Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening August 28-September 3, 2014

Tukkae Rak Pang Mak (Chiang Khan Story)

Bits and pieces of veteran director Yuthlert Sippapak's own life are mixed into Tukkae Rak Pang Mak (ตุ๊กแกรักแป้งมาก, Chiang Khan Story).

A romantic comedy, representing yet another genre shift for the prolific director who's tackled action, comedy, horror and melodrama – often all in the same film – the story is set 25 years ago in Loei's historic Mekong River port city. Jirayu La-ongmanee is a kid with the rather odd name of Tukkae – named after the chirping house lizard. As a kid, his best friend was the district chief's daughter Pang. She (Chonthida “Pleng” Asavahame) moves away and returns much changed, and does not remember Tukkae at all. He's always had a thing for her, but doesn't tell her who he is.

Interestingly, much of the story takes place in a small-town movie theater, the likes of which have mostly disappeared from the landscape. In addition to views from the projection booth, there are also depictions of the old hand-painted movie billboards that used to be common in Thailand but have been mostly replaced by photos printed on giant plastic sheets.

Chiang Khan Story marks a comeback of sorts for Yuthlert. The Loei native who drifted off to New York and came back to Thailand in the early Aughts to make movies like the action-comedy Tattoo Killer, the New York-set melodrama February, Pattaya Maniac and Buppha Rahtree, which he made a franchise. Since then, he's done more than a dozen films over around half as many years, but lately he's taken a break after his potentially controversial Deep South drama Fatherland (ปิตุภูมิ พรมแดนแห่งรัก, Pitupoom) was yanked from release by the film's producer.

His new film is the first release from a new studio Transformation Films, a joint venture of M Pictures, Bangkok Film Studio (formerly Film Bangkok), True I-Content and Matching Studio. Rated 15+

Also opening

Lucy – Scarlett Johansson is a drug mule who becomes a one-woman army after the drug she's transporting leaks into her blood stream, giving her superhuman talent and the ability to use more than just 10 percent of her brain. The latest by writer-director Luc Besson, it looks to be a return to the female-led action films he used to do, such as Nikita, The Fifth Element, Joan of Arc and Leon: The Professional. Morgan Freeman and Choi Min-sik. Critical reception is mixed leaning to positive, with lots of praise for another solid performance by Johansson, who's been on a roll with Under the Skin, Her, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and now Lucy. Though strictly in 2D, it's also in IMAX cinemas. Rated 15+

What If (a.k.a. The F Word) – Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe is a medical school drop-out who's been burned by a string of bad relationships. But he forms an instant bond with Chantry (Zoe Kazan), a young woman who lives with her longtime boyfriend (Rafe Spall). Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, Megan Park and Oona Chaplin also star in this British-American indie romantic comedy. Michael Dowse (Goon, Take Me Home Tonight) directs. Critical reception is generally positive. Rated 15+

Standing Up – A pair of geeky bespectacled kids are bullied at summer camp and left stranded on an island. Together, the boy and girl decide to run away together. Annalise Basso, Chandler Canterbury, Radha Mitchell and Val Kilmer star. D.J. Caruso (I Am Number Four, Eagle Eye) directs. Critical reception is mixed. It's at Apex cinemas in Siam Square and House on RCA.

Ju-on: The Beginning of the End – Japan's Grudge series of ghost thrillers continues with a seventh entry. Here, a schoolteacher visits the home of a boy who's been absent from school. Unaware of the spirits that live there, she finds herself reliving the tragic events of years before. Sho Aoyagi, Yoshihiko Hakamada and Nozomi Sasaki star. Masayuki Ochiai, who helmed the Hollywood remake of Shutter, directs. Critical reception is mixed. Thai-dubbed only. Rated 15+

Kiki’s Delivery Service – A young witch comes of age while starting her own business making deliveries with her flying broomstick, with assistance from her talking cat. It's a live-action adaptation of a novel by Eiko Kadono, a story best known for the 1989 Studio Ghibli animated feature. Fūka Koshiba stars as Kiki along with Ryōhei Hirota, Machiko Ono and Tadanobu Asano. Takashi Shimizu, best known for his Ju-on ghost thrillers, directs. Critical reception is mixed. It's in Japanese with English and Thai subtitles at Apex cinemas in Siam Square.

Raja Natwarlal – After his partner-in-crime is killed, a small-time conman seeks help from a mentor in plotting revenge. In Hindi with English and Thai subtitles at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit, Central Rama III and Pattaya. Opens Friday.

