Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening August 12-21, 2014

Plae Kao (The Scar)

The classic tragic romance of the Bang Kapi countryside in the 1930s, Plae Kao (แผลเก่า, a.k.a. The Scar) is a story best known for its 1977 film version by Cherd Songsri, starring Sorapong Chatri as the farmboy Kwan who is hopelessly in love with the neighbor girl Riam (Nantana Ngaokrachang).

Although their families are bitter rivals in the village, Kwan persistently romances Riam by playing his wooden flute, and accompanies her for swims in the lotus pool and on long rides through the rice fields on the back of a water buffalo. But then Riam is sent away by her social-climbing father to Bangkok, where she is taken in by a wealthy woman. Promised the hand of a rising young politician, she becomes distant from Kwan.

There have been remakes and TV versions of the late Cherd's masterpiece, even though the idea of remaking his film ought to be akin to doing a remake of Citizen Kane – it is unnecessary and should never be attempted. Instead, why not organize frequent, easy-to-access revival screenings of the original Plae Kao and other classics of Thai cinema?

But no. Director ML Bhandevanov "Mom Noi" Devakula, the reigning king of Thai-film remakes, feels the need to put his own weird high-brow stamp on Plae Kao, which is adapted from a novel by Mai Muengderm. A drama coach who has schooled virtually every Thai actor on the screen today, Mom Noi made a string of lavish romantic drama films in the 1980s and '90s and then made his comeback as a film director in 2008 with Chua Fah Din Salai (Eternity), an erotic-novel adaptation that had been filmed before. He followed that up with Umong Pha Muang (a.k.a. The Outrage or At the Gate of the Ghost), a northern Thailand-flavored adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon. Last year, he did a two-part retelling of Jan Dara, another erotically charged piece of Thai literature. It had been made into a film just 10 years before.

With his new Plae Kao, Mom Noi aims to bring the old story to contemporary audiences with help from fresh-faced young half-Thai stars, Chaiyapol Julian Pupart from Jan Dara as Kwan and Davika Hoorne from Pee Mak Phra Khanong as Riam. The supporting cast is filled out by a host of youngsters from the reality-TV talent show The Star and a handful of veterans who've acted in Mom Noi productions before. Rated G.

Also opening

Joe – Every once in awhile, Nicolas Cage takes a break from the over-the-top performances that make bad movies a little more tolerable, and reminds us he's still a fine actor who is capable of great work in great movies. Joe is one of those. It's directed by David Gordon Green, a director I admire in any genre. Pineapple Express or Eastbound and Down (or The Sitter) anyone? Or are you stuck on George Washington? The indie drama has Cage as an ex-con who becomes the unlikely role model for an abused teenage boy. The kid is played by Tye Sheridan, who previously earned critical raves in another backwoods American thriller, Mud. Winner of two awards at last year's Venice fest, including the Marcello Mastroianni best-actor gong for Sheridan, critical reception is generally favorable. It's at SF cinemas. Opens on Thursday.

22 Jump Street – The tongue-in-cheek big-screen reboot of the 1980s TV series 21 Jump Street barrels on. The premise involved young police officers recruited to do undercover anti-drugs work at a high school. Now they are in college. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill star as the mismatched buddy cops who proved to be a hilariously winning combination with the first film. Critical reception for the sequel is generally positive, with the consensus being it's the once-in-a-blue-moon sequel that improves upon the original. Rated 15+

Singham Returns – Anybody remember the 2011 Bollywood actioner Singham? I don't, but no matter, because he's back. Ajay Devgn stars as a straight-shooting, no-nonsense deputy police commissioner – an honest cop in a corrupt world. Kareena Kapoor also stars. It's in Hindi with English and Thai subtitles at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit and Rama III. Opens Friday.

Also showing

Silent Film Festival – There are just two nights left in the first Silent Film Festival in Thailand – The Water Magician at 8 tonight at the Lido and tomorrow's closing-film gala at the Scala with The Lodger. From 1933, Kenji Mizoguchi's The Water Magician centers on a young woman who is water juggler for a travelling theater troupe. A headstrong young woman, she taunts a carriage driver into driving faster and he loses his job. She falls for him and pledges to put him through law school, no matter what. Tickets are 100 baht. Alfred Hitchcock's murder thriller The Lodger, hailed as a masterpiece of the silent era, will feature accompaniment from Bangkok Opera maestros Trisdee Na Patalung and Somtow Sucharitkul. The show is at 8pm at the Scala; tickets are 500 baht. The Nation has stories today on the accompanists and early Hitchcock.

