Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening March 25-31, 2010

Bang Rajan 2

Director Thanit Jitnukul returns to the ancient village of his 2000 historical battle epic where a new crop of warriors rise up to defend Ayutthaya against the Burmese hordes.

Bang Rajan 2 (บางระจัน ๒), appears to be just as blood-soaked, violent and full of sword-clanging rage as the first film.

Similar to the Alamo of Texas, the story is based on a legend of a tiny farming village that fought the Burmese invaders, despite overwhelming odds. They beat their plowshares into swords, melted their rakes and shovels into new implements of destruction. Lacking horses, the town drunk mounted his water buffalo and rode into battle, swinging axes. Even the womenfolk got in on the two-fisted sword action, lopping off heads. In their brave sacrifice, the plucky fighters kept the enemies engaged long enough for the capital at Ayutthaya to put up a proper defense and save itself. It is a tale of heroic bloodshed and sacrifice.

Bang Rajan was one of the first to "go inter" during those heady years in the late '90s and early 2000s when Thai films were becoming known to wider international audiences. Stars included Winai Kraibutr from Nang Nak, with actress Bongkote Kongmalai making her debut. In the U.S., the film was "presented by Oliver Stone", who again championed Bang Rajan in a recent Bangkok appearance.

But even Stone was incredulous when he found out there was going to be a sequel, because, at the end of the first film, everyone died.

Produced by Phranakorn, stars in this new version include veteran leading man Chatchai Plengpanich, and, making his acting debut, former tennis ace Paradorn Srichaphan, who's traded in his racket for broadswords. Luk thung star Bow Wee also stars. Rated 15+.

Also opening

How to Train Your Dragon -- From Dreamworks Animation, the makers of such films as Shrek and Madagascar, comes How to Train Your Dragon. It's loosely based on a 2003 children's novel by British author Cressida Cowell. The main character is Hiccup, the meek nerd son of a big brawny Viking. Voiced by Jay Baruchel (Tropic Thunder), he befriends an injured wild dragon. Dad is played by Gerard Butler. Other voices include Ugly Betty's America Ferrara, TV host Craig Ferguson and Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse from Superbad. Critical reception so far is positive, with Screenrant going as far to say "I enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon a hell of a lot more than Avatar. It's in 3D in some cinemas, including IMAX. Rated G.

It's Complicated -- Meryl Streep stars in this romantic comedy as a woman who's carrying on affair with her ex-husband (Alec Baldwin), who left her to marry a younger trophy wife. Streep's character then falls in love with an architect played by Steve Martin. Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, Something's Gotta Give, The Holiday) directs. Critical reception is mixed. Rated 18+.

Remember Me -- Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson is a brooding young man who's angry because his parents split up in the wake of his brother's suicide. He gets into fights and trouble with the law. Despite looking like he's been run over by a bus, he charms a young woman (Emilie de Ravin), who lives each day to the fullest since witnessing her mother’s murder. Pierce Brosnan and Chris Cooper also star. Critical reception is mostly negative. Rated 15+.

With Love (Duay Rak, ด้วยรัก ) -- A circle of six friends develop crushes on each other in this romance, released on Wednesday, a day earlier than most other films, by 96 Film Co. The cast includes young idols Wanthongchai “Tol AF” Intharawat and Pheechaya Wattanamontri along with "Poy" Treechada Marnyaporn, the actress and former Miss Tiffany pageant queen who made her feature-film debut last year in the ghost comedy Ja-Ae ... Goi Laew Jaa (จ๊ะเอ๋ ... โกยแล้วจ้า). It's directed by Saijai Pimthong with a script by Saranya Noithai. There's a trailer for at YouTube.

Also showing

Tokyo! Tokyo! Tokyo! -- House cinema on RCA will show three films set in Tokyo over the next three weekends. This weekend it's Satoshi Kon's anime Tokyo Godfathers, about a disparate trio of streetpeople -- a transvestite, a young girl and a middle-aged bum -- who find an abandoned baby. Next weekend, it's the melodrama Tokyo Tower and on April 10-11 it's the tension-filled family drama Tokyo Sonata. For showtimes, check the House website.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening March 18-24, 2010

Nak Prok (Shadow of the Naga)

Three thieves, Singha (Ray MacDonald), Parn (Somchai Khemklad) and Por (Pitisak Yaowananon), hide their loot in the grounds of a temple but when they return to collect the money, they find it’s been buried under a new chapel. Their solution is to force head monk Luangta Chuen (Sa-ad Piampongsan) to conduct an ordination ceremony for them so that they can stay in the monastery while they dig for their ill-gotten booty. Inthira Charoenpura also stars.

