Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening May 14-20, 2015

Phi Ha Ayothaya (The Black Death)

Zombies! Thai zombies!

For his sophomore feature effort, Phi Ha Ayothaya (ผีห่าอโยธยา , a.k.a. The Black Death), director MR Chalermchatri "Adam" Yukol channels George Romero's Night of the Living Dead through the ancient Ayutthaya kingdom, where villagers mysteriously die and then become flesh-hungry zombies. Monks and magic, usually effective against traditional Thai ghosts, are powerless to stop them. Fortunately, it's a time when everyone has a sword or two handy.

Filmed on the same massive sets in Kanchanaburi where Adam's father MC Chatrichalerm Yukol made the recently wrapped-up six-part Legend of King Naresuan saga, Phi ha Ayothaya follows Adam's 2013 feature debut The Cop.

I've got a review in the works. It's a blast. Go see it. Rated 18+

Mad Max: Fury Road

After more than 25 years of development, Australian director George Miller jump-starts his legacy with Mad Max: Fury Road, the first entry in what's expected to be an exciting new Mad Max trilogy.

The raw original film, released in 1979 during the height of the Ozploitation era, introduced the biker-battling highway patrolman Max played by Mel Gibson, and driving his supercharged 1974 Ford Falcon XB. Just a man with his car and his dog in the post-apocalyptic Outback in 1981's Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, the franchise cemented its worldwide status, and the momentum carried it through to 1985's Beyond Thunderdome.

Now, after a quarter century of development and delays, the Namibia, Africa-filmed epic stays true to its roots, with a motorhead-pleasing focus on crazy cars and practical, in-camera stunts. The bad guys are still violent hot-rodding goons, only moreso.

Tom Hardy takes over the lead role from Gibson. The strong-but-silent type falls in with a warrior woman, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) for an epically violent car chase across the desert.

Much anticipated, Mad Max: Fury Road is already earning much praise for its visceral, non-stop action, most of which is real and not CGI. Critics are going bonkers for it. It's in converted 3D, but please do try to seek out the 2D version. Rated 15+

Also opening

Lost River – Actor Ryan Gosling makes his directorial debut with this surreal neo-noir fantasy about a single mother (Christina Hendricks from Mad Men and Drive) struggling to raise her children in a mysterious abandoned city. Much influenced by his efforts on Drive and City of God with Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn, Gosling filmed Lost River in Detroit in 2013. It premiered at last year's Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard competition, where it was met with cheers and boos. Critics are polarized, with the consensus being that it's a mess, but at least it's an interesting mess. Rated 15+

Pitch Perfect 2 – In this sequel to the 2011 sleeper-hit comedy about a women's collegiate a cappella singing group, the Barden Bellas find themselves banned from U.S. competition due to the bumbling of the group's colorful member Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson). They seek to redeem themselves by entering the world competition in Copenhagen. Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee, Alexis Knapp and Hailee Steinfeld also star. Elizabeth Banks, who produced and starred in the first Pitch Perfect, takes the director's chair. Critics are mostly singing praises. Rated 13+

Life Partners – Well-meaning young woman Paige (Gillian Jacobs) makes a pact with her longtime best friend, lesbian Sasha (Leighton Meester), that she won't get married until Sasha has the legal right to do so. But when Paige meets a handsome doctor (Adam Brody), Sasha fears she's being cast aside. Critics are generally praiseworthy of this indie romantic comedy. It's at Apex and SF cinemas. Rated 15+

Bombay Velvet – James Ellroy's L.A. Quartet of gritty crime novels about 1950s Los Angeles provides the inspiration for this stylish drama set in Bombay of the 1960s, where a boxer (Ranbir Kapoor) is in love with an aspiring jazz singer (Anushka Sharma). It's in Hindi with English and Thai subtitles at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit, Rama III and Pattaya. Opens Friday.

Also showing

The Friese-Greene Club – Boos at Cannes are historically a good sign, as demonstrated by David Lynch's surreal thriller Wild at Heart, which earned howls of derision but won the festival's top prize in 1990. It screens tonight. Tomorrow, it's another Cannes top-prize winner, Michelangelo Antonioni's portrait of Swinging London, Blowup. Watch for a rare performance by the Yardbirds with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. This Saturday's "sexy" movie is The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and on Sunday, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and others will strain their vocal cords in 2012's Les Miserables. Next Wednesday, it's another musical documentary, 20 Feet from Stardom, putting the spotlight on the unsung heroes of pop music – the back-up singers. Shows are at 8pm. The FGC is down an alley next to the under-renovation Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22. For more details, check the club's Facebook page.

Alliance Française – There are two offerings at the Alliance this week. First up at 2pm on Saturday, it's a "kids' screening" of the award-winning animated Ma maman est en Amérique, elle a rencontré Buffalo Bill (My Mommy is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill). From 2013, it's about a six-year-old boy who copes with stern teachers, bullying classmates and a traumatic event at home that he has yet to wrap his head around. Marc Lavoine and Julie Depardieu are among the voice actors. At 7pm next Wednesday, it's another "French film with children", Tout est pardonné (All Is Forgiven), a 2007 drama about a young couple and their daughter. A drug addict, the father is banned from seeing the little girl, but years later, the daughter learns her father is in Paris, and she decides to see him again.

Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand – There's a documentary screening on Monday at the FCCT with The Look of Silence, another powerful examination of the Indonesian military's killing of leftists and other political opponents in the 1960s. Having earlier screened in the fifth edition of Salaya Doc, The Look of Silence is the follow-up to The Act of Killing, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer and a host of "anonymous" crew members. While The Act of Killing rubbed me the wrong way with its focus on the perpetrators of the genocide, allowing them to re-enact the killings in often grandiose and self-aggrandizing fashion, The Look of Silence keeps the focus on the victims as seen through the eyes of an Indonesian optician, who travels from town to town, confronting the people responsible for his brother’s death. At each visit, a pattern emerges, with the interviewees at first denying having any knowledge of the killings, but the guy keeps gently questioning, trying different lenses as it were, and then there's that look that comes across their face as if to say "Okay, you got me," and they realize they can no longer lie. The screening is at 7pm on Monday, May 18, at the FCCT. Entry for non-members is 150 baht.

Take note

More details have emerged about the Singapore Film Festival from May 21 to 24 at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. It will show six recent films, including Sayang Disayang, a Malay drama that was Singapore's Oscar submission. Tickets will be free and handed out first come, first served, 30 minutes before the shows. I'll aim to put up a special post about it soon.

Another upcoming event will be the first Bangkok Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which is being put together by Attitude magazine and is set for sometime in June at a venue yet to be announced. But the line-up of films is ready, and it's pretty impressive. Among the titles will be the local premieres of two much-anticipated Thai films from the festival circuit, How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) and The Blue Hour.

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