Thursday, November 28, 2013

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening November 28-December 4, 2013

Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy

Messages from a teenage girl's Twitter stream – 410 consecutive tweets – are adapted for Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy, a fancifully weird comedy by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, the indie writer-director who gained much acclaim last year, and still is, for his experimental feature debut 36.

Mary is the quirky story of a depressed, accident-prone high-school student (Patcha Poonpiriya) and her level-headed friend Suri (Chonnikan Netjui) as they work on the school’s yearbook.

The film is peppered with all sorts of strange characters, mainly the teachers at the girls' boarding school. Among them is the always-intense Krissada Sukosol Clapp as the awkwardly intimidating teacher overseeing the girls' efforts.

Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy was developed out of the Venice Biennale College – Cinema, which picked Nawapol to direct one of three micro-budget films that premiered at this year's Venice Film Festival. It's since screened at several other festivals, including Busan, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Torino, and earned glowing reviews. Among the latest honors is Asian Film of the Year by the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival.

One of the best Thai films of the year, catch it at Apex Siam Square's Lido, House on RCA and Esplanade Ratchada.

Also opening

The World’s End – A hopeless goofball slacker (Simon Pegg) makes a last-ditch attempt to connect with his four more-successful and mature schoolmates and complete an epic pub crawl they first attempted as teenagers in their hometown 20 years before. They arrive to find things have really changed and eventually discover that alien robots have taken over. Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan also star, along with Rosamund Pike and Pierce Brosnan. Edgar Wright directs, wrapping up the "Three Cornettos" trilogy of comedies he's done with his old Spaced collaborators Pegg and Frost. World's End represents green Cornettos, while the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead was strawberry red ice cream and the buddy-cop spoof Hot Fuzz was police blue. Critical reception is mostly positive. It's at Esplanade Ratchada, Paragon Cineplex and SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. Rated 13+

Don Jon – Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs and stars in this comedy about a typical Italian-American guy. He's devoted to family, church and his friends, and keeps himself fit, clean and attractive to the ladies. But he's also addicted to Internet porn. He meets his match in Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), and she's into something worse – sappy romance movies. They struggle to find true intimacy in a culture full of false fantasies. Julianne Moore, Tony Danza and Glenne Headly also star. Critical reception is mostly positive. It's at SF cinemas as well as Apex Siam Square. Rated 18+

Carrie – Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry, Stop-Loss) directs this fresh remake of Stephen King's 1974 novel. Taking over the Sissy Spacek role from Brian DePalma's 1976 horror classic is none other than Hit Girl herself, Chloe Grace Moretz. She's a teenager who's tormented by others because of her mother's extreme religious believes. As she comes of age, hidden psychokinetic abilities emerge, and Carrie uses them to take revenge, with things coming to a head on prom night. Julianne Moore also stars, making two movies she's in this week (Don Jon is the other). Critical reception is mixed. Rated 18+

Evidence – Using "found footage" from various recording devices, detectives attempt to piece together what happened at the scene of a massacre at an abandoned filling station. Stephen Moyer and Radha Mitchell star. Olatunde Osunsanmi (The Fourth Kind and screenwriter on Smokin' Aces 2) directs. It's at Major Cineplex. Rated 15+

Oh! My Ghost Khun Phee Chuay (โอ้! มายโกสต์ คุณผีช่วย, a.k.a. OMG!) – Sudarat “Tukky” Butrprom is Kitty, an ordinary young woman haunted by the tall and gorgeous ghost Bee (Cris Horwang). She wants Kitty to contact her old boyfriend Korn (Anusorn Maneethed). For help, Kitty consults a shaman (Kom Chaunchuen) and an undertaker (Kotee Aramboy). Puttipong Promsakha Na Sakon Nakhon (First Love, 30+ Singles on Sale) directs this ghost comedy produced by Workpoint Entertainment. Rated 15+

Ruam Phol Khon Luk Thung Ngern Laan (รวมพลคนลูกทุ่งเงินล้าน) – Director Pornchai "Gun" Hongrattanaporn brings his colorful and stylish touch to the already colorful and stylish world of luk thung music. This comedy brings together a cavalcade of singing stars for a story that follows their various escapades as they travel to a remote temple to make merit. Stars include Ekachai Sriwichai, Pai Pongsathorn, Sunaree Ratchasima and Apaporn Nakhon Sawan. Rated 15+

Bullett Raja – Saif Ali Khan and Sonakshi Sinha star in this Bollywood gangster action comedy. It's at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit and Rama III.

