Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening February 26-March 3, 2015

Focus


Aw hell yeah! Let the renewal of Will Smith's career begin.

The Hollywood leading light, still-stinging from the "painful failure" of his vanity sci-fi project After Earth and a host of other lackluster misfires, dull, well-meaning prestige projects and big-budget bombs, is taking what is hopefully a different direction, perhaps back toward the types of roles that made him fun to watch in the first place.

After a bit of a hiatus, the former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is back with Focus, a crime thriller and romantic comedy in which he's a slick master of misdirection who falls for a novice con artist and teaches her the tricks of the trade. Three years later, he's in Buenos Aires working on his most elaborate scheme yet, and his old flame shows up and threatens to throw everything into disarray.

Margot Robbie, who got her big break as the female lead in The Wolf of Wall Street also stars, making Focus a test outing of sorts for the upcoming Suicide Squad, an ambitious DC Comics adaptation that will see Smith trying to fit in with an ensemble cast of villains who are forced to take part in do-or-die missions. He'll play the assassin Deadshot while Robbie will portray the Joker's former girlfriend, the unhinged Harley Quinn.

Focus is directed Glenn Ficarra and John Requa who previously did I Love You Phillip Morris and Crazy, Stupid, Love. Critical reception is mixed, leaning to positive. Rated 13+



Also opening


Predestination – Ethan Hawke stars in this slick-looking sci-fi/noir as a temporal agent who travels through time to prevent future killers from committing their crimes. On his final assignment, he must stop the one criminal who has eluded him throughout time. Sarah Snook and Noah Taylor also star. Michael and Peter Spierig (Daybreakers) direct. Critical reception is actually pretty positive. Rated 15+


The Riot Club – Coming out amid a backlash against "posh" figures in Britain's entertainment industry, this film deals with Oxbridge society's all-male "dining clubs". Based on a play called, fittingly enough, Posh, The Riot Club follows two first-year Oxford legacies as they are inducted into an infamous group amid a power struggle among members over the club’s rowdiness and exclusionary policies. Max Irons, Sam Claflin and Douglas Booth star. Lone Scherfig (An Education) directs. Critical reception is generally positive.


The Lazarus Effect – It's Flatliners for the current generation. A bunch of brainy university researchers accidentally kill one of their own and then discover a way to bring her back to life. Unwittingly, they also unleash a deadly force. Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde and Donald Glover star. It's produced by Jason Blum, who's been behind the recent string of mean-spirited horror-thrillers The Purge, Insidious and Sinister. Critical reception is throbbing to life. Rated 18+


The World of Kanako – A former detective is back on the case when his daughter goes missing. As he probes deeper, he’s shocked to discover his model-student daughter was living a secret double life. Koji Yakusho and Nana Komatsu star. Tetsuya Nakashima, who previously helmed the well-regarded and stylish Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko, directs. It's in Japanese with English and Thai subtitles at House.


Rise of the Legend – Martial-arts master Wong Fei-hung has been the subject of countless movies, such as Tsui Hark's Once Upon a Time in China series with Jet Li and Yuen Wo-ping's Drunken Master with Jackie Chan. This one's under Hong Kong director Roy Chow, with rising Taiwanese action star Eddie Peng in the lead. Here, he's an orphan who infiltrates the ranks of the Black Tiger gang in a bloody and violent bid for revenge against those who killed his father and mentor. Sammo Hung and Angelababy also star. Corey Yuen, a veteran action choreographer who has worked from Hong Kong to Hollywood, is the stunt director. Critical reception is mixed. At SF cinemas; Chinese soundtrack and English subtitles at CentralWorld. Rated 13+


Badlapur – Varun Dhawan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui star in this decades-spanning drama about two men trapped in an endless self-destructive spiral of revenge and retribution. It's in Hindi with English and Thai subtitles at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit, Rama III and Pattaya. Opens Friday.



