Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening February 3-9, 2011

The King's Speech

The King's Speech has the rare distinction of being a crowd-pleaser as well as the seriously artistic kind of weighty costume melodrama that earns high critical praise and wins awards.

It's really more of a comedy than a drama, and I was surprised how much the audience laughed.

There are excellent performances all around by a strong cast, headed by Colin Firth with support from Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush.

Firth portrays Prince Albert, Duke of York, the younger son of King George V. The film opens with him trying to make a speech at Wembley Stadium, but he can't get the words out of his mouth. The crowd grows noticeably restless. The solutions offered by royal experts aren't helping.

So the duke's supportive and forward-thinking wife Elizabeth – wonderfully portrayed by Bonham Carter – finds a speech therapist working out of a basement office.

This is the unconventional Lionel Logue, an Australian Shakesperian actor and war veteran who's set up a practice to treat speech disorders. Perfectly cast, Rush is priceless as Logue, who insists he be treated as an equal to the duke and that they be on first-name basis, much to the duke's chagrin, because only close family members call him "Bertie". Logue's radical techniques and disdain for royal protocols are off-putting to Albert and the duke irritably walks away from the sessions.

The fine supporting cast runs deep, with Guy Pearce as the rakish older brother and heir-apparent Prince Edward, stately Michael Gambon as King George V, Derek Jacobi as the unctuous Archbishop of Canterbury and Timothy Spall in a hilarious caricature of Winston Churchill.

After George V dies, the drama is heightened by constitutional issues stemming from Edward's intention to marry the American socialite divorcee Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), which puts pressure on Albert. Meanwhile, Hitler is growing stronger, and war will certainly come to Britain. The country needs an indomitable king with a strong voice.

Albert is a man full of conflict. On one hand, he is a loving and patient father to his daughters Elizabeth and Margaret, but he has a temper that he struggles to control. Anger and frustration lead to explosive outbursts. The well-meaning troublemaker Logue sometimes only seems to bring out the worst in him.

Directed by Tom Hooper with a screenplay by David Seidler, the magic of this moving and entertaining comedy-drama is how those conflicts are overcome and a lifelong friendship begins.

The movie is widely acclaimed. Firth won a Golden Globe Award for his role, and The King's Speech is the leading nominee for the Academy Awards and Britain's BAFTAs. Critical reception is almost universally favorable, with the consensus being that Firth "gives a masterful performance in ... a predictable but stylishly produced and rousing period drama."

It's not without controversy, which is a result of the unconventional treatment employed by Logue, who is depicted as having the king spout off a stream of obscenities ("Ffff ... fornication?") in order to keep his verbal flow going. The repeated F-bombs have gotten The King's Speech slapped with the highly restrictive R rating in the U.S., leading producer Harvey Weinstein to voice the desire to edit the film so it can be seen by younger audiences and he can make more money. Director Hooper is against the move. It's only rated 12A in the U.K.

It's playing at the Scala in Siam Square and at SF World Cinema, CentralWorld. Rated 15+.

The Green Hornet

A radio series in the 1930s and comic book in the 1940s, The Green Hornet follows the exploits of newspaper publisher Britt Reid and his faithful Chinese valet Kato who don masks and fight crime with the help of their technologically advanced car, the "Black Beauty".

A TV series in the 1960s starred the rather bland Van Williams, who was easily outshone by Bruce Lee as Kato. The show featured Chrysler's top-of-the-line Imperial Crown sedan as the Black Beauty. The show's opening theme, Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee", played on trumpet by Al Hirt, is a cultural icon.

The movie adaptation has languished in development hell for years.

In a revived push the make the film, comic actor Seth Rogen was signed as the star and executive producer. Hong Kong actor-director Stephen Chow – a massive Bruce Lee fan – was to play Kato and direct, but that deal fell through when the producers weren't willing to give Chow the control he wanted.

So Michel Gondry was brought in to direct. Chow initially was to remain as Kato but scheduling difficulties prevented that. Ultimately, Taiwanese singer-actor Jay Chou was cast.

Austrian actor Christoph Waltz from Inglourious Basterds also stars, playing the lead villain Chudnofsky, a Russian mob boss. And Cameron Diaz is researcher and love interest Lenore Case.

Critical reception is leaning to negative, with the consensus being "it's sporadically entertaining, but ... never approaches the surreal heights suggested by a Michel Gondry/Seth Rogen collaboration." It's in 3D (converted from 2D) in some cinemas, including IMAX. Rated 15+.

Also opening

From Prada to Nada – Adapted from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, this riches-to-rags comedy stars Camilla Belle and Alexa Vega as spoiled socialite sisters who upon their father's death discover they are dirt poor. This gives way to a fish-out-of-water scenario as they two are forced to move from their luxurious Beverly Hills mansion to their aunt’s modest home in the Latino neighborhood of East L.A. Critical reception is thin on the ground with the consensus being that while it's pleasant enough, From Prada to Nada is a predictable, dumbed-down retread of the Austen novel. Rated G.

