Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening December 27, 2012-January 2, 2013

Jack Reacher

Fans of writer Lee Childs' Jack Reacher novels were outraged when it was revealed that Tom Cruise would portray the anti-hero drifter and former military policeman. After all, Reacher is described as blond-haired, blue-eyed, 6 feet 5 inches and well over 200 pounds. The dark-haired Cruise is about a foot shorter and perhaps weighs a little over half as much. Producers claimed they simply couldn't find a bankable star who fit the exact description and Cruise was really their only choice.

Pundits predicted that Jack Reacher would be a disastrous flop, but it turned out better than anyone expected. Critical reception is mixed, leaning to positive, and it appears that the Mission: Impossible star might have another franchise on his hands.

Jack Reacher is based on One Shot, Childs' ninth novel in the series. After five people are fatally shot in a sniper attack, the accused gunman requests that his old Army buddy Jack Reacher come help him. Reacher turns up, determined to get to the truth, and the closer he gets, the more dangerous things become.

Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins and Robert Duvall also star, with Werner Herzog as the mysterious villain, "The Zec". Christopher McQuarrie, screenwriter on The Usual Suspects and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, directs. Rated 15+.

Also opening

Wreck-It Ralph – Disney mines nostalgia for the 8-bit era of arcade video games in this animated feature. Big hulking Ralph is the villain in the game Fix-It Felix Jr., and is tired of being unloved. He sees a chance to be a hero by entering a modern first-person-shooter game, but in so doing unleashes an enemy that threatens everyone in the gaming world. The voice cast includes John C. Reilly as Wreck-It Ralph, Jane Lynch as tough female soldier Sergeant Calhoun, Sarah Silverman as the "glitch" in the game Sugar Rush and Jack McBrayer as Fix-It Felix. Critical reception is mostly positive. It's in 3D. Rated G.

Pitch Perfect – This combination of the TV series Glee and Community and the sassy gal-pal antics of Bridesmaids centers on a new girl on campus (Anna Kendrick) who doesn't fit in with any of the stereotypical college cliques. She finds herself among a group whose members have absolutely nothing in common, except they all sing well together. Other stars include Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp and Elizabeth Banks, who also produces. Critical reception is mostly positive. At some Major Cineplex branches, including Esplanade Ratchada. Rated 13+.

Playing for Keeps – Gerard Butler smirks his way through another romantic comedy. Here, he's a dysfunctional former professional soccer star who decides he wants to reconnect with his wife by coaching his young son's soccer team. However, the job turns challenging when he finds himself pursued by amorous soccer moms. Jessica Biel also stars along with Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Dennis Quaid. Critical reception is overwhelmingly negative. Rated 15+.

Khun Nai Ho (คุณนายโฮ) – It's that time of year again, when director Rerkchai Paungpetch and studio M-Thirtynine release a romantic comedy for the New Year's holiday. The movies, which are all inexplicably popular with Thai audiences and have all racked up big baht at the box office, all follow the same general formula of casting bankable young stars and well-known comedians and putting them through a succession of nonsensical situations. Here, Rerkchai gives adorable actress "Chompoo" Araya A. Hargate a horrible bowl-shaped haircut. This apparently makes her cry, a lot, which she can do on cue with ease anyway because she's Thai TV's top soap star. I've had the story described to me, but it makes no sense whatsoever. Usual-suspect comedians "Kotee" Jaroenporn Ornlamai and Kom Chaunchuen also star along with Ray MacDonald and Teeradate Methavorrayuth. Rated 15+.

Also showing

Dabangg 2 – Salman Khan suits back up for this sequel to the 2010 hit action-comedy-drama in which he played a morally ambiguous "Robin Hood" police officer who plays both sides of the law. Sonakshi Sinha reprises her role from the first film, with Prakash Raj joining this time around as the main villain. It's at Major Cineplex Ekamai and Central Rama III. Rated 13+.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening December 20-26, 2012

Life of Pi

Continuing the blockbuster holiday season, there is a mind-boggling number of releases this week, all jockeying for position with last week's Hobbit and this week's big tentpole.

Celebrated director Ang Lee ventures into special-effects-laden 3D for the epic adventure tale Life of Pi, based on a best-selling novel by Yann Martel, in which a teenage boy is the sole human survivor of a shipwreck. He ends up stranded in the middle of the Pacific in a lifeboat with only a hungry tiger as his companion.

Suraj Sharma stars, with Bollywood great Irrfan Khan as the older Pi, who tells the story of how his family sold their zoo in India and planned to move it halfway around the world.

