Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

My Extracurricular Films for the Month of August

Chopstick Cinema

This Month's Film: Nang Nak
Cuisine: Thai

In addition to the Asian film I choose for Chopstick Cinema each month, I watch lots of other movies. It's been a slow month for television, so I've watched lots of movies in the past few weeks:

Blood Diamond - Matt Damon stars as a mercenary looking for a way out of Sierra Leone, and hitches his wagon to a lowly fisherman whose family has been interned, and who discovered and hid a massive pink diamond while working as a slave for the military regime. Together they strike off cross-country in search of the place where the diamond is hidden. This was a compelling story, well cast, scripted and filmed. But it's one of those movies that lasted about 15 minutes too long in an effort to tie everything up in a neat package. However, it did make me look at the stone on my own finger and wonder...

Freedom Writers - Based on a true story, Hillary Swank plays Erin Gruwell, a Pollyanna-ish newbie high school English teacher who's been assigned the academic dregs of an affirmative action integration program. In the wake of the Rodney King riots, this menagerie of gang-bangers and misfits is caught in the dead-end maelstrom of life in the ghetto. That is until Little Miss Sunshine casts a ray of hope on their abysmal future with her unflagging devotion, and her innovative, interactive teaching methods. A good street-to-screen adaptation, if a little predictable, formulaic, and lacking in the visceral elements.

Noise - Trish Goff plays Joyce Chandler, a recently single young woman who moves into a lovely New York apartment that seems a little too good to be true. And it is. One floor up lives Charlotte Bancroft (Ally Sheedy), an eccentric and malicious woman who drives Joyce crazy with music and partying at all hours of the night, keeping Joyce awake. Anger, frustration and sleep deprivation lead to life coming unraveled, and ultimately, to irrational and vindictive retaliation. Strangely entertaining.

The Host - After massive quantities of formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals are dumped into the Han River by an unconscionable scientist, the city of Seoul is menaced by an overgrown amphibian with supernatural gymnastic abilities. The action focuses on one family in particular, an elderly father who owns a food concession, his moronic youngest son who helps run the family business, his adolescent granddaughter, an elder college drop-out son, and a daughter, a championship archer who hesitates at the crucial moment. When the mutant creature captures the granddaughter, the family goes on a quest to rescue her. This movie is your classic monster thriller, complete with a flimsy plot, cheesy acting, and sub-standard dubbing. And yet it's riveting from start to finish.

The Painted Veil - It's Shanghai 1925, and microbiologist Dr. Walter Fane (Edward Norton) is caught in an adulturous love triangle with his wife Kitty (Naomi Watts) and her man-about-town lover Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber). Dr. Fane's solution: a gambit of emotional blackmail that lands them both in the middle of a cholera epidemic in rural China. Based on the novel by Somerset Maugham, this bittersweet romance uses skillful irony to expose the subtle workings of marital politics. Cinematography showcases China at its best, overlaid with a sophisticated drama played out by a perfectly cast ensemble.

Breach - Ah the good old days of post-cold war espionage. Chris Cooper, the face of dozens of supporting characters, takes the lead in this spy thriller, in which the FBI tries to nail him as a double agent, with Ryan Phillippe as the newbie agent-wannabe sent in for the takedown, and Laura Linney as his steely supervisor. Engaging, entertaining, excellent.

The Good Shepherd - Dull Dull Dull. And what a colossal waste of acting talent. Matt Damon plays Edward Wilson, a Yale man who gets lured into helping found the CIA. But even in its infancy, the agency was already as leaky as a rotting rowboat. Early on, a snippet of surveillance film reveals an unidentified source, caught in the act with a known enemy agent. Two tedious hours, and forty-eight mind-numbing minutes later, once the surveillance scene has been analyzed down to the last speck of dust, the 'shocking' discovery is finally revealed. Big deal. Angelina Jolie is miscast as a whiny, neglected housewife. Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, William Hurt, Timothy Hutton, and Alec Baldwin play such fleeting characters, there's barely time to recognize them before they disappear. The entire script was hollow and wooden, as were the actors who recited the lines. Don’t waste your time on this one. See Breach instead.

In the Company of Men - This 1997 film, Aaron Eckhart and Matt Malloy star as two corporate executives sent to a minor branch office to head up a project for six weeks. As a wicked lark to get back at the female gender for toying with their affections, the two agree to pour on the charm for one vulnerable deaf woman, and then dump her right before they leave town. The easily foreseeable inevitibilities come to pass, with genuine feelings developing for the girl, while the rivalry heats up between her two suitors. This edgy drama, although predictable, was an okay way to pass 97 minutes at the end of a slow evening.

Wild Hogs - Just your basic City Slickers on Harleys, this goofy comedy stars John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy, as four mid-lifers trying to reclaim the passions of their youth on a cross-country road trip. Lots of humor and physical comedy, a few good brawls, and one hell of an explosion. Good supporting cast and surprise cameos. Silly and entertaining.

How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog - An oddball little film starring Kenneth Branagh as Peter McGowan, a creatively frustrated playwright whose wife (Robin Wright Penn) is hellbent on conceiving a child. When the cast and director of his play tell him that he doesn't know how to write dialogue for a kid, he befriends the little girl across the street to study her expressions and mannerisms. Meanwhile there's a stalker lurking about the neighborhood masquerading as Peter McGowan, and the neighbors have gotten a watchdog that barks all night. Something's gotta give. This film, small and odd though it be, is a delight.

Naked in New York - Coincidentally, another movie about a frustrated playwright, this one played by Eric Stoltz, whose most recent work is slated to debut off Broadway. As he struggles with the rigors of overbearing producers and bad casting, his relationship with his girlfriend (Mary Louise Parker) is slowly coming unraveled. Lots of celebrity supporting roles and cameos make this a worthwhile watch.

Double Happiness - Sandra Oh (one of my favorite actresses) plays Jade, an aspiring young Chinese actress pursuing career and romance against the wishes of her meddlesome family, who want only for her to settle down with a nice Chinese boy. A small but endearing film that nicely portrays the struggle faced by many young people to choose between traditional family values and their own dreams.

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