Also showing

The Friese-Greene Club – One of the masters of "disturbing" cinema, Japan's Takashi Miike, will make you jump in fright with Audition, screening tonight. Tomorrow it's the also weirdly disturbing, but also wonderful City of Lost Children by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. And Saturday's ghost love story is 1988's opium-tinged Rouge, directed by Hong Kong's Stanley Kwan and starring Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui. December's schedule offers a new lineup of films meant to be an "antidote to Christmas cheer". It starts with "Christmas classics" on Sundays beginning with 1947's The Bishop's Wife starring Cary Grant as a mischievous angel. "Bad Lust" is the theme for next week, with Atom Egoyan's Exotica on Wednesday. Other themes covered include "Troubled Youth" and "Troubled Adults". Later in the month during the Christmas holiday, the club will take a break. Shows start at 8pm. 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 please please please check the website to make bookings and confirm the schedule.

Take note

I am awaiting confirmation from the Alliance Francaise Bangkok that their Wednesday-night movie screenings will finally resume next week. Check the website for further details.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening November 21-27, 2013

World Film Festival of Bangkok

There are just four days left in the 11th World Film Festival of Bangkok at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld.

Today's highlights include The Isthmus, a interesting new Thai indie drama that ventures into the Myanmar migrant community. That's at 6.30. At 8.30, you have a choice between the steamy French gay romance Stranger By the Lake (it's Rated 20-!) or auteur Tsai Ming-Liang's reputed final film Stray Dogs. Stranger and Stray screen again tomorrow night, both at 9.

Other highlights tomorrow include Thai director Boonsong Nakphoo's Village of Hope at 3.20. A black-and-white rural ode, festival director Victor Silakong has praised it as the veteran helmer's most "auteurlike" effort yet.

Special attention is given to actress Jarunee Suksawat, this year's recipient of the festival's Lotus Award for lifetime achievement. She was at her height of fame in 1980 when she starred in Baan Sai Thong, an enduring drama about class conflict that's served as a template for all Thai TV soap operas. A box-office record-breaker in its day, it was quickly followed by a sequel, Pojjaman Sawangwong. Both are screening in the festival, with the sequel at 6 on Friday night and Baan Sai Thong at 3.30 on Saturday. The films are very melodramatic and dated, with laughably exaggerated acting and overly obvious exposition, but are well worth watching for their portrayal of the illusions created by wealth, power and high social standing. If anything, it's fun to watch Jarunee kick some hi-so butt.

Also Saturday, a true don't miss – Tabu – a breathtaking Portuguese romance that's shot in black-and-white. The bulk of the film is a tragi-comic flashback to colonial-era Africa of the 1960s, and except for a sad old man's voiceover as he recalls a torrid love affair, it is dialogue-free, with just a few sounds effects and atmospherics. Aside from a few lively rock songs, it's almost a silent film. It shows at 9pm.

The closing day on Sunday offers another chance to see the festival's opening film, The Rocket. Screening at 1pm, it's an honest-to-goodness feel-good family drama, about a little Lao boy's efforts to keep his family together through heartbreaking tragedies. It's won more than a dozen awards at festivals all over the world and is Australia's submission to the Academy Awards. Director Kim Mordaunt talks more about his film in an article in The Nation.

Other offerings on Sunday include the Indonesian coming-of-age romance What They Don't Talk About, They Talk About Love, which is set in a school for the visually impaired. I liked it just fine.

And the closing film (it's invite only, but you can try asking), is the Thai premiere of a new documentary by Boundary director Nontawat Numbenchapol, By the River, which covers the Klity Creek lead-mine spill and a Karen village that was left reeling as a legal case over the environmental devastation dragged on in Thai courts for more than a decade. It's already won awards and earned a rave review at the recent Hong Kong Asian Film Festival.

