Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening February 23-29, 2012

The Artist

Probably this year's most-awarded movie, The Artist opens in Bangkok on the same weekend as the Oscars. A "silent" film, shot in black and white in keeping with the style of the old silent movies, it's a nominee for 10 Academy Awards, including best picture, best director and original screenplay for Michel Hazanavicius, best actor for Jean Dujardin and best supporting actress for Bérénice Bejo.

Other accolades include the Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical, seven Baftas and best actor at the Cannes Film Festival. Even the movie's scene-stealing canine star, the Jack Russell terrier Uggie, has won awards, including Cannes' Palm Dog and the recent Golden Collar Awards in Hollywood.

Set in 1927 Hollywood, Dujardin is an actor whose career is fading away with the advent of talkies. But he receives encouragement to develop a new skill from a rising young actress (Bejo).

Other stars include John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, Penelope Ann Miller and Malcolm McDowell.

Critical reception is wildly positive. It's a Apex Siam Square, SFW CentralWorld and SFX the Emporium. Rated 13+.

Also opening

Haywire – Double-crossed and left for dead while on a mission in Dublin, a government security operative (Gina Carano) has to use her high-kicking skills to evade killers while trying to find out the reason behind her attempted assassination. Steven Soderbergh directs this action-packed globetrotting thriller, which is led by Carano, a real multiple-martial-arts fighter who performs her own stunts. The supporting cast includes Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Bill Paxton. Critical reception is mostly positive. Rated 18+.

The Ides of March – An up-and-coming campaign press secretary (Ryan Gosling) finds himself involved in a scandal that threatens to end his candidate's shot at the presidency. George Clooney also stars. He also directed and co-scripted this political thriller. The cast also boasts Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei and Jeffrey Wright. It's an Oscar nominee for best adapted screenplay and was also a nominee for several Golden Globes, including best picture, best director and best actor for Gosling. Critical reception is mostly positive. Rated 15+.

A Dangerous Method – David Cronenberg, the master of psychological thrillers, goes back to the dawn of the psychoanalytic method in this historical-fiction drama about psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and his student Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) becoming involved with unbalanced patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). It's won a few accolades this season, including a Golden Globe nomination for Mortensen – working in this third consecutive film with Cronenberg, following A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. Fassbender has also been noted by critics, both for his role here and for his work in Shame, which is due to be released in Bangkok soon. Critical reception is mixed, but mostly positive. Rated 18+.

Jack and Jill – In a week when so many great movies are opening, distributors are also slipping in what's likely the worst movie of 2011. Adam Sandler stars in this crude stinker, playing dual roles about a family man whose comfortable life is thrown into disarray when his heavyset, clumsy and overbearing twin sister – Sandler in drag – comes for a visit. Katie Holmes and Al Pacino also star. Critical reception is resolutely negative. Rated G.

War of the Arrows – The best archer in Korea (Park Hae-Il) goes up against the Qing Dynasty to save his younger sister (Moon Chae-Won) who was abducted by Mongolian invaders. It's in Korean with Thai subtitles at Paragon; dubbed elsewhere. Rated 15+.

Gang Tob Phee (แก๊งค์ตบผี, Ghost Day) – Making his directorial debut Gangcore Gud last year, rapper-actor Joey Boy got Bang Rajan director Thanit Jitnukul to serve as technical adviser. And I guess the zombie comedy must've been a successful-enough collaboration because they've teamed back up for another horror-comedy for Phranakorn Film, Ghost Day. With Thanit directing, Joey Boy stars with Jazz Chuancheun. They are a pair of ghostbusters whose YouTube video of an exorcism becomes a viral hit. They are then invited to do a demonstration for a TV show, which at first underestimates the pair as mere tricksters, but then they show just how real ghosts can be. Fresh-faced young actress Phimnara Wright from last year's Do+Nut also stars, along with Boriboon Chanruang and Surasak Wongthai as well as some of the usual comedians, including Kom Chuancheun. Rated 13+.

