Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening April 27-May 4, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

With Captain America: Civil War, Marvel Studios offers a more brightly lit and quippier counterpoint to the drab darkness of the DC comics films.

Like DC's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Marvel's new Captain America movie pits top comic-book heroes against one another.

Here, the eternal Boy Scout, Steve "Captain America" Rogers, sees a threat in a plan by politicians to make superheroes accountable for all the collateral damage they are causing. It's understandable, I guess, given how Manhattan was ripped apart in the first Avengers movie and then Washington, DC took a big hit in Captain America: Winter Soldier.

The complex military industrialist Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, is on board with the politicians' scheme to keep the Avengers in check, but Rogers isn't so sure. So it's Cap and his team on one side and Iron Man and others on another.

Chris Evans returns as Cap, along with the core team that includes Anthony Mackie as Falcon, Sebastian Stan as Cap's former friend Bucky (now the damaged and brainwashed Winter Soldier), the archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the supernatural-powered Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen)

Also back in action is Scarlett Johansson as conflicted anti-heroine Black Widow.

Robert Downey Jr. joins the proceedings this time out as Iron Man, adding his snappy one-liners, and basically making this Captain America movie an Avengers movie or another Iron Man movie. Don Cheadle is in there as well, as Iron Man's sidekick War Machine, along with Paul Bettany, the voice of longtime Stark family servant Jarvis, now the super cyber entity Vision.

And watch for a special appearance by the new Spider-Man, Tom Holland. Spidey was formerly trapped solely in Sony's web of Marvel Comic movies. With yet another new Sony Spider-Man series set to start next year, the webslinging teen hero has been freed up for crossover action in the Disney-owned Marvel Studios cinematic universe.

Many, many other supers will take part as well, introducing Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther and tossing in Paul Rudd as Ant-Man.

It's directed by the Russo brothers, Anthony and Joe, frequent TV-comedy hands who won accolades for their work on Winter Soldier. This doesn't come out until May 6 in the U.S., but, in a positive sign, many critics have already been allowed to see it, and are giving it good reviews. It's in converted 3D in some cinemas, including IMAX. Opens today.  Rated G

Also opening

The Idol – It's pretty rare for a Palestinian film to hit our screens, but I suppose this fact-based musical biopic makes commercial sense in a country where TV talent shows are a primary diversion, and so many of the movie and TV stars and popular musicians are former contestants of reality-TV talent shows. The drama covers the life of Mohammed Assaf, a young Palestinian musician who performed at weddings in refugee camps in Gaza. He went on to win on TV's Arab Idol in 2013, found worldwide fame and put Palestine in the spotlight. Tawfeek Barhom portrays the singer and Hany Abu-Assad directs. It screened at last year's Toronto International Film Festival and has been well-received by critics. Opens Thursday. It's in limited release in a handful of Major Cineplex outlets plus Apex in Siam Square, in the original Arabic with English and Thai subtitles. Rated G

Terra Formars – They are terraformers. On Mars. Get it? Terra Formars is yet another live-action adaptation of yet another popular Japanese comic series, and is much anticipated by fans of manga and Japanese pop culture. The prolific cult-film director Takashi Miike helms this big-budget effort, which was filmed in Iceland. Stars include Rinko Kikuchi and Rila Fukushima along with Kane Kosugi. Bit like Starship Troopers, the story deals with a small unit of soldiers who are fighting mutated cockroaches, giant bugs that were originally installed to help colonize the Red Planet. Opens Friday. It's Thai-dubbed in most places but the Japanese soundtrack with English and Thai subtitles is available in the usual downtown cinemas, including Apex Siam Square, Paragon, Quartier, Esplanade Ratchada, SFW CentralWorld and SFC Terminal 21. Rated G

Baaghi – A lot of Bollywood films, and other films, TV series, commercials, music videos, etc. from India, are made in Thailand. Local production-services company Benetone handles many of those projects, and they worked on Baaghi, which is actually set in Thailand. New-face leading man Tiger Shroff, along with Shradda Kappoor and Sudheer Babu star. It's the story of former college chums who fell in love with the same woman. Years later, she is abducted and is being held in Thailand, bringing the two former friends together again as fierce enemies. It's in Hindi with English and Thai subtitles at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit, Rama III and Pattaya. Opens Friday.