Also showing



Memory! International Film Heritage Festival – Opening at 6.30 tonight at the Alliance Française, this festival put on by a Phnom Penh-based NGO, Bangkok's Alliance and the Thai Film Archive, will show 11 classic comedies under the theme of "Laughter!" The opening entries are 1902's A Trip to the Moon and Charles Chaplin's The Circus. Tomorrow has the 1955 British comedy The Ladykillers, starring Alec Guinness as the leader of an unusual gang of thieves. The fest shifts over to the Film Archive in Salaya on Saturday and Sunday with the French comedies Happy Anniversary and The Great Love by Pierre Etaix and the 1965 Mongolian "silk road comedy" Before Rising Up the Ranks. Sunday's selections are Jacques Tati's futuristic Playtime and Buster Keaton's railroad epic The General. The fest returns to the Alliance on Monday and Tuesday with the Thai classic Sugar Is Not Sweet and a repeat of the Etaix films. It's back at the Archive for next Wednesday's Makha Bucha holiday with Harold Lloyd's Safety Last and Sugar before wrapping up at the Alliance next Thursday and Friday. Tickets are free and can be booked online. For the schedule and more details, please see a recent article in The Nation or check the festival's Facebook page.


The Last Executioner – If you missed seeing The Last Executioner (เพชฌฆาต, Petchakat) last year (and lots did, given how it whirled in and out of cinemas) then here's a chance sighting in an unusual location, Bangkok's stately Neilson Hays Library. Starring Shanghai film fest award-winner Vithaya Pansringarm as Thai prison death-row rifleman Chavoret Jaruboon, it's a biopic and psychological study about a man conflicted by his faith and his lethal profession. The screening is set for tonight at 7. Tickets are 400 baht (300 baht for members/students).  Book here. On hand afterward will be director Tom Waller, screenwriter Don Linder and star "Phu" Vithaya. A signed copy of the screenplay will be a raffled off.


The Friese-Greene Club – There are two entries left in this month's Australia vs. New Zealand battle for cinematic supremacy. Not sure who is winning, as both are terrific. Tonight, it's one of Australian great Peter Weir's early films, 1975's Picnic at Hanging Rock, in which schoolgirls go for a picnic and some don't come back. Tomorrow, New Zealand's Sir Peter Jackson proves he doesn't need hobbits to make movies – it's the tale of a tumultuous relationship between two girls in Heavenly Creatures. And the month closes out with one more Monty Python film, 1983's The Meaning of Life. It's already fully booked, so perhaps console yourself with a wafer-thin mint. Meanwhile, I have yet to see a schedule for March. Shows are at 8pm. The FGC is down an alley next to the Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22.  For more details, check the club's Facebook page.


Open Secrets – Documentaries by noted Thai filmmakers and visual artists will screen in an art-gallery setting from tomorrow night until April 10 at Chulalongkorn University's Art Center. Among the directors is Jakrawal Nilthamrong, a visual artist and experimental filmmaker. He just premiered his debut feature Vanishing Point to award-winning acclaim at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. The Chula show will feature three more of his works from the past few years, including the mid-length effort Unreal Forest, which he made in Zambia as part of an African initiative by the Rotterdam film fest. Other directors are the trio of Kaweenipon Ketprasit, Kong Rithdee and Panu Aree, who make documentaries that focus on their Islamic faith and moderate Muslims. Among their works will be the electrifying Baby Arabia, a feature about a Bangkok-based Muslim rock band that performs songs in Arabic and Malay. In all, the exhibition will screen 11 films by seven directors. The others are Pisut Srimhok, Santiphap Inkong-ngam and Sutthirat Supaparinya. Friday night's opening will feature a talk by the filmmakers, “Documentary Films: Mirrors of Society”, at 5pm. The venue is The Art Center on the seventh floor of the Center for Academic Resources (the library) at Chulalongkorn University on Phayathai Road.



Take note

The Apex website is down. Hopefully they'll find that invoice for their Web host. For showtimes, call the Lido at (02) 252 6498 and the Scala at (02) 251 2861.

Movies will be opening a day earlier than usual next week, owing to Wednesday's Makha Bucha Day. Also because of the holiday, there is no free French film next Wednesday at the Alliance. If you have the day free, I suggest you visit the Thai Film Archive for the Memory! fest. See you next Wednesday!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening February 19-25, 2015

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)


Academy Award-nominated director Alejandro González Iñárritu brings an unblinking approach to comedy-drama in the much-acclaimed Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

Former Batman actor Michael Keaton, a Golden Globe winner for his role in Birdman, portrays a washed-up former superhero actor who is struggling to reinvent himself. For his latest comeback attempt, he is trying to mount a Broadway play, but his frail psyche and domineering ego are getting in the way, causing him to hallucinate and lose touch with reality.