Also opening

The Counselor – Director Ridley Scott shifts tone yet again as he teams up with No Country for Old Men writer Cormac McCarthy. A pulpy, weird thriller, it's the Pulitzer Prize-winning author's first screenplay. Michael Fassbender stars as a respected lawyer whose life spirals out of control when he gets involved with a shady business deal. No Country baddie Javier Bardem has yet another crazy hairdo as the colorful drug kingpin. Other stars include Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt in a cowboy hat. Critical reception is mixed, leaning to negative, though there are positive views. Rated 18+

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – The second film based on a trilogy of young-adult novels, this a cliff-hanging placeholder until we get to the two-part Mockingjay movies next year and in 2015. The story is set in a surreal post-apocalyptic North America where there are only the very rich or the very, very poor. From the poor districts, teenagers compete in a to-the-death reality-TV game that's designed to take everyone's mind off how miserable they are. Having won the 74th games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) embarks on a victory tour with her fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Along the way Katniss senses that a rebellion is simmering. But the all-powerful Capital district and the president (Donald Sutherland) are still in control as preparations are made for the 75th Annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell). Liam Hemsworth also stars along with Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend, Water for Elephants) takes over as director from Gary Ross. Critical reception, so far, is mostly positive. Rated 15+

Gori Tere Pyaar Mein – Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor star in this Bollywood romance about a shallow guy who realizes too late that a relationship with his firebrand ex-girlfriend was the best thing that ever happened to him. It's at SF Cinema City Terminal 21. Opens Friday.

Also showing

The Friese-Greene Club – Please check with the private cinema club's website and Facebook page before heading over, because sometimes there are last-minute schedule changes. It happened this week when a special program by Hollywood production designer Jim Newport was added, pre-empting yesterday's planned screening of This Is Spinal Tap. For now, it appears the schedule is back on track with William Friedkin's freak-out The Exorcist screening tonight, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's charmer Amelie on Friday, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir on Saturday and another early Hitchcock with 1940's Rebecca on Sunday. And, if the schedule holds together, it'll be Rob Reiner's The Sure Thing, maybe, next Wednesday. Keep your eyes open for when they might reschedule Spinal Tap. Shows start at 8pm. 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 bookings are highly recommended.

Hi-So (ไฮโซ)– In the run-up to next week's release of Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy, Pop Pictures' "rewind" continues at House cinema on RCA, with the studio's head, writer-director-producer Aditya Assarat, screening his sophomore feature effort. It's a partially autobiographical look at conflicted cultural identity among Thais who have spent time overseas and seem to belong neither here nor there. Ananda Everingham, the Lao-Australian leading man of many Thai movies, stars.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening November 14-20, 2013

World Film Festival of Bangkok

The 11th edition of World Film Festival of Bangkok opens tomorrow night at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld with the Thai premiere of The Rocket, an Australian-made Lao-Isaan family drama that's been an award-winning crowd-pleaser at many other festivals. Australia has submitted it to the Oscars. It's an invitation-only affair but the film will screen one other time during the festival.

Running through November 24, the festival opens to the rest of us on Saturday, with 12 movies screening in three cinemas from 1pm until around 8 daily.

There are many, many highlights. Festival director Victor Silakong outlines his personal favorites in an article in The Nation. And the Thai highlights, including The Isthmus, Mother and Village of Hope, are profiled in another Nation article.

I like to see as many Southeast Asian films as a I can, because they will be hard to find otherwise.

There's also a healthy selection of South American and Mexican films. Just show up whenever you can and dive right in. Grab the schedule at the festival website.

Also opening

Ain't Them Bodies Saints – Channeling the spirit of the New Hollywood directors of the 1970s, like Terrence Malick (Badlands) or Robert Altman (Thieves Like Us), this is set against the backdrop of 1970s rural Texas and follows three characters on various sides of the law – a fugitive (Casey Affleck), his wife (Rooney Mara) and a sheriff (Ben Foster) who's caught between them. The '70s vibe is completed with the era's indie film stalwart Keith Carradine (Nashville, Thieves Like Us) in the cast. It's the second feature from writer-director David Lowery and was developed at the Sundance Institute's Writing and Producing Labs. It premiered at this year's Sundance Festival and won the U.S. Dramatic Cinematography Award. Critical reception is mostly positive. It's at Apex in Siam Square.