Also showing

Chulalongkorn University International Film Festival – CU's Dramatic Arts Department's twice-annual DVD screening series started last week, but I only heard about it this week. Today's screening is Our Beloved Month of August (Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto), a Portuguese comedy about musicians in a dance band during their country's most festive time of year. On Monday it's Incendies, about Canadian twin siblings sent on a trip to the Middle East by their mother's dying wish. And next Wednesday it's A Screaming Man, the 2010 Cannes Grand Prize winner from Chad. It's about an ageing former swimming champ who is replaced as hotel pool attendant by his son, and the consequences of the man's jealousy of his son against the backdrop of war. Remaining movies are Le Quattro Volte on March 2, Estomago on March 5 and Attenberg on March 2. All movies are screened on DVD with English subtitles. Afterward, there will be a discussion with Thai film critics. Admission is free. The venue is off Henri Dunant Road, in CU's Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Building, 9th floor. The show time is 5pm.

German Film Week – Free German movies continue at 7 nightly until Sunday at Paragon Cineplex. From tonight, the films are A Year Ago in Winter, I’ve Never Been Happier, Lila Lila and When We Leave. And don't forget the Goethe-Institut's German Open Air Cinema season, which closes out next Tuesday, February 28, with The Stranger.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening February 16-22, 2012


Martin Scorsese takes a break from making movies about gangsters to channel his inner-child in Hugo, a fantasy about an orphan boy (Asa Butterfield) living a secret life in the walls of a Paris train station, where he keeps the station's clocks running.

He's frequently chased by the leg-brace-wearing station guard (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his Doberman attack dog.

Hugo is trying solve a mystery that links a broken robot made by his father to an ill-tempered toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley). The answer has something to do with pioneering filmmaker Georges Méliès. Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass) also stars along with Ray Winstone, Jude Law, Christopher Lee, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emily Mortimer and Richard Griffiths.

The story is based on a New York Times best-seller, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.

Hugo won best sound at the recent BAFTA awards in the U.K., where Scorsese was honored with the BAFTA Fellowship for lifetime achievement. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, critical reception is mostly positive.

It's screening in 3D only, as Mr. Scorsese insists, at Paragon and CentralWorld. Rated G.

Also opening

The Descendants – George Clooney is an Oscar nominee and winner of the Golden Globe for his role as the dysfunctional "back-up dad" of a wealthy Hawaiian family. He's thrust into the uncomfortable position of being the sole parent after his wife has a Jet Ski accident and falls into a coma. Then, troubling secrets of her life are exposed and threaten to further unravel the family. It's nominated for five Oscars in all, including best director for Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt). Critical reception is overwhelmingly positive. At Apex Siam Square and SF Cinemas. Rated 13+.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – Wacky Nicolas Cage returns as the skull-headed stunt motorcyclist who made a bad deal with the devil. He's hiding out Eastern Europe where faces a new enemy, Blackout (Johnny Whitworth) and finds new allies in a group of rebel biker monks, led by Idris Elba (The Wire, Luther). Meanwhile, the Devil (Ciarán Hinds) is trying to take human form. Violante Placido also stars. It's directed by the daredevil rollerblading duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor who previously did the Crank movies and Gamer, so get ready for stylistic overload. This is just being released this week in the U.S., so not many critics have weighed in yet. In 3D, including IMAX Digital. Rated G.

Also showing

Wish Us Luck (ขอให้เราโชคดี) Indie filmmaking twin sisters Wanweaw and Weawwan Hongvivatana make their feature debut with the documentary Wish Us Luck, chronicling their one-month journey by train from London back home to Bangkok. Travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, their trip took them through France, Germany, Russia, Mongolia, china, Vietnam and Laos. it's their Master's project for the University for the Creative Arts in the U.K. It's screening at 4pm on Sunday, February 19 in the Eat@Double U Restaurant at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld as part of the Third Class Citizen screening series. Admission is free.

German Film Week – Seven movies in seven days will be shown at 7 nightly from Monday, February 20, at Paragon Cineplex in the Goethe-Institut Thailand's German Film Week. Among the critically acclaimed highlights is A Year Ago In Winter on February 23 and When We Leave on February 26. Others are Almanya (Welcome to Germany) on February 20, Krabat on February 21, Poll on February 22, I’ve Never Been Happier on February 24 and Lila Lila on February 25. All are free and in German with English subtitles. And don't forget, the German Open Air Cinema season is still on at 7.30pm on Tuesdays at the Goethe-Institut, with Poll this Tuesday night and the series closer The Stranger on February 28.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bangkok Cinema Scene special: Valentine's Day 2012

It Gets Better

Thai cinemas and movie distributors think they are being clever and cute by releasing romantic films on the Valentine's Day greeting-card holiday, even if that day falls in the middle of the week, like this year's, which is on a Tuesday.

So there are two Thai films being released on this special day of love.