Other stars are Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan and Naomi Watts.

With cinematography by Oscar-nominee Emmanuel Lubezki, the film employed a method of production in which it appears to have been shot in just one take, which created the need for rehearsals and intense concentration so everyone would hit their marks on cue.

It's an ambitious effort by Iñárritu, who made his debut in 2000 with the gut-punch of the gritty drama Amores Perros, which is still his best. He followed that up with two more entries in what would become his "death trilogy", the bleak 21 Grams and the depressing Babel. Even sadder was 2010's Biutiful.

Accolades for Birdman are many, with Keaton winning his first Golden Globe for his work. The film also took a Globe for best screenplay. It's tied with Grand Budapest Hotel with nine Academy Award nominations, including best picture, director, actor, supporting actor and actress. Critical reception is wildly positive, though if you look hard enough you will find naysayers. Rated 15+



Also opening


Unbroken – In her sophomore effort behind the lens, Angelina Jolie directs this fact-based biographical epic about Olympian and war hero Louis Zamperini, who died just last year. The film recounts his transformation from young troublemaker to Olympic long-distance runner. Following his Olympic glory in 1936, he joined the US Army Air Corps during World War II, and his bomber was downed over the Pacific. He then spent 47 days in a lifeboat before being captured and held in a Japanese labor camp. There, he was made an example of by the commander, an infamous war criminal. Jack O’Connell stars with Japanese rock musician Miyavi looking particularly terrifying as the sadistic camp commandant. Adapted from a best-selling 2010 biography, the script had treatments from an all-star line-up of Hollywood talent: the Coen brothers, Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King) and William Nicholson (Gladiator). Although it attracted a bit of Oscar buzz before the nominations, it ended up with just three in the technical categories, including cinematography for Roger Deakins. Critical reception is polite, and evenly mixed. Rated 13+


Wild Card – Butt-kicking British diva Jason Statham was just in Thailand terrorizing the locals as he made The Mechanic: Resurrection, and now here he is again in this retread of an old Burt Reynolds film, which is adapted from William Goldman's novel Heat. He's a bodyguard-for-hire in Las Vegas, where he takes odd jobs to support his gambling habit. He comes to the aid of a former girlfriend (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) who was beaten by a sadistic thug (Milo Ventimiglia), which puts him in conflict with the local mob powers. It's helmed by Simon West (Con Air), who previously worked with Statham on The Expendables 2 and 2011's The Mechanic, which was a remake of a Charles Bronson film. The made-in-Thailand sequel is on the way next year. Critics are underwhelmed with Wild Card, but Jason Statham doesn't care, and neither do his fists. Rated 18+


Penguins of Madagascar – The scene-stealing, troublemaking flightless birds of Dreamworks Animation's Madagasgar franchise take the lead in this spin-off, becoming reluctant heroes as they go to work for a top-secret spy organization to stop a crazed octopus from destroying the world. Benedict Cumberbatch, John Malkovich and Ken Jeong are among the voice cast. Critical reception is generally positive, with the consensus being it's fun for the kids but maybe not fun enough for the parents. Rated G


Dragon Blade – Fugitive generals from wildly different cultures become reluctant allies in this Chinese historical fantasy, which arrives on our screens just in time for the big Chinese New Year holiday. Jackie Chan dons weird facial hair to portray the disgraced commander of a scrappy division of fighters in the Han Dynasty’s western region. They encounter a Roman general (John Cusack) and his rogue legion, who are on the run from the power-crazed madman (Adrien Brody) who seeks to invade China. With the Chinese cinema market the fastest-growing in the world, expect to see more of this type of thing, with Western actors performing alongside Chinese superstars. Only I think the Hollywood guys secretly hope no one back home will ever see this. It's in Mandarin and English with English and Thai subtitles in some cinemas. Rated 15+