The Friese-Greene Club – Already covered in last week's entry, tomorrow night's question-and-answer session will have David Cluck talking about his experiences working as first assistant director on The Merry Gentleman, a 2008 drama that was the directorial debut of Michael Keaton. This Thursday's Asian horror offering is Confessions by Tetsuya Nakashima, in which a grieving mother plots revenge for her daughter's death. Friday's Alan Parker film has Mickey Rourke squaring off against a shadowy figure (Robert De Niro) in Angel Heart. Gaspar Noe's controversial Enter the Void is Saturday's "head trip", and on film noir Sunday, feast your eyes on one of cinema's greatest long takes (and Charlton Heston as a Mexican) with Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. Next Wednesday is another question-and-answer session, with Bangkok-based production designer Jim Newport sharing his thoughts about working on the 1987 cult-classic thriller The Stepfather. Shows are at 8pm. The FGC is down an alley next to the Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22. There's just nine seats, so book them. Also, check the Facebook page for updates and program changes. Please have a look at that other blog for a new video on the FGC.

As We Can See Here: A Tribute to Harun Farocki – German experimental filmmaker and video artist Harun Farocki died on July 30 in Berlin at age 70, leaving behind more than 100 films, mostly short documentaries that explored contemporary life and its various depredations – war, imprisonment, surveillance and capitalism. In tribute, the Reading Room and Filmvirus will present a selection of his films and host a talk. Here is the schedule:

Saturday, August 16
  • 13:00 - As We Can See Here (or As You See), 1986, 72min
  • 14:15 - Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory, 1995, 36min
  • 14:55 - Still Life, 1997, 58min
  • 16:00 - Prison Images, 2000, 60min
  • 17:00 - War at a Distance, 2003, 54min
  • 18:00 - Nothing Ventured, 2004, 50min
Sunday, August 17
  • 13:00 - Images of the World and the Inscriptions of War, 1988, 75min
  • 14:15 - How to Live in the German Federal Republic, 1990, 83min
  • 15:40 - Respite, 2007, 40min
  • 17:00 - Discussion: Keiko Sei and Graiwoot Chulphongsathorn
The venue is The Reading Room, a fourth-floor walk-up art gallery on Silom Soi 19, opposite Central Silom Tower. For more details, please see the Facebook events page.

The Lives of Others – Writers are featured in this Sunday's Filmvirus double bill of biopics at Thammasat University Tha Prachan. With help from producers Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull screenwriter Paul Schrader honors Japanese writer Yukio Mishima with Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. That's followed by Hamsun, with Max von Sydow as the Nobel Prize-winning Norwegian author who later was named a traitor for his support of Nazi Germany. The show starts at 12.30 on Sunday in the Pridi Banomyong Library at Thammasat University Tha Prachan, in the Rewat Buddhinan Room, floor U2, the basement. Dress appropriately and inform the desk worker you are there to see a movie. For details, call (02) 613-3529 or (02) 613-3530.

Alliance Française – Selections from last year's My French Film Festival in Bangkok are featured this month. Tomorrow's film, already covered last week is Une bouteille à la mer (A Bottle in the Gaza Sea). Next week, it's La désintégration about Arab boys living in Lille, France, who fall under the influence of a charismatic older Arab. The show is at 7pm on Wednesday, August 20.

Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand – The FCCT's Contemporary World Film Series explores cross-cultural struggles with The Namesake, a 2006 drama by Oscar-nominated director Mira Nair. Irrfan Khan and Tabu star as a Bengali couple who immigrate from Kolkata to New York and have children. Through a series of mishaps, their son is named Gogol, after the father's favorite Russian author. He (Kal Penn of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle) grows up lazy and resentful, but through various struggles, travels and romantic entanglements, he learns to embrace his Indian heritage. Critical reception is generally positive. The show, courtesy of Mirabai Films and the Embassy of India, is at 7pm on Thursday, August 21 at the FCCT. Indian Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla will be on hand with Indian wines and treats from Mrs. Balbir's. Admission for non-members is 150 baht plus 100 baht for the wine and food.

