Thursday, February 19, 2015

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening February 19-25, 2015

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Academy Award-nominated director Alejandro González Iñárritu brings an unblinking approach to comedy-drama in the much-acclaimed Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

Former Batman actor Michael Keaton, a Golden Globe winner for his role in Birdman, portrays a washed-up former superhero actor who is struggling to reinvent himself. For his latest comeback attempt, he is trying to mount a Broadway play, but his frail psyche and domineering ego are getting in the way, causing him to hallucinate and lose touch with reality.

Other stars are Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan and Naomi Watts.

With cinematography by Oscar-nominee Emmanuel Lubezki, the film employed a method of production in which it appears to have been shot in just one take, which created the need for rehearsals and intense concentration so everyone would hit their marks on cue.

It's an ambitious effort by Iñárritu, who made his debut in 2000 with the gut-punch of the gritty drama Amores Perros, which is still his best. He followed that up with two more entries in what would become his "death trilogy", the bleak 21 Grams and the depressing Babel. Even sadder was 2010's Biutiful.

Accolades for Birdman are many, with Keaton winning his first Golden Globe for his work. The film also took a Globe for best screenplay. It's tied with Grand Budapest Hotel with nine Academy Award nominations, including best picture, director, actor, supporting actor and actress. Critical reception is wildly positive, though if you look hard enough you will find naysayers. Rated 15+

Also opening

Unbroken – In her sophomore effort behind the lens, Angelina Jolie directs this fact-based biographical epic about Olympian and war hero Louis Zamperini, who died just last year. The film recounts his transformation from young troublemaker to Olympic long-distance runner. Following his Olympic glory in 1936, he joined the US Army Air Corps during World War II, and his bomber was downed over the Pacific. He then spent 47 days in a lifeboat before being captured and held in a Japanese labor camp. There, he was made an example of by the commander, an infamous war criminal. Jack O’Connell stars with Japanese rock musician Miyavi looking particularly terrifying as the sadistic camp commandant. Adapted from a best-selling 2010 biography, the script had treatments from an all-star line-up of Hollywood talent: the Coen brothers, Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King) and William Nicholson (Gladiator). Although it attracted a bit of Oscar buzz before the nominations, it ended up with just three in the technical categories, including cinematography for Roger Deakins. Critical reception is polite, and evenly mixed. Rated 13+

Wild Card – Butt-kicking British diva Jason Statham was just in Thailand terrorizing the locals as he made The Mechanic: Resurrection, and now here he is again in this retread of an old Burt Reynolds film, which is adapted from William Goldman's novel Heat. He's a bodyguard-for-hire in Las Vegas, where he takes odd jobs to support his gambling habit. He comes to the aid of a former girlfriend (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) who was beaten by a sadistic thug (Milo Ventimiglia), which puts him in conflict with the local mob powers. It's helmed by Simon West (Con Air), who previously worked with Statham on The Expendables 2 and 2011's The Mechanic, which was a remake of a Charles Bronson film. The made-in-Thailand sequel is on the way next year. Critics are underwhelmed with Wild Card, but Jason Statham doesn't care, and neither do his fists. Rated 18+

Penguins of Madagascar – The scene-stealing, troublemaking flightless birds of Dreamworks Animation's Madagasgar franchise take the lead in this spin-off, becoming reluctant heroes as they go to work for a top-secret spy organization to stop a crazed octopus from destroying the world. Benedict Cumberbatch, John Malkovich and Ken Jeong are among the voice cast. Critical reception is generally positive, with the consensus being it's fun for the kids but maybe not fun enough for the parents. Rated G

Dragon Blade – Fugitive generals from wildly different cultures become reluctant allies in this Chinese historical fantasy, which arrives on our screens just in time for the big Chinese New Year holiday. Jackie Chan dons weird facial hair to portray the disgraced commander of a scrappy division of fighters in the Han Dynasty’s western region. They encounter a Roman general (John Cusack) and his rogue legion, who are on the run from the power-crazed madman (Adrien Brody) who seeks to invade China. With the Chinese cinema market the fastest-growing in the world, expect to see more of this type of thing, with Western actors performing alongside Chinese superstars. Only I think the Hollywood guys secretly hope no one back home will ever see this. It's in Mandarin and English with English and Thai subtitles in some cinemas. Rated 15+

