Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening January 31-February 6, 2013


Ever-reliable action star Jason Statham takes on a role previously played by such tough guys as Lee Marvin, Robert Duvall, Jim Brown and Mel Gibson in Parker, an entry from the pulp-novel crime stories of Donald Westlake

Written under the pen name of Richard Stark, Westlake's Parker novels, about a professional thief who generally steals from the mob or other criminals, have been adapted into films many times before, including Point Blank starring Lee Marvin, The Oufit starring Robert Duvall, The Split with Jim Brown and  Payback (a remake of Point Blank) with Mel Gibson.

Rarely have the characters in the films actually been named Parker, until now with Statham. Here, in a story based on Flashfire, the 19th Parker novel, he's out for revenge against the members of his former crew after they double-crossed and left him for dead after a heist.

Jennifer Lopez also stars, in a role that recalls her critically hailed performance in Steven Soderbergh's adaptation of the Elmore Leonard crime tale Out of Sight. But here, instead of a tough-talking deputy U.S. marshal, she's more of a comic-relief sidekick to Statham.

Taylor Hackford (Ray, The Devil's Advocate) directs.

Critical reception is mixed, with critics evenly divided on whether they like J.Lo or find her annoying. Rated 15+.

Also opening

Zero Dark Thirty – In sneak previews for two weeks, director Kathryn Bigelow's war-on-terror drama finally moves to a wider release this week. The fact-based account of the decade-long hunt for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden has been mired controversy, mainly because of its depiction of torture. Jessica Chastain stars in an Oscar-nominated role as a CIA operative heading up the mission with assistance from the U.S. Navy Seals. She won the Golden Globe for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama, and the film also picked up the Golden Globe for best picture in the category. In addition to best actress for Chastain, the film is nominated for four other Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay for Boal, but notably not Best Director. Critical reception is overwhelmingly positive. Rated 15+.

Les Misérables – Another major Oscar nominee that's been in sneak previews and moves to a wider release this week, Les Miz is a strange beast, being a musical that's sung in English about French rebellion. Covering 17 years that culminates in the 1832 Paris uprising, the epic tale involves Jean Valjean, a man jailed for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. He gets out of prison and tries to get back on his feet, but is doggedly pursued by his former warden, the obsessive Javert. Other characters include Fantine, a woman forced into prostitution to support her illegitimate daughter. Directed by Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), Les Miz won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and best actor and supporting actress for Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and Anne Hathaway as Fantine. Russell Crowe also stars, croaking his way through the role of Javert, along with Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen. It's nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, but notably not Best Director for Hooper. Critical reception is mixed, but if you're a fan of musicals then you'll probably enjoy it. Rated 15+.

Liberal Arts – Josh Radnor, best known for the TV comedy series How I Met Your Mother, directs and stars in this independent comedy-drama. He's a young graduate who returns to his alma mater, a small Ohio liberal arts college, for a professor's retirement party. There, he falls for a precocious sophomore music student (Elizabeth Olsen). Richard Jenkins (also on Bangkok screens in Killing Them Softly) and Allison Janney star as a couple of professors. Liberal Arts premiered at last year's Sundance Film Festival and secured a limited theatrical release. Critical reception is mostly positive. It's at House on RCA.

Thongsuk 13 (ทองสุก 13, a.k.a. Long Weekend) – Merry young pranksters head to a remote island for a weekend of fun but instead find nothing but non-stop terror. This is the first feature from a new Thai studio, Wave Pictures, and marks the return to the scene by director Taweewat Wantha. Thongsuk 13 doesn't look to be reaching the same heights of batshit insanity as Taweewat's early 2000s cult hits, the zombie comedy SARS Wars and the sci-fi comedy The Sperm. It's a straighter horror direction, but Taweewat's cool stylistic touches are present, so this could actually be fun if you're into horror. Rated 15+.

