Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening March 22-28, 2012

The Hunger Games

It's The Matrix of the new generation. A groundbreaking phenomenon.

Based on the best-selling young-adult novel by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is set in a post-apocalyptic North America, where food supplies are scarce, and where, each year, boys and girls from ages 12 to 18 are selected in "the reaping" to fight in a televised battle in which there can only be one survivor.

The story is told from the viewpoint of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen. She volunteers to be sent to the games in place of her 12-year-old sister.

She's played by Jennifer Lawrence, the smashing young actress who came to prominence in the indie flick Winter's Bone and was then cast in X-Men: First Class as the blue-skinned nude shape-shifter Mystique. Now with The Hunger Games, she has her pick of major movie franchises. The sequel, Catching Fire, is already in the works.

Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci and Lenny Kravitz also star. Gary Ross directs. And that's fantastic news. His previous credits include the imaginative Pleasantville. And it looks like The Hunger Games captures that dystopian past.

The Hunger Games is being compared to The Twilight Saga, but don't let that put you off. It's also been compared to the Japanese movie Battle Royale, both favorably and unfavorably, but critical reception so far is wildly positive. See it! Rated 15+.

Also opening

Dark Flight 407 (407 เที่ยวบินผี, 407 Tiawbin Phee) – Following quickly on the heels of Mae Nak 3D comes another Thai 3D movie, this one billed as the first Thai film to actually be shot in stereoscopic 3D. Produced by Five Star Production, Dark Flight 407 is a haunted airplane tale. Veteran singer-actress Marsha Wattanapanich stars as a flight attendant who is back in the air 10 years after she was the sole survivor of a crash. Peter Knight also stars as a flight engineer. Isara Nadee, one of the "Ronin Team" responsible for Art of the Devil 2, directs, with the script by another Art of the Devil 2 team member, Kongkiat Khomsiri, who previously directed Muay Thai Chaiya and Slice and has scripted such films as Bang Rajan and The Unseeable. After its release here, Dark Flight 407 will take wing and head to Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and Cambodia. In 3D. Rated G.

The Tree – A family is thrown into despair by the sudden heart attack of their father. The children believe the spirit of their dead dad lives in the giant tree in the yard of their home in rural Australia. They take comfort in the tree at first, but then it grows so large that it threatens to crush their house. The mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg) wants to cut it down but is opposed by her 7-year-old daughter (the amazing little Morgana Davies). The closing film of the 2010 Cannnes festival, critical reception is generally positive. At House on RCA. Rated 13+.

We Bought a Zoo – Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) directs this family comedy-drama that's based on the memoir of Benjamin Mee, a Briton who took on the challenge of buying a dilapidated zoo and fixing it up. Adapted for American audiences, Matt Damon stars as the single dad who moves his two children to the countryside zoo. Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Fugit, Colin Ford, Elle Fanning, Angus Macfadyen and Peter Riegert also star. Critical reception is mixed, leaning to positive. It's at SF cinemas. Rated G.

The Lorax – Dr. Seuss' 1971 children's book with an environmental message was first adapted as a much-beloved 30-minute animated TV special in 1972. Now Illumination Entertainment, the animation firm that made the 2010 hit Despicable Me, stretches the tale into a feature. Added to the story is a 12-year-old boy (voiced by Zac Efron) who lives in a sterile, manufactured suburb. He hopes to win the affections of a nature-loving girl by finding a real truffula tree, but is disheartened to learn that they've all been chopped down. In the land where there were once forests, he encounters the Once-ler (Ed Helms), an old man who recounts the story of how he got rich by harvesting the truffulas, which led to his conflict with a grumpy little orange man who speaks for the trees. He's voiced by Danny DeVito. Other voices include Taylor Swift, Rob Riggle and Betty White. Critical reception is mixed, with the main complaint being the "moral simplicity of the book gets lost with the zany Hollywood production values". In 3D. Rated G.

Gone – A young woman  (Amanda Seyfried) is convinced that the serial murderer who kidnapped her two years ago has returned and taken her sister. So Jill decides she has to find her sister on her own and take revenge on the killer. It wasn't screened for movie critics, and reception is mostly negative so far. Rated 15+.

