February 27, 2007
The Morning After - My last Oscar Links for this Year
Best Supporting Actress of 1958 Miyoshi Umeki with Alfred Hitchcock
Even before the most recent Academy Awards were handed out, at least one person has already decided to predict next year's nominated films. The last time I tried predicting the Oscars one year ahead of time when back in 1967 when I assured a friend that Charge of the Light Brigade, by Oscar winning Tony Richardson, with an all-star cast, was a certain bet. One thing I've learned is that when it comes to movies, "pedigree" is for dogs and horses. Last year we were told that All the Kings Men would be a contender. If past performance was a guarantee of anything, than World Trade Center, directed by an Oscar winner and starring an Oscar winner, would have been in the slot occupied by Little Miss Sunshine. To anyone silly enough to predict next years nominees, I say wait to see what's actually on the screen.
Neil over at Bleeding Tree and K at Cinebeats are among the many who were glad to see Ennio Morricone receive an honorary Oscar for his music scores. We also think Morricone's most interesting work is to be heard in the spaghetti westerns and gialli he scored, rather than his nominated work. Tim Lucas thinks a major oversight was not mentioning Morricone's music for Once Upon a Time . . . in the West.
While I missed the show because if wasn't available where I live, Andy Horbal chose to watch Terminator 2 instead. I followed a couple of the liveblogs, adding comments at That Little Round-Headed Boy's site. The other liveblog, at Huffington Post was done by someone not too well informed - regarding William Monahan's mention of Thelma, the blogger was unaware that Thelma was Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese's long-time editor, and not the writer's nineteen year-old mistress.
If you haven't checked it out, Ross over at Greenbriar Picture Show has examined the selling of Psycho. Hitchcock's nominated film still influences horror films more than forty-five years after its initial release in the summer of 1960. I was too young to see the film then, but I remember seeing the posters at a theater in Detroit.
I hope to write some more serious stuff in the days ahead. I will also be preparing for my return to the US on April 1.
February 26, 2007
My Breakfast without Oscar
It's 7:55 am here in Chiang Mai. According to information provided by the official Oscar website, I have my television on the right channel to watch the Academy Awards here. I'll know in just a few minutes. In the meantime, I am watching the end of the Thai equivalent to "Good Morning, America", and drinking my first cup of coffee.
It's 8:09 am, and no show. I rechecked the website. As it turned out, someone decided that the Oscars are only to be on cable and satellite channels overseas. I'm not sure when that decision was made, but I guess I should have checked for any changes. In any event I'm missing the show this year. I didn't even notice anyone having an Oscar party here in Chiang Mai, so I guess for ex-pats here it rates less than the Superbowl. The logo that is on this entry is for the channel the Oscars was suppose to be aired on. The condo I'm living in only has a handful of free channels. I'll find out who the winners are at noon and possibly watch a recorded copy of the show in a few weeks.
Back to breakfast . . .
February 25, 2007
Catching up with the Oscar Nominees in Chiang Mai, Thailand
As it turns out, being in Thailand has not been an obstacle in seeing several Oscar nominated movies before the awards show. Several of the films are now out on DVD, even before they have their theatrical run. These are not the kind of DVDs that are the work of someone who snuck a camera into the theater. What I've seen are quite watchable. I am watching the DVDs like the average Thai, on an old twenty inch screen TV with monophonic sound. This is hardly the ideal way to see any movies, although with the inflated reputations of some of these films, they are quite literally cut down to size.
One film I will probably see again to evaluate better is Volver. To coin a phrase, the subitles were lost in translation. While I could recognize certain visual motifs, primarily using the color red, based on imagery alone, Volver was less interesting than Talk to Her among Almodovar's more recent films. My biggest problem was trying to follow what came off as a Spanish language talk fest, with subtitles written by someone not fluent in English. Between questionable choices of words and syntax, trying to watch Volver turned out to be so laborious that I fell asleep during the last half hour. I've seen all of Almodovar's films and enjoyed most of them to want to give Volver a second chance.