Double Trouble – This is a Taiwanese action-comedy vehicle for Jackie Chan's son Jaycee. He's the head of a security team charged with looking after a valuable painting but is fingered as a prime suspect when the artwork is stolen by a pair of female thieves in stiletto heels. He teams up with a rifle-toting young woman named Ocean (Xia Yu) to get the painting back and clear his name. It's at Major Cineplex (including EGV, Esplanade, Mega, Paradise, etc.) and is Thai-dubbed only. Rated 15+.

Also showing

Race 2 – Fast cars, casinos, exotic locations, hot babes and heists are promised and delivered by this globe-trotting Bollywood action-comedy-drama starring Anil Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan, who reprise their roles from the 2008 hit. Deepika Padukone, John Abraham and Jacqueline Fernandez join in this time around. In Hindi with English subtitles at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit, Major Rama III and Paragon. Rated 15+.

Mademoiselle Chambon – Stéphane Brizé directs this 2009 comedy-drama starring Vincent Lindon, Sandrine Kiberlain and Aure Atika about a blue-collar guy (Lindon) who finds himself attracted to his son's sophisticated violin teacher (Kiberlain). He pursues her, but also fights against giving in to his desires. It's in French with English subtitles at the Alliance Française at 7.30pm on Wednesday, February 6.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening January 24-30, 2013

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Another Brothers Grimm tale gets the explosive high-octane treatment in the blood-spattered but campy-sounding Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

The story finds the siblings all grown up 15 years after they were nearly killed by a witch in a gingerbread house. Now they are toting shotguns, pistols and crossbows, tear-assing around the forests of Germany, looking for the shit.

Avengers and Hurt Locker star Jeremy Renner is the rogueish Hansel while Gemma Arterton (Prince of Persia, Clash of the Titans) is his tough sister Gretel. Famke Janssen is the leader of a coven of evil witches and Peter Stormare is a problematic sheriff.

Tommy Wirkola, Norwegian director of the zombie-Nazi horror comedy Dead Snow, makes his big-budget Hollywood debut. Interestingly, it's produced for MTV Films by comedian Will Ferrell and comedy director Adam McKay.

This doesn't come out in the the U.S. until tomorrow, so critical reception is too early to tell. It's in 3D in some cinemas, including IMAX and IMAX Digital. Rated 15+.

Also opening

The Last Tycoon – Chow Yun-fat is back in the smooth, white-suited Killer mode, starring in this fact-based epic account of the street-brawling rise to power by a Shanghai gangster from the 1910s to the chaos of World War II. Cheng Daqi, played by Huang Xiaoming in his younger years and then Chow later on, arrives in Shanghai and comes under the wing of a corrupt lawman and triad leader, played by the great Sammo Hung. Francis Ng, Yolanda Yuan and Monica Mok also star. Produced by Andrew Lau, it's scripted and directed by Wong Jing, and is being hailed as one of his best efforts in years. Critical reception is generally positive. It's Thai-dubbed in most cinemas except for SF World at CentralWorld, which has the original soundtrack with English and Thai subtitles. Rated 18+.

So Undercover – This comedy vehicle for Disney star Miley Cyrus is going direct-to-video in the U.S., which apparently makes it suitable to take up valuable big-screen space in Thailand. There are so many other movies out there, especially during awards season. Why this? The teenybopper star rather implausibly plays a streetwise private investigator who is hired by the FBI to go undercover in a university sorority where she is to protect the daughter of a former mob boss. Jeremy Piven also stars. Critical reception, so far, is overwhelmingly negative. At Major Cineplex. Rated 13+.

Also showing

Inkaar – Arjun Rampal and Chitrangada Singh star in this tale of advertising agency executives battling for the top position while fighting sexual harrassment charges. At Major Cineplex Sukhumvit and Rama III.

Sneak previews

The movie-distribution business in Thailand can be pretty competitive sometimes, particularly during awards season, when everyone is jockeying to bring in the movies that are generating a lot of buzz.

