Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening January 23-29, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club

Having already transformed himself from the shirtless fixture of romantic comedies to a versatile character actor and celebrated indie-film leading man, Matthew McConaughey lost an incredible 50 pounds from his already lean frame to portray an AIDS-suffering Texan in Dallas Buyers Club. It's a fact-based story of the early days of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s.

He's Ron Woodroof, a homophobic oilfield worker and rodeo cowboy whose life changes when he's diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live. Grabbing the bull by the horns, he begins smuggling in unapproved drugs to treat his symptoms, and eventually enters into a reluctant partnership with a transgender woman (Jared Leto, who dropped 30 pounds to portray his cross-dressing character) to treat others.

Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn and Griffin Dunne also star. Jean-Marc Vallée directs.

Hailed as the biggest success story among this year's crop of independent films, Dallas Buyers Club is nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor for McConaughey and Best Supporting Actor for Leto. Both McConaughey and Leto have also won Golden Globe Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards and many other accolades. Critical reception is wildly positive.

It's at Apex Siam Square's Lido (still open!) and SF Cinemas. Rated 18+

Also opening

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa – Johnny Knoxville embarks on the biggest stunt ever for the Jackass franchise, dressing up as an 86-year-old widower who gets up to all sorts of painful shenanigans while travelling across the U.S. with his eight-year-old grandson. Critical reception is mixed, but surprisingly positive. Bad Grandpa is even an Oscar nominee, beating out American Hustle to score a nod for best makeup and hairstyling. Rated 15+

I, Frankenstein – Having tackled vampires and werewolves, the creators of the Underworld franchise turn their attention to another classic literary monster with I, Frankenstein. Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking, The Dark Knight) is Adam, Victor Frankenstein’s creation. He's caught in a centuries-old conflict between demons and gargoyles who want the secret to his immortality. Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Otto and Jai Courtney also star. It's based on Kevin Grievioux's graphic novel and is written and directed by Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean). This is just being released in the States this week, so there's not much critical response, but I can't imagine anybody's going to be raving about it. In 3D (converted) in some cinemas. Rated 13+

Firestorm – Andy Lau is back in action in this gritty Hong Kong crime tale. He's a senior police inspector chasing a crew of seasoned criminals who are pulling off daring heists. He tries to get an ex-con to work undercover as a mole in the gang. Gordon Lam and Hu Jun also star. Firestorm premiered at the recent ScreenSingapore industry confab and was a box-office hit in China. Critical reception is mixed, leaning to positive. Thai-dubbed only. Rated 15+

Jai Ho – With nothing to do with the song of the same name from the movie Slumdog MillionaireJai Ho the movie stars Salman Khan as a former military man who fights a one-man war against against corruption and injustice. At Major Cineplex Sukhumvit (Ekamai), Rama III, Pattaya Chiang Mai. Starts Friday.

Also showing

The Friese-Greene Club – One of Woody Allen's favorite films, François Truffaut's The 400 Blows, screens tonight. Tomorrow, catch all the finalist entries of last year's 9FilmFest, an annual contest that invites filmmakers to make 9-minute films that incorporate a "signature item" that changes from year to year. On Saturday it's 1982's The Thing, a tense sci-fi thriller that many fans regard as John Carpenter's greatest masterpiece. Sunday combines two of this month's tributes into one, honoring the recently departed Peter O'Toole and director David Lean with 1962's epic-of-epics, Lawrence of Arabia. The FGC is down an alley next to the Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22. With just nine seats, the screening room fills up fast, so reservations are a must. There are often last-minute changes in the schedule, so please check the website and Facebook page before planning a visit.

Goethe Institut – The German cultural center's annual Open Air Cinema series got under way in December, but I wasn't reminded of it until now. Four screenings remain at the Goethe, which is on Sathorn Soi 1. Next Tuesday, January 28, it's Night Train to Lisbon. The brand-new drama by veteran Danish director Bille August stars Jeremy Irons as a Latin professor who stops a young woman from killing herself, which then leads him on a life-changing journey. The remaining outdoor films are My Beautiful Country on February 4, Hotel Lux on February 11 and Stopped on Track on February 25. The shows start at 7.30pm. The Goethe also regularly screens German films once a month at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya and at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. I will keep track of the BACC screenings here. The next film is at 6pm on February 11 – Goethe!, a biographical romantic drama about the poet's young adulthood. Also on February 11, there will be a lecture, Humor Is Laughing Despite Of It by author and film scholar Dr. Peter Zimmermann. That's at 5pm at the Goethe Institut.

Alliance Française – The month of comedies wraps up with Le Nom des gens (The Names of Love) from 2010. It's about a free-spirited young woman (Sara Forestier) who uses sex as a weapon to manipulate conservatives. She meets her match in Arthur Martin (Jacques Gamblin), a 40-something guy who is not what he seems to be. It screens at 7pm on Wednesday, January 29, at the Alliance Française de Bangkok, now located on Wireless Road opposite Lumpini Park in the former location of the Suan Lum Night Bazaar.

Sneak preview

The Wolf of Wall Street – Following his 3D family friendly children's story Hugo, Martin Scorsese returns to making the types of films his fans really want him to make, dealing with hedonistic stockbrokers in the late 1980s. Leonardo DiCaprio stars in this fact-based tale, portraying Jordan Belfort, a trader who went from hawking penny stocks to a life of excess. Jonah Hill portrays Jordan's partner in lucrative "pump and dump" schemes. The cast also features Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Jon Favreau and Jean Dujardin. The screenplay, based on Belfort's memoir, is by Terence Winter, writer on The Sopranos and creator of Boardwalk Empire. Though controversial for its vivid depictions of drug use, sex and foul language, as well as the glorification of Belfort's deeds, critical reception is mostly positive. Accolades have included Academy Award nominations for best picture, director and adapted screenplay, as well as actor and supporting actor for DiCaprio and Hill. DiCaprio also won the Golden Globe for best actor in a musical or comedy film. It's in nightly sneak previews at most multiplexes (from around 6 at the Scala, later at other places) before opening wide next week. Rated 18+

Take note

Situated in the heart of the "Bangkok Shutdown" protests, Siam Square's Apex cinemas, the Lido and Scala, remain open for business, although they have dropped their later night-time shows.

I made the trip to Siam last weekend to catch a noontime screening of 12 Years a Slave and to see the situation for myself. I was surprised to find the Skytrain not too-terribly packed. It was mostly business as usual in Siam Square, though there were fewer cars trying to park and many vendors and shops were temporarily closed.

Thailand's biggest cinema chain, Major Cineplex reports a decline in attendance at theaters near the protest sites, but then theaters away from the rallies are seeing an increase in business.

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