Directed by Phawat Panangkasiri, Shadow of the Naga was actually completed in 2007, but its strong subject matter -- the idea of guns being pointed at an abbot and men posing as monks and acting violently -- made producers at Sahamongkol Film International too skittish to release it.

The film premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, where it didn't create much of a stir.

At one point, Sahamongkol boss Sia Jiang Somsak Techaratanaprasert wanted to release it with the pointed pistols blurred out like the censors do on Thai TV, but director Phawat stuck to his guns.

Now there's a rating system, which is supposed to advise viewers about content they might find objectionable. But there will still be "pop-up" warnings on certain scenes, in much the same fashion as some Thai DVDs.

Ultimately, I believe this is a story about the power of faith, not its destruction. And it's likely this film made three years ago has a message that's perhaps even more timely given the tense political atmosphere in Thailand right now. Have a look at the trailer. I found it very moving. It's rated 18+.

Also opening

My One and Only -- Renee Zellweger stars in this 1950s road-trip comedy drama. She's a New York City socialite who hits the road in her Cadillac convertible to find a new father for her two young boys after catching her bandleader husband (Kevin Bacon) with another woman. The tale is inspired by the childhood experiences of actor George Hamilton. Richard Loncraine directs. It also stars Logan "Percy Jackson" Lerman and Chris "Mr. Big" Noth. Critical reception is mixed, leaning to favorable. At Paragon Cineplex. Rated 15+.

Murderer (Saat yan faan) -- Aaron Kwok stars in this Hong Kong crime thriller as a police detective with short-term memory loss who's racing to solve a case in which has partner was murdered with an electric drill and the evidence is pointing to him. He can't remember the events leading to his partner's death. In Chinese with English and Thai subtitles at Paragon Cineplex and SFW World CentralWorld. Rated 18+.

When in Rome -- On a trip to Rome, a young New Yorker (Kristen Bell) impulsively steals coins from a reputed fountain of love. She then finds herself aggressively pursued by a band of suitors, among them are Josh Duhamel, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, Will Arnett, and Danny DeVito. Critical reception is negative. Rated 13+.

Nomad -- Kuno Becker (Goal!) stars in this historical epic set in 18th-century Kazakhstan, where he's the man who is destined to one day unite the three warring tribes of the country. This film has been hanging around for a long time. It was first released in 2006 and has finally made its way to Thai soil. Jay Hernandez and Jason Scott Lee also star. It's directed by Sergei Bodrov, Ivan Passer and Talgat Temenov. Reportedly, the government of Kazakhstan has invested $40 million to make this movie, making it the most expensive Kazakh film ever made. Critical reception is pretty thin, but is mostly negative. At the Siam.

Sneak previews

It's Complicated -- Meryl Streep stars in this romantic comedy as a woman who's carrying on affair with her ex-husband (Alec Baldwin), who left her to marry a younger trophy wife. Streep's character then falls in love with an architect played by Steve Martin. Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, Something's Gotta Give, The Holiday) directs. Critical reception is mixed. It's in nightly sneak previews at around 8 and 10 at most cinemas and has a wider release next Thursday. Rated 18+.

How to Train Your Dragon -- From Dreamworks Animation, the makers of such films as Shrek and Madagascar comes How to Train Your Dragon. It's loosely based on a 2003 children's novel by British author Cressida Cowell. The main character is Hiccup, the meek nerd son of a big brawny Viking. Voiced by Jay Baruchel (Tropic Thunder), he befriends an injured wild dragon. Dad is played by Gerard Butler. Other voices include Ugly Betty's America Ferrara, TV host Craig Ferguson and Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse from Superbad. Critical reception so far is positive. It's in 3D-only sneak previews at SFX the Emporium and SF Cinema City MBK and maybe some other theaters before opening in a wider release next week. Rated G.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening March 11-17, 2010

Baan Chan ... Talok Wai Gon (Por Son Wai)