Two films that are clawing for your eyeballs are the French revolution musical Les Misérables and the war-on-terror drama Zero Dark Thirty. Both are Oscar nominees in multiple categories and both were winners at the recent Golden Globe Awards.

And both are due to officially open in Thailand on January 31.

Les Mis, distributed by United International Pictures, had already scheduled a sneak preview for this week, but Zero Dark Thirty distributor M Pictures stole a march on UIP by rushing sneak preview reels into cinemas last week.

So now both Les Mis and Zero Dark Thirty are in sneak previews, with screenings from around 8 nightly at most cinemas.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening January 17-23, 2013

Killing Them Softly

Brad Pitt stars as a hitman in the low-down and gritty crime tale Killing Them Softly, which boasts a fine cast that also includes Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta and James Gandolfini.

Pitt plays a gunman named Jackie Cogan who's hired by a mob lawyer (Jenkins) to track down a pair of comically bumbling small-time punks (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) who robbed a high-stakes poker game in order to frame the game's manager (Liotta).

Helmed by New Zealander Andrew Dominik, who previously directed Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, the film premiered in the main competition at last year's Cannes Film Festival and has been met with generally positive critical reception.

It's screening at the Apex theaters in Siam Square and SF cinemas. Rated 18+.

Also opening

The Last Stand – How many times can Arnold Schwarzenegger announce "I'll be back"? After a cameo in last year's Expendables 2, the Terminator star is finally and truly back in show business after his stint as California governor, taking his first lead role in a movie since 2003's Terminator 3. In The Last Stand, he's a former Los Angeles policeman who has retired to a little border town and taken the post of sheriff. However his hopes of living the quiet life are dashed when a drug lord (Eduardo Noriega) escapes from prison and makes a beeline for Arnie's town. Johnny Knoxville, Forest Whitaker, Luis Guzmán and Peter Stormare also star. South Korean helmer Kim Ji-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, The Good, the Bad, the Weird) directs, making his Stateside debut. Critical reception is wildly anticipatory. Rated 18+.

Albert Nobbs – Actress Glenn Close portrays a man in this much-acclaimed drama for which she received multiple nominations last year, including the Oscars and Golden Globes. The tale is set in 19th century Ireland where Close's character is a woman who has quietly posed as a man named Albert for 30 years. Working as a waiter at a posh hotel, Albert's carefully guarded secret is uncovered. Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson and Janet McTeer also star. Critical reception is mixed, but praise for Close's performance is nearly universal. It's at House on RCA.

The Thieves – A crew of South Korean con artists and thieves are hired to steal a $20 million diamond from a Macao casino in this slickly ambitious heist flick that's become South Korea's second-highest-grossing film. I guess it's sort of the South Korean answer to Ocean's Eleven. The cast of this action comedy is led by Korean stars Kim Hae-sook, Jun Ji-hyun, Lee Jung-jae and Kim Soo-hyun, and adds Pan-Asian flavor with Hong Kong talents Angelica Lee, Simon Yam and Derek Tsang. Nominated for several awards, critical reception is generally positive. It's at Major Cineplex, and is unfortunately Thai-dubbed only. Rated 15+.

Daddy's Menu (เมนูของพ่อ, Menu Khong Phor) – Crinkly faced comic Ping Lumprapleng heads the cast in this comedy about finalists on a TV cooking show who are tasked with preparing a special dish. Saichea Wongsaroj, Billy Ogan and Phongthawat Chalermkittichai also star. Rated G.

Also showing

The Stunt – Thailand's legion of largely unheralded stuntmen, who perform death-defying acts just for the sake of entertaining you, are given a voice in this new documentary. It goes behind the scenes to look at the hardships of Thai action cinema, which has grown into a major industry since the 2003 release of Ong-Bak, the movie that introduced the rough-and-tumble, "no wires, no CGI" Thai style to the world. The men behind that movie, martial-arts choreographer Panna Rithikrai and director Prachya Pinkaew, are among the interviewees, along with a bunch of people you've probably never heard of, but you've likely seen their films. The Stunt screens on Sunday, January 20 at 2pm at the Lido cinemas in Siam Square. Check the movie's Facebook page for more details or watch English-subtitled trailer.

Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola – Imran Khan stars in this tale of romance. He's a bright young man whose family has always served the clan of a local tycoon (Pankaj Kapur) and he's long harbored a crush on the man's daughter (Anushka Sharma). But then the Oxford-schooled young woman falls for the son of a wealthy politician (Arya Babbar). It's at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit and Rama III. Rated G.

Take note

Argo is back in cinemas, thanks to its big win at the Golden Globe Awards this week. Ben Affleck's thriller, based on actual events during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, was named best drama film and also netted Affleck the best director award. It's also a nominee for the Oscars, including Best Picture and best supporting actor for Alan Arkin, but notably not best director for Affleck.

Next week, the musical drama Les Misérables opens in a sneak preview run. It won the Golden Globe for musical or comedy motion picture as well as best actor and best supporting actress for Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. It's also a Oscar nominee.

Les Misérables moves to a wider release on January 31, the same day another major nominee and winner Zero Dark Thirty opens, though it might also already be playing in a sneak run. Zero Dark Thirty stars Jessica Chastain in a Golden Globe-winning role as a CIA agent in charge of hunting 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden, and is directed by Kathryn Bigelow, following up her Oscar-winning Iranian war drama The Hurt Locker.

The leading Academy Award nominee Lincoln comes to Bangkok on February 7. Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Golden Globe best actor Daniel Day-Lewis, the historical drama covers the events surrounding President Abraham Lincoln's emancipation proclamation to free the slaves.

Other major nominees and award winners include David O. Russell's romantic comedy Silver Linings Playbook, for which Jennifer Lawrence won the Golden Globe for best actress in a comedy motion picture. It opens in Bangkok on February 21, along with the airline drama Flight, starring Denzel Washington in an Oscar-nominated role.

Also playing in Bangkok right now is the surprisingly humorous Hyde Park on Hudson, featuring Bill Murray in a Golden Globe-nominated performance as U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Quentin Tarantino's western Django Unchained doesn't look likely to open around here until May. It won the Golden Globe for original screenplay and supporting actor for Christoph Waltz, and is also a nominee for five Oscars.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening January 10-16, 2013

The Man with the Iron Fists

Rap musician RZA has always been into kung fu. The name of his pioneering hip-hop group the Wu-Tang Clan, is taken from the name of a cult-favorite kung-fu film.

Now, he takes his devotion further with a move into filmmaking and the vanity project The Man with the Iron Fists, which in addition to honoring martial-arts films is also an homage to the entire grindhouse genre. Along with directing the film and producing the soundtrack, RZA stars as a freed slave in China who becomes a blacksmith and channels an ancient energy to turn himself into a living weapon. He's among a handful of lone warriors who must band together in order to face a common foe.

The cast in this weird genre-jumping fantasy is a mix of Hollywood heavyweights like Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu and Asian martial arts talents, including Rick Yune, Cung Le, Byron Mann and Daniel Wu.

The project is the result of years of development by RZA, who co-wrote it with Eli Roth (Hostel). And, of course, Quentin Tarantino, weighed in as well.

Critical reception is mixed, though if you're a fan of old-time kung-fu movies and grindhouse films, then you'll probably dig this. Rated 18+.

Also opening

Gangster Squad – Ruthless New York mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is making a move on Los Angeles in the 1940s. A determined crew of police officers is determined to stop him. Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin head the untouchable squad, with Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick and Michael Pena helping out. Nick Nolte is the gravel-voiced police chief, and Emma Stone is the lady in red. With a retro look recalling The Untouchables, Dick Tracy or LA Confidential, Ruben Fleischer directs, making his move into mega-budget territory after helming the comparatively smaller action comedies Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less. Critical reception, so far, is mixed. Rated 18+.