Also showing

18th Thai Short Film and Video Festival – Opening tonight at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, highlights include Cambodia 2099, a short film by French-Cambodian director Davy Chou that is part of a new program of French shorts called "French Connection". There's also Stone Cloud, a new work by noted Thai video artist Jakrawal Nilthamrong that is part of a special program later in the week. And, from the Queer shorts line-up, there's the hilarious MeTube: August Sings Carmen 'Habanera'. Also tonight, Archive EX 1, which is a selection of historic Thai experimental films in honor of the Thai Film Archive's 30th anniversary. Friday's highlights include The Best of Clermont-Ferrand, which is a showcase from the world's largest short-film festival, and a competition program of Thai filmmakers vying for the top-prize R.D. Pestonji Award. Saturday and Sunday are full days starting at 11am, with many things to see, including the International Competition and the S-Express package from the Philippines. On Monday, the festival shifts over to the Lido for a one-off screening of Filipino auteur Lav Diaz' four-hour social drama Norte, the End of History. The show starts at 6 – don't miss it. The fest returns to the BACC on Tuesday the the S-Express Singapore show, and on Wednesday, catch Letters from the South, featuring observations on the Chinese diaspora from Southeast Asian directors. For more details, please see the schedule on the festival's Facebook page.

The Friese-Greene Club – A family is haunted by tragedies in A Tale of Two Sisters, the finale entry in this month's Asian horror series on Thursday nights. Tomorrow, it's just another brick in the wall of Alan Parker's films with Pink Floyd's The Wall. Saturday, it's the extremely weird Tokyo Gore Police, and on Sunday, Tyrone Power is on the fringes of society in Nightmare Alley. Next Wednesday is the beginning of a monthlong tribute to Robin Williams, showcasing his best performances, opening with the unsettling thriller One Hour Photo. Other special focuses next month are "The Genius of Ang Lee" on Thursdays, "funny things that happen in England" on Fridays, "so bad they're good" movies on Saturdays and a tribute to Lauren Bacall on Sundays. 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 – Flamboyant British director Ken Russell offers his sumptuously surreal view of German composer Gustav Mahler's life in 1974's Mahler. Winner of the Technical Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, it screens at 12.30pm on Sunday at Thammasat University Tha Prachan as part of the Filmvirus double bill of biographical films. That's followed by parts one and two of The Bill Douglas Trilogy, My Childhood and My Ain Folk. These are 1970s autobiographical films about the Scottish filmmaker's early childhood – part three, My Way Home, will screen the following Sunday. The venue is 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 – "Novels on the big screen" is September's theme for the free French films, starting with Michael Kohlhaas, starring Mads Mikkelsen as a 16th-century horse trader who runs into conflict with a greedy nobleman and becomes a lawless swashbuckler. Based on an 1810 German novel by Heinrich Von Kleist, it's in French with English subtitles at 7pm on Wednesday, September 3.

Sneak preview

Boyhood – One of the most hotly anticipated films of the year, Boyhood is a triumph for director Richard Linklater, who filmed the coming-of-age drama over 12 years, capturing various stages of life for a kid named Mason (Ellar Coltrane), from ages 5 to 18. Patricia Arquette is his divorcée mother and Ethan Hawke is the dad. It premiered at this year's Sundance fest and also won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival. Critical reception is crazily positive. It's in nightly sneak previews at Apex Siam Square, House on RCA, Paragon and CentralWorld before a wider release next week. Rated 13+

Deliver Us from Evil – A New York police officer joins forces with an unconventional priest (Edgar Ramirez) to investigate a strange series of paranormal crimes. It's supposedly a true story. Olivia Munn also stars. Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) directs. It's in sneak previews from around 8 nightly at most multiplexes before opening wide next week. Rated 18+.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Bangkok Cinema Scene special: 18th Thai Short Film and Video Festival, August 28-September 7, 2014

The schedule is out for the 18th Thai Short Film and Video Festival, which has many highlights, among them the screening of Filipino auteur Lav Diaz' four-hour opus Norte, the End of History.

Think of it as the experimental "video" portion of the Thai Short Film and Video Festival, which has long given space to medium- and feature-length works in its Digital Forum section.