One of them is It Gets Better (ไม่ได้ขอให้มารั, Mai Dai Kor Hai Ma Rak), directed by controversial filmmaker Tanwarin Sukkahpisit.

The ensemble romance has three intertwining stories about transsexual love. Veteran actress Penpak Sirikul stars in one, playing a retired post-op transsexual who travels to northern Thailand and falls in love with a local man who works in a garage. Another has a young man returning to Thailand from the U.S. to find that he's inherited a transsexual cabaret from his father. He then falls in love with a bar employee. She's played by "Bell" Nuntita Khampiranon, whose singing talents surprised a nation on the "Thailand's Got Talent" reality-TV series. A third thread involves an effeminate boy sent away by his disgusted father to the monkhood, where the novice falls in love with a senior monk.

Tanwarin, a popular industry figure and independent maker of short films, was in the news last year when her critically acclaimed debut feature Insects in the Backyard was banned by the National Culture Commission for its daring portrayal of a transvestite widower father and his dysfunctional relationship with his troubled teenage son and daughter.

It Gets Better aims to take a more mainstream approach to the issues Insects explored, and it was rewarded at the recent Hua Hin International Film Festival with the Audience Award. It's rated 15+.

Also opening

The Melody รักทำนองนี้ – "Dan" Worrawech Danuwong is a famous pop singer who goes into hiding in Mae Hong Son after his career goes down the tubes. There, he meets talented pianist Mork (Pariyachat Limthammahisorn) and life takes a turn for the better. The movie was initially slated for release sometime last year, but was postponed because of the floods. Now it's a Valentine's Day release. How sweet. Rated G.

Also showing

Each year on Valentine's Day, the La Fête French-Thai cultural festival puts on the romantic Cinema Picnic by Moonlight, an outdoor screening at the Museum Siam.

This year's show is pretty special, with the screening of the restored hand-colored version of the 1902 proto-science-fiction film, A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune) by pioneering filmmaker Georges Méliès (who's featured as a character in the upcoming Hugo by Martin Scorsese). Based loosely on Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon and H. G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon, it's about a group of astronomers who board a bullet-shaped space capsule that's fired out of a huge cannon and hits the Man in the Moon in the eye. They then have all sorts of adventures. The restored version is accompanied by a soundtrack by the French band Air. After that, there's the 2011 feature romance, The Art of Love, directed by Emmanuel Mouret and featuring and ensemble cast that cinldues François Cluzet, Julie Depardieu and Gaspard Ulliel. The show time is at 7.30.

Also, the Geothe-Institut's German Open Air Cinema Season continues on Tuesday at 7.30 with The City Below, a romance that screened in last year's Un Certain Regard competiton at the Cannes Film Festival.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening February 9-13, 2012

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

George Lucas continues to squeeze his hit sci-fi franchise for more cash with the re-release of all six films in 3D.

From 1999, Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace was the first of the much-panned trilogy of prequels to his critically acclaimed Star Wars films of the 1970s and '80s. Here, Obi-Wan Kenobi is a cocky Jedi apprentice. He's played by Ewan McGregor. With his Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), they discover a 9-year-old boy living as a slave on the desert planet of Tattooine. Strong in the Force he is. The Jedi knights are escorting a young queen (Natalie Portman), who forms a bond with the boy during their spacefaring adventures.

Despite its childishness, Phantom Menace is a generally rollicking action flick, featuring a pod-speeder race in the desert and a visit to a fantastic aquatic planet (which leads to the unfortunate introduction of goofball character Jar-Jar Binks). And, for as much as it's highlighted on the poster, the light-sabre fight with the deadly Darth Maul is all too brief.

Critical reception is mixed, slightly leaning to favorable. Rated G.

Also opening

The Woman in Black – Daniel Radcliffe keeps going after the completion of the Harry Potter movies, starring in this Hammer Film thriller that's set in spooky Edwardian-era England. He's Arthur Kipps, a young widower lawyer who leaves his young son to travel to a creepy remote village to attend to the affairs of the deceased owner of Eel Marsh House. There, he finds that the locals are haunted by a mysterious vengeful woman. Critical reception for this traditional period thriller is mixed, leaning to positive. Rated 15+.

Safe House – Ryan Reynolds is a young CIA agent who is tasked with looking after a fugitive (Denzel Washington) who is back on the grid after a decade on the run. When the South African safe house he's remanded to is attacked by mercenaries, the pair escape and become unlikely allies while on the run, trying to stay alive. Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson also star. It's the Hollywood debut by Swedish director Daniel Espinosa. This one's just being released in the U.S. this week, so there's no critical consensus yet. Rated 15+.