Hyde Park on Hudson – Bill Murray portrays U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in this dramatic account of his many affairs. The backdrop of the story is during the visit by England's King George VI and Queen Consort Elizabeth – the first English monarchs to set foot on U.S. soil. They spent a weekend at Roosevelt's retreat in Hyde Park, New York. The cast also includes Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt, reuniting Murray with his love interest from Wes Anderson's Rushmore, and Laura Linney as FDR's distant cousin and close confidante Daisy Suckley. Elizabeth Marvel also stars, portraying FDR's secretary (and mistress) Missy. Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Morning Glory) directs. Murray's performance has earned many plaudits, but critical reception is mixed. It's at Apex in Siam Square and Paragon Cineplex. Rated 13+.

Gf*Bf (Girlfriend Boyfriend) – This acclaimed Taiwanese drama chronicles the three-way romance of  two guys and a girl over a period of rapid social change in the 1980s. It's been a winner and nominee of several awards, including best actress for Gwei Lun-Mei at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival and the Golden Horse Awards. It's in Mandarin with English and Thai subtitles at House.

Upside Down – Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst star in this topsy-turvy science-fiction romance about sweethearts on worlds that exist one on top of the other. The Up world is rich and prosperous and rules over the impoverished Below world. Contact between the two cultures is hazardous and generally forbidden. But the young man is determined to overcome all obstacles to be with the girl he loves. Argentine director Juan Diego Solanas directs this French-backed feature, which hasn't yet been released in the U.S. Critical reception, so far, is mixed. It's in 3D in some cinemas. Rated 13+.

Texas Chainsaw 3D – Tobe Hooper's cult-slasher franchise enters the modern 3D era with this story that's set 20 years after the 1974 original. Critical reception is mostly negative, with even fans of the series expressing their disappointment. Rated 18+.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening January 3-9, 2013

The Guillotines

Long in the works, The Guillotines brings to the 3D age a legendary ancient Chinese weapon previously featured in 1970s kung-fu flicks, particularly the cult-classic 1976 Jimmy Wang Yu "One-Armed Boxer" vehicle, Master of the Flying Guillotine, as well as an earlier Shaw Brothers movie, 1974's The Flying Guillotine.

Produced by Peter Chan, the Chinese-Hong Kong fantasy had been stuck for years in development hell, with Teddy Chen (Bodyguards and Assassins) at one time attached to direct. Eventually it fell to Infernal Affairs helmer Andrew Lau to bring the project to the screen.

The special-effects-laden story focuses on the "guillotine squad" serving the Qing dynasty, who use their special flying swords to decapitate anyone who opposes the throne. Problems arise when these hotshot executioners become targets themselves.

Shawn Yue, Huang Xiaoming, Ethan Juan, Li Yuchun and Jing Boran star.

Critical reception has been mixed, with Twitchfilm's James Marsh noting that the titular weapon is hardly even featured.

It's in 3D in some cinemas, but it's Thai-dubbed with no subtitles. The Chinese soundtrack with English and Thai subtitles is at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld (2D only). Rated 18+.

Also opening

The Bay – More shaky-cam "found-footage" horror from the producers of Paranormal Activity and Insidious takes an environmental angle and has an high-profile director – Oscar-winning Hollywood veteran Barry Levinson (Good Morning Vietnam, Rain Man). As revealed by video footage that authorities thought they had buried, a deadly water-borne menace sweeps through a Chesapeake Bay community in Maryland during a big summer holiday weekend. Told from the perspective of those who were there and saw what happened, the mockumentary unfolds over 24 hours though phone-video clips, 911 calls and web cams. The Bay premiered at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, and critical reception, so far is somewhat mixed, leaning to positive. Rated 15+.