13 September 2018

Someone from Nowhere

Someone from Nowhere
[Spoiler alert: this review reveals the film's ending.] Prabda Yoon's directorial debut, Motel Mist (โรงแรมต่างดาว) was a study of sexual politics and power dynamics, though it also had a political subtext, signalled by a shot of Bangkok's Democracy Monument in the wing mirror as a car drives away. In Prabda's more compelling second film Someone from Nowhere (มา ณ ที่นี้), the entire plot, location, and characters are all political metaphors.

The film takes place in a condo called Liberty Land, which becomes a microcosm for the country (as 'Thai' means 'liberated'). The condo's apparent owner, a young woman, goes about her morning routine: swimming, greeting various neighbours, and taking a shower. But then she discovers an injured man outside her front door, and phones the condominium staff and the police for help. Meanwhile, the man claims to be the condo's rightful owner, demanding: "The only thing I want is to have this place back." She insists that he's lying, and replies: "I won't let you people get away with this atrocity."

To all intents and purposes, the condo is hers, though her deeds of ownership are blank pages, and the assistance she called for never arrives. The analogy to the 2014 coup is clear: like Yingluck Shinawatra, the woman is intimidated by a powerful intruder (the man, representing the military reclaiming its traditional rights); she has no legal defence (her deeds were erased, just as the constitution was abrogated); and she receives no external support (Thailand's judicial system and police force didn't intervene to prevent the coup). The film's political subtext becomes increasingly direct, culminating with the national anthem playing as the man and woman stab each other.

Like Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History (เจ้านกกระจอก), the film's repetitive structure highlights the cyclical nature of the military's interventions. The man places the woman's unconscious body outside, and assumes occupancy of the condo, going through the same morning routine as she did. He then discovers her outside the door, whereupon she claims to be the rightful owner and he insists that she's mistaken. By implication, the two protagonists have relived the same debate, with alternating roles, many times over (symbolising Thailand's transitions between military and civilian rule). Their apparent amnesia echoes the national tendency to gloss over repeated acts of political violence (as the title of Napat Treepalawisetkun's short film We Will Forget It Again also implies).

Someone from Nowhere's title ostensibly refers to the injured man, as the woman occupies the condo when the film begins and the audience's sympathies initially lie with her. But there are also suggestions that the woman is the interloper: the neighbours didn't acknowledge her during her morning routine, for example, while they readily converse with the man. One neighbour tells him that there's been no good news for eighty years, suggesting that the condo's residents harken back to the pre-democratic era before the 1932 revolution, and therefore that they accept him (the symbol of authoritarianism) rather than her (a disruption of the status quo).

Motel Mist

Motel Mist
Motel Mist (โรงแรมต่างดาว), the directorial debut of writer Prabda Yoon, was dropped by its distributor, TrueVisions, the day before its scheduled release date. Apparently, the studio hadn't anticipated such a risqué drama, and Prabda organised an independent release a month later. The studio's name was removed from the credits, though the film still includes plenty of product placement for the company, as an entire subplot is told via TNN, the TrueVisions news channel.

The title refers to Motel Mistress, the 'love motel' where the majority of the film is set, and there are knowing references to Psycho, with the motel clerk's peephole hidden behind a painting. The standout scene, though, is the journey to the motel (driving symbolically away from Bangkok's Democracy Monument): a middle-aged man picks up a teenage prostitute, and their awkward fumble is choreographed to Bizet's Carmen.

After more kinkiness at the motel, the revenge plot kicks in, as the young woman humiliates the man who exploited her. But this is the film's least effective sequence, as it's tacky (with slow-motion shots of wobbly dildos) and lacks any suspense.

06 February 2018

Samui Song

Samui Song
Samui Song (ไม่มีสมุยสำหรับเธอ) is Pen-ek Ratanaruang's first film since his documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย). With Samui Song, he returns to his more familiar neo-noir territory: a lakorn (soap opera) actress hires a hitman to kill her husband, in a setup inspired by Double Indemnity. The film opened in Thailand last week, and Pen-ek took part in a Q&A at Paragon Cineplex in Bangkok on Sunday.