Pan's Labyrinth had better subtitles, although my significant other questioned the English language title as there is no Pan. "Labyrinth of the Faun" is certainly more accurate. With a narrative tied to the Spanish Civil War, del Toro has created a film that works as a companion piece to his The Devil's Backbone. With a young girl as the main character, Pan's Labyrinth can also be viewed as taking the themes of Victor Erice's Spirit of the Beehive, with a concrete presentation of the fantasy elements. Erice was inspired by James Whale's Frankestein, particularly the scene where the Frankenstein monster encounters the young girl by the lake. For all three filmmakers, the worst monsters come in human form. Del Toro and Erice's films are linked by characters who believe in the power of story telling. In Erice's film of two very young girls, the older one convinces her younger sister that the Frankenstein monster that they glimpsed on the movie screen now lives just outside their small village. Del Toro's film begins with Ofelia more interested in her books than the outside world, reading to herself, and telling the stories to her unborn brother.
Pan's Labyrinth also, perhaps unintentionally, reflects the changes in fantasy film in the past thirty years which brings up some questions: Are films that rely on computer generated special effects the result simply on the availability of the technology or customer demand or both? Conversely, would a film that suggests a fantasy world such as Curse of the Cat People been made had there been different technology available? Would a person who grew up with CGI even ask these kinds of questions? I sometimes wonder about the loss of the sense of magic when special effects are no longer special, and there is so much seen, denying the audience the ability to imagine.
The ability to exactly reproduce a filmmaker's vision is what hobbles Apocalypto. I liked the film's opening zoom lens shot, closing in on some bushes in a jungle, followed by the hunt for a wild boar by a group of Mayans. After that were a couple of scenes that were lifted from Mel Gibson's book of practical and humiliating jokes. Following these light-hearted moments are scenes of people getting spears through their stomachs, an arrow through the mouth, beheadings, burnings, a swarm of angry bees, a jaguar who bites off someone's face, and a woman giving birth while stuck at the bottom of a pit filling with water while her young son looks on helplessly. As a filmmaker, Mel Gibson has a great eye for detail and dramatic camera angles. When it comes to scenes of torture, both with the films he stars in, and those he has directed, the concept of restraint is lacking. Where I will also give Gibson credit is that I could not imagine anyone else as having made Apocalypto. I could easily see Gibson playing every part in the film with every grin, gimace, laugh and scream. It may also be a backhanded compliment to say that based on what I saw in Apocalypto, Mel Gibson would be the perfect director to make a dramatic film about Abu Ghraib.
Until I saw The Queen, I did not realize how enormous the public display of grief was in response to the death of Princess Diana. The most most impressive image in the film was an overhead shot of the thousands of flowers in front of Buckingham Palace. Helen Mirren was good, but is a gap between what's been nominated, and what I have actually seen of films that would have qualified. Two memorable performances not nominated belong to Gretchen Mol as Bettie Page in The Notorious Bettie Page and Diane Lane as Toni Mannix in Hollywoodland, again women dealing with public scandal.
What I thought interesting about The Queen was the examination of power. The film could have been easily retitled "The Seduction of Tony Blair". The evolution of Blair from a would-be revolutionary to virtually an apologist for the Royal family had greater intrigue, and timely interest considering the current state of British politics. I also liked the sympathetic portrayal of Prince Charles, caught between his sense of the changing times and his obligations to tradition, and conflicting family loyalties.
I did my shoppping today, with fresh expresso and breakfast pastries. If all goes well, I will live blog while discovering what it is like to watch the Academy Awards from a far different time zone in another country.
February 23, 2007
The Road to Oscar and other Links
The still above is from The Oscar. If you haven't seen it yet, the film is available on tape. Hilariously bad, we are to believe that if Stephen Boyd does not win a little gold man, his acting career will evaporate. Checking into the official Oscar website, the truth is, that while we may have forgotten that Alexander Knox, Dan Dailey, or Dan O'Herlihy were ever nominated, not winning Best Actor never slowed down them down. Boyd stars with Elke Sommer, but the best reason to see The Oscar is to read the credits for the immortal words: "Introducing Tony Bennett as Hymie Kelly".
This is my roundabout way of pointing out that Neil at Bleeding Tree is hosting a "Trashy Movie Celebration Blog-a-thon" beginning April 5. This should make for fun reading, even for those who have yet to see one of the Guinea Pig movies from Japan. And speaking of Blood Sucking Freaks . . .