Song One – Anne Hathaway stars in this indie musical drama as a young woman who returns home after a long absence to be with her comatose musician brother. Piecing together his life through his notebooks, she finds her brother’s idol and seeks to convince the shy recluse to perform at her brother’s bedside. This premiered in competition at Sundance last year. Critics are mixed, though not exactly singing praises. Rated 13+


Bon Srolanh Oun (บองสรันโอน ) – Nine years after she made her debut with the little-girl drama Khao Niao Moo Ping, director Siwaporn Pongsuwan returns to the scene with this pan-Southeast Asian drama, starring veteran Thai leading man Ray MacDonald as a guy who returns to Thailand after graduating from college overseas college. He moves back into the apartment he once shared with his girlfriend in the hope that she’ll one day return. A series of incidents occur that he suspects are related to the person who lived there before him, so he travels to Cambodia to find out the truth. Cambodian actress Saray Sakana also stars. Rated 15+


Ananta Sang Sawang Hang Khwam Wang (อนันตา แสงแห่งความหวัง, a.k.a. Ananta: Light of Hope – Because of all the intense labor and technical know-how that's required, animated films are a rarity in Thailand, with perhaps one coming along every other year or so, if at all. This latest feature, made in good old-fashioned traditional 2D animation, is a historical fantasy epic about a young prince who is forced into a life on the run after he is framed for assassinating his father the king. Living in the jungle and helped by soldiers still loyal to him, Ananta searches for a holy stone that will help them overthrow the enemy. Rated G



Also showing

The Friese-Greene Club – Representing pretty much the end of the gritty Ozploitation era, 1981's post-apocalyptic adventure Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior made Mel Gibson a star in Hollywood. See how it stacks up tonight against tomorrow night's New Zealand entry, 1995's Once Were Warriors, a powerful portrait of a Maori family's struggles to maintain tradition while fitting in with modern society. Saturday head to that "silly place" with Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Just try and refrain from spouting all the film's quotable dialogue while you watch. Sunday's Vincente Minelli feature, 1951's musical Gigi is also a tribute to sauve French leading man Louis Jourdan, who died last Saturday. Next Wednesday's "those darn kids" entry is Gummo, the debut of controversial director Harmony Korine. Shows are at 8pm. The FGC is down an alley next to the Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22.  For more details, check the club's Facebook page. There's just nine seats, so book them.


Signes de Nuit Film Festival – Filmvirus and the Reading Room again team up for another showcase of short films from foreign lands, this one coming from the Paris-based Festival International Signes de Nuit, an indie fest that has been taking place since 2003. The programs on Saturday and Sunday afternoons will have a mix of short films and documentaries from all over the world. The shows start at 1pm at The Reading Room, a fourth-floor walk-up gallery on Silom Soi 19. For the full program, please see the Facebook events page.


Alliance Française – The last "lost illusion" this month is next week's entry Le temps de l’aventure (Just a Sigh), a 2013 drama starring Emmanuelle Devos and Gabriel Byrne as strangers who meet on a train and share a brief romance. It's in French with English subtitles at 7pm on Wednesday, February 25 at the Alliance.



Take note

Coming up next Thursday is the opening of Memory! Reprise in Thailand International Film Heritage Festival, put on by the Thai Film Archive and the Alliance Française. It features a line-up of classic silents and old movies from all over the world, including Charlie Chaplin's The Circus, Harold Lloyd's Safety Last, Buster Keaton's The General, Jacques Tati's Playtime, the British comedy classic The Ladykillers Yasujirô Ozu's Good Morning (Ohayô) and even a great old Thai film, Sugar Is Not Sweet by pioneering auteur Rattana Pestonji. They will all be shown for free at both the Alliance and at the Archive in Salaya, Nakhom Pathom. You can see the whole line-up and reserve your seats online.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening February 12-18, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service


Director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, X-Men: First Class) reteams with Kick-Ass comic-book writer Mark Millar for Kingsman: The Secret Service, which looks to be a fun-filled and campy spoof of stiff-upper British spy action.

Colin Firth, channeling his more serious role in the spy drama Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, is an impeccably tailored veteran operative with a super-secret organisation. He recruits an unrefined but promising street kid (Taron Egerton) into the agency’s ultra-competitive training program just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius.