Vi, the actress, feels typecast in bitchy lakorn roles, and asks her agent for an audition with an (unnamed) arthouse director. The agent (echoing a civil servant's comment about Apichatpong Weerasethakul) dismisses his films as boring, and insists that Thai audiences prefer lakorn. In a metafictional twist, the 'boring' film the agent describes is Pen-ek's Invisible Waves (คำพิพากษาของมหาสมุทร), Vi is played by real-life soap star Chermarn Boonyasak, and Samui Song is as melodramatic as any lakorn series.

Vi's husband, Jerome, is rich and successful though sexually impotent. In one sequence, he tries to jerk off, though he remains flaccid. (Surprisingly, the film was released uncut with an '18' rating despite its male frontal nudity.) Jerome is a devotee of a cult-like Buddhist sect, and he even allows its leader to rape Vi. (The sect, whose members wear grey rather than saffron robes, is based partly on the corrupt Wat Dhammakaya.) Pen-ek appears in a TV interview with the cult leader, making merit in the vain hope that his film will be a box-office hit.

Engaging hitmen have featured in several of Pen-ek's films - Invisible Waves, Headshot (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า), Fun Bar Karaoke (ฝันบ้าคาราโอเกะ) - and Guy, the hitman in Samui Song, is the film's only multidimensional character. (He's a contract killer, yet he also cares for his sick mother.) Guy bludgeons Jerome with a phallic sculpture (as in A Clockwork Orange), though things take a Hitchcockian turn when the murder goes wrong (shades of Dial M for Murder). There is also a Buñuelian influence, specifically from [possible spoiler alert] That Obscure Object of Desire (Cet obscur objet du désir).

At key points in the film, Pen-ek jumps forward in time elliptically, leaving gaps in the narrative. Vi and Guy eventually seem to disappear from the story altogether. In their place, three new characters are introduced: a lesbian couple and their young son. How much of what happens are we supposed to believe? It's possible that the entire plot is a film-within-the-film, the Pen-ek project that Vi initially wanted to audition for. The twist ending offers no resolution to this satisfyingly ambiguous film.

26 January 2018

The Post

The Post
Steven Spielberg began production of The Post in May 2017, and the film premiered before the end of that year. The combination of Spielberg, Meryl Streep, and Tom Hanks results in a film as impressive as you'd expect (and recalls the "Cruise/Kidman/Kubrick" publicity campaign for Eyes Wide Shut). Streep and Hanks both give superb performances, of course, though their roles aren't especially demanding.

The Post of the title is The Washington Post, which published the Pentagon Papers after an injunction was issued against The New York Times. But the film's emphasis on the Post does a disservice to the Times, which had printed the Pentagon Papers first. The debate that the film dramatises, between the Post's publisher, editor, and lawyers, also took place at the Times, which would have made an equally dramatic story.

The film naturally invites comparisons with All the President's Men. The Post even positions itself as a prequel to the earlier film, ending with a security guard discovering the Watergate burglary. It's not as tense as that classic thriller, though its script (co-written by one of the writers of Spotlight) does justice to its historic subject matter. And its central theme - journalists exposing government lies and media suppression - is as relevant as ever, given Trump's increasingly Nixonian presidency.

31 December 2017

78/52 (DVD)

78/52
78/52
The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's documentary 78/52 refers to the (supposed) seventy-eight camera setups and fifty-two shots in the shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. (It could have been called A Long Hard Look at Psycho, but that title was already taken by Raymond Durgnat's book.) After an introduction to Psycho's cultural significance, the documentary analyses the shower scene shot-by-shot: the painting covering the peephole, the "calm before the storm", the three jump-cuts as Marion screams (echoing the monster's first appearance in Frankenstein), and the montage as she is attacked.

Talking heads, all filmed in black-and-white, include Hitchcock scholars Stephen Rebello (author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho), Bill Krohn (author of Hitchcock at Work and Masters of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock), and David Thomson (author of The Moment of Psycho). Philippe's greatest coup is his interview with Marli Renfro, Janet Leigh's body double, who has rarely spoken about her role before. The most revealing contribution comes from Walter Murch (editor of Apocalypse Now), who meticulously deconstructs Hitchcock's editing and camera placement.

This is not the first study of Psycho's shower scene: Philip J. Skerry's book Psycho in the Shower also includes a detailed analysis of the sequence. Surprisingly, Skerry isn't interviewed in 78/52, though his book (like Rebello's) is essential, especially if read alongside Richard J. Anobile's book of Psycho stills. (Leigh has written her own memoir on the film, Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller; and Hitchcock is a lightly fictionalised account of Psycho's production.)