Sneak preview

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Mired in fanboy controversies that are too tiresome to recount, producer Michael Bay's reboot of the 1980s character-licensing juggernaut recounts the origins of four pizza-chomping outcast brothers who rise up out of the sewers of New York to discover their destiny as crime-fighting superheroes. They join forces with a plucky TV reporter. She's former Transformers star Megan Fox, who made nice with Bay after she compared him to Hitler. They combat the supervillain martial-artist Shredder. Jonathan Liebesman, the South African helmer of Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans directs. Critical reception is mixed. In 3D (converted) in some cinemas, it's in nightly sneak previews at most multiplexes until it opens wide on August 21.

Take note

Except for Joe, most new movies are being released a couple days earlier this week to celebrate today's combined holidays of Her Majesty the Queen's Birthday and Mother's Day. The next update here will likely be on August 21, at which point I hope to have a few details about the 18th Thai Short Film and Video Festival, running from August 28 to September 7 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening August 7-13, 2014

The Swimmers

Thailand's GTH studio again aims for the eyeballs of the country's most lucrative movie-going demographic – upper- and middle-class urban teens – with their latest thriller The Swimmers (ฝากไว้..ในกายเธอ, Fak Wai Nai Kai Ther), in which a pregnant girl commits suicide in her school's swimming pool. Her ghost then haunts the guy who knocked her up.

Juthawut Pattarakamphon and Thonphop Lirattanakhachon star as the lads who have been going to the gym and minding what they eat. They are named Perth and Tan, and are rivals on the school's swim team. Supatsara Thanachart is Ice, the troubled young woman who is Tan's girlfriend but attracts the attentions of Perth.

The writer-director is Sophon Sakdaphisit, who has been behind GTH's string of hit thrillers, penning the early 2000s hits Shutter and Alone before making his directorial debut with 2008's Coming Soon. He followed that up in 2011 with Laddaland, a mature psychological drama.

Critical buzz so far places The Swimmer somewhere below Laddaland but perhaps a bit above Coming Soon. Rated 18+

Also opening

The Expendables 3 – Sylvester Stallone's latest action extravaganza arrives amid controversy over a near-perfect copy of the film being leaked to file-sharing sites weeks before its theatrical release. Not keen for that kind of publicity, the studio Lionsgate has made a federal case out of it. The story has Stallone's team of mercenaries trading shots with an arms dealer who was a former business partner. He's played by Mel Gibson. Back for more action are Expendables regulars Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Jet Li. Arnold Schwarzenegger is also back, again. New to the proceedings is embattled star Wesley Snipes plus Hollywood vets Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammer and Antonio Banderas, and some new blood with Twilight star Kellan Lutz. There's even one "expendabelle", mixed-martial-arts fighter Ronda Rousey. The director is Patrick Hughes, who previously helmed the Australian thriller Red Hill – one definitely worth seeking out. Critical reception is mixed, leaning to negative. Rated 15+

Swelter – Another ageing action star, Jean-Claude Van Damme, fights for multiplex real-estate against his former Expendables castmates with Swelter, which is described as a "brutal heist drama" in the vein of Reservoir Dogs plus a few other movies, such as A History of Violence and High Plains Drifter. Alfred Molina, Lennie James (Snatch) and Grant Bowler (TV's Defiance) also star. It's a modern-day western about folks turning up in a dustblown town looking for another guy who double-crossed them. Like most of Van Damme's films of late, this is going direct-to-DVD in the States, so there's not yet much critical reception. Rated 15+

Into the Storm – This "found footage" disaster thriller revisits the territory of Twister and the more-recent Sharknado, though without the sharks. Various folks with cameras – high-school students, thrill-seekers, storm chasers and townspeople – track an unprecedented outbreak of tornadoes. Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies and Matt Walsh star. Critical reception is mixed. Actually, because it's "found footage", it's not in 3D, because, you know, that wouldn't be realistic. So count your blessings. Rated G

Entertainment – Akshay Kumar is a young man who finds out his entire life has been a fraud. He goes in search of his real father – India's largest diamond merchant. In Hindi with English and Thai subtitles at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit and Rama III. Opens Friday.

Also showing

Silent Film Festival – Alfed Hitchcock's debut feature, 1925's The Pleasure Garden, opens the festival at 8 tonight at the Lido. It's about the romantic entanglements of a pair of chorus girls. Tomorrow night is Hitch's boxing drama The Ring. Highlights this weekend include a free talk by piano accompanists Mie Yanashita and Maud Nelissen at 2 on Saturday, following a noon screening of Japan's The Water Magician. Sunday offers a free lecture on "The Silent Hitchcock" by Professor Charles Barr. It's at 2pm, wedged between repeat showings of The Pleasure Garden and The Ring. The big highlight is on Wednesday, when the fest shifts over to the Scala for one of Hitchcock's masterpieces, The Lodger from 1927, featuring a live performance by young Thai maestro Trisdee na Pattalung. And, just announced, Trisdee will be joined on Wednesday by his mentor, composer and conductor Somtow Sucharitkul. Tickets are 100 baht for the Lido shows and 500 baht for the closing-night gala at the Scala, available in advance from the box offices. Find out more at Facebook.com/silentfilmthailand.