While the nominees are making sure their tuxes and dresses (or both) are ready for Sunday night, there are lively discussions about Oscar when you hit the links to the right. Dennis Cozzalio has been engaged in discussion with That Little Round-Headed Boy at his site, while TLRHB has been sharing his dreams for this Sunday.
Nathaniel R has several Oscar related topics at his Film Experience, while at Edward Copeland on Film, Eddie and Josh have posted their Oscar predictions, while the Odienator discusses great performances that weren't even nominated, and nominees who should have had better performances recognized.
I won't know for certain that I will be watching the show until Monday morning, when the Oscars are to be broadcast here in Thailand. Too be on the safe side, I will be stocking up on breakfast foods this weekend.
February 22, 2007
From Here to Obscurity: Eight Oscar Winning Directors
There is a certain logic to the idea that winning an Academy Award is a vindication of talent. Most of the past winners do have memorable careers with work of substantial quality. In terms of directors, John Ford, usually acclaimed as director most often admired by other filmmakers, had four Oscars. More recently, Steven Spielberg can point to two Best Director awards to compliment his commercial success. On the downside, being an Oscar winning director does not always mean that you will be a revered filmmaker, thought of as highly as such Oscar losers as Joseph Von Sternberg, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock or even J. Lee Thompson. While debating the merits of whether Martin Scorsese should win an Oscar, consider the following eight directors, in chronological order, who prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that winning isn't everything, and sometimes it's enough to be a contender:
1. Norman Taurog. I'm not sure if anyone has seen Clarence Brown's A Free Soul lately, while Wesley Ruggles' Cimmaron is considered a museum piece. That leaves Jackie Cooper's uncle (seen above) winning over Lewis Milestone for The Front Page, and more damning, Joseph Von Sternberg for Morocco. The film we still watch begins with a brief girl on girl smootch and ends with Marlene Dietrich chasing Gary Cooper in the desert, wearing high heels. Taurog's future contributions to the cinema lead to his being house director for producer Hal Wallis making the most routine films starring Jerry Lewis and Elvis Presley. Taurog also has the distinction of directing a film that the British magazine "Films and Filming" pointed out was the first time Buster Keaton was not funny.
2. Frank Lloyd. As one of the founders of the Academy, Frank Lloyd was bound to receive an Oscar for something. Except for Mutiny on the Bounty and possiby Cavalcade, Lloyd's career seems unmemorable, and is in the shadows of his peers, George Cukor and Frank Capra.
3. Delbert Mann. Here is a director who started in television and ended in television. Mann won his Oscar for remaking a drama that was originally on television. One of the few films he directed that demands re-examination is The Outsider, about Ira Hayes, the Native American hero of Iwo Jima. Incredibly, Mann beat out David Lean, John Sturges, and Elia Kazan. The fifth nominee was Joshua Logan, for his best film, Picnic.
4. Wiliam Friedkin. By the time he made The Guardian, William Friedkin was cruising into obscurity. One can only guess what Friedkin's career would have been like had he not married Paramount production chief, Sherry Lansing. Still, it's sad when after thirty year, advertisements boast of films being by "the director of The French Connection". Among the directors Friedkin beat, John Schlesinger had already won for Midnight Cowboy, Norman Jewison recieved a Lifetime Achievement Award, and Stanley Kubrick is remembered as being one of the best directors to not win an Oscar. For some, it may be a small favor that Peter Bogdanovich didn't win either. A bit of coincidence (or not) is Friedkin's Howard Hawks connection. Friedkin use to date Hawks' daughter Kitty. Wife Sherry Lansing is remembered as one of the stars of Hawks' last film, Rio Lobo.
5. John G. Avildsen. A Fine and Private Place and Inferno are apt descriptions of where the former Rocky director seems to be lately. That latter film was even signed with a pseudonym. Even Sylvester Stallone recently went on record to put down Rocky V. Avildsen probably hoped he had The Power of One but discussion of his films would likely last Eight Seconds. Beating Lina Wertmuller to Oscar glory is nothing to brag about. More questionable is that anyone thought Avildsen was more worthy than Alan Pakula, Sidney Lumet or Ingmar Bergman. Having Best Picture nominees was the consolation prize for two young directors, Hal Ashby and Martin Scorsese.