Directed by Fan Chan alumnus Witthaya Thongyooyong, who last offered the time-traveling rock band tale The Possible (Kao ... Kao), Baan Chan ... Talok Wai Gon (Por Son Wai) (บ้าน ฉัน ..ตลก ไว้ ก่อน ( พ่อ สอน ไว้ ), The Little Comedian) is about a family comedy troupe with a black sheep -- a son who isn't funny. It's based on a short film Witthaya did when he was a student. The kid (Chawin Likitjareonpong) is constantly upstaged by his filthy-mouthed younger sister, who's considered the family prodigy. Yeah, it's something to see a little girl in pigtails explain to the doctor why her older brother has pimples.

But the doctor isn't laughing at the girl's jokes, she's laughing at the little boy.

And, she's played by smile queen Paula Taylor. The boy, just coming into puberty, is in love. It's Rushmore with sweet Thai cuteness replacing the Wes Anderson quirk.

Comedian Jaturong Mokjok also stars as the family patriarch. Check out the English-subtitled trailer. Rated 13+.

Also opening

Food, Inc. -- Directed by Robert Kenner, this is one of the nominees for the Academy Award for documentary feature. It's a stomach-churning look at the sometimes deadly world of industrial food production and it's not an appetizing picture. There are exposes of chicken and cattle pens, where animal waste finds its way into the food stream (as depicted in Fast Food Nation). Kenner also talks to families who opt for fast food because they have no time to cook and farmers who are feeling the pinch of their corporate overlords. The movie is also said to offer tips on how you can make a difference with each baht you spend on food. At House.

Green Zone -- With the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker currently playing in a handful of Bangkok theaters, here comes another gritty, real-feeling look at the Iraq War. Based on journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Matt Damon portrays US Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, whose Mobile Exploitation Team was charged with finding the weapons of mass destruction during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In the action-packed tale, Miller gets help from a veteran CIA field agent played by Brendan Gleeson, but Miller runs into obstructions placed by a satellite-phone-toting Pentagon official portrayed by the effectively oily Greg Kinnear. "You don't know who you're dealing with," Gleeson helpfully warns Kinnear. Directed by Paul Greengrass, who worked with Damon on two Bourne movies, this is Damon in kick-ass mode, enhanced by Greengrass' kinetic following shaky-cam. Amy Ryan from The Wire also stars. Critical reception is mixed, but I think it might tip to more favorable as more critics see Green Zone. Rated 18+.

Tooth Fairy -- Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson continues his run of family-friend comedies. He's a minor-league hockey star who hasn't been able to advance to the NHL because of his rough play and habit of knocking out other players' teeth. In an ironic quirk of fate, he's sentenced to serve as the actual Tooth Fairy, flying around and putting money under children's pillows after they lose their baby teeth. Julie Andrews stars as the head of the fairy empire. Ashley Judd plays a love interest for the Rock. Critical reception is negative. Rated G.

Take note

This weekend the pro-Thaksin "red shirts" are planning to rally in Bangkok with a "million man march" that aims to topple the government. For its part, the government has instituted the Internal Security Act, which it aims to use to stop the red shirts. For ordinary citizens who aren't wearing red shirts and just trying to go about their business, I'm not certain that the ISA will mean anything. Be prepared for event cancellations, traffic delays, road blocks and bag searches. Be careful out there.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening March 4-10, 2010

A Serious Man

Joel and Ethan Coen throw another wild curveball with this dark psychological comedy-satire. While their western No Country for Old Men dealt with physical punishment, their latest effort, A Serious Man, puts a pneumatic stun gun to the idea of faith.

At the center of the story is Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a university physics professor who is very much into the proof of the certainty of things. He seems very capable and smart and is close to attaining tenure. But his life is a shambles. His son, while preparing for the bar mitzvah, smokes marijuana and owes money to a bully. Larry suspects his daughter is stealing money from his wallet to pay for a nose job. His wife wants a divorce so she can marry a family friend and widower -- a guy who's a hugger. A Korean student who's failed his class has offered him a bribe and he faces a lawsuit from the student's father. And there are many other problems. His eccentric brother is crashing on the family's couch. Financial woes are mounting. He's kicked out of his home. He's having nightmares. Worst of all perhaps, the Columbia Record Club is after him for non-payment after he received Santana's Abraxas as his first album-of-the-month selection. Larry swears he never received the album, which is understandable since it wasn't released until 1970. The story takes place in 1967.