Life of Pi is among the buzzworthy titles as awards season gets underway. Tipped as a likely Oscar nominee, especially in the special effects and technical categories, it's been nominated for the Golden Globe for best picture, best director and best score by Mychael Danna. Critical reception is mostly positive. In 3D. Rated G.

Also opening

Countdown (เคาท์ดาวน์, Kaadao) – Indie filmmaker Nattawat Poonpiriya makes his major-studio feature debut directing this remake of his 2010 short film about three young Thai hipsters who share an apartment in New York City. They want to have a rocking New Year's Eve party and call a drug dealer to help out. However, the pusher Jesus has other ideas about how to have fun, and he makes the trio's night a living hell. Pachara Chirathivat, Patarasaya Krueasuwansiri and Jarinporn Junkiet star. Rated 18+.

Chinese Zodiac a.k.a. CZ12 or Armour of God III – Nearly a decade in development, Jackie Chan is back in Indiana Jones mode for this third entry in his Armour of God archaelogical adventure franchise. Infused with a sense of nationalistic Chinese pride, the globetrotting action-packed tale has Jackie as a treasure hunter-thief seeking to retrieve a dozen bronze statue heads that were stolen when French and the British armies sacked the Summer Imperial Palace in Beijing during the Second Opium War of the 1860s. Among the highlights is the 58-year-old Jackie, still doing his own stunts after breaking every bone in his body, donning a "skate suit" to fly down a hill. Read more about it in a story in today's Nation, "A man of many hats". Reviews are mixed. The original soundtrack with English and Thai subtitles at some cinemas, including Paragon, CentralWorld, Terminal 21 and Emporium. Rated 15+.

Deadfall – There's somewhat of a Fargo feel to this story of a brother and sister (Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde) who are on the run along the Canadian after a casino heist leaves their driver and a state trooper dead. A female sheriff's deputy (Kate Mara) is in pursuit on a snowmobile. Separated during a near white-out blizzard, the brother heads cross country, leaving destruction in his wake, while the sister hooks up with an ex-con former boxer (Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy) who takes her to a family Thanksgiving dinner. There, at the table, things come to a head between the siblings and the ex-con's parents (Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson). Stefan Ruzowitzky directs. Critical reception is mixed. Rated 18+.

Your Sister’s Sister – Plaid-clad hipster Jack (Mark Duplass) is an emotional wreck a year after his brother's death. Seeing that he could use solace, his brother's friend Iris (Emily Blunt) offers Jack her cabin on an island in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. There, he unexpectedly runs into Iris' sister Hannah (Rosemarie Dewitt), who is recovering after the abrupt end of a seven-year relationship. A blurry evening of drinking concludes with an awkward sexual incident. Screened at such festivals as Toronto, Sundance and Tribeca, critical reception for this indie comedy-drama directed by Lynn Shelton is mostly positive. At House.

Together Wan Tee Rak (Together วันที่รัก) – Princess Ubolratana and Saharat Sangkhapreecha head an ensemble cast in this family melodrama from the Oriental Eyes studio. Their long marriage comes under pressure when the wife's Alzheimer's-suffering father (Krisana Sethadumrong) is brought into the home. Peter Nopachai Jaayamana and Piyathida Worramusik also star. Sarunyu Jiralak directs. Rated 13+.

Also showing

Film Virus: Wild Type 2012 – The Film Virus group is screening Thai independent experimental shorts at the Reading Room on Saturday and Sunday, starting at 2pm. The full program is here.

Khiladi 786 – Akshay Kumar and Asin Thottumkal star in this Bollywood comedy about a family of con artists who masquerade as cops to carry out brazen schemes. At Major Cineplex Sukhumvit and Major Rama III. Rated 15+.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening December 13-19, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

J.R.R. Tolkien's prequel to his Lord of the Rings trilogy of fantasy novels was a comparatively slim, quick read. But The Hobbit has been expanded into a trilogy for the movie adaptation by Peter Jackson, who earlier tackled LOTR to much acclaim.

In part one, An Unexpected Journey, the humble halfling Bilbo Baggins, portrayed by Martin Freeman, star of the British version of The Office, is tasked with joining a quest by 13 dwarfs to reclaim their lost kingdom. Along with way, Bilbo encounters trolls, goblins and wargs, and gets into a game of riddles with a mysterious fellow who lives by an underground lake. He also acquires a piece of "precious" jewelry that will later play an important role in the future of Middle-earth.