6. Michael Cimino. The last film Michael Cimino made, The Sunchasers, was released in 1996. Cimino will be remembered more for bringing down United Artists for the overlong, very expensive Days of Heaven. According to IMDb, Cimino is writing novels which means not being responsible for other people's money and having complete artistic control. While the Deer Hunter director beat out Alan Parker, he also was considered better than past winner Woody Allen, and future winner Warren Beatty who was nominated with Buck Henry. Fifth director nominee Hal Ashby won an Oscar for editing In the Heat of the Night. With a filmography that included The Last Detail, Shampoo and Being There, Ashby was nominated once as director, for Coming Home.
7. Richard Attenborough. In fairness, I thought Gandhi was a pretty good throwback to the all star epics of years past. It's just too bad that Nicole Fosse's father wasn't the one to film A Chorus Line. Cry Freedom was a return to form, but the Magic seems to have vanished. Attenborough's last film, Grey Owl never was released theatrically in the U.S., and a new film, Closing the Ring may also have that fate. Fellow nominees that year, Sidney Pollack and Steven Spielberg were future Oscar winners, while the verdict on Sidney Lumet would be a Lifetime Achievement consolation prize. Fifth nominee Wolfgang Petersen used Das Boot to launch a Hollywood career.
8. Barry Levinson. Here is a director who is consistently inconsistent. On the plus side are Wag the Dog, Diner, Tin Men and Liberty Heights. On the debit side are Envy, Sphere, Jimmy Hollywood and a slew of films with Robin Williams. Rain Man is not even Levinson's best film. And who thought Warren Beatty could play a Jewish gangster? We can thank Levinson for making sure Alan Parker did not win for Mississippi Burning, and Mike Nichols didn't need a second Oscar (or, I would argue, a first one either). A more courageous Academy would have given the Oscar to Martin Scorsese for The Last Temptation of Christ. A more loving Academy would have recognized the career of seventy-eight year of Charles Crichton.
February 21, 2007
The Horror of The Sperm
Will The Sperm be coming to America? While The Sperm is about to be released on March 22 in Thailand, Americans will most likely catch it on DVD or streaming video. Aside from the easy jokes one shoots off with the title alone is the reminder of how uncomfortable Americans are with certain words and images.
If you haven't read it yet, there is controversy over a Newberry Prize winning childrens's book that includes the word "scrotum". I read about the story in The Huffington Post where one commenter claimed that his daughter was briefly suspended from school because she said "penis", a word appropriate in one class but not another within the same school. But back to the subject, ahem, at hand.
Considering Hollywood's audience of choice, and the censorship of the MPAA, if the film turns out to be successful enough to have someone consider theatrical release, it would be tricky to get The Sperm on American screens. Wisekwai reports on seeing the preview in Bangkok. Based on his description, the film sounds like a mash-up of Village of the Damned, The Amazing Colossal Man, Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman, Demon Seed and the funniest sequence from Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex but were Afraid to Ask. While Thai films released in Thailand are rubberstamped PG-13, they often have enough nudity and especially violence to indicate that the rating means something a bit different that in the U.S.
The title of this film stands out as a beacon for twelve year old boys of all ages to dig deep in their pockets to whip out hard cash during the opening weekend. The Sperm could also conceivably shake up the MPAA. This is the same group of people who banned one poster for showing a marijuana leaf, tried to hide the image of torture for the poster of Road to Guantanamo, and recently ordered a change on the poster for The Hills have Eyes II. It's OK to show some guy dragging a corpse in the desert, as long as even every body part, including one hand, is totally wrapped up. We will have to see if the MPAA gets their hands on The Sperm. This is the humorless bunch that banned the advertising line for Guy Ritchie's film, "Snatch - Opening Wide".
Those who like humor mixed with horror may want to see director Taweewat Wantha's previous film, Sars Wars. You can also sneak a peak at The Sperm here and here. I don't know if The Sperm will be a seminal release when it explodes across theater in Thailand. Obviously the title is enough for those of us with an appetite for puns and below the belt jokes.