78/52 includes plenty of clips from Psycho, though it clearly couldn't secure the rights to the original Bernard Herrmann score. It also features short extracts from Laurent Bouzereau's documentary The Making of Psycho. The DVD includes a fascinating extended interview with Philippe, and a booklet with a short written statement by him.

29 November 2017

This Area Is Under Quarantine

This Area Is Under Quarantine
Thunska Pansittivorakul's latest short film is a new version of his feature-length documentary This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน), released on the Vimeo website today. (This is one of several films Thunska has uploaded to Vimeo, including Liquid and a revised version of Reincarnate.)

After the title sequence, the new version of This Area Is Under Quarantine consists of the original version played at high speed (even faster than the sex scene in A Clockwork Orange), with a "CENSORED" card obscuring most of the frame. Ironically, the only 'uncensored' segment is the most controversial part: footage of the Tak Bai incident, in which seventy-eight protesters died of suffocation after they were detained by the army.

The Tak Bai footage came from a VCD issued by the journal Same Sky (ฟ้าเดียวกน), as Thunska told me in an interview earlier this year: "I got footage from the VCD, and I interviewed some guys in the movie. But because at that time I never knew anything about politics, I asked them. The southern politics is different, so I shot them because one of them is Isaan and one of them is southern."

The new version, like the original, is dedicated to the Tak Bai victims and - more contentiously - to Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, who were hanged in Iran in 2005. The two teenagers have been regarded as gay martyrs, executed for their sexuality, though the truth may be more complex: human rights organisations have since reported that they were convicted of raping a thirteen-year-old boy.

Thunska's new film Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล) deals with the conflict in southern Thailand in more depth. His other feature films are Voodoo Girls (หัวใจต้องสาป), Happy Berry (สวรรค์สุดเอื้อม), Reincarnate (จุติ), The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ), and sPACEtIME (กาลอวกาศ).

28 November 2017

Homogeneous, Empty Time

Homogeneous, Empty Time
Thunska Pansittivorakul's latest film is the feature-length documentary Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล), co-directed with Harit Srikhao. The title is a phrase from Walter Benjamin's essay On the Concept of History (Über den Begriff der Geschichte), though it was later used by Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities, his analysis of the construction of national identity and nationalism. The film, which is dedicated to Anderson, explores the roots of the nationalistic fervour that has taken hold in Thailand.

In his earlier films, Thunska has criticised individual politicians and generals, though Homogeneous, Empty Time questions the country's entire national ideology (the tripartite motto 'nation, religion, monarchy') and the institutions that reinforce it. The film shows how nationalism and social order are sustained by pro-military and royalist media, with clips from Prime Minister and junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha's weekly address (คืนความสุข ให้คนในชาติ), the propaganda song Returning Happiness to the Thai Kingdom (คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย), and a 'Bike for Dad' promotional video.

This is an ambitious film, examining the spread and impact of nationalism across Thai society and throughout the country. Thunska and Harit interview school pupils, Buddhist and Muslim worshippers, Village Scouts, and military cadets, revealing how nationalistic values are inculcated, absorbed, and passed from generation to generation. A Village Scout member expresses his love for the King, and a tear trickles down his cheek. Cadets say they're keen to fight against Thailand's enemies, but they're speechless when asked who the enemies are. (It's been thirty years since Thailand's military has been involved in significant combat, yet its budget continues to rise.)

The interviews are juxtaposed with news footage revealing the ultimate consequences of unquestioning nationalism. Village Scouts vow to defend the monarchy. Cut to: scenes from the 6th October 1976 massacre, when the Village Scouts militia groups joined the army in attacking students at Thammasat University. (This also contradicts the heroic portrayal of the Village Scouts in anti-Communist propaganda films such as หนักแผ่นดิน.) Later, cadets pledge their loyalty to the country. Cut to: photographs of hazing rituals in which cadets are beaten and abused. (One interviewee says: "There is often news of soldiers getting beaten to death during training." This is particularly topical, as army cadet Phakhapong Tanyakan died last month, and his internal organs were secretly removed before his body was returned to his family.)

Homogeneous, Empty Time is a brave and important film, directed while the country is being ruled by a military junta following the 2014 coup. Criticism of the government is prohibited, and the lèse-majesté law criminalises dissent. Also, according to Truth on Trial in Thailand, lèse-majesté is interpreted so broadly that it has included "cases which, increasingly abstract, referred to the broad power structures of Thai society." It's these power structures that the film examines.