Teng Nong Jiwon Bin (เท่งโหน่ง จีวรบิน) – TV-comedy cohorts Pongsak "Teng Terdterng" Pongsuwan and Choosak "Nong" Iamsuk are back together for their third Teng Nong/Nong Teng movie for the big screen, directing themselves in this high-flying action comedy for Sahamongkol Film. Similar to his Holy Man character in the Monk Teng movies he left behind years ago (Phranakorn has made two Luangpee Teng sequels without him), Teng dons the robes of a Buddhist monk on a pilgrimage to Tibet. Aiming to return to Thailand, he is offered a ride on a cargo plane owned by a wealthy jeweler (Nong). But the flight turns bumpy thanks to the efforts of a gang of thieves, led by a hot-headed "Tao" Somchai Kemklad. Comic relief is offered by familiar faces, among them actress "Tukky" Sudarat Butrprom as a flight attendant, along with comic actors Somlek Sakdikul and Kom Chuanchuen. New-face actress "Mo" Amina Phinit gives the boys something to look at. There's trailer at YouTube. I guess it's okay for monks to fly airplanes? Rated 15+.

Also showing

Isan Film Festival – An excerpt version of the Jim Thompson Art Center's festival is set for tonight. It's a selection of films that were shown up in Nakhon Ratchasima during the Jim Thompson Farm open house and the Art on Farm project. The program includes Haunted Houses, a 60-minute work made by Apichatpong Weerasethakul for the Istanbul Biennale in 2001. Here's more:

The film’s narrative was directly scripted from two episodes of a popular Thai television show, Tong Prakaisad. The series mainly deals with love and the problems of the wealthy.

The filmmaker then traveled to the villages near his home and asked villagers to participate by acting according to the script. All 66 villagers from six villages participated. The story was continuous, but the actors who played the characters were constantly changed as the filming location moved from one village to another.

Haunted Houses deals with various forms of media addiction (soaps, lifestyles, transformation of/between cultures, etc.). Little is explored in Thailand of the tremendous impact of dramas in shaping the rural landscapes and the minds. A house is like a “medium”, hosting a television set that transmits these hypnotizing images.

Each night after 8pm, several millions of the houses in the country are “haunted”.

The second film in the Isan Film Festival program is the groundbreaking 1977 docu-drama Tongpan, directed by Paichong Laisakul and written by Kamsing Srinok. The 60-minute 16mm black-and-white film follows a poor farmer as he participates in a seminar to discuss the building of a dam on the Mekong. The farmer lost his land to another dam some years before, and has struggled ever since. Tongpan was at one time banned for its socialist leanings.

The show time is 6.30 tonight at Jim Thompson House on Kasemsan Soi 2, opposite National Stadium.

Chulalongkorn University International Film Festival 2011 – The annual DVD-screening series of highly acclaimed award-winning foreign films continues tomorrow with The Milk of Sorrow, a Peruvian drama about a girl suffering from a rare disease that was transmitted through her mother's breast milk. On Monday it's French director Clair Denis' White Material, about a white Frenchwoman (Isabelle Huppert) trying to save her coffee plantation in Africa. And next Wednesday has the Russian drama Room and a Half, a partly animated fictionalized biographical account about exiled poet Josef Brodsky. The show times are at 5 in the Mahachakrisirindhorn Building, ninth Floor. Admission is free. All movies are screened on DVD with English subtitles. Call (02) 218 4802 or visit

Germany 09 – Part of the annual open-air film series at the Goethe-Institut Bangkok until February 22, next Tuesday's show is a 2009 compilation of short documentaries on modern Germany, all made between August and November 2009. With the efforts led by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, The International), the directors are Hans Weingartner, Fatih Akin, Wolfgang Becker, Sylke Enders, Dominik Graf, Christoph Hochhäusler, Romuald Karmakar, Nicolette Krebitz, Dani Levy, Angela Schanelec, Hans Steinbichler, Isabelle Stever and Martin Gressmann. The show time is at 7.30. Call (02) 287 0942-4 or check the Goethe-Institut website.

This Prison Where I Live – British director Rex Bloomstein's documentary is about the contrasting lives of two comedians – the jailed Burmese comic Maung Thura, better known as Zarganar and German stand-up funnyman Michael Mittermeier, who is free to walk around and crack wise. The genesis of the documentary goes back to 2007, when Zarganar granted Bloomstein an interview, despite being banned by the junta from all forms of artistic activity and talking to foreign media. Two years later, hearing that Zarganar had been sentenced to 35 years in jail, Bloomstein teamed up with Mittermeier to travel secretly to Burma and make a movie about the man who describes himself as the "loudspeaker" for the Burmese people, and to investigate humour under dictatorship. This Prison Where I Live screens at 8pm on Wednesday, February 9 at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. Bloomstein will be on hand to talk about the extremely difficult circumstances of making this movie. Admission for non-members is 150 baht.

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