Palace of Versailles. Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Stanley Tucci and Helen McCrory also star. Critical reception is evenly mixed. Rated 15+

Unfriended – It's a bit of a twist on the "found footage" horror genre, with a screengrab drama that unfolds during a chat session on a teenager's computer. She and her friends are stalked by an unseen figure who seeks vengeance for an online bullying attack that led to a girl's suicide. This was also called Cybernatural, and critical reception is mixed, leaning slightly to positive. Rated 18+

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F' – The villain Frieza returns with an aim to take vengeance against Goku and the other Saiyans. Another in a long-running series of popular Japanese manga and anime franchises, it's at SF and Apex, with the Japanese soundtrack and English and Thai subtitles at some cinemas. Rated G

Also showing

Singapore Film Festival – Six recent films from Singapore are screening from tonight until Sunday at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. Among the highlights is the dark satire Unlucky Plaza, in which a Filipino restaurateur spirals out of control and takes hostages. There's also Singapore's submission to the Academy Awards, Sayang Disayang, which was the first Malay film to be produced in Singapore since the city-state became independent 50 years ago. It is a drama about a disabled elderly widower and his slowly changing relationship with his Indonesian housekeeper. Other entries are Banting, about a Muslim girl who secretly becomes a professional wrestler, the quirky romance Singapore Girl, the thriller Ms. J Contemplates Her Choice and supernatural horror in Bring Back the Dead. Showtimes and more details are covered in a special post. Tickets are free, and handed out 30 minutes before the shows on a first-come, first-served basis. So queue up.

The Friese-Greene Club – Oh sure, you hear a lot about The Godfather or Apocalypse Now, but tonight's selection is probably Francis Ford Coppola's finest film – The Conversation. The top-prize winner at the Cannes Film Festival in 1974, it stars Gene Hackman as an obsessive surveillance expert. John Cazale also stars, in one of the five feature-film roles he played in a short but unrivaled career. Tomorrow, it's a British triumph at Cannes, Roland Joffe's 1986 adventure epic The Mission, with Jeremy Irons as a missionary priest to South American tribal people, and Robert De Niro as a slave-hunting mercenary who seeks redemption. Featuring a gorgeous soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, The Mission was actually a commercial flop, according to the FGC's desscription. The club is closed for a private function on Saturday, but the show resumes on Sunday with director Frank Oz's fun adaptation of the musical Little Shop of Horrors, starring a giant talking plant and Rick Moranis, with support from Steve Martin and Bill Murray. Next Wednesday is one more music documentary for the month, Who the F**k Is Arthur Fogel, a 2013 look at the little-known Canadian CEO behind Live Nation Entertainment, the company that has monopolized the rock-concert industry. 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.

Cinema Diverse: Director's Choice – On Saturday, the second entry in this year's Cinema Diverse series at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center brings together two young filmmakers, Thailand's Aditya Assarat (Wonderful Town, Hi-So) and India's Chaitanya Tamhane for a discussion and screening of Tamhane's Court. The courtroom drama follows the trial of an elderly folksinger who is accused of abetting a man's suicide. “Court is very funny even though it’s not a comedy. The acting is very real. It could have been acted as a comedy but then it wouldn't have been funny. I laugh because the actors never let me forget this is a serious situation. That is the power of the movie,” Aditya says. A stunning debut film, Court won prizes last year at film fests in Vienna, Venice, Singapore, Goteborg and elsewhere. The accolades include the New Talent Award at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival. Along with the two directors, actor-producer Vivek Gomber will be on hand for the post-screening talk. There's no way to reserve seats – registration opens at 4.30pm, with the screening at 5.30pm on Saturday in the BACC's fifth-floor auditorium.

Alliance Française – Director Sylvain Chomet is best known for his animated features like The Triplets of Belleville and The Illusionist, but he turned to live-action for 2013's Attila Marcel, an oddball comedy about a dysfunctional young man who was raised by his overly-attentive aunts. He seeks to break away from his sheltered existence, with the help of an eccentric neighbor lady. It screens at 7pm on Wednesday, May 27, at the Alliance.

Take note

More details are emerging about the Bangkok Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which is set for June 5 to 14 at the Esplanade Ratchada. While a schedule and other details are being hammered out, there is a Facebook events page. It is being put on by Attitude magazine, which is also sponsoring a short-film contest in conjunction with the fest.

And yet another film fest has cropped up – the Italian Film Festival from June 2 to 11 at the Quartier CineArt. I'll have more details ready in a few days. It is being organised in part by the Dante Alighieri Cultural Association Bangkok, which has also been putting on monthly film screenings.

Next Thursday has another documentary screening at the FCCT, The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol, which accuses the South Korean authorities of moving too slowly to rescue victims of the 2014 ferry disaster. Hit the link and scroll down for more upcoming movies in the FCCT's Contemporary World Film series.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Bangkok Cinema Scene special: Singapore Film Festival, May 21-24, 2015

Wide-ranging views of contemporary Singaporean society are portrayed in six entries of the Singapore Film Festival, which runs from Thursday to Sunday, May 21 to 24 at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld in Bangkok. Marking 50 years of diplomatic relations with Thailand, the festival's selection offers romance, comedy, drama and even horror.