Aside from the social and political content, the cinematography is also impressive. There are stunning drone shots of Bangkok's Democracy Monument that open and close the film. (A photograph of Democracy Monument also appears at the end of Thunska's short film KI SS.) Thunska's trademark sexual content is present in one sequence, in which an ejaculation is filmed in extreme close-up, rendered semi-abstract by the macro photography.

There are also moments that border on absurdity. At a Christian high school, a plastic baby Jesus sits on a stack of monoblok chairs, and pupils line up to kiss its foot. A Village Scout leader, wearing the world's brightest yellow shirt, boasts of his meeting with the King: "I peeled a coconut for the King... And the King ate my coconut! A round of applause for me, please!"

The film has not been released in Thailand, and an invitation-only screening was cancelled following the censorship of Harit's Whitewash exhibition. As Thunska told me in an interview this year: "In 2009, my film This Area Is Under Quarantine was banned from the World Film Festival. Since then, I decided not to show any of my films in Thailand." Nevertheless, the filmmakers have exercised a degree of caution, by self-censoring one line: an actor from The Wolf Bride (เจ้าสาวหมาป่า) says "in the story there are XXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX", and the sound is muted, as it was in Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป′ไทย).

King Bhumibol passed away in 2016, though Homogeneous, Empty Time was made before he died, and his image appears throughout the film, on billboards and public buildings. Thunska explained this to me earlier in the year: "because it's a documentary, if someone questions me, I can tell them, 'You can see something like that everywhere.' But when I make fiction, if I put that picture in the film, I thought I could get some problems." The King's portraits are indeed ubiquitous in Thailand, though royal iconography has previously been cut from Soi Cowboy (ซอยคาวบอย) and Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง).

Thunska and Harit also co-directed the documentary sPACEtIME (กาลอวกาศ). Thunska's previous feature films are Voodoo Girls (หัวใจต้องสาป), Happy Berry (สวรรค์สุดเอื้อม), This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน), Reincarnate (จุติ), The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), and Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ).

Liquid

Liquid
Liquid, a new short film by Thunska Pansittivorakul, is a condensed version of the first chapter of his feature film Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ), in which two young men caress each other in a bathtub. The scene is filmed impressionistically, with their bodies shown in close-up. Liquid is one of several films (including a revised version of Reincarnate) that Thunska has released on the Vimeo website.

The rhythm is faster than the original sequence in Supernatural, with jump cuts and rapid editing, and the music is more romantic (whereas, in Supernatural, there were monks chanting on the soundtrack). It's also less explicit: the flash of nudity in the Supernatural version has been removed.

Thunska's short film 2060 is also an extract from Supernatural. His other feature films are Voodoo Girls (หัวใจต้องสาป); Happy Berry (สวรรค์สุดเอื้อม); This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน); Reincarnate (จุติ); The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย); sPACEtIME (กาลอวกาศ); and Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล).

12 October 2017

Spielberg

Spielberg
Spielberg, Susan Lacy's feature-length documentary on the career of director Steven Spielberg, premiered on HBO on 7th October. The film is similar to Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, Jan Harlan's profile of Kubrick: both documentaries are more than two hours long, and both benefit from extensive access to their subjects' archives.

Spielberg begins with Jaws, which is not only (arguably) Spielberg's greatest film but also the movie that (for better or worse) set the wide-release template for summer blockbusters that Hollywood has depended on ever since. Lacy then rewinds to Spielberg's short 8mm films, his television work for Universal, and his feature films in broadly chronological order.

The documentary features interviews with Spielberg himself, his fellow directors (Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, and George Lucas), and the leading actors from practically all of his films. In fact, there are so many A-list contributors that some of them (such as Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise) barely have time to say anything. Even Spielberg's mother (who died shortly afterwards) and his centenarian father are included.

Spielberg has made some of Hollywood's most entertaining and acclaimed films, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, and Saving Private Ryan, and these are explored in some depth in the documentary. Despite the long running time, interesting late-career films such as AI, Minority Report, and Lincoln are relegated to brief clips without much (or any) analysis.