Also showing

Alliance Française – Lots of French film activities to report, in line with the Alliance's expansion of its movie programming. As covered in last week's update, tonight's French film with English subtitles is Heat Wave (Coup de chaud), a murder mystery that's set during a hot time in a small African town. Friday's French film with Thai subtitles is School of Babel, a comedy-drama about a special school in Paris for immigrant children. And there's a Saturday matinee "kids' movie", the 2010 animated Une vie de chat (A Cat in Paris), about a thieving feline who looks after a little girl. And the May schedule opens next Wednesday with the English-subbed Vincent, about a young man with secret superpowers. Shows are at 7pm (except the Saturday matinee, which starts at 2pm). Admission is 100 baht for the general public.

The Friese-Greene Club – April winds down with one more spy movie tonight, Carol Reed's Our Man in Havana with Alec Guinness. The club has a private event on Thursday, but is back open on Friday for a "quirky eighties" movie, Parents by director and often-seen character actor Bob Balaban. And the month closes out on Saturday with the dystopian drama Children of Men. For May, the club's schedule ponders the question, "Over-rated or Under-appreciated?" and then covers four distinctive auteur directors and one iconic actor. Wednesdays have the American indie director Jim Jarmusch while Thursdays are devoted to the great Orson Welles. Fridays have the artful eroticism of Britain's Peter Greenaway while Saturdays feature the overlapping dialogue and sprawling casts of America's Robert Altman. And Sundays, see, are devoted to Edward G. Robinson, starting with his film-noir classic with Bogie and Bacall, Key Largo. Wednesdays are mostly the early, under-appreciated efforts of Jarmusch, starting with 1984's Stranger Than Paradise, while next Thursday is the 75th anniversary screening of the classic film, Welles' Citizen Kane. 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.

The Special Screening of Three Classic Asean Films – The most-popular tickets at the Bangkok Asean Film Festival were the "Asean Classics", three older films that were screening alongside newer entries from all the Asean bloc countries. Those three films will be screened again on Sunday at the Film Archive in Salaya, Nakhon Pathom. They are the 1972 Cambodian fantasy The Snake Man at 1pm, 1954's After the Curfew from Indonesia at 3pm and 1975's Manila in the Claws of Light at 5pm. I actually saw Manila, and it is well worth making the trip to the Archive if you missed the Bangkok screening. The film recently underwent digital restoration and looks amazing. It's a gripping and gritty drama about the working class in the city. Please note that The Snake Man is Thai-dubbed with no English subtitles, but the others have both English and Thai subtitles. For details, check the Facebook events page.

Take note

I've gone ahead and issued my weekly update here a day early, owing to the big-tentpole opening of Captain America: Civil War, one day earlier than usual. Notably, Captain America doesn't open until next week in the U.S., so movie-goers in Thailand are among the first to feast eyes.

Tomorrow, the usual day movies tend to open here, there is scheduled to be one more new release, the Palestinian entry Idol.

For some reason, the Japanese film Terra Formars is not opening until Friday, which is unusual. And then there's the Bollywood release Baaghi, which opens on Friday, as per usual with the Bollywood films in Bangkok.

There are public holidays next week, including a Monday substitution for Labor Day on May 1, to give the working-class comrades and their elite overseers an extra day of rest. And then next Thursday is Coronation Day. But it appears the movies will shift back to their regular schedule of opening on Thursday.

Coming up, the dates for the third edition of the Silent Film Festival in Thailand are set for June 16 to 22, 2016 at the Lido and Scala cinemas. That's according to the latest newsletter from the Film Archive. Hopefully, more details will emerge soon.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening April 21-27, 2016

Patong Girl

A German teen on holiday in Thailand with his dysfunctional family falls head over heels for a local lass in Patong Girl (สาวป่าตอง), an indie drama that recently won a Grimme Prize in Germany.

It's directed by Susanna Salonen, a veteran cinematographer whose credits include second unit work on Run Lola Run, making her feature directorial debut. She was inspired to make Patong Girl by her experience during the 1990s as a diving instructor on Phuket.

The film follows the Schroeder family as they embark for one last holiday together before their youngest son Felix goes off to college. Locked into what turns out to be a dodgy holiday package, the family spends their nights boozing in a red-light district, where Felix comes to the rescue of a damsel named Fai and ends up running off with her without really knowing who she is. The mother, meanwhile, is becoming dissatisfied with her husband and she runs off too, ostensibly to find the son. She ends up finding herself.