Elle Fashion Film Festival – The fashionable fest put on by Post Publishing and SFX the Emporium runs until Saturday, with highlights that include Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, Michael Winterbottom's baudy escapade The Look of Love, the typewriter romance Populaire and the French singer biopic My Way. Be aware that some of the movies, including Grand Budapest, are being projected from Blu-ray, and may be a bit unclear at times. If you're picky about such things, check at the box office before plunking down 200 baht for the tickets. For more details, please see my earlier blog post or the SF Cinema website.

The Friese-Greene Club – Live octopus is on the menu for tonight's offering of Asian horror, Park Chan-wook's classic revenge thriller Oldboy – pointlessly remade recently by Spike Lee. Tomorrow, see how bad it gets in a Turkish prison with director Alan Parker's Midnight Express. Saturday's head trip is Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman's supremely weird Being John Malkovich, and on Sunday, an insuranceman (Fred MacMurray) has a hard sell in Billy Wilder's classic film noir Double Indemnity. Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson also star. Next Wednesday, it's the story of a troubled woman (Kelly MacDonald) taking up with a suicidal hitman in The Merry Gentlemen, the first and so far only feature directed by Michael Keaton. Hear what it was like to work on the set from Bangkok-based film pro David Cluck, who served as Keaton's first assistant director. Cluck's extensive credits also include such films as The Artist, The Apparition and Oculus. Shows are at 8pm. The FGC is down an alley next to the Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22. There's just nine seats, so book them. Also, check the Facebook page for updates and program changes.

The Lives of Others – Artists are featured in this Sunday's Film Virus double bill of biopics at Thammasat University Tha Prachan. First up is Goya in Bordeaux, focusing on the master painter's late-life voluntary exile to France. That's followed by Utamaro and His Five Women. From 1946, it recounts the life of Kitagawa Utamaro (1756-1806), known for his paintings of Japan's erotic "floating world". It's directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, whose earlier film The Water Magician, is part of the Silent Film Festival. The show starts at 12.30 on Sunday in the Pridi Banomyong Library at Thammasat University Tha Prachan, in the Rewat Buddhinan Room, floor U2, the basement. Dress appropriately and inform the desk worker you are there to see a movie. For details, call (02) 613-3529 or (02) 613-3530.

Alliance Française –  Selections from last year's My French Film Festival in Bangkok are featured this month, and next week's selection has resonance with the current situation in Gaza. From 2011, Une bouteille à la mer (A Bottle in the Gaza Sea) centers on a 17-year-old French immigrant in Israel who puts a message in a bottle, seeking an explanation for a bomb attack in Jerusalem. It's found by a young Palestinian man, who initiates an e-mail correspondence with the girl. It's in French with English subtitles at 7pm on Wednesday, August 13.

Take note

Whenever I mention the Lido and Scala to a co-worker, she tells me how they used to charge 20 baht for the front three rows, which would often be filled by students from nearby Chulalongkorn University. She's told me that anecdote about a dozen times or so, and I don't guess it ever gets old.

Now, for the first time in more than 10 years, prices have gone up at Siam Square's Apex cinemas. At the Lido, seats in the rear rows are 120 baht, but still 100 baht closer to the screen. The Scala's seats are priced at 140 baht for the bleacher section, 120 baht for the back rows on the floor up to row O and 100 baht down front.

The move follows Apex's recent shift to digital projection, which was introduced under a special "promotional" price of 100 baht. However, with the prices at other cinema chains now routinely topping 200 baht, the Lido and Scala remain fantastic bargains even after the price hike, so please support them.

Making the Apex cinemas a better bargain is their "Movie Mileage Card", which you get stamped on each visit. A full card gets you into a film for free! And, unlike loyalty cards at other cinemas, the Apex Movie Mileage Card never expires, is free and has no strings attached. Ask for one on your next visit.