As an authorised retrospective, the documentary is largely positive in its assessment of Spielberg's career, though it accomplishes this by simply ignoring the less successful films, with the exception of 1941. There are a couple of dissenting voices among the talking heads, notably the screenwriter of Empire of the Sun, who criticises Spielberg's sentimental tendencies. There's a discussion about whether Spielberg really had the chutzpah to sneak into a vacant Universal office, but Spielberg himself is not asked to confirm or deny the rumour. (He told the story, unchallenged, in the documentary Spielberg on Spielberg and book Spielberg: A Retrospective, both by Richard Schickel.)

01 September 2017

The Godfather: The Complete Epic
The Godfather: A Novel For Television

The Godfather: The Complete Epic 1901-1959
The Godfather: A Novel For Television
Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now has been released in four formats, which differ widely in their running times: 70mm (without closing credits), 35mm (with closing credits), Redux (with an hour of additional footage), and the bootleg five-hour workprint. But that's nothing compared to the myriad alternative edits of The Godfather and its sequels.

The Godfather and The Godfather II were broadcast, in chronological order, as a four-part miniseries on NBC in 1977. The Godfather: The Complete Novel For Television featured more than an hour of additional footage not included in the theatrical versions, though some of the violence was censored for network TV. Twenty years later, in 1997, the cable station USA Network broadcast an alternative two-part chronological edit, The Godfather Saga, with less additional footage than the NBC version.

Another chronological edit was created for the video market. The Godfather: The Complete Epic 1902-1959 was released on VHS in 1981. (It was rereleased on VHS and laserdisc in 1990 under the corrected title The Godfather: The Epic 1901-1959.) In 1992, The Godfather III was inserted into the edit, for the limited edition The Godfather Trilogy 1901-1980, on VHS and laserdisc.

There have been two chronological versions of The Godfather and The Godfather II broadcast on HDTV. In 2012, the cable channel AMC screened The Godfather: A Novel For Television, which was the first chronological edit shown in widescreen. Last year, another cable station, HBO, broadcast a slightly longer version, The Godfather: The Complete Epic 1901-1959. (Confusingly, the title is very similar to the videos released previously.) Also in widescreen, this was the first chronological edit to be broadcast without commercial breaks.

08 August 2017

Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures

Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures
Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures is the first feature-length documentary on the life and work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who died in 1989. The film is an HBO production, and was first broadcast on 4th April 2016. (In the UK, it was shown on BBC2, as part of the Imagine... series, on 29th July 2017.) Its directors, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, previously collaborated on the documentary Inside Deep Throat.

The film's subtitle is taken from a speech on the Senate floor made by Jesse Helms in 1989: "I want Senators to come over here, if they have any doubt, and look at the pictures." Helms was campaigning against National Endowment for the Arts funding for exhibitions by Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano, amongst others, and he showed Mapplethorpe's Man In Polyester Suit (1980) and Serrano's Piss Christ (1987) in the Senate. When the posthumous Mapplethorpe retrospective The Perfect Moment opened at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati later that year, the Center's director was charged with exhibiting obscene images, though he was ultimately acquitted.

The makers of Look At The Pictures were given complete access to the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation's archive. Consequently, the fascinating documentary includes hundreds of previously unseen photographs by Mapplethorpe, and audio extracts from interviews with him. He tells one interviewer: "The work dealing with sexuality is very directly related to my own experiences. It was an area that hadn't been explored in contemporary art, and so it's an area that interested me in terms of making my statement." Many of Mapplethorpe's surviving friends, lovers, and family members participated in the film, with the notable exception of Patti Smith.

Mapplethorpe's most notorious work was a series of thirteen photographs known as the X Portfolio: Scott, NYC (1978); Self-Portrait (1978); Cedric, NYC (1977); Patrice, NYC (1977); Joe, NYC (1978); Jim, Sausalito (1977); Helmut, NYC (1978); John, NYC (1978); Lou, NYC (1978); Helmut & Brooks, NYC (1978); Jim & Tom, Sausalito (1977); Ken, NYC (1978); and Dick, NYC (1978). The Cincinnati obscenity charges related to five of these pictures (Self-Portrait; Jim & Tom, Sausalito; Helmut & Brooks, NYC; Lou, NYC; and John, NYC) and two photographs of naked children (Jessie McBride and Rosie, both from 1976).