Samuel L. Jackson also stars, along with Michael Caine and Vaughn regular Mark Strong (also from Tinker Tailor and numerous other Brit thrillers). Star Wars' Mark Hamill also turns up in a brief role.

Critical reception is generally positive. Rated 15+



Also opening



Still Alice – Julianne Moore is getting overdue recognition this season, earning an Oscar nomination and winning the Golden Globe, Bafta and other prizes for her performance in this drama. She portrays a renowned linguistics professor who struggles to stay connected to her family and her identity after she is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Alec Baldwin also stars. Critical reception is mostly positive. Rated G


Fifty Shades of Grey – Owing to the Valentine's Day weekend, there are romance-themed films being forced onto screens. The most anticipated, by fans of E.L. James' erotic novels anyway, stars Dakota Johnson as a naive 21-year-old college student who takes an assignment for her school paper to write about Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), an eminently successful 27-year-old entrepreneur who turns out to have a thing for sadomasochism. Although she's intimidated at first, she enters into a torrid affair with the man, who makes her sign a non-disclosure agreement forbidding her to discuss anything that they do together. Critical reception is just starting. Have your I.D. cards handy as it's rated 20-.


Playing It Cool – Chris Evans takes a break from playing Captain America in this mushy indie romance. He's a love-struck man who enters into a platonic relationship with a woman (Michelle Monaghan) who's already engaged to someone else. Luke Wilson, Topher Grace, Giovanni Ribisi and Patrick Warburton also star. Also known as A Many Splintered Thing, critical reception is bit of an unknown. Rated 15+


Phaun Kheed Sen Tai (เพื่อนขีดเส้นใต้) – Three relationships are focused on in this effort by three indie directors. The stories include a husband who is asked to quit smoking by his wife so that they can have a baby. Another examines the conflicts between senior-year film students as they race to complete their thesis works. And there's the friendship between two soldiers that starts on the battlefield and continues after their military discharge. Rated 15+


Roy – Three lives intersect in this Bollywood drama starring Ranbir Kapoor as a mysterious thief no one can catch. His life seems linked with that of another man's (Arjun Rampal), a filmmaker who has made a fortune directing movies about the robberies. A playboy, he takes up with a new girlfriend (Jacqueline Fernandez), who is also filmmaker, but maybe she's also a globetrotting socialite. 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 – The battle for cinematic supremacy between Australia and New Zealand continues tonight with 1971's Wake In Fright (a.k.a. Outback), the crime thriller that gave rise to the Ozploitation genre. It's a mean-spirited and violent counterpoint to the Kiwis' well-mannered offering, the coming-of-age Maori drama Whale Rider from 2002, screening tomorrow. Saturday begins a run of Monty Python films, beginning with the 1979 religious satire Life of Brian. Sundays feature the classic films of Vincente Minnelli, and this week it's Gene Kelly doing the old song and dance in An American in Paris. Wednesdays this month feature films about "those darn kids". And they sure talk funny in next week's entry, the neo-noir thriller Brick, the feature debut of director Rian Johnson, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Shows are at 8pm. The FGC is down an alley next to the Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22.  For more details, check the club's Facebook page. There's just nine seats, so book them.


German Open Air Cinema – The Goethe-Institut's annual outdoor showcase of German cinema comes to a close next week with Hannah Arendt, a 2012 biopic that focuses on the Jewish German intellectual and her criticism of Israel's trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, in which she coined the phrase "the banality of evil". The show is at 7.30pm on Tuesday, February 17 at the Goethe-Institut off Sathorn Soi 1.


Alliance Française – "Lost illusions" is the theme for this month and next week's entry is Les beaux jours (Bright Days Ahead), in which a married woman (Fanny Ardant) signs up for a computer class and falls in love with her significantly younger instructor. It's in French with English subtitles at 7pm on Wednesday, February 18 at the Alliance.



Take note

Some movies might be opening a day earlier next week in a bid to milk a bit more from the box office on the eve of Chinese New Year, which starts on Thursday. Among the Wednesday releases will be the latest Jason Statham action reel, Wild Card. But it seems most movies will be released as usual on Thursday, so I'll just wait until then to post an update.