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Ginie Reviews Films: The Love of Siam

Love_of_siam_poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film: The Love of Siam (รักแห่งสยาม)
Director: Chookiat Saveerakul
Year: 2007
Notable Actors: Mario Maurer, Sinjai Plengpanich
Rating: 4.5/5

So I’ve been meaning to write this review for a long time, but to be honest: it had been a long time since I’d last seen this film and I was afraid I wouldn’t do justice to it. Thankfully, my mum gave me a reason to whip it out and as I sought to prove a.) that the Thai movie industry does produce some amazing films and b.) while still a minority of the LGBT representation in Thai pop culture, Thai media is totally capable of representing its gay characters with sensitivity and complexity.

~*Spoilers*~

The Love of Siam follows the story of two childhood friends who reunite in their teens after several years of separation. Tong is from a Roman Catholic family, and as a child his older sister disappeared whilst on holiday in Chiang Mai with her friends. Mew is a sensitive musician-type from an ethnically Chinese family with distant parents. He is closest to his grandmother, who passes away when Mew is in his teens.  Both boys are familiar with losing a loved one and this is what initially brings them together. Their story is further complicated by issues within Tong’s family – since his sister’s disappearance his father has turned towards chronic alcoholism and it is his mother, Sunee, who has to keep it together despite the tragedy as she becomes the sole caretaker and bread-winner of what is left of her family.

Mew and Tong as children,

Mew and Tong as children,

So…not your average teen romantic comedy. Despite the way the film was marketed, the Love of Siam really is just what it says on the tin – it’s about love. All kinds of love. It’s about the love you have for your family, the love you have for your friends and of course, the love you have for the first time you meet someone who touches your soul and sets your heart racing. I’m not going to lie – I tear up every single time I watch this film. Every single time. And although my knowledge of Thai films is by no means extensive, I feel like I watched a significant handful of recent blockbusters and The Love of Siam for me still ranks as one of the best Thai films I’ve ever seen.

First of all, the acting in this film is flawless. I don’t think there is a single weak performance amongst the main cast, although Pchy (Mew) and Sinjai Plengpanich (Sunee) deliver some particularly outstanding performances. Seriously though, both of these two just break my heart every time they’re on screen and just trying to hold it together. This is also of course, the role that launched Mario Maurer’s acting career and it’s certainly one that shows despite being (at the time) an amateur, the boy is definitely more than just a pretty face.

Secondly, although the running time is very long I feel the film really benefits from showing how the lives of these two broken families intertwine, how all these characters interact and the lasting impact they have on each other. While the focal point of the film is on the two boys who’re just coming to terms with their feelings for each other, there is a much wider story being told – after all, life doesn’t just stop happening because you’ve fallen in love. And sometimes, there are bigger things going on that just can’t be put aside.

Really, I think my only complaint with this film would be the role June’s character plays in the narrative. As a dead-ringer for Tong’s missing sister Tang, she gets recruited by Tong and Sunee to pretend to be Tang in an attempt to save Tong’s father from his crippling alcoholism. I guess this was the point where my disbelief officially stopped being suspended. I don’t know what else could’ve been done with this character to make her story-line more believable while keeping the lasting impact she has on Tong’s family, but as it is in the film it is the only thing that rings false to me.

Mew performing at the end of the film.

Mew performing at the end of the film.

I know I’ve read reviews that saw the ending as a bit of a cop-out, as Tong ultimately tells Mew that although he loves him, he cannot be his boyfriend (earlier on in the film when his mother discovers the nature of Mew and Tong’s relationship she forbids Mew from contacting her son and forbids her son from seeing Mew). I can completely understand this reaction – it’s an old and worn-out trope: gay couples can never have a happy ending; things must always end in tragedy. But in defence of The Love of Siam, I actually interpreted the ending as fairly optimistic? I don’t think people necessarily understand the amount of importance placed on duty to one’s parents in Thai culture, and as far as Tong was concerned – he had a duty to his mother and to his family. Growing up with a Thai mom, I have to say that the relationship between (most) Thai parents and their kids, particularly regarding sexuality, is a pretty closed one and my personal experiences have always involved being very patient about when and how I broach the topic with my mom. I’d always understood the ending of the movie as Tong wanting to help his family heal first, help them get to a better place before he could act on his feelings for Mew. Perhaps I had interpreted it too optimistically – but I had always seen that ending as an ambiguously happy one. “I know who I am – and although I cannot be with you yet, one day I will be able to”, or maybe even “I know who I am – and although I can’t have a boyfriend yet, one day I will be able to be open about my feelings for another boy, and that boy may not be you but he will definitely exist”. I had never interpreted that final scene as him repressing his new-found sexuality. Particularly as he had just broken up with his girlfriend prior to the ending scene. By breaking up with his girlfriend, Tong was affirming – at least to himself – that he knew who he was now and he knew that he had to be honest with himself. He was no longer confused about where he stood and was free to admit to himself (and to Mew) that he knows who he loves. I could not believe that anyone who had taken such a self-confident act could deny himself his own happiness forever. And I had always interpreted that scene as an indication that Tong would have to wait for his happiness a little bit longer, but he would definitely get it one day. But of course, I could be wrong and I am always happy to hear alternative view points.