Look At The Pictures misrepresents the Cincinnati case by mistakenly claiming that Joe, NYC was included in the list of photographs being prosecuted. More contentiously, the film omits any mention of Jessie McBride or Rosie, which were presumably deemed too sensitive to include in the documentary. These two images were included in a Channel 4 documentary, Damned In The USA, broadcast on 27th September 1991. Rosie, from Mapplethorpe's book Certain People (1985), is especially controversial, and is not included in later Mapplethorpe monographs; it was removed from a Hayward Gallery exhibition in London in 1996 on police advice.

30 July 2017

Dunkirk (IMAX 70mm)

Dunkirk
When he interviewed Quentin Tarantino for the Directors Guild of America in 2015, Christopher Nolan's first question was related to the 65mm film format: "My feeling, watching this film, is that it had an increased level of formalism, I suppose you'd say. There's a real calm and thought to where the camera is, always. Do you think that was related in any way to the choice of format?"

Nolan was referring to Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, though the question also applies to his own latest film, Dunkirk, which was filmed in 70mm IMAX and 65mm. The precise compositions of Dunkirk are a reminder of the formalism that Nolan saw in Tarantino's earlier film.

The Spitfires flying in formation, and the soldiers queuing on the pristine Dunkerque beach, add to the sense of precision in Dunkirk. This seems incongruous given the film's subject matter, though it's perhaps better to think of it as a film about a military operation rather than a war film per se. Regardless, the resulting cinematography is spectacular, especially the breathtaking shots of a gliding Spitfire.

The film is a departure for Nolan, as it's based on real historical events, though it shares some of the narrative experimentation familiar from Memento and Inception. Dunkirk's three story arcs (land, sea, and air) take place over different time periods (a week, a day, and an hour, respectively), a condensed form of the time dilation in Nolan's Interstellar.

Dunkirk also benefits from Nolan's long-standing preference for in-camera effects over CGI, with filming taking place on real ships, boats, and aeroplanes. Nolan has cited masters of suspense Alfred Hitchcock and Henri-Georges Clouzot as primary inspirations for Dunkirk, and there are obvious parallels, for example, with Hitchcock's Lifeboat.

Dunkirk is showing in IMAX 70mm in the 1.43:1 aspect ratio, and this format provides the highest possible image quality. At digital IMAX cinemas, with smaller screens, the film is cropped to 1.9:1. 70mm prints at non-IMAX cinemas are cropped to 2.2:1. 35mm, DMX, and standard DCP versions are cropped to 2.4:1. The Krungsri IMAX screen at Bangkok's Siam Paragon is the only IMAX 70mm venue in Thailand.

14 May 2017

Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant
Alien: Covenant is Ridley Scott's sequel to Prometheus, and both films are prequels to Scott's original classic, Alien. After a prologue featuring Guy Pearce minus his old-age Prometheus make-up, Covenant has more in common with the original Alien, to the extent that it feels like a retread of the earlier film. (It also has references to Scott's Blade Runner, including the line "That's the spirit!" used in similar circumstances, and alien POV shots inspired by It Came From Outer Space.)

Covenant's action takes place several years before Alien's storyline, though Alien really needs to be seen first, not for narrative reasons but to fully appreciate the original 'chestburster' sequence. In that respect, Prometheus and Covenant are similar to the (inferior) Star Wars prequels: they provide convoluted and largely unnecessary backstories, they depict 'older' worlds that paradoxically seem more advanced, and they disclose the plot twists in the earlier films.

Covenant's final revelation, involving Michael Fassbender's two characters, was far too predictable. (Revealing it to the audience sooner would have led to more Hitchcockian suspense.) Covenant benefits from Scott's typically superb production design and cinematography, though ultimately it's Alien without the tension or (Fassbender excluded) the depth of character.

07 March 2017

Cat People

Cat People
Cat People, directed by Jacques Tourneur in 1942, was the first in a cycle of atmospheric horror films produced for RKO by Val Lewton. The studio had recently cancelled its contract with Orson Welles - after releasing his first two films, Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons - and was looking for a commercial horror vehicle to compete with Universal's cycle of monster films (Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.).

The result is a suspenseful B-movie about Irena, a sexually repressed woman who transforms into a panther when she experiences arousal or jealousy. (Almost fifty years later, Michael Jackson transformed into a panther in his Black Or White music video.) The film begins with a meet-cute at the zoo, and compresses the couple's courtship and marriage into a few hurried minutes. Irena's husband, Oliver, is impossibly patient despite her rejection of any intimate contact. Eventually, and more realistically, he falls for his co-worker, Alice, who describes herself as "the new type of other woman" and is the film's only truly likeable character.