Searching for answers, he looks to his rabbis for spiritual advice, but they have none. Like the characters in a made-up Jewish folktale presented as prologue, it seems Larry is cursed.

Set in St. Louis Park, Minnesota -- the hometown of the brother directors -- I have to wonder how much of their own lives are in this oddly unsettling and entirely pessimistic film. Were either of them actually stoned during their bar mitzvah? It might explain a lot.

In addition to the fantastic production design -- the Coens carefully searched out a suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul neighborhood that hadn't changed since their childhoods -- there's a 1960s rock soundtrack dominated by Jefferson Airplane, as well as Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun" at a crucial moment.

It's a great film that will probably be overlooked at this weekend's Oscars ceremony. Critical reception is mostly positive. At the Lido and SF World CentralWorld. Rated 18+

Also opening

Alice in Wonderland -- Tim Burton brings his lavishly colorful and Gothic vision to Lewis Carroll's classic tale. In this version, Alice (Mia Wasikowska ) is a 19-year-old runaway bride who disappears down the rabbit hole where she reunites with her childhood friends. For this adventure, she is chosen as the "champion" to slay the Jabberwocky dragon controlled by the Red Queen. Along for the ride are familiar Burton stars Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and Helena Bonham Carter as the evil Red Queen. Anne Hathaway portrays the White Queen, and the voice cast includes Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat, Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar, Michael Sheen as the White Rabbit and Christopher Lee as the Jabberwocky. Critical reception is generally positive. It's in 3D in some cinemas, including IMAX. Rated 13+.

Daybreakers -- A world populated mostly by vampires and a blood shortage are the ingredients for panic in this film-noir sci-fi horror. Ethan Hawke stars as a vampire haematologist trying to develop a blood substitute. He forms an unlikely partnership with humans (among them Willem Dafoe) in the search for answers. Sam Neill also stars as the head of the blood-supply corporation. It's directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, German-born Australian brother filmmakers. Critical reception is mixed, leaning to positive. Rated 18+.

Dear John -- A young shirtless surfing soldier on leave (Channing Tatum) meets an idealistic young woman at the beach (Amanda Seyfried) and it's true love. He soon ships out on dangerous missions, but the pair promise to stay in touch through letters. It's a melodramatic tearjerker adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel. Lasse Hallström directs. Critical reception is overwhelmingly negative, but that didn't stop Dear John from becoming the No. 1 film in the U.S. when it opened last month. Rated 13+.

Hachi -- The master of weepy melodramas, Lasse Hallström, also directs this remake of a 1987 Japanese movie. It's the tale of an adopted stray dog who loyally waits at the train station for his master to return. Richard Gere stars. It's a fact-based tale -- a bronze statue of the Akita dog Hachiko sits in his waiting spot outside Shibuya station in Tokyo. The movie has only had a limited release in the U.S., so critical response is difficult to gauge. Singapore's A Nutshell Review holds that the original is better. Rated G.

Also showing

Japanese Film Festival 2010 -- Seven films by six filmmakers are featured in this year's Japanese Film Festival, which puts the spotlight on "Emerging Japanese Female Directors". The fest starts at 8 tonight with the family drama Sway by Miwa Nishikawa. Friday's selections are Naoko Ogigami's vacation comedy Glasses at 4 and the social comedy-satire German + Rain by Satoko Yokohama at 7. That's followed by a talk with the director. Saturday has the romance-friendship drama The Cat Leaves Home by Nami Iguchi at 11am and One Million Yen Girl by Yuki Tanada at 4. Sunday's shows are The Mourning Forest by Naomi Kawase at 11 and Nishikawa's comedy Dear Doctor at 4. The fest is at Paragon Cineplex. All films have English subtitles. Tickets are free, but you have to line up for them one hour before the show at the information table in the cinema lobby.