Lovelace – Amanda Seyfried portrays the star of Deep Throat in this biographical drama. It first shows her rise to fame as she embraces her role as an icon of sexual liberation. But that story runs counter to the dark truth – that she suffered from physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her hustler husband (Peter Sarsgaard), who forced her into the porn industry. Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick also star, playing Lovelace's parents from her strict, religious upbringing. Critical reception is mixed. It's at SF cinemas. Rated 18+

Malavita – Mixed reviews greeted the U.S. release of this crime comedy a couple of months ago when it was known as The Family, despite the involvement of Martin Scorsese as executive producer and his frequent collaborator Robert De Niro heading the cast. Released here under its original title, director Luc Besson aims for a Goodfellas vibe with this story of a mob boss (De Niro) who enters the witness protection program and is relocated with his family to a sleepy town in France. Despite the best efforts of an FBI agent (Tommy Lee Jones) to keep them in line, the mobster, his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their kids revert to their old habits and soon their former mafia cronies come gunning for them. Rated 15+

Pee-Kao-Pee-Ook (ผีเข้า ผีออก, a.k.a. Possessed) – Pakpoom Wongjinda (VDO Clip) directs this indie horror comedy about student filmmakers working on their project in a Chinese cemetery. But fantasy becomes reality when they shoot their film on the night of the hungry ghost festival and spirits possess them. Rated 15+

TAP: Perfect Education – The latest in a long-running series of "abduction" films from Japan, TAP has a middle-aged Okinawa gangster who loves flowers and tap dancing who abducts the teenage daughter of a yakuza brother’s mistress. A physical relationship develops and as their love deepens a war between the yakuza gang and their enemies gets out of control. In Japanese with English and Thai subtitles at House. Rated 18+

Grown Ups 2 – What did we do to deserve this? Adam Sandler makes a sequel to his lowbrow 2010 family comedy, cashing a check with his pals Kevin James, David Spade and Chris Rock. The eternal man-child moves back to his hometown to be with this high-school friends and their children and gets up to all kinds of gross misadventures. Critical reception is overwhelmingly negative. There's much better things to see this week. Rated 15+

Ram-Leela – Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone star in this fantastic Romeo and Juliet story of star-crossed lovers from families that have been sworn enemies for the past 500 years. At Major Cineplex. Opens Friday.

Also showing

The Friese-Greene Club – The private cinema club returns to its regular programming with "disturbing" films on Thursdays. This week's entry is 1989's Parents, about a boy in 1950s suburbia wondering what he's really eating. It's an oddball directorial effort by Bob Balaban, who's better known for his understated turns as a character actor. Friday is more disturbing stuff, with Jean Pierre-Jeunet's 1991 black comedy Delicatessen. Saturday's feature ghostly love stories, and this week it's Truly Madly Deeply. And Sunday brings another early Hitchcock – 1938's The Lady Vanishes. Shows start at 8pm. 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 please check the website to make bookings.

Eternity (ที่รัก, Tee-Rak) – Indie production company Pop Pictures continues its "rewind" at House on RCA with a special one-week engagement of 2010's Eternity. The award-winning feature debut of Sivaroj Kongsakul, the partly autobiographical effort is a heartfelt tribute to his late father. The spiritual love story features a ghost dad haunting the land of his youth, and he recalls when he was courting the woman who would become his wife. It's all a run-up to the November 28 release of Pop Pictures' latest feature, Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy, a movie based on 410 entries from a high-school girl's Twitter feed.

The Buddha's Forgotten Nuns – Though female monks are permitted in other Buddhist orders, that's not the case in Thailand, where the monastic ranks are limited to men only. This documentary looks at the sexism. It screens at 8 tonight at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, followed by a question-and-answer session. Admission for non-members is 150 baht. On Monday night, there's another documentary at the FCCT, Madiba, The Life and Times of Nelson Mandela.