She (เรื่องรักระหว่างเธอ, Ruang Rak Rawang Ther) – A surprise hit of 2010 was Yes or No, So I Love You, an indie Thai film that depicted romance between a couple of cute college girls. Now Angel and Bear productions, the same firm that was behind the coffee-infused romance Bitter/Sweet, wants to look at more lesbian love in She. It has two stories. In one, a businesswoman facing terminal cancer turns her back on her husband and daughter in hopes of sparing them pain; but then she strikes up a relationship with a female photographer. Meanwhile, a columnist's life is destroyed when her boyfriend e-mails their sex clips to her work contacts. While bouncing back, she strikes up a friendship with her tomboy neighbor. Veteran actress Penpak Sirikul, who appeared earlier this year in the transgender romance It Gets Better, stars along with Ann Siriwan Baker, Appassaporn Sangthong and Kitchya Kaesuwan. It's directed by Sranya Noithai, who previously did 2007's historical horror romance Perng Mang: The Haunted Drum. Rated 13+.

Agent Vinod – BollywoodThai is back in action with this globe-trotting spy adventure produced by and starring Saif Ali Khan along with Kareena Kapoor, Prem Chopra and Malika Haydon. Sriram Raghavan directs. It's in Hindi with English subtitles at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit (Ekamai) on Friday at 8, Sunday at 7.30 and Monday at 8 and at Major Rama III on Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 4. Call (089) 488 2620 (02) 225 7500 or check

Also showing

Golden Slumbers is the closing film of the Salaya Doc festival.

Salaya International Documentary Film Festival – Continuing through Sunday at the Sri Salaya Theater at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya, Nakhon Pathom, Salaya Doc has many highlights, including hard-hitting documentaries by China's Xu Tong, a competition of films from around Southeast Asia and foreign documentaries in the Perspectives section. Saturday offers the recently restored 1977 classic Word Is Out, which challenged gay and lesbian stereotypes in the U.S. Sunday includes The Cheer Ambassadors, about the first Thai team to compete in the World Cheerleading Championships and Golden Slumbers, about the lost films of Cambodia's golden age of cinema. Admission is free. Check the festival blog for the full schedule. Some of the films will also be shown at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre on March 31 and April 1.

Take note

The lobby of the Scala. Photo by Philip Jablon.

Since news broke last week of Chulalongkorn University's greed-motivated plans to tear down the Lido and the Scala cinemas in order to build more shopping malls in an area already saturated by shopping malls, there has been notable commentary in Bangkok's English language press. The Nation yesterday had a piece by Philip Jablon, "The case for preserving the Lido and Scala theatres". Here's an excerpt:

"If we appraise these theatres based on the law of scarcity, which holds that the decrease in quantity of a particular kind of artefact or institution leads to a corresponding increase in its worth, then the Lido and Scala are priceless, being the last two of their kind in the country."

Jablon is also known as "The Projectionist", the blogger of The Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project. There, he posted a more-blunt assessment of Chula's plans:

"Only corrupt minds would destroy a cultural institution like the Lido Theater. The mental midgets behind it should be deeply ashamed."

Interestingly, Jablon also writes about the Sala Chalerm Thani, Bangkok's lone wooden cinema, which may or may not be slated for restoration. And one of London's oldest cinemas is being restored.

Bangkok Post movie critic Kong Rithdee also comments on the Lido and Scala, saying in part:

"This shows that the concern and heartbreak are more than just a tug of nostalgia. The imminent demise of the Lido highlights the issue of urban planning, visions of the cityscape, the scarcity of cultural institutions, the importance of architecture as a form of collective history, and the politics of space, public and private, in Bangkok's super-prime location. The bitterness is especially pungent because of a widespread feeling that Chulalongkorn University, the kingdom's premier educational body, has recently dedicated much effort to real estate adventures and shopping mall construction. After Chamchuri Square and Digital Gateway (not to mention MBK, which sits on its property) the university is now building the 1.8 billion baht Siam Square One on the site where Siam Theatre once stood. Not a library, not a park, not a futsal field; only malls – nothing but malls."

There's now an online petition. Sign it if you think it will help.

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