In addition to the strong performances by Max Mauff as Felix and Victoria Trauttmansdorff as the mother, there's a break-out role for (spoiler alert) transgender actress Aisawanya Areyawattana.

Interestingly, the film was actually made around Pattaya, with Bangkok-based production services company De Warrenne Pictures and co-producer Tom Waller, helping set the stage.

The limited theatrical release follows appearances in the German Open Air Cinema season and German Film Week. It's at SF World at CentralWorld as well as SF cinemas at Pattaya Beach, Jungceylon Phuket (Patong) and Maya Chiang Mai.

For details, check the Facebook page. There's also a Vimeo trailer and an article in The Nation. Rated 15+

Also opening

Green Room – Patrick Stewart, the refined stage and screen actor best known for his roles as Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation and as Professor Xavier in the X-Men movies, takes a villainous turn as a white supremacist criminal kingpin in Green Room. The thriller is about members of a rock band who are locked in a fight for survival with skinhead gangsters after they witness a murder. Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat and Joe Cole also star. Critical reception is generally positive. Seems this is only playing in a small number of venues, so good luck finding it at a cinema near you. Rated 18+

Hardcore Henry – Taking inspiration from first-person-shooter video games and other point-of-view (POV) media, this Russian indie action feature is being touted as the first full-length film to be shot entirely from the first-person perspective. Basically the movie Crank, if it were made from a camera planted in Jason Statham's brain, it follows the adventure of a secret agent who wakes up in a lab and then goes through all kinds of violent situations to rescue his scientist wife, who has been abducted by a superpowered warlord. Sharlto Copley, Tim Roth and Haley Bennett are among the stars, but the real stand-out performers are the various stunt actors who donned a GoPro camera helmet to shoot, stab and punch their way through the film. Critical reception is mixed. Rated 18+

Race – Track-and-field star Jesse Owens faced a dilemma when he was chosen to represent the USA in the 1936 Berlin Olympic games. There were folks who urged him to not take part, thus denying Adolf Hitler and the Nazis a propaganda opportunity. Others pleaded with him to go to Berlin, because he most certainly would win and disprove assertions that black people were somehow "inferior". Stephan James stars in this historical sports drama, with former Saturday Night Live cast member Jason Sudeikis taking a dramatic turn as Owens' coach. Other stars include Jeremy Irons, William Hurt and Carice van Houten from Game of Thrones. Critical reception is mixed. Like Green Room, this is another limited release, with just a few venues listed. Rated G

Colonia – Emma Watson (Hermoine from the Harry Potter movies) is a young woman caught up in the unrest of 1973 in Chile. After her husband (Daniel Brühl) is kidnapped by Pinochet's secret police, she tracks him into the jungle to a torture center run by a Christian sect led by a former Nazi (Michael Nyqvist). She joins the cult in hopes she'll be able to rescue her husband. Critical reception is mixed. This opened last week in sneak previews and now moves to general release. Rated 13+

The Wave – The Norwegian film industry flexes its special-effects muscles with this Hollywood-style disaster thriller. It's set in an isolated village threatened by a tsunami, created when an unstable mountain slid off into a nearby fjord. Human drama ensues as residents scramble for higher ground. Critical reception has been mostly favorable. Rated 13+

Before I Wake – A young couple (Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane) take in a foster child, a boy who is plagued by dreams and nightmares that come to terrifying life as he slumbers. As the dreams become increasingly dangerous, the kid tries to stay awake in a bid to save his new family. He is portrayed by Jacob Trembley, the child actor who won widespread accolades for his performance in the much-acclaimed Room. The writer-director is Mike Flanagan, who previously did the Blumhouse horrors Oculus and Hush. The buzz on this seems to be positive, even as critical reception is just starting to jump. Rated 15+

Detective Chinatown – This is not the long-awaited sequel to the Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes. No, Detective Chinatown is a Chinese action-comedy about a wannabe police officer who comes to Bangkok and gets mixed up in a murder case. Aspiring to be the next Chinese made-in-Thailand mega-hit like Lost in Thailand, Detective Chinatown was actually shot in Bangkok. It was a hit in China and got a fun review by Maggie Lee of Variety. Thai-dubbed only. Rated 15+