Next Tuesday, August 12, is Her Majesty the Queen's birthday, and in honor of the big national holiday, movie distributors will release another batch of new films, among them a remake of the classic Thai romance Plae Kao (The Scar), the buddy-cop comedy 22 Jump Street, Tommy Lee Jones' western The Homesman, the acclaimed drama Joe starring Nicolas Cage and a sneak preview of Michael Bay's reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I'll update with another post early next week.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Bangkok Cinema Scene special: Silent Film Festival in Thailand, August 7-13, 2014

Three early films by Alfred Hitchcock, including his first feature, are among the highlights of the first Silent Film Festival in Thailand from August 7 to 13 at the Apex cinemas in Bangkok’s Siam Square.

Organised by the Thai Film Archive and the British Council, the festival will feature seven silent films, all accompanied by live piano performances.

The Hitchcocks – three of the nine features he directed in the silent era, and all painstakingly restored by the British Film Institute – are his debut The Pleasure Garden, The Ring and a masterpiece, The Lodger.

Other offerings are Prix de Beaute from France, Nerven from Germany, Little Toys from China and The Water Magician from Japan.

The fest’s opener is 1925’s The Pleasure Garden, about the messy relationships of a pair of chorus girls. Hitchcock’s obsessions are evident from the first frame, which depicts a cascade of chorus girls’ legs tripping down a spiral staircase.

From 1927, The Ring is about rivalry between boxers, both in and out of the fighting arena. It’s Hitchcock’s only original solo screenplay – when talkies came in, the visually fixated director tapped other writers to help with dialogue.

The big event of the festival will be the closing screening of 1927’s The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, which will be held in Siam Square’s landmark Scala theatre and feature musical accompaniment by world-famous Thai composer and conductor Trisdee na Pattalung.

Described by Hitch himself as “the first true Hitchcock movie”, the thriller has foggy London beset by a series of murders by “the Avenger”. His victims, all young blonde women, are discovered each Tuesday night. Ivor Novello stars as a mysterious new lodger in a boarding house.

“I think these films demonstrate how Hitchcock built himself to become the Hitchcock we know,” says Chalida Uabumrungjit, deputy director of the Thai Film Archive. “No matter if it is a drama, melodrama or suspense, Hitchcock’s silents hint at his ability to manipulate the visual elements.”

More visual splendor comes from Japan with 1933’s The Water Magician (Taki no Shiraito), a tragic love story set in the Meiji period and directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, and from China with Little Toys. Also from 1933, and directed by Sun Yu, Little Toys stars Ruan Lingyu as an artisan toymaker whose world is ripped apart by the death of her husband disappearance of her son.

From France, 1930’s Prix de Beaute is perhaps better known for being the first talkie made by starlet Louise Brooks. She portrays an ordinary typist at a Paris newspaper who suddenly decides to enter the Miss Europe beauty pageant. Her dialogue and singing were dubbed for the sound version, but of course it’s the silent one that’s showing in Bangkok.

The oldest entry in the fest, 1919’s Nerven by director Robert Reinert, taps into the mood of post-war Germany as it deals with the political disputes of an ultraconservative factory owner and a leftist teacher who is secretly in love with his rival’s sister.

Apart from Trisdee on the closing night, two other pianists will take turns accompanying the films, Maud Nelissen from the Netherlands and Mie Yanashita from Japan. Both world-class silent-movie pianists, they have performed all over the world.

The Silent Film Festival in Thailand runs from August 7 to 12 at the Lido cinemas and on August 13 at the Scala. Tickets are Bt100 at the Lido, Bt500 for the closing-night gala at the Scala, and can be purchased in advance from the box offices. All films will have English and Thai intertitles. Here is the schedule:

  • August 7, 8pm, The Pleasure Garden (Lido)
  • August 8, 8pm, The Ring (Lido)
  • August 9, noon, The Water Magician; 2pm, talk with accompanists Mie Yanashita and Maud Nelissen (free with Thai translation); 4pm, Prix de Beaute; 6pm, Little Toys, 8pm, Nerven (Lido)
  • August 10, noon, The Pleasure Garden; 2pm, “The Silent Hitchcock”, lecture by Professor Charles Barr (free with Thai translation); 4pm, The Ring; 6pm, Nerven; 8pm, Little Toys (Lido)
  • August 11, 8pm, Prix de Beaut้e (Lido)
  • August 12, 8pm, The Water Magician (Lido)
  • August 13, 8pm, The Lodger (Scala)

Find out more at Facebook.com/silentfilmthailand.