The film's Expressionistic lighting is by Nicholas Musuraca, who also photographed the film noir classics Out Of The Past (directed by Tourneur) and Stranger On The Third Floor. There are several striking visual moments: Irena scratching a sofa with her claw-like nails, Oliver in silhouette holding a T-square as a crucifix, and Irena's face under a psychiatrist's spotlight. The sound design is also impressive, especially the use of silence and subtle animal noises. These elements are all combined in the film's most effective sequence, when shadows on the wall and a growling panther frighten Alice in a swimming pool.

Cat People has interesting connections to a couple of other films of the period: it utilises the staircase set from The Magnificent Ambersons, and it was parodied in The Bad & The Beautiful, with Lewton as the model for the Jonathan Shields character. Kim Newman wrote a BFI Film Classics monograph on Cat People in 2001: "each viewing has revealed some new aspect, some unnoticed detail carefully crafted, some resonance perhaps unintended. I would happily watch it again this evening, which may well be the highest praise I can give any film."

31 January 2017

Reincarnate

Reincarnate
Reincarnate
Reincarnate
Thunska Pansittivorakul has produced a new version of his 2010 semi-documentary film, Reincarnate. The 2017 version, which has brighter and more vivid colour grading, was released on the Vimeo website yesterday.

For the new version, Thunska has added a haze effect in some of the point-of-view shots of the leading actor, Panuwat Wisessiri. At times, this effect represents the director's voyeuristic gaze, though later it suggests the presence of the daughter that Panuwat describes giving birth to, as if her shadow were following him.

One shot in the new version is shorter than in the original: when Panuwat says "I think I am pregnant", the film now cuts immediately to the montage sequence symbolising his labour pains. There is also a minor change to the soundtrack: the sound of crickets chirping has been added to one sequence.

The most substantial addition is a new sequence (actually an out-take from Thunska's more recent film, sPACEtIME) of Nathapong Kaewprom naked in a swimming pool, filmed underwater. This scene repeats a motif from elsewhere in Reincarnate and Thunska's earlier short film, Unseen Bangkok: the director grabbing a particular part of his actor's anatomy.

Thunska's other feature-length films are Voodoo Girls; Happy Berry; This Area Is Under Quarantine (banned in 2009); The Terrorists; Supernatural; and Homogeneous, Empty Time. His early short films, including Middle-Earth, Soak, and Action!, were screened at a retrospective in 2008, followed by an exhibition of his photographs. His more recent short films include The Altar, KI SS, and 2060.

04 July 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence (MX4D)

Independence Day: Resurgence
Independence Day: Resurgence
Independence Day: Resurgence, Roland Emmerich's sequel to Independence Day, is another of the director's SF/disaster movies, though it lacks the wow factor of the original film's White House destruction sequence. As Jeff Goldblum says in Resurgence: "They like to get the landmarks." (Goldblum's role is similar to his character in Jurassic Park, and an accountant played by Nicolas Wright is clearly modelled on the lawyer from that film.)

Resurgence is screening in Bangkok in the MX4D format, which is a similar technology to South Korea's 4DX. Like 4DX, MX4D features motion-controlled seats, flashing lights, water vapour, wind, smoke, etc. The main difference is that MX4D (which was developed in the United States) has an additional motorised effect that pokes the underside of the seats.

MX4D is currently only available in screen 10 at SF World. Like Cinerama, 3D, HFR, Dolby Atmos, and Aroma-Scope (and ScreenX at EmQuartier's CineArt, screen 2), it's a gimmick to lure audiences back to the cinema.

31 May 2016

Tongpan

Tongpan
There will be a free screening of Tongpan on 3rd June at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya, near Bangkok. Tongpan (1977) is a dramatisation of a seminar that took place in 1975, which was organised in order to debate the construction of the Pa Mong dam on the Mekong river. The film's eponymous central character is a farmer who had been displaced due to a previous dam.

Sulak Sivaraksa (author of ค่อนศตวรรษ ประชาธิปไตยไทย, Rediscovering Spiritual Value, and Love Letters To Dictators) also appears, and makes a passionate speech against the proposed dam: "Development only serves a few people in Bangkok. Do we see the disadvantages of electricity? Electricity brings radios and TVs that tell people to buy things. The Japanese and the farang industries just get richer. And what about the destruction of our country? The whole province of Loei will be flooded by this Pa Mong Dam."