Salty Video Day -- At Thammasart University Pra Chan on Sunday, Film Virus presents two Thai experimental features: The Cruelty of Soy Sauce Man and Colours of the Streets. Soy Sauce Man is a 2001 film by Paisit Panpruegsachart, who later went on to make the poetic historical drama/documentary Manus Chanyong: One Night at Talaenggaeng Road. Weerapong Wimuktalop directs Colours of the Streets (2009), which is shot from the viewpoint of a man wandering around Bangkok and then heading by train back to the last vestiges of countryside at the edge of the city. The show starts at 12.30 in the Rewat Buddanan Room in the Pridi Banomyong Library. This program is postponed from February 28 (organizers overlooked that the university was closed for the holiday weekend).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bangkok Cinema Scene special: Japanese Film Festival 2010

Female filmmakers are in the spotlight for this year's Japanese Film Festival in Bangkok, which is showing movies by “Emerging Japanese Female Directors”.

Organized by the Japan Foundation Bangkok and the Embassy of Japan, the festival runs from Thursday to Sunday at Paragon Cineplex.

Free tickets -- one per person -- will be given out one hour before show time at the festival table in the cinema lobby. Subtitles are in English. Although the Japan Foundation shows movies all the time, they are ordinarily only subtitled in Thai, so this annual festival is something Bangkok's English-speaking film fans look forward to. All will be shown in 35mm except for German + Rain, which is 8mm transferred to DVD. Get in line and enjoy some great Japanese films!

Here's the line-up:

Thursday, March 4

Sway (Yureru), directed by Miwa Nishikawa (2006) -- Jo Odagiri stars in this courtroom drama. He's a big-city photographer who goes back to his small town when his mother dies. An incident involving his brother (Teruyuki Kagawa) results in a trial that exposes their dysfunctional family life. Show time is 8pm. This is the opening gala with various dignitaries invited, so tickets for the general public may be limited.

Friday, March 5

Glasses (Megane), directed by Naoko Ogigami (2007) -- A stressed-out career woman heads to an Okinawa-like island for a much-needed vacation. There, she encounters a slower pace of life than she's used to and must learn to go with the flow. A nominee for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and winner of the Manfred Salzgeber Award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2008. Show time is 4pm.

German + Rain (German + Ame), directed by Satoko Yokohama (2007) -- The debut feature by Yokohama, this quirky comedy-drama is about a 16-year-old misfit girl named Yoshiko who aspires to be a singer-songwriter. She settles for teaching recorder lessons to children. In nominating the film for the Dragons and Tigers Award at the 2008 Vancouver International Film Festival, programmer Tony Rayns wrote: "Other Japanese movies (even a few by other women directors) have touched on serious issues like broken families, social ostracism and child abuse. But none has this much wild humor, or a heroine to compare with Yoshiko." The show time is 7pm followed by a talk with the director.

Saturday, March 6

The Cat Leaves Home (Inuneko, aka Dogs & Cats), directed by Nami Iguchi (2004) -- Suzu (Fujita Yoko) and Yoko (Enomoto Kanako) are childhood friends who end up becoming roommates. Though they are actually very different, they always fall for the same guy. This is the debut feature by Iguchi and winner of four awards at the Torino International Festival of Young Cinema in 2004, including the Fipresci Prize and the Jury Special Prize. The show time is 11am.

One Million Yen Girl (Hyakuman-en to nigamushi onna), directed by Yuki Tanada (2008) -- Released from prison, a 21-year-old woman (Aoi Yu) embarks on a journey and works a variety of odd jobs. Wary of forming any more connections to people, she vows that when she's saved up 1 million yen, she will move on to another town. Its a journey to self-discovery and learning how to trust others again. Show time at 4pm.

Sunday, March 7

The Mourning Forest (Mogari no mori), directed by Naomi Kawase (2007) -- Machiko (Machiko Ono) has taken a new job working in an old folks' home in the forested mountains. She's also recovering from the death of her young son. She is drawn to a dementia-suffering patient (Shigeki Uda), and the elderly man is similarly attracted to her. It's a bond that will heal them both. Show time is 11am.

Dear Doctor, directed by Miwa Nishikawa (2009) -- In this latest film from Nishikawa, a hipster medical-school graduate (Eita) is assigned to a rural mountain village where he works under an older doctor named Ino (Tsurube Shofukutei), who cares for elderly patients, patiently listens and cheerfully keeps up their spirits. Inspiring as it all seems, the young doctor comes to realize that Dr Ino's medical skills are suspect. Ino's nurse (Kimiko Yo) and a drug salesman (Teruyuki Kagawa) know something more. Show time at 4pm.