Song One – Anne Hathaway stars in this indie musical drama as a young woman who returns home after a long absence to be with her comatose musician brother. Piecing together his life through his notebooks, she finds her brother’s idol and seeks to convince the shy recluse to perform at her brother’s bedside. This premiered in competition at Sundance last year. Critics are mixed, though not exactly singing praises. Rated 13+

Bon Srolanh Oun (บองสรันโอน ) – Nine years after she made her debut with the little-girl drama Khao Niao Moo Ping, director Siwaporn Pongsuwan returns to the scene with this pan-Southeast Asian drama, starring veteran Thai leading man Ray MacDonald as a guy who returns to Thailand after graduating from college overseas college. He moves back into the apartment he once shared with his girlfriend in the hope that she’ll one day return. A series of incidents occur that he suspects are related to the person who lived there before him, so he travels to Cambodia to find out the truth. Cambodian actress Saray Sakana also stars. Rated 15+

Ananta Sang Sawang Hang Khwam Wang (อนันตา แสงแห่งความหวัง, a.k.a. Ananta: Light of Hope – Because of all the intense labor and technical know-how that's required, animated films are a rarity in Thailand, with perhaps one coming along every other year or so, if at all. This latest feature, made in good old-fashioned traditional 2D animation, is a historical fantasy epic about a young prince who is forced into a life on the run after he is framed for assassinating his father the king. Living in the jungle and helped by soldiers still loyal to him, Ananta searches for a holy stone that will help them overthrow the enemy. Rated G

Also showing

The Friese-Greene Club – Representing pretty much the end of the gritty Ozploitation era, 1981's post-apocalyptic adventure Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior made Mel Gibson a star in Hollywood. See how it stacks up tonight against tomorrow night's New Zealand entry, 1995's Once Were Warriors, a powerful portrait of a Maori family's struggles to maintain tradition while fitting in with modern society. Saturday head to that "silly place" with Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Just try and refrain from spouting all the film's quotable dialogue while you watch. Sunday's Vincente Minelli feature, 1951's musical Gigi is also a tribute to sauve French leading man Louis Jourdan, who died last Saturday. Next Wednesday's "those darn kids" entry is Gummo, the debut of controversial director Harmony Korine. Shows are at 8pm. The FGC is down an alley next to the Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22.  For more details, check the club's Facebook page. There's just nine seats, so book them.

Signes de Nuit Film Festival – Filmvirus and the Reading Room again team up for another showcase of short films from foreign lands, this one coming from the Paris-based Festival International Signes de Nuit, an indie fest that has been taking place since 2003. The programs on Saturday and Sunday afternoons will have a mix of short films and documentaries from all over the world. The shows start at 1pm at The Reading Room, a fourth-floor walk-up gallery on Silom Soi 19. For the full program, please see the Facebook events page.

Alliance Française – The last "lost illusion" this month is next week's entry Le temps de l’aventure (Just a Sigh), a 2013 drama starring Emmanuelle Devos and Gabriel Byrne as strangers who meet on a train and share a brief romance. It's in French with English subtitles at 7pm on Wednesday, February 25 at the Alliance.

Take note

Coming up next Thursday is the opening of Memory! Reprise in Thailand International Film Heritage Festival, put on by the Thai Film Archive and the Alliance Française. It features a line-up of classic silents and old movies from all over the world, including Charlie Chaplin's The Circus, Harold Lloyd's Safety Last, Buster Keaton's The General, Jacques Tati's Playtime, the British comedy classic The Ladykillers Yasujirô Ozu's Good Morning (Ohayô) and even a great old Thai film, Sugar Is Not Sweet by pioneering auteur Rattana Pestonji. They will all be shown for free at both the Alliance and at the Archive in Salaya, Nakhom Pathom. You can see the whole line-up and reserve your seats online.

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