Take note

House on RCA will be closed on Sunday, November 17, for a private event. Regular showtimes resume on Monday.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening November 7-13, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

Tough luck if you don't like comic-book superhero movies. It's slim pickings this week as just one film is getting a big release in Thai cinemas – Thor: The Dark World.

Yet another entry in Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe, Dark World continues the big-screen adventures of Thor, the Mighty Avenger, in the aftermath of 2011's Thor and last year's The Avengers.

Chris Hemsworth returns as the man with the hammer, and joining the cast this time around is former Doctor Who Christopher Ecclestone as Malekith, the leader of an ancient race that's out to bring darkness to all the worlds. Also returning are Tom Hiddleston also returns as Thor's troublesome adopted brother Loki and Natalie Portman as Thor's Earthling sweetheart Jane. There's also Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano and Rene Russo.

Alan Taylor, best known for his work on such acclaimed TV series as Deadwood, RomeThe SopranosMad Men and Game of Thrones, directs. He landed the job after the original director, Patty Jenkins (Monster) bowed out over "creative differences". Additionally, Avengers helmer and TV's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. producer Joss Whedon was brought in for script rewrites.

Just like all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, you'll need to prepare yourself to keep your seat when the end credits roll, because there will be two post-credits scenes. So don't get up and rush out at the end.

Critical consensus, so far, is mixed, leaning to positive. It's in converted 3D in some cinemas, including IMAX. Rated G.

Also showing

Wonderful Town – Thai indie director Aditya Assarat's 2007 feature is the slow-moving but gripping tale of romance and class conflict in a small town. Set in an isolated Andaman coast town in the months following the tsunami, it's about a young Bangkok architect (Supphasit Kansen) who comes to develop a big resort. He falls for the young woman (Anchalee Saisoontorn) who runs the rundown hotel he's staying in. He comes into conflict with the woman's ex-con brother and his gang. Wonderful Town won dozens of awards all over the world, including the Tiger Award at Rotterdam and the New Currents Award at Busan. It also won Best Picture and a bunch of other trophies at the Subhanahongsa Awards – the "Thai Oscars" – establishing the indie director as a new voice for the industry to reckon with. It's in a special "off menu" screening this week at House on RCA.

The Friese-Greene Club – Screenings are fully booked at the private club for Censor Must Die, an instructive documentary on film censorship and Thailand's new movie-ratings bureaucracy. It's directed by Ing K., the outspoken artist and filmmaker, who made the film as a means of documenting the banning of her political satire and Macbeth adaptation, Shakespeare Must Die. As I said before, the screenings are fully booked. You can always stop by and see if there's a seat at the bar. Please check the website for details. On Sunday, it's another "early Hitchcock" film, with 1935's The 39 Steps. And next Wednesday, it's a classic from Rob Reiner, 1986's childhood drama Stand By Me. Shows start at 8pm. The FGC is down an alley next to the Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit.

Días de Santiago (Days of Santiago) – After six years of violent military duty in the jungles of Peru, a young soldier named Santiago returns home to Lima. With his wife gone and his family seemingly uncaring, he struggles to get on with life as his friends try to lure him into criminal activities. Winner of dozens of awards and Peru's submission to the Academy Awards in 2006, this drama is the debut feature by Josué Méndez. It screens at 8pm on Monday, November 11, at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. Admission is 150 baht for non-members plus 100 baht for anyone want to enjoy the wine and snacks laid on by the Runa Run Peruvian-Thai Association and the Embassy of Peru. And stay tuned for next Thursday, November 14, for an FCCT screening of the documentary, The Buddha's Forgotten Nuns.

Take note

I've now been informed that movies will not be resuming at the Alliance Française Bangkok until December. They were due to start last month, and then pushed to yesterday (November 6), but it's taking longer than expected to fit out the auditorium at the new location on the former grounds of the Suan Lum Night Bazaar on the corner of Rama IV and Wireless Roads. Please consult the AFThailande website for further updates.

Also, brace yourself for next week. After several light weeks of new releases, there are around six titles lined up to make their bow next Thursday, and the World Film Festival of Bangkok opens on Friday, November 15 at SFW CentralWorld.