Posted by peter at 12:16 AM
February 19, 2007
Critical Women - Some Recent Links
Sylvia Chang - Writer, Director, Movie Star.
One of my favorite contributors to Cinematical is Kim Voynar. We've commented at each others sites. It was with interest that I read her post on Women filmmakers. This was a topic of discussion some time ago at Girish's blog. I forwarded this link concerning Asian Woman filmmakers as something of interest to Kim and members of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. My other reason for sending the link was to make the discussion of women filmmakers more globally inclusive.
At the Alliance's website, with a link added at the right, is an interview by Jennifer Merin with Daniele Thompson. La Buche is the perfect antidote to those treacly Christmas movies that come out like clockwork every winter. Two names popped out for me in the alliance membership list. Maitland McDonagh wrote Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento, a terrific book on one of my favorite directors. The other member listed is Lisa Kennedy, currently the lead film critic for The Denver Post, and someone with whom I have exchanged some lively emails back when I lived in Denver.
A critic I wish I knew about earlier is Emilie Bickerton. Click on Girish's blog to read about her New Left Review essay on Cahiers du Cinema. For thirty-two pounds, you can read Bickerton's complete essay.
While it's not a shoot out, by coincidence there are two postings that take opposing views concerning Sergio Leone and his epic, Once Upon a Time . . . in the West. Click on the link to The Self-Styled Siren where Campaspe's states: "It is overlong, badly acted, misogynistic and dull. Dear god is it dull." Over at Screenhead, Eion thinks the Academy overlooked Leone - " I think Once Upon a Time in the West is his best, for its characterisation, especially its strong female lead, and for being genuinely thrilling."
Posted by peter at 12:51 AM
February 18, 2007
King Naresuan II
Tamnan Somdej Phra Naresuan Maharaj: Prakard Issaraphab
Chatrichalerm Yukol - 2007
Sahamongkol Film 35mm Film
The full title for the second film in Chatrichalerm's trilogy translates as "Reclaiming Sovereignity". If those words make one think of The Empire Strikes Back, that is probably no coincidence. The effect of this film is similar to the first Star Wars, where Hans Solo's bantering with Princess Leia was more fun to watch than Luke Skywalker grappling with "the force".
Backtracking a bit - the first film ended with young Naresuan escaping from his posh prison. The second film jumps ahead to 1577 when the Prince is now twenty-two years old. Naresuan has formed alliances with various lords based on his abilities as a fighter. Siamese territories are still ruled by Burma. Naresuan feels a sense of obligation to King Bayinnaung, the man who held him as a prisoner but also raised him to be a royal leader. Attending Bayinnuang's funeral, Naresuan finds himself caught between allegiance to Bayinnuang's son, Nandabayin, the new Burmese king, and his professed goal of freedom for the Siamese. Nandabayin, meanwhile attempts several plots against his the man who was his childhood nemisis. The orphan, Bunthing, has been elevated to a Lord named Rajamanu. Manechan has grown into a beautiful young woman, still adoring Naresuan. The monk, Khan Shong, is still around to dispense wisdom.
There are some spectacular battle scenes with guns, arrows, swords and cannons. Among the warriors are Portuguese mercenaries and a hill tribe called the Naka that are similar to the headhunters of South America. This is a Thai epic made for a Thai audience who has grown up knowing this story about Siamese independence.
The heart of the film is actually to be found in the subplot involving Rajamanu and a warrior princess, Lekin, played by Inthira Charoenpura, seen above. When Inthira and Nopachai Jayanama first make contact, the verbal barbs and close sword fighting are like the martial arts equivalent to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. While fighting cheek-to-cheek, Nopachai embraces Inthira in a mid-battle smooch. The delight evinced by these two performances is similar to such classic action stars as Burt Lancaster, in his earlier roles, and Brigitte Lin. Nopachai wooing Inthira is like watching the battling couples from classic screwball comedies if you can imagine Carole Lombard beaning a would-be suitor with tree branch and a large rock. Best of all are the scenes of Inthira battling the various bad guys once she is won over by the tenacious Napachoi.