Also showing

Bangkok Asean Film Festival – Movies from all the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be featured in the second edition of this freebie festival, which is open to the public from tomorrow until Tuesday at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. It is put on by the Culture Ministry in a bid to promote Bangkok as a cultural and cinematic hub for the region. There are noteworthy films from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. In addition to 10 recent titles, there are three "Asean Classics", including the 1975 social drama Manila in the Claws of Light by Lino Brocka and 1954's After the Curfew from Indonesia. The fest is covered at length in an entry posted on Tuesday, just moments after the schedule was finally revealed. I mostly want to see Bitcoins Heist from Vietnam. Tickets are free and handed out 30 minutes before the shows to punters who queue up at a special table there at CentralWorld.

The Friese-Greene Club – Chow Yun-fat is at his best tonight in The Killer, John Woo's seminal slice of 1980s Hong Kong action and thrills. Tomorrow, it's the "quirky '80s" with the Coen Bros.' debut Blood Simple, which pretty much set the template for everything they've done since. The club is booked for a private event on Saturday but is back open on Sunday for Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Next Tuesday, there is a special screening, of the Cambodian documentary I Am Chut Wutty, which covers the killing of an environmental activist. With a venue in Phnom Penh threatened with "strong action" if it showed the film, director Fran Lambrick granted permission for the FGC to show it. It is a case similar to Bradley Cox's banned-in-Cambodia documentary Who Killed Chea Vichea? about a slain Cambodian labor organizer. Find out more at the Facebook events page. And next Wednesday it's Carol Reed's film-noir spy tale Our Man in Havana, starring Alec Guinness. Shows are at 8pm (except for Seven Samurai, which starts at 7). 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 – A strict judge is in an awkward situation in the comedy Nine-Month Stretch (9 mois ferme), which screens at 7pm on Friday in French with Thai subtitles. Next Wednesday's English-subbed offering is Heat Wave (Coup de chaud), a murder mystery that's set during a heat wave in a small African town. Admission is 100 baht for the general public.

Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand – Films by Asian female directors living in the West have been the focus of the FCCT's Contemporary World Film Series of late, with Indo-Canadian Deepa Mehta's Earth screening on Tuesday. Next up, at 7pm on Monday, April 25, will be Dukhtar, which New York-based Pakistani Afia Nathaniel made to widespread acclaim. It follows the adventure of a determined mother who takes her daughter away to break the cycle of arranged marriage in the Pashtun tribe. It was Pakistan's official submission to the Academy Awards. Admission is 150 baht for non-members.

Take note

After the long Songkran break, movie distributors and multiplex chains are back in furious action this week getting eight or so smaller titles off their shelves ahead of the next big Hollywood comic-book tentpole, Captain America: Civil War, which actually hits cinemas next Wednesday along with a handful of other movies the following day. I'll aim for an update on the usual day. So see you next Thursday.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bangkok Cinema Scene special: Bangkok Asean Film Festival, April 22-26, 2016

Movies from across the Asean Economic Community will be shown in the second edition of the Bangkok Asean Film Festival, which opens to the public on Friday at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. It's put on by the Ministry of Culture, with support from SF cinemas, the Thai Film Archive and the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand.

The selection has recent acclaimed movies from all the Asean member states plus three "Asean Classics", films that date back to the 1950s and 1970s. The entries are a mix of gripping drama, romance, comedy, action and a moving documentary. Here is the line-up:

Asean Classics

  • The Snake Man (Pous Keng Kang, a.k.a. The Snake King's Wife) – An icon of Cambodian cinema's lost "golden age", Tea Lim Koun's inventive special-effects-laden fantasy is the tragic story of a girl who is destined to be the wife of the Snake King. The doyenne of the Cambodian stage and screen Dy Saveth is among the stars, and she is due to put in an appearance at the festival. Made in 1972, the film was released across Asia, including Thailand. Unfortunately, the first 10 minutes are missing. Also, it is Thai-dubbed only and there are no English subtitles, the only one in the fest where that is the case. But it's still worth a look if you are interested in Cambodian cinema and weird B-movie fantasies.
  • After the Curfew – From 1954 and directed by Usmar Ismail, this social drama is regarded as a classic of Indonesian cinema. It's about a former soldier who takes up a vigilante cause against corrupt officials.
  • Manila in the Claws of Light – Directed by Filipino cinema titan Lino Brocka, this much-acclaimed 1975 social drama follows a young man who has left behind his rural hometown and work as a fisherman to move to the big city and in search of new opportunities and a better life. He should have stayed in the countryside.