Tickets are free, and will be handed out to those who are queued up 30 minutes before the shows.

  • Singapore Girl – In this 2014 romantic comedy, a Singapore Airlines flight attendant who has broken up with her boyfriend takes a vacation in Thailand. On Koh Samui, the quirky young woman bonds with a goofball young man, also a Singaporean who is also recovering from a break-up. They seem to get along, even though they don't speak the same language. Kan Lume (The Art of Flirting) directs.
  • Sayang Disayang (My Beloved Dearest) – The first Malay film produced in Singapore since the city declared independence in 1965 was submitted to this year's Academy Awards, and though it didn't make the short list, the film did win several accolades on the festival circuit. Directed by Sanif Olek, it is the tender portrait of the slowly developing relationship between an embittered, disabled elderly Muslim widower and his Indonesian housekeeper. Frequently prone to burst out in song, the stout maid Murni remains ever cheerful, despite her employer's refusal to accept that her diligent daily preparation of the traditional spicy dish sambal goreng is as good or maybe even better than his late wife's.
  • BantingSayang Disayang sparked an interest in more Malay Singaporean films, including this unusual sports comedy from last year. In Bintang, a young woman from a strict Muslim household secretly joins an all-female pro-wrestling team. Raihan Halim directs.
  • Unlucky Plaza – For a change of pace, here's darkly comic satire about a Filipino restauranteur (Jeffrey Quizon), who is struck by a run of bad luck when his eatery has a food-poisoning scandal, he's on the verge of bankruptcy and he's hit by a financial scam. He spirals out of control and ends up taking hostages. It's the latest effort from cult director Ken Kwek, whose 2013 debut feature Sex.Violence.FamilyValues was initially banned in the city-state.
  • Ms. J Contemplates Her Choice – Further examination of Singaporean society takes place in a thriller that features the screen debut of famous singer Kit Chan. A frequent guest on a radio show that offers advice on relationships, she is forced into a series of difficult decisions by an anonymous caller. Jason Lai, who did the award-winning short Three Feet Apart, directs.
  • Bring Back the Dead – A young mother (Jesseca Liu) who is grieving over the loss of her seven-year-old son consults a former caregiver, Madam Seetoh (Liu Ling Ling), to bring back the boy's soul. This leads to strange and deadly occurrences. Released in January in the city-state, it's directed by television veteran Lee Thean-jeen.

May 21

  • 6pm - Singapore Girl
  • 8pm - Sayang Disayang

May 22

  • 6pm - Unlucky Plaza
  • 8.20pm - Banting

May 23

  • 2pm - Unlucky Plaza
  • 4.30pm - Sayang Disayang
  • 6.20pm - Bring Back the Dead
  • 8.20pm - Ms. J Contemplates Her Choice

May 24

  • 2.30pm - Singapore Girl
  • 4.30pm - Banting
  • 6pm - Ms. J Contemplates Her Choice
  • 8pm - Bring Back the Dead

(Cross-published in The Nation)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening May 14-20, 2015

Phi Ha Ayothaya (The Black Death)

Zombies! Thai zombies!

For his sophomore feature effort, Phi Ha Ayothaya (ผีห่าอโยธยา , a.k.a. The Black Death), director MR Chalermchatri "Adam" Yukol channels George Romero's Night of the Living Dead through the ancient Ayutthaya kingdom, where villagers mysteriously die and then become flesh-hungry zombies. Monks and magic, usually effective against traditional Thai ghosts, are powerless to stop them. Fortunately, it's a time when everyone has a sword or two handy.

Filmed on the same massive sets in Kanchanaburi where Adam's father MC Chatrichalerm Yukol made the recently wrapped-up six-part Legend of King Naresuan saga, Phi ha Ayothaya follows Adam's 2013 feature debut The Cop.

I've got a review in the works. It's a blast. Go see it. Rated 18+

Mad Max: Fury Road

After more than 25 years of development, Australian director George Miller jump-starts his legacy with Mad Max: Fury Road, the first entry in what's expected to be an exciting new Mad Max trilogy.

The raw original film, released in 1979 during the height of the Ozploitation era, introduced the biker-battling highway patrolman Max played by Mel Gibson, and driving his supercharged 1974 Ford Falcon XB. Just a man with his car and his dog in the post-apocalyptic Outback in 1981's Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, the franchise cemented its worldwide status, and the momentum carried it through to 1985's Beyond Thunderdome.

Now, after a quarter century of development and delays, the Namibia, Africa-filmed epic stays true to its roots, with a motorhead-pleasing focus on crazy cars and practical, in-camera stunts. The bad guys are still violent hot-rodding goons, only moreso.