A nominee for the Golden Palm at last year's Cannes Film Festival and winner of the best director award at the Cinemanila festival, Norte centers on three characters – a struggling family man who is framed for murder and sent to prison, the man's wife, left behind alone to pick up the pieces, and the real killer, whose disillusionment with society is pushing him to the edge of sanity. Norte producer Moira Lang will be among the festival guests. Norte screens from 6 to 10.30pm on Monday, August 1 at the Lido, while the rest of the festival takes place in its usual venue, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

Shorter offerings are among the highlights of a new French Connection program.

"Too many good French films were submitted this year, so we decided to select some of them for a special programme," says Sanchai Chotirosseranee, a festival programmer and deputy director of the Thai Film Archive, which organizes the fest.

Among the offerings will be the festival's opener on Thursday, Cambodia 2099, by young French-Cambodian director Davy Chou, who previously surveyed Cambodia's lost cinematic golden age in Golden Slumbers. He'll also be a festival guest and will judge the international short-film competition. Selected for the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes this year, the 20-minute film has three friends gathering on Phnom Penh's Koh Pich, aka Diamond Island, talking about their dreams and what Cambodia will be like at the end of this century.

Still more French connections come from the Clermont Ferrand International Short Film Festival, the world's largest short-film showcase. As the Thai Short Film and Video Festival has done for the past several years, there will be special package of the Best of Clermont Ferrand. This year's line-up will have five films, among them La Lampe au beurre de yak, which won the grand prix. Directed by China's Wei Hu, it has a young itinerant photographer and his assistant trying to photograph Tibetan nomads in front of various backdrops.

Six of Southeast Asia's top filmmakers join for one film, Letters from the South, each taking a segment to look at the Chinese diaspora in the region. The directors are Thailand's Aditya Assarat, Singapore's Royston Tan and Sun Koh, Myanmar's Midi Zhao and Malaysia's Tan Chui Mui and Tsai Ming-liang.

And more views from across the region can be seen in the S-Express program curated by film experts from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.

And, in celebration of the Film Archive's 30th anniversary, there will be a special programme from the Archive's collection as well as the annual Queer shorts collection of Thai and foreign films.

As always, the centerpiece of the Thai Short Film and Video Festival is the competition among Thai indie filmmakers for the top-prize RD Pestonji Award, named in honor of the country's pioneering auteur, along with documentaries, animated shorts and student films vying for other awards.

Again, the schedule can be found at this link, and more details and images from the fest can be seen at the festival's Facebook page.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening August 21-27, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Back in 2005, director Robert Rodriguez had the cool idea of taking Dark Knight writer-artist Frank Miller's neo-noir Sin City graphic novel and recreating the gritty frames and hard-boiled dialogue in a movie. Famously, the thrifty filmmaker made it on the cheap in front of green screens, with cars and other objects represented by cardboard boxes. Special effects and scenery were added later, but the film also boasted a stellar cast that included Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke. It made Frank Miller a movie franchise, with another of his graphic novels, 300, also given the panel-by-panel treatment and becoming a huge hit with a sequel, and Miller himself  directing The Spirit.

Now Rodriguez and Miller reteam for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, which offers four more gritty tales ripped from a glowing black-and-white film-noir fantasy world. Even lousy bums who were killed off in the first film are back, with Roarke as soft-hearted brute Marv and Bruce Willis as the doomed honest cop John Hartigan.

Rosario Dawson is back as the domineering leader of the city's dames, with Jessica Alba as the dancer Nancy and Powers Boothe as a corrupt senator. Newcomers include Eva Green, Ray Liotta and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Josh Brolin takes over the role of femme-fatale chew-toy Dwight, who was previously played by Clive Owen, and Dennis Haysbert steps into a role played in the first film by Michael Clark Duncan.

Critical reception is mixed. Rated 18+

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

When Michael Bay announced plans to take over the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, he said he would be making drastic changes to the characters' origins, and that the film would likely just be called Ninja Turtles. Fans were furious, and after much hate was spewed, Bay relented. Now the film is here, with the full TMNT name and the origin story intact.

The "Heroes in a Half Shell" are Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello, pizza-chomping warriors who arose from the ooze of New York's sewers and learned martial arts from a rat sensei named Splinter. Their arch-enemies are the Foot Clan led by the fearsome Shredder.

The movie adds Megan Fox as a plucky reporter who's trailing the turtles. Will Arnett, William Fichtner and Whoopi Goldberg are among the other stars, with Johnny Knoxville lending his voice to lead turtle Leonardo and Tony Shalhoub as the voice of Splinter.