The film ends with Naresuan victorious in battle against the armies set against him by Nandabayin. Naresuan declares the end of his loyalty to the Burmese throne, with the inevitable battle for independence to be seen in the third film. While the third film is scheduled to be released in early December to coincide with the birthday of the King of Thailand, an article in the Bangkok Post has mentioned that the first two films are to be available on DVD in April in Thailand. The DVD may well be the only way international audiences will see the trilogy, the most polished of Chatrichalerm's films. While one may view that Naresuan was financed by the Thai royal family, the film thematically is in keeping with most of Chatrichalerm's films since his earliest works, where he examined the concept Thai identity.
Cross-posted in Twitch.
February 16, 2007
Looking for Oscar
Near the beginning of every broadcast of the Academy Awards, the host or hostess remarks on how the show is seen live by a gazillion people around the world. I sometimes wondered just a little bit what that was like, especially if you are watching the show in a country where English isn't spoken, and the time zone makes viewing all three or five hours a bit awkward. I found this link at the official Academy Award website that lists all the television stations around the world that will broadcast or cablecast the show. What this means for me is that I MIGHT be able to watch the Academy Awards this year. Being in Thailand, plus being in Chiang Mai rather than Bangkok, are two reasons to feel uncertain. Adding to the uncertainty is the controversy that occurred at the Thailand Film Awards on February 9. Chotiros "Amy" Suriyawong, a young actress, upset some people by wearing a dress that was deemed offensive to Thai sensibilities. Somsak Techaratanapraser of Sahamongkol Film ordered that scenes featuring Chotiros be cut from a film currently in production. Somsak is quoted stating of his company, the biggest producer of Thai films, "We are not a porn company." I guess I can only hope that any fashion disasters at this years Oscar show will be kept to a minimum. And if all of this wasn't enough, the Academy Awards will be broadcast at Eight a.m. here in Thailand. Yes, I will stock up on coffee . . .
In the meantime, click on the links at the right. At Film Experience, Nathaniel R is hosting an Oscar Symposium. And if you haven't read Edward Copeland's posting of a few days ago, he has information regarding several vexing Oscar related questions from the official source, the Academy library.
February 14, 2007
Happy Valentine's Day - Ten Favorite Actresses!
February 13, 2007
Umarin Wiyada in Angel (Chatrichalerm Yukol - 1974)
The book, Thai Cinema, with supplemental DVD, was primarily designed to accompany a group of Thai films shown last November in France. The collection of essays helps cobble together an overview on both the current state of Thai film as well as filling some of the gaps concerning Thai film history. The essays and the DVD also explain some of the gaps that exist in Thailand.
Chasms would be a better description. One clear example is Tonghathai Suddee's exploration of Thailand's official stance on piracy and the failure of enforcement. An interview with a producer shows why legal copies are prohibitively expensive for the filmmakers, while illegal copies remain popular with consumers. Tonghathai also notes the selectiveness in closing down sources of pirate DVDs, something I have witnessed firsthand. That enforcement is haphazard was made clear at a recent visit to a "VDO" store where The Departed was available days before its U.S. DVD release, and Babel was on the shelf, simultaneous to its theatrical release in Thailand.
Two of the biggest gaps remarked on by the writers are those of Thai movie audiences and official Thailand in relation to the films that have achieved the most critical or international attention. The DVD includes an interview with one of the producers of Five Star Production, discussing how the more mainstream, popular movies help support the production of the films by Wisit Sasanatieng and Pen-ek Ratanareung, films that are significantly more popular internationally than in Thailand. The DVD interviews with audience members also stresses that with the exception of a film like Ong-Bak with the athletic and charismatic Tony Jaa, Thais are often not that interested in Thai movies, prefering the technical virtues and polish of the big-budget Hollywood film.
Several essays also point to the lack of government support for Thai film, whether it is preservation or production. Even though royal interest in film dates back to the earliest years of filmmaking, there is little understanding or appreciation of Thai film as an art form or as a part of Thai culture. One suspects that Thai officials are discomfited with Apichatpong Weerasethakul winning awards in film festivals with films like Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady, as when it was reported that several officials were sent to Cannes, while the filmmaker had to pay his own way to the festival. It is almost no wonder that "Joe" calls his production company Kick the Machine. Another example of this disconnection is the change of submissions for the Academy Award after Invisible Waves had been announced as Thailand's official entry.