Tom Hardy takes over the lead role from Gibson. The strong-but-silent type falls in with a warrior woman, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) for an epically violent car chase across the desert.

Much anticipated, Mad Max: Fury Road is already earning much praise for its visceral, non-stop action, most of which is real and not CGI. Critics are going bonkers for it. It's in converted 3D, but please do try to seek out the 2D version. Rated 15+

Also opening

Lost River – Actor Ryan Gosling makes his directorial debut with this surreal neo-noir fantasy about a single mother (Christina Hendricks from Mad Men and Drive) struggling to raise her children in a mysterious abandoned city. Much influenced by his efforts on Drive and City of God with Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn, Gosling filmed Lost River in Detroit in 2013. It premiered at last year's Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard competition, where it was met with cheers and boos. Critics are polarized, with the consensus being that it's a mess, but at least it's an interesting mess. Rated 15+

Pitch Perfect 2 – In this sequel to the 2011 sleeper-hit comedy about a women's collegiate a cappella singing group, the Barden Bellas find themselves banned from U.S. competition due to the bumbling of the group's colorful member Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson). They seek to redeem themselves by entering the world competition in Copenhagen. Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee, Alexis Knapp and Hailee Steinfeld also star. Elizabeth Banks, who produced and starred in the first Pitch Perfect, takes the director's chair. Critics are mostly singing praises. Rated 13+

Life Partners – Well-meaning young woman Paige (Gillian Jacobs) makes a pact with her longtime best friend, lesbian Sasha (Leighton Meester), that she won't get married until Sasha has the legal right to do so. But when Paige meets a handsome doctor (Adam Brody), Sasha fears she's being cast aside. Critics are generally praiseworthy of this indie romantic comedy. It's at Apex and SF cinemas. Rated 15+

Bombay Velvet – James Ellroy's L.A. Quartet of gritty crime novels about 1950s Los Angeles provides the inspiration for this stylish drama set in Bombay of the 1960s, where a boxer (Ranbir Kapoor) is in love with an aspiring jazz singer (Anushka Sharma). It's in Hindi with English and Thai subtitles at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit, Rama III and Pattaya. Opens Friday.

Also showing

The Friese-Greene Club – Boos at Cannes are historically a good sign, as demonstrated by David Lynch's surreal thriller Wild at Heart, which earned howls of derision but won the festival's top prize in 1990. It screens tonight. Tomorrow, it's another Cannes top-prize winner, Michelangelo Antonioni's portrait of Swinging London, Blowup. Watch for a rare performance by the Yardbirds with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. This Saturday's "sexy" movie is The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and on Sunday, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and others will strain their vocal cords in 2012's Les Miserables. Next Wednesday, it's another musical documentary, 20 Feet from Stardom, putting the spotlight on the unsung heroes of pop music – the back-up singers. 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.

Alliance Française – There are two offerings at the Alliance this week. First up at 2pm on Saturday, it's a "kids' screening" of the award-winning animated Ma maman est en Amérique, elle a rencontré Buffalo Bill (My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill). From 2013, it's about a six-year-old boy who copes with stern teachers, bullying classmates and a traumatic event at home that he has yet to wrap his head around. Marc Lavoine and Julie Depardieu are among the voice actors. At 7pm next Wednesday, it's another "French film with children", Tout est pardonné (All Is Forgiven), a 2007 drama about a young couple and their daughter. A drug addict, the father is banned from seeing the little girl, but years later, the daughter learns her father is in Paris, and she decides to see him again.

Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand – There's a documentary screening on Monday at the FCCT with The Look of Silence, another powerful examination of the Indonesian military's killing of leftists and other political opponents in the 1960s. Having earlier screened in the fifth edition of Salaya Doc, The Look of Silence is the follow-up to The Act of Killing, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer and a host of "anonymous" crew members. While The Act of Killing rubbed me the wrong way with its focus on the perpetrators of the genocide, allowing them to re-enact the killings in often grandiose and self-aggrandizing fashion, The Look of Silence keeps the focus on the victims as seen through the eyes of an Indonesian optician, who travels from town to town, confronting the people responsible for his brother’s death. At each visit, a pattern emerges, with the interviewees at first denying having any knowledge of the killings, but the guy keeps gently questioning, trying different lenses as it were, and then there's that look that comes across their face as if to say "Okay, you got me," and they realize they can no longer lie. The screening is at 7pm on Monday, May 18, at the FCCT. Entry for non-members is 150 baht.

Take note

More details have emerged about the Singapore Film Festival from May 21 to 24 at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. It will show six recent films, including Sayang Disayang, a Malay drama that was Singapore's Oscar submission. Tickets will be free and handed out first come, first served, 30 minutes before the shows. I'll aim to put up a special post about it soon.

Another upcoming event will be the first Bangkok Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which is being put together by Attitude magazine and is set for sometime in June at a venue yet to be announced. But the line-up of films is ready, and it's pretty impressive. Among the titles will be the local premieres of two much-anticipated Thai films from the festival circuit, How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) and The Blue Hour.