The director is Jonathan Liebsman, the South African helmer of Wrath of the Titans and Battle: Los Angeles.

Critics say the movie stinks but it doesn't matter – it's been the No. 1 movie in the U.S. for the past couple of weeks, and two more sequels are already in the works, with the next film due out in 2016. This opened for a sneak-preview run last week and now moves to a wide release. It's in 3D (converted) in some cinemas. Rated 13+

Also opening

Kristy – A college student makes the fateful decision to remain on campus alone during a holiday break and finds herself pursued by masked killers. This movie is also known as Random, but for reasons I can't figure out, it's called Kristy here. Scott Derrickson, the director of Sinister and the upcoming Deliver Us From Evil is executive producer and Oliver Blackburn directs. Rated 15+

James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge 3D – The ocean-obsessed Titanic director puts himself in the picture as he plunges more than 10 kilometers to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in this documentary about his record-setting dive for National Geographic. Critical reception is mixed. It's in real 3D in some cinemas. Rated G.

Third Person – Writer-director Paul Haggis forces together three stories of troubled relationships in this thriller. In Paris, Liam Neeson is a writer who has left his wife (Kim Basinger) to be with his mistress (Olivia Wilde) who cannot commit to him because of a terrible secret. In New York, a young mother (Mila Kunis) is in a custody battle with her husband (James Franco) after she is accused of attempting to murder her son. And in Rome, an American businessman (Adrian Brody) falls for a Romanian lady (Moran Atias) and is drawn into a kidnap plot involving the woman's daughter and a Russian gangster. The shine has worn off Haggis since his upset Oscar win for the heavy-handed and preachy Crash, and critical reception is generally negative. Rated 15+.

Mardaani – Rani Mukerji stars in this rare female-led action thriller from Bollywood. She's a senior police inspector in Mumbai, investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl. The clues point to a mafia kingpin's human-trafficking ring. Tahir Raj Bhasin and  Sanjay Taneja also star. It's in Hindi with English and Thai subtitles at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit, Rama III and Pattaya. Opens Friday.

Also showing

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 7 tonight 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.

The Friese-Greene Club – Released from prison after serving time for a crime she didn't commit, a woman seeks revenge in Park Chan-wook's Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, tonight's Asian horror entry. Tomorrow, it's another Alan Parker film, with the 1980 classic Fame. Saturday is the very trippy The 5,000 Fingers of Doctor T, a fantasy about schoolboys imprisoned at a music school for forced to play a giant piano. It's written by none other than Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. By coincidence, this Sunday's film-noir offering will serve as a tribute to Lauren Bacall, the smoky-voiced leading lady who died on August 12 at age 89. It's The Big Sleep, one of the best with Bogart and Bacall. 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 – The great American rock band The Doors are featured in this Sunday's Filmvirus double bill of biopics at Thammasat University Tha Prachan. First up is The Doors, Oliver Stone's fast-and-loose recounting of the band's formation in the 1960s, with Val Kilmer as mercurial frontman Jim Morrison. Kyle MacLachlan portrays organist Ray Manzarek, Frank Whaley is guitarist Robby Krieger and Kevin Dillon is drummer John Densmore. Stone's movie has been criticized by Manzarek and the others as being wildly inaccurate. But they all like the documentary When You're Strange, which was made for the American Masters series on American public television. It features the music of The Doors and archival footage, as well as excerpts of HWY: An American Pastoral, an experimental film made by Morrison. Johnny Depp narrates. 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, which closes out with the 2011 thriller De Bon Matin, in which a banker arrives at work, promptly shoots two of his colleagues and then sits down to await the arrival of the police. It's in French with English subtitles at 7pm on Wednesday, August 27.

Take note

Details are still coming together for the 18th Thai Short Film and Video Festival, which runs from next Thursday to September 7 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center.

This week the Coconuts website issued a report that was meant to clarify rumors about the future of the Lido and Scala cinemas.

The report was in response to online rumors that the contracts for the two endangered theaters had been extended three years. Property owner Chulalongkorn University answered that the rumors were untrue, and that in the case of the Lido, the contract has already expired. However, talks are taking place to get a new contract in place, and it seems likely that the wrecking ball might not swing at the Lido or Scala until 2016.

Or maybe not. Enjoy these places while you can. There are other rumors floating about Siam Square's redevelopment plans, but I'll leave those for another day.

Meanwhile, the Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project has a look at the Scala on the closing night of the Silent Film Festival.