What is good about the book is that it is inclusive of short and experimental films. Websites are mentioned for those interested in doing further explorations of films only available through Thai sources. Published in France, the essays are in both French and English. My own French isn't fluent enough to judge what has been written, but some of English language essays would have benefitted from better translations or editing. As a collection of essays within one book, Thai Cinema is helpful for those who are exploring filmmaking in "the land of smiles".
Thai Cinema is available on-line through Asiexpo.
I also want to mention that each author lists ten favorite Thai movies. In keeping with that spirit, my favorite Thai films to date include 1. Monrak Transistor (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang - 2001), 2. Tears of the Black Tiger (Wisit Sasanatieng - 2000), 3. Daughter 2 (Chatrichalerm Yukol - 1997) and 4. Ong-Bak (Prachya Pinkaew - 2003). Currently I have been seeing as many of Chatrichalerm's films as are available on DVD with English subtitles.
February 10, 2007
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - 2006
Rose Media and Entertainment 35mm Film
With its seven Academy Award nominations, Babel is now playing in Thailand. Others have looked at this film quite critically. While I do not feel that I need to say much, I did want to add a couple of thoughts.
Especially looking back on some of the writing praIsing Babel, I have to wonder if Richard and Susan's predicament would seem so imoportant to the audience had they not been portrayed by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett? Had the American couple been played by lesser known actors, would there have been perhaps more identification by western audiences with the tourists who wanted to get the bus back to their destination? Even though Pitt and Blanchett have relatively equal screen time with the other actors, I found it impossible to watch them without being conscious that I was watching to major stars trying to be part of an ensemble. Even in a more seamless ensemble piece such as A Prairie Home Companion, Meryl Streep sticks out a bit more than Maya Rudolph or John McGinley. Certainly having Pitt and Blanchett helped in selling Babel but the purported message of the film might have benefitted from have their roles played by lesser marquee names that would have been less distracting.
Speaking of casting, while I liked Rinko Kikuchi (seen above), iI also wonder why a real deaf-mute actress, Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin has been related primarily to guest shots on television. I would have loved to have seen Matlin in the Blanchett role. Maybe more active casting of someone like Matlin would be more effective than making a film about a the prejudice faced by a deaf-mute girl, played by a fully functional actress. Aside from my challenge to Gonzales Innaritu to make use of this underused actress, I am also suggesting that Babel is most interesting when it takes place in Morocco and loses its way in Mexico and Japan in the attempt at being universal.
I also think that had Gonzales Inarritu not made Babel, someone else would have made a film about how people are globally connected. The basic ideas that are found in Babel concerning the connectivity of people have been explored within the genre of the bilingual war film as I had mentioned in relation to None but the Brave. Other films that could be sited would be some of Robert Altman's films, particularly Nashville, as well as Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. In his review published in The Bangkok Post, Kong Rithdee was reminded of the Philipino film, Heremias, concerning the epic trials and tribulations of a poor peasant. For me, a better film examaning the chains of catastrophe that result from one thoughtless act is Robert Bresson's L'Argent. For anyone to claim that Babel is truly unique either in construction or theme is disingenuous. Even the mostly critically reviled Butterfly Effect explored the unanticipated effects of one person's actions.
In spite of its surface sophistication, Babel made me think of Stanley Kramer at his most strident. I might agree with the message, but it still doesn't make for good filmmaking.
February 08, 2007
Bong Joon-ho - 2006
J-Bics Region 3 DVD
Am I missing something here? I finally saw The Host, the critically praised monster movie that's played at prestigious film festivals. Throughout a good part of the film I kept asking myself one question: Have these festival programmers never watched the Sci-Fi channel?
Sure, The Host is smarter and sharper than the typical Sci-Fi channel creature feature, as is the monster. But I still felt like I was watching the movie Roger Corman might have made had he been willing to spend more money on special effects and was Korean. I scanned a couple of reviews that pointed out how the film was a parable and satire of Korean politics and the SARS scare and those old standards, arrogant scientists and government cover-ups. And I agree that the giant tadpole-fish-monster was impressive for a CGI creature. But even a film like Frankenfish has its moments of pretense. I'm not certain if there isn't a monster movie that doesn't make the claim that it's really a parable about science gone wrong, man versus God, or the evils of big business and/or big government.