Returnees from the LOTR movies include Ian McKellan as the wizard Gandalf, Hugo Weaving as the elf leader Elrond and Andy Serkis doing the motion-capture performance for Gollum. Even Elijah Wood as Frodo turns up, even though he wasn't in the book, along with other interlopers from the Lord of the Rings, like the wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) and the elf queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett).

Newcomers to the franchise include strapping Strike Back actor Richard Armitage, portraying the dwarf leader, Thorin Oakenshield.

Jackson's Hobbit movies have been the source of many controversies, one of which has to do with the frames-per-second (fps) filming rate. Jackson, always one to embrace new technologies, filmed the movie in high definition at a high frame rate (HFR), and it's being shown at 48fps in some cinemas. Compared to the normal 24fps that most films are seen in, the HFR 3D Hobbit has a smooth, unflickering look that most viewers might compare to a videotaped soap opera or televised sporting event. In some cases, the 3D HFR is so immersive, it's making some moviegoers sick.

Critical reception is mixed – not as strong as the Lord of the Rings – with the consensus being that expanding the story into a trilogy of movies makes the story feel too dragged out.

It's in 3D in some cinemas, including IMAX and IMAX Digital, with some SF and Major Cineplex branches screening the HFR 3D version – just look for HFR logo on the theater company websites and choose carefully at the box office. Rated G.

Also opening

Namaste India (นมัสเตอินเดีย ส่งเกรียนไปเรียนพุทธ, Namaste Song Krian Pai Rian Bhud, a.k.a. Three Marks of Existence) – Directed by Gunparwitt Phuwadolwisid, this feature had its world premiere earlier this year at the International Buddhist Film Festival Bangkok. The road-trip romance follows M, a young man who can't decide what to do with his life. Seeking direction, he embarks on a pilgrimage of Buddhist holy sites. Along the way, he encounters various characters who both guide and challenge him. At Major Cineplex.

Also showing

Apologies for not posting an update last week, which fell during the King's Birthday holiday, one of the biggest movie-release dates of the year. I was out of town. Here's a recap of the releases:

  • Hotel Translyvania – Monsters, it turns out, are more scared of humans than we are of them. To escape the torches and pitchforks, Dracula has built a lavish hotel in a hidden castle. But on his daughter's 118th birthday, a backpacker stumbles in and spoils Drac's party plans. The voice cast includes Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi and Selena Gomez. Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter's Laboratory) directs. Critical reception is mixed. In 3D. Rated G.
  • Super Salaryman (ยอดมนุษย์เงินเดือน, Yod Manut Nguen Duen) – "Tik" Jessadaporn Pholdee heads an ensemble cast in this workplace comedy. He's the hard-driving boss of an office, where all the workers are pushed to create a new product or else they won't get their year-end bonus. Rated 15+.
  • Now Is Good – Dakota Fanning stars in this drama about a teenage girl facing a diagnosis of terminal cancer. She makes a "bucket list" of things she wants to do before she dies. Jeremy Irving, Olivia Williams and Paddy Considine also star. Critical reception is mixed. Rated 13+.
  • 3 Days, 2 Nights (สามวันสองคืน รัก.เลิก.เลย, Sam Wan Song Kuen) – Three directors collaborate on this romance produced by veteran filmmaker Thanit Jitnukul. It's about a young woman who's found a new boyfriend. She books a romantic getaway trip with her old one in order to dump him. Rated G.
  • Red Scarf (ผ้าพันคอแดง, Pa Pun Kor Daeng) – After a string of Thai-Lao romance movies, Sabaidee Luang Prabang director Sakchai Deenan ventures into horror with this headless ghost movie featuring an all-Lao cast. Khamly Philavong, the actress from his previous films, stars as a woman haunted by a headless ghost who somehow manages to keep a scarf around his neck. No English subtitles. Rated 13+.
  • Tai Chi Hero – The second entry in the highly stylized "steampunk" Chinese martial-arts fantasy series continues the adventures of the gifted young protagonist. Mostly Thai-dubbed but with original soundtrack and English subs at some SF cinemas branches. Rated 13+.

Respect His Teachings (เทิด เกล้า จาก คำสอน ขอ งพ่, Terd Glao Jak Kam Son Kor ...) – Just about every year around this time, there are special films offered in honor of His Majesty the King, who celebrated his 85th birthday this year on December 5. This year, there are nine features from the major Thai film studios, including Sahamongkol, Five Star, GTH, RS, M-Thirtynine and Oriental Eyes, all extolling the philosophies and innovations of His Majesty through various types of stories. The films have been screening at Major Cineplex since December 1. Some have English subtitles, some do not. The schedules are in Thai only, at the Major Cineplex website.