The Pa Mong dam project was abandoned, though environmental threats to the Mekong region continue to this day. China has built six hydroelectric Mekong dams and more are currently under construction. (Apichatpong Weerasethakul has made several recent films in the region, including Mekong Hotel, Cactus River, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, A Letter To Uncle Boonmee, Phantoms Of Nabua, Cemetery Of Splendor, and his Primitive installation.)

Tongpan was banned in Thailand during the anti-Communist purge of the 1970s, and the film's epilogue explains the repressive political conditions of the period: "In October 1976, shortly after the shooting of this film, a violent coup d'etat of a magnitude never before seen in Thailand brought to an end Thailand's three-year experiment with parliamentary democracy."

15 May 2016

Bolshoi Babylon

Bolshoi Babylon
Bolshoi Babylon, an HBO documentary that also received a theatrical release, examines the volatile atmosphere backstage at Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre company. How volatile? One of the Bolshoi's dancers paid someone to throw acid in ballet director Sergei Filin's face.

The film, directed by Nick Read, includes an interview with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who explains candidly that the company is an essential element of Russian soft power: "The Bolshoi is our secret weapon". Bolshoi Babylon opens at the SF World cinema in Bangkok tomorrow, with screenings presented by the Documentary Club.

11 February 2016

Eames: The Architect & The Painter

Eames: The Architect & The Painter
Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey's feature-length documentary Eames: The Architect & The Painter explores the life and work of Charles (the architect) and Ray Eames (the painter). The Eames' collaborative designs "did more to change the public perception of Modern design than just about anyone else in the 20th century" (Charlotte and Peter Fiell, Industrial Design A-Z).

The documentary begins with the development of arguably the most influential Eames design, the plywood LCW chair (part of the Essential Eames exhibition at TCDC last year). This is the only item of furniture or product design that the film discusses in detail, though, as the focus shifts to the dynamics of the Eames' relationship and the working practices in their design office.

Numerous sequences from the Eames' short films are included, notably their most famous film, Powers Of Ten (1977). There are also clips from multi-screen installations such as the seven-screen Glimpses Of The USA (1959) and Think (1964), shown on twenty-two screens at the World's Fair in New York.

Interviewees include Pat Kirkham (author of Charles & Ray Eames: Designers Of The 20th Century, and co-editor of History Of Design), and John and Marilyn Neuhart (co-authors, with Ray Eames, of Eames Design, an objective catalogue raisonne described by Ray as "a book without adjectives"). Charles Eames' daughter (Lucia) and grandson (Eames Demetrios, author of An Eames Primer) also appear.

Eames Demetrios takes us on a tour of the Eames' house, and this archetypal Mid-Century Modern property reflects the different personalities of Charle and Ray Eames. The house has Modernist architecture (open-plan exterior, high ceilings, and glass walls) designed by Charles, and is filled with art and knick-knacks collected by Ray.

Though the Eames Office co-operated with the documentary, this is not a rose-tinted portrait of the designers. For example, art historian Judith Wechsler describes her affair with Charles Eames: "We had a very profound love for each other. He wanted very much for us to get married and have a child, and he wanted to close the Eames office".

On a lighter note, architect Kevin Roche describes dinner at the Eames' house: "what they had arranged for dessert was three bowls of flowers, that they put in front of you to admire, so it was a visual dessert. I was really fucked off with that, I can tell you! I hadn't eaten much, I was saving up for the dessert. So I'm looking at these stupid flowers, saying 'What the hell's wrong with these people?' I got in my car and I drove out to the nearest Dairy Queen!"

Eames: The Architect & The Painter was made for the PBS American Masters television series and first broadcast on 19th December 2011. It was also released theatrically.

26 January 2016

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs, directed by Danny Boyle, is loosely based on Walter Isaacson's authorised Jobs biography. Isaacson praised the products Jobs released but criticised his methods, while the film criticises both. Apple disliked Isaacson's book (and this film) and co-operated with Brent Schlender's more sympathetic Becoming Steve Jobs.

Aaron Sorkin's script is smart and funny, with more laughs than some comedies. The structure - compressing so many events into the moments before three product launches - is artificial but dramatic. As Michael Fassbender (playing Jobs) says in the film, "It's like five minutes before every launch everyone goes to a bar, gets drunk and tells me what they really think."