Thursday, May 12, 2016

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening May 12-18, 2016

Embrace of the Serpent

The first film from the South American country of Colombia to be nominated for an Academy Award, Embrace of the Serpent is a look at the Amazon forest as seen through the eyes of a shaman and sole survivor of his tribe, in a story that tracks him over 40 years and covers his travels with two foreigner scientists who are searching for a sacred plant with psychedelic properties.

The story is based on the journals of German ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grunberg, who explored the Amazon in the early 1900s, and American botanist Richard Evans Schultes, who went there in the 1940s.

Filmed in glorious black and white, this rare motion picture is brought to cinemas by HAL Film, the indie distribution outfit that previously offered the unusual "foreign" films White God and The Tribe, and is determined to give movie-goers rewarding alternatives to the endless comic-book movies.

In addition to making the short-list of nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, Embrace of the Serpent won the Art Cinema Award at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as accolades at Rotterdam, Sundance and many other fests. Critical reception is overwhelmingly praiseworthy.

It's in the original soundtrack with English and Thai subtitles at Esplanade Ratchada, House on RCA, Major Cineplex Ratchayothin, Paragon, SF World Cinema at CentralWorld and SFX The Crystal Ekamai Ram-Indra. Rated 15+

Also opening

The Man Who Knew Infinity – Dev Patel, the English-Indian actor who made his breakthrough in Slumdog Millionaire and was also featured on the HBO series The Newsroom, stars in this fact-based biographical drama, portraying Srinivasa Ramanujan, the Indian mathematician who instinctively pioneered many theories despite having little formal training. The British production follows his rise from a humble upbringing in Madras to his acceptance into Cambridge University, where he encounters discrimination as he attempts to prove his theories. Ultimately, his genius is recognized and he becomes a close collaborator with fellow pioneering maths theorist G.H. Hardy, who is played by Jeremy Irons. Other stars include Toby Jones, Stephen Fry and Jeremy Northham. Critical reception is mixed, leaning to positive. Rated 15+

The Angry Birds Movie – It's been seven years since the iPad time-waster rocketed to popularity. Now comes a movie that will further cement the addictive Finnish game's place in pop culture. The Sony Pictures Imageworks animated feature attempts to tell the origin story of the main angry bird, a feathered misfit named Red, who for some reason has a chip on his wings and is always angry. Assigned to attend an anger-management retreat, he becomes suspicious about the mysterious arrival of strange green pigs and struggles to rally the other birds against what he sees as an alien invasion. Jason Sudekis voices the main character with other voices provided by Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Kate McKinnon, Sean Penn, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Bill Hader and Peter Dinklage. This doesn't come out in the U.S. until next week, so the studios get a week to make bank in unsuspecting overseas territories without the benefit of mainstream critical reception. It's in 3D in some cinemas. Rated G

Equals – Two fine actors, Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult, star in this science-fiction romantic thriller about youngsters who live in a society where emotions have been outlawed and love is strictly forbidden. Nonetheless, biology tends to override any genetic engineering and they are tragically drawn to each other. Other stars include Jacki Weaver and Guy Pearce. This does not come out in the U.S. until July, and critical reception, so far, is tepid. Rated 15+

Embracing Khemarat (อ้อมกอดเขมราฐ, Aom-Kod-Khemarat) – Three loosely connected stories of romance take place in idyllic Khemarat, a small town in Ubon Ratchathani on the banks of the Mekong. They involve a young female physician who is posted to the local hospital and runs into cute conflict with the owner of a local coffee shop. Other stories have a young Lao immigrant woman who falls for a photographer and a "nerdy girl" who has attracted the eye of a quiet and shy schoolboy rock musician. Among the stars are Miss Thailand 2009 runner-up Kobkullaya Chuengprasertsri, who is an actual physician. Other stars are "Fluke" Teerapat Lohanan, "Palmy" Nantariya Namboon, "Tao" Phusin Warinrak, "Nong" Puttason Seedawan and "Golf" Anuwat Chucherdwattana. The film is written and produced by Dr Ritt Pokkrittayahariboon, a surgeon and businessman who settled in Khemarat and wanted to make a movie to promote the town and its attractions. The Nation had a bit more about it. Rated 15+