Part of me is thrilled at the idea of a monster movie playing the art house circuit. That's where one could see Asian horror films like Ju-On and The Eye before the films were remade by Hollywood. The problem with The Host has more to do with the impossible expectations created by showcasing the film in places like Cannes and Toronto. To be fair, I still plan on seeing other films by Bong such as Memories of Murder. I also need to stress that I enjoyed the film, even the totally anticipated killing of the monster.
It might be that the festival programmers are film lovers whose guilty pleasures include such works as Eugene Lourie's Gorgo, Larry Cohen's Q, or even John Frankenheimer's The Prophesy. I feel uncomfortable knowing that The Host premiered in New York City alongside films by Alain Resnais and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. There's no fun in watching a monster movie if its been given the seal of approval from Gilles Jacob or Richard Pena. One can only hope that these highbrow programmers will have learned their lesson once and for all, and start planning career retrospectives for Bert I. Gordon and Inoshiro Honda.
Posted by peter at 04:15 AM
February 04, 2007
365 Wan Tam Tid Cheewit Dek Ent
Soraya Nakasuwan - 2007
GMM Pictures 35mm Film
In order to give King Naresuan maximum play, no new films received wide release until last Thursday. I finally got to see Curse of the Golden Flower, dubbed in Thai, with English and Chinese subtitles. Final Score is only the second Thai film to open this year, and by Thai standards is unusual. Unlike the usual horror films or comedies, or horror/comedies that get national rollouts, this is a documentary. As it turned out, in addition to recording the life of several high school seniors, the film had unexpected drama from a nationwide scandal.
The film centers on four young men from solidly middle class Bangkok homes. Only one of the four seems especially studious, although it seems to little effect. The other three seem more content on getting by. The English language title refers to the nationwide test that determines whether a high school student will be considered for college, as well as decide which college will accept that student. The film begins in May, when the Thai school year begins, following the students in class, with their friends, and at home. The students are genial goof-offs with no particular promise. The exception is the student who is interested in farming fish to the dismay of his father who would prefer his son to follow a more traditional career path.
The tests that the students all take were administered by the National Institute of Educational Testing Services. 2006 was the first year that Thai high school students were required to take as part of Thailand's efforts to create uniform academic standards. Due to questionable results from those taking the tests, as well as scores given to students who reported did not take the test, 300,000 Thai students were uncertain about the correct score results as well as their academic future. Two senior officials with the testing company resigned. In the scheme of the documentary, this incident is given rather short shrift considering the magnitude of the number of students affected, particularly those interested in studying outside of Thailand. The film almost suggests that the students managed to get accepted into college in spite of, rather than because of, their test scores.
I also have to wonder why Soraya Nakasuwan chose to focus on male students. Especially as their are so few female filmmakers in Thailand, her working with young women would have be useful in both discussing the role of women in Thailand as well as showing by example a career option possibly not considered. As Soroya previously made her reputation co-directing a documentary critical of the Tourist Authority of Thailand, one would have hoped that a film about Thai education would be sharper. Final Exam is more entertaining than edifying. What is encouraging is that a Thai documentary is given the same kind of treatment as such typical fare as Noodle Boxer and Letters of Death.
Cross-posted in Twitch.
Posted by peter at 08:45 AM
February 01, 2007
This DVD got trapped in my Macbook. I figured that the best thing to do would be to post some screen shots before going on hiatus while my laptop is in the shop. Playing the young "folk singer" is Suleeporn Tuntrakool. The film came out in 2004. I need someone to give me a transliteration of the director's name as certain information on the film is in Thai script only. The cost of the DVD was 59 Thai baht, or $1.65 in US dollars. I guess I got my money's worth. Look-tung, also known as luktung, is a form of Thai regional music. While called "folk music' in the film, it is different from the music westerners would associate with that term. I had my own experience seeing a variation of this kind of music when I visited an Akha village in Northern Thailand last month.