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March 15, 2007

Here be Pirates!

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The condo I'm living provides only a handful of channel on television. Even worse, since I don't get cable or satellite, I don't get any of the channels dedicated to English language movies. The theaters have an extremely limited choice of films here in Chiang Mai, and my significant other has absolutely no interest in seeing Dreamgirls, Rocky Balboa or Pursuit of Happyness. The nearby VDO stores have a limited selection of English language films, although the guy at the closer of the two stores is nice enough to help point out the new English language VCDs. While I'm usually up for seeing a film in any language, my SO demands cinematic entertainment without subtitles, preferably weighted towards action, with big name Hollywood stars.

Especially as some films simply will not recieve a theatrical run in Chiang Mai, we've seen some films on DVDs made available through street entrepreneurs. Quality varies from copies made from other DVDs, to obvious copies shot in a movie theater. In some cases, a good quality dub is more than the film deserves.

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The Good Shephers (Robert De Niro - 2006)

The Good Shepherd is one film that has been promised release in Thailand, but has yet to be released. I read a review that complained that director Robert De Niro learned nothing from Martin Scorsese. That isn't quite true - The Good Shepherd has a longer running time than Scorsese's last three films. The story about the creation of the C.I.A. and the corruption of ideals and power is still in search of a better movie than this one. It's not enough to have the star power of Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin and a host of others. De Niro should have handed the footage to Thelma Schoonmaker or at least somebody with a sharper eye to have picked up the pace and tightened the narrative. The Good Shepherd has the lethargy and flab of Jake La Motta in his later years.

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Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (Steven Shainberg - 2006)

Much better is Fur. With the explanatory title An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, Steven Shainberg's film is placed in a context other than biographical. As the mysterious upstairs neighbor, Robert Downey, Jr.'s fabulous furry freak resembles Jean Marais in Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast. Although Patricia Bosworth is listed as a producer, the film only tangentially seems connected to her biography of Arbus. More of the narrative combined elements of Cocteau, Tod Browning and Lewis Carroll to create Diane's adventures in Wonderland.

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Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast

The DVD was shot in a theater, so that the dialogue was muffled, while the color was off. A constant flicker on the screen almost induced a headache. From the beginning with cropped off credits, it was obvious no one cared about copying Fur with the correct aspect ratio. This is one film I plan to see again to judge more accurately. My SO was surprised to know that Fur didn't rate any Oscar nominations, deeming Nicole Kidman's performance as good as that in Eyes Wide Shut. Certainly Shainberg's closing shot, a close up of Kidman, echoes Kubrick's adoring shot of his final
muse.

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On the minus side again, is Dragon Tiger Gate. My SO and I both enjoy a good martial arts film. This is one of those movies that doesn't live up to the trailer. The film was directed by Wilson Yip with fight choreography by star Donnie Yen. The film does get visually inventive, especially in one scene that views the action looking down on several rooms from straight above, a formal approch that recalls the overhead shots from Van Trier's Dogville, or the open side house from Jerry Lewis' The Ladies' Man. Other fight scenes seem clearly derivative of Uma Thurman against the Crazy 88s in Kill Bill. Even worse, the film grinds to a halt in between fight scenes. I fell asleep after an hour, not caring about the missing plaque or if the two brothers reunite. Of course it didn't help that the subtitles were totally missing during a key scene that set up the story. Maybe the film should be retitled Crouching Tiger, Snoring Viewer.

Posted by peter at March 15, 2007 01:03 AM