W.E. – A young woman (Abbie Cornish) stuck in a abusive, loveless marriage with a Russian security guard in 1990s New York, channels her energy into an obsession with Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), the American socialite for whom Britain's King Edward VIII (James D'Arcy) gave up the throne – a story touched on in last year's award-winner The King's Speech. It's the second directorial feature effort by Madonna, who previously helmed the 2008 romance Filth and Wisdom. With only a limited release so far, critical reception is generally negative. It's at CentralWorld, House and Paragon. Rated 15+.

The Iron Lady – Not to be confused with The Lady, the Aung San Suu Kyi biopic that opened last week, this one stars Meryl Streep as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It's the story of the price she paid for power in a male-dominated world. Jim Broadbent also stars, portraying Dennis Thatcher. It's nominated for two Oscars, including best actress for Streep, who also won her eighth Golden Globe award for the role. Phyllida Lloyd, who previously worked with Streep on the ABBA musical film Mamma Mia!!, directs. Critical reception is mixed, leaning to negative. Rated G.

Valentine Sweety (วาเลนไทน์ สวีทตี้) – The cameras kept rolling after the December release of director Rerkchai Paungpetch’s New Year’s ensemble romance Bangkok Sweety, following five groups of lovers into Valentine's Day. "Dan" Worrawech Danuwong, Keerati and Ramita Mahapreukpong, Kavi Tanjararak, "Pae" Arak Amornsupasiri, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk and Kotee Aramboy star. Rated 15+.

Take note

This is a shorter week for movie releases because of next week's Valentine's Day holiday, when there will a couple of Thai romance movies released especially on that day. I'll aim to do another update before then.

One special event worth mentioning now is the Valentine's Day Cinema Picnic by Moonlight that's part of the annual La Fête French-Thai cultural festival.

The highlight will be the screening of the recently restored proto-science-fiction film, 1902's A Trip to the Moon by pioneering filmmaker Georges Méliès. That’s followed by Emmanuel Mouret’s romantic comedy from last year, The Art of Love.

Admission is free. The show time is at 7.30 at the Museum Siam.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening February 2-8, 2012

The Lady

Production of The Lady was quietly underway in Thailand in 2010 when news broke that the film's subject, Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, had been released from nearly two decades of house arrest by her country's military rulers. French director Luc Besson didn't believe it at first, because the TV footage looked so similar to the film he'd just shot.

But the news was true, and actress Michelle Yeoh, who portrays Suu Kyi, was actually able to meet the Nobel Peace laureate.

Later, the news of the film broke, and the still-testy Burmese junta denied Yeoh a chance to meet Suu Kyi a second time, though Besson was permitted. Yeoh says she might try to visit again, now that Burma, a.k.a. Myanmar, has initiated democratic reforms and Suu Kyi is free to be active in politics once again.

Described as "an incredible love story", The Lady chronicles Suu Kyi's days when she was studying at Oxford and met the English writer Michael Aris (portrayed by David Thewlis). The two form a relationship, get married, have children and live abroad as globetrotting scholars.

But then Suu Kyi's mother falls ill, and she goes to Burma for a visit. There she becomes caught up in politics, and as the daughter of general Aung San, the slain hero of independence from British colonial rule, she accepts her role as a democracy icon. The rest, as they say, is history, with Suu Kyi having to choose between her marriage and her country.

Besson, the director-producer of such hit action movies as Léon (The Professional) and The Fifth Element, may seem like an odd choice to direct this project, but he's always had a thing for strong female characters, like Joan of Arc and the female assassin in Nikita.

The Lady premiered at last year's Toronto International Film Festival and has screened in several other festivals. It was the closing film at the recent Hua Hin International Film Festival, with Besson and Yeoh in attendance. And The Nation had a chat with Yeoh and Besson.

Critical reception is mixed, though Yeoh has been pretty much universally praised for her portrayal of Suu Kyi, and has been nominated for a Satellite Award. Rated 13+.

Also opening

War Horse – Steven Spielberg directs this epic drama about a horse that forms a bond with a young man and touches the lives of many others during World War I in Europe. It's based on a children's novel by Michael Morpurgo that's also been adapted for the London stage. Newcomer actor Jeremy Irvine stars. It's been nominated for a wagonload of awards, including Oscars for best picture, cinematography and John Williams' score. Critical reception is mixed, leaning to favorable (check out this hilarious illustrated review). Rated 13+.