The Bodyguard – The formidable martial-arts actor Sammo Hung, the "big brother" of Jackie Chan who is still best known in Thailand as Hung Chin Pao for his string of 1980s Hong Kong action films, is back in action in The Bodyguard. He's an ageing former lawman from Beijing who has retired to a border town. He takes up the cause of protecting an innocent neighbor girl and runs into conflict with Russian gangsters, making this essentially a Chinese remake of Denzel Washington's The EqualizerCritical reception is mixed. It's Thai-dubbed in most places but has the Chinese soundtrack with English and Thai subtitles at the usual downtown multiplexes, including Esplanade Ratchada, Paragon, Quartier CineArt and SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. Rated 15+

Azhar – The life of controversial Indian cricketer-turned-politician Mohammad Azharuddin is dramatized in this Bollywood picture, chronicling his accomplishments as batsman as well as his involvement in a match-fixing scandal toward the end of his career. Emraan Hashmi stars along with Prachi Desai and Nargis Fakhri. In Hindi with English and Thai subtitles at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit, Rama III and Pattaya.

Also showing

The Friese-Greene Club – The club has a private event tonight but is back open tomorrow with sex and swimming pools in Peter Greenaway's erotic murder drama Drowning by Numbers from 1988. On Saturday, a housecat steals the scene in The Long Goodbye, Robert Altman's adaptation of a Philip Marlowe mystery, starring Elliot Gould. Sunday has another Fritz Lang film-noir starring Edward G. Robinson in Scarlet Street. And next Wednesday is a mid-career Jim Jarmusch feature, five taxi-cab tales in Night on Earth. 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 is no Friday French movie with Thai subtitles this week because there is a jazz concert. Saturday has the monthly "kids' movie", with the animated feature Mia et le Migou, a fantasy-adventure about a girl in South America who leaves her impoverished village in search of her father and has an encounter in the jungle with giant beings. The show is at 2pm. Next Wednesday at 7pm, there's a French film with English subtitles, the 2015 romantic comedy Caprice, which involves a triangular romance between a hapless guy, the actress he has a crush on and the pesky girl who inserts herself into the situation. Admission for the general public is 100 baht.

Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand – Small-town secrets are spilled in The Sweet Hereafter, about a lawyer trying to persuade families to take part in a class-action lawsuit over a school-bus crash that killed 14 children. The much-acclaimed 1997 drama is by Canadian director Atom Egoyan, and it won many prizes, including the Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival. It was also nominated for two Academy Awards. Ian Holm stars as the lawyer, who has his own conflicts to deal with on top of the dysfunction of the townspeople. Part of the FCCT's Contemporary World Film Series, the screening is at 7pm on Monday, May 16, and is supported by the Embassy of Canada. Entry is 150 baht for non-members and 100 baht for the wine and snacks. There will be another entry in the series on Monday, May 30, with Thy Womb, a drama by noted independent Filipino director Brillante Ma Mendoza.

Take note

The landmark Scala remains committed to the profession of showing movies, despite being threatened with imminent closure by landlord Chulalongkorn University, which is keen to redevelop Siam Square. The Scala's devoted management recently installed a new screen because the old one was showing its age and was long past due for an upgrade. The result is a much clearer and brighter picture that makes going to movies at the Scala well worth your while. It is the best value in movie-going in Bangkok. Please support the Scala while it exists.

Meanwhile, general Thai public awareness of the Scala's plight is finally starting to emerge, perhaps too little, too late. There was a Nation editorial this week, and there is also a Thai-language petition that asks Chula U. to "keep Scala" open and recognize that its unique cultural and architectural values outweigh the supposed economic benefits of building yet another shopping mall in a city already saturated by shopping malls.

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