Asean films

  • Yasmine, Brunei – Not many films come out of Brunei. And Yasmine is only the second Bruneian film I've ever heard of. Even more unusual, is that Yasmine centers on a young woman who goes against conservative society to join competitions in the Malay martial art of silat. It won prizes at the Asean International Film Festival and Awards and at the Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival in Switzerland.
  • 3.50, Cambodia – Chhay Bora directs this drama about Cambodia's illegal sex trade, as seen through the eyes of an American woman who is making a documentary film and becomes determined to change the country's cruel ways.
  • A Copy of My Mind, Indonesia – Top indie talent Joko Anwar turns to romance with this drama about a woman who works in a beauty salon who falls for a subtitler of pirated DVDs. Their love turns problematic amidst turbulent politics. The film was in competition at the Venice fest last year and has been a frequent entry of festivals around the region.
  • Above It All, Laos – Outside of the Lao PDR, it's kind of hard to describe how groundbreaking this film is. But it is the first Lao film to have a gay main character, a medical student who is struggling to come out of the closet to his strict father. It also deals with a young Hmong woman who wants to break away from the tribal tradition of arranged marriages. Directed by Anysay Keola, one of the leading figures of Laos' burgeoning film industry, Above It All premiered at last year's Luang Prabang Film Festival.
  • Day and Night, Malaysia – This is a compilation of segments by three talented independent Malaysian filmmakers, who all offer their reflections on the state of contemporary Malaysian society. The segments are Trespassed by Ho Yuhang, Bite by Charlotte Lim and Bedside Manners by Yeo Joon Han.
  • Kayan Beauties, Myanmar – The often-exploited "giraffe neck" women of Myanmar's and Thailand's tribal regions are thrust into the spotlight in this 2012 feature, which has been shown at many festivals around the Asia-Pacific and won awards. The adventure story involves three young Kayan women who take up the search for a girl abducted by human traffickers. The Nation has an article from a couple years ago.
  • Taklub, Philippines – Brillante Mendoza, the chief purveyor of the gritty so-called "poverty porn" films of the Philippines, directs this documentary-style drama about families attempting to pick up the pieces after their community was devastated by Supertyphoon Yolanda in 2014. Veteran actress Nora Aunor stars. It won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at Cannes last year.
  • 3688, Singapore – Celebrated filmmaker Roystan Tan's movies generally have numbers in their titles and tend to be musical tales about starry-eyed dreamers. His latest is about a parking attendant who wants to be a singer just like her famous namesake, the Taiwanese "queen of hats" Fong Fei Fei.
  • The Songs of Rice (พลงของข้าว, Pleng Khong Kao), Thailand – Talented director and cinematographer Uruphong Raksasad wraps up a trilogy of farming documentaries with The Songs of Rice, which is a tuneful look at the rites of rice cultivation across the Kingdom. Winner of many prizes, Uruphong's film vividly captures such unique scenes as the water buffalo races in Chon Buri and the rocket festival in Yasothon, along with parades, prayer ceremonies, alcohol-fueled festivities and beauty pageants. It was one of my favorites of 2014.
  • Bitcoins Heist, Vietnam – Ham Tran, who made his worldwide breakthrough with 2006's post-war drama Journey from the Fall, is now solidly part of Vietnam's commercial film industry. His latest is a high-tech action thriller about a disparate squad of crooks and con artists who are tasked with tracking down a cyber-criminal. Out of all the films in this fest, this is the one I most want to see.

All films will have English and Thai subtitles (except for Cambodia's The Snake Man). After Bangkok, the fest will travel to SF cinemas in Khon Kaen from April 28 to May 4, Surat Thani from May 6 to 12 and Maya Chiang Mai from May 13 to 19.

In addition, the Film Archive will have a special screening of the Asean Classics on May 1.

Admission is free, with tickets handed out at a special table 30 minutes before the shows. Line up well before then to ensure you get a decent seat. For the schedule, please check the website. For more details, see