Man on a Ledge – A fugitive ex-cop (Sam Worthington) stands on the ledge of a high-rise New York  hotel while a police negotiator (Elizabeth Banks) tries to talk him down. Meanwhile, the biggest diamond heist ever committed is in motion. Jamie Bell, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, Kyra Sedgwick, Edward Burns and Titus Welliver also star. It's directed by Dutch filmmaker Asgar Leth, who previously made the 2006 Haitian political docu-drama Ghosts of Cité Soleil. Critical reception is mostly negative. Rated 15+.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island – I didn't know this was a sequel to 2008's Journey to the Center of the Earth until I read a Nation story about it last week. But yeah, it's a sequel, even though the only character who's really returning from the Brendan Fraser movie is young actor Josh Hutcherson. And since you can't build a franchise around him, they have none other than Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to help out. As a stepson and stepdad, the set off an adventure to find a non-existent island, from which Hutcherson's character's grandfather (Michael Caine, cashing a check) sent a message. They hitch a ride in a broken-down helicopter with the pilot (Luis Guzman) and his improbably beautiful daughter (Vanessa Hudgens) and find the magical lost island, where there are miniature elephants and giant insects. Brad Peyton (Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore) directs, making his live-action feature debut. Critical reception is mixed, though keep in mind this hasn't opened in the U.S., so not a lot of the usual critics have seen it. In 3D, including IMAX. Rated G.

Rak: An Ordinary Love Story (รัก) – Friends help Note (Komen Ruangkitrattanakul) and Nam (Benjanat Aksornnan) celebrate their wedding at a beachfront resort. Chatwan Witsawabamrungchai directs. Rated 15+.

Rak Liaw Fiaw!! (Ah) (รักเลี้ยวเฟี้ยวว!!(อ่ะ)) – Louis Scott is a guy named Korn who girls fall in love with as soon as they meet him. He doesn't know what to do with his life, so he sets off a journey from Phetchabun to Chiang Rai to find some answers. Scott's old Raptor singing buddy Joni Anwar also stars. Rated G.

Legend of a Rabbit – This Chinese animation about a kung-fu-fighting bunny takes dead aim at Hollywood's Kung Fu Panda franchise by casting a big, mean panda as the villain. But it's also much the same as Kung Fu Panda – a portly, goofball character who works in a food stall finds himself gifted with martial-arts powers and undergoes a transformation from underdog to hero. Even Chinese film-goers are calling Legend of the Rabbit a rip-off of Kung Fu Panda. Critical reception has been mixed. And, despite the movie being made in 3D, in Thailand it's only getting a limited release in 2D, and it's Thai-dubbed with no subtitles. At the Lido in Siam Square. Rated G.

Also showing

"A Ripe Volcano", screens in the BEFF closing program, "Now-Where?" at 7pm on Sunday.
6th Bangkok Experimental Film Festival – Held every other year or so and put on by a group of artists, curators, film scholars and filmmakers, this year's theme is "Raiding the Archives", and aims to group short films and features into programs that give the works a new context. Tonight's program, starting at 7, is at the Goethe-Institut, with a selection of shorts from sixpackfilm, a distributor of experimental films based in Vienna. Tomorrow night at 6, the festival moves to the William Warren Library at the Jim Thompson Art Center, with a talk on "Curating Artists Cinema", in English with translation into Thai. And on Saturday, the festival is back at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, starting at noon with History of Thai Experimenta 2, with a program of home movies collected at the Thai Film Archive. Another program on Saturday, Poetics of Longing, features shorts by the likes of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (0016643225059) and Wichanon Sumumjarn (Four Boys, White Whiskey and Grilled Mouse). A highlight on Saturday is the Thai premiere of World Without End, a 1953 documentary, partly shot here by experimental filmmaker Basil Wright. That's at 6.15. The closing day on Sunday starts at noon, and among the highlights are From Experimenta India, Hong Kong Bohemia and KLEX @ BEFF6, featuring selections from the Kuala Lumpur Experiental Film and Video Festival. Click the link for the full schedule.

Contact High – The Goethe-Institut's German Open Air Cinema series continues on Tuesday, February 7, with this 2006 Austrian road comedy by Michael Glawogger, following the lives of four men living in Vienna. The show time is at 7.30pm.