This was Mario Maurer's break-out role. Here he is as Tong at the end of the film looking for Mew after breaking up with his girlfriend.

This was Mario Maurer’s break-out role. Here he is as Tong at the end of the film looking for Mew after breaking up with his girlfriend.

Watching this with my mom I thought I’d observe her and see what she had to say, as I usually use her as my gauge for whether I’ve understood the subtext of a Thai setting correctly. At the end of the film, she said “well they are not together today, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be one day.” And that is exactly what I’d taken away from the ending too.  One day I am hoping for an unambiguously happy ending for Thai gay protagonists, but in the meantime I am incredibly glad this film exists and if you’ve never seen it you should definitely check it out.

On an entirely different note: I am also super in love with the main theme song for this film

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Ginie Reviews Films: The Dark Knight Rises

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film: The Dark Knight Rises
Director:
Christopher Nolan
Year:
2012
Notable Actors:
Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman
Rating:
4/5

~*Spoilers Ahead*~

I know, I know. Really Ginie? A Dark Knight Rises review almost two months after its release? Why even bother? Well, in my defense I’ve spent the last two months working and studying in different cities, and what with the moving around and all the administration that entails I haven’t had much time to keep up to date with my reviewing. Secondly in honour of a.) the last film in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy b.) the Dark Knight Returns film DC have announed for this year and c.) my current  Batman obsession, I am declaring this month unofficial Bat-month where I’ll be reviewing various Bat-related things. Sounds good? Now on with the review!

So like pretty much everyone who went to see the film in theatres I was completely blown away – the pacing of the film, the tension, the way it neatly ties back to Batman Begins and completes the trilogy while leaving us wanting more – it was excellent. It was also great to see Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows return as the trilogy’s ultimate antagonist, and the introduction of Talia al Ghul is a nice touch (and maybe sets up the possibility of a Damien Wayne in any future Nightwing movies? Who knows…also – called it! Called it the moment she started going on about not always having been privileged!) Basically there was plenty in it for Bat-nerds to get excited over, but also worked as a standalone for viewers who aren’t familiar with the DC universe at all.

And bizarre though this may sound, it was great to see Batman age (I know, he’s only what, like in his thirties at this point?) but being the Batman has taken an emotional and physical toll on him and I guess that’s one of the great things about Nolan’s universe  – the fact that it takes little realistic things like ageing and messed-up knee caps into consideration. Although no one will ever top my favourite grumpy old curmudgeon Batman, Christian Bale obviously does a great job. It’s even weirder watching Batman Begins again because he looks and acts so young in that film and it’s interesting to see how being the Batman ages Bruce Wayne. I also liked Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, and I think it was a smart move on Nolan’s part to have this Selina Kyle be fully into her identity as Catwoman already to avoid any comparisons with say, Michelle Pffeifer’s transformation into Catwoman in the Tim Burton films. She’s quite a different character to Rachel Dawes and the contrast works quite well – a more cynical ally for a more cynical Batman.

Non-cat-ear cat-ears! Super cute.

Bane was an awesome villain, a very interesting contrast to Heath Ledger’s Joker in the previous film. In some ways I felt like their tactics were very similar (creating chaos and instilling fear) but the contrast in their motivations and the execution of their plans makes Bane a very interesting new villain. I did find it weird that no one ever talked about the Joker though. Especially considering how Harvey Dent was a key reference throughout this film it just seemed odd that Gotham was in chaos once again and no one ever mentioned that other time when Gotham was in chaos. But I guess all things considered, I can probably understand why they didn’t want to bring attention to the Joker character at all.

Admittedly, I’m not entirely sure how I felt about the Talia reveal at the end. I get that it was meant to be a surprise and all (for those of us who didn’t catch on that she was Talia in like, the first five minutes) but it just felt like I wish I’d known more about her motivations. We know she’s carrying out this work for the League of Shadows and we know she’s avenging her father, but I feel like there was more of a story there that should have been told.

So all in all an amazing movie and a great end to a fantastic trilogy that brings the DC universe into a more relate-able real-life setting. But then this monstrosity showed up:

So not that I’m not a fan of  ‘the Bat’, but I think it was at this point that my suspension of disbelief failed me and I was like “seriously, how does Gotham NOT know that Batman is Bruce Wayne? How many other multi-billionaires are there who are the head of a company with a weapons division in Gotham?!”

(No seriously though. How does no one figure it out? Or at least figure out that Wayne Enterprises is totally involved?)

And maybe this is the problem with trying to make comic characters work in a realistic world. The idea is fundamentally an exaggeration and only really works in an exaggerated universe…the universe of comic books. The moment you try to apply it to real life everything falls apart a bit. And once I noticed how ridiculous the bat-helicopter was I couldn’t stop noticing all the other things that didn’t add up. Like the fact that a nuclear explosion (even out at sea) would still result in the entire population of Gotham risking cancer from exposure to radiation. Or how Bruce Wayne got back into a locked-down Gotham. You know. Plot-holes like that.

Still, if you can ignore the plot-holes, this is an incredible enjoyable film with a fantastic cameo from Cillian Murphy as Dr. Crane with easily one of the best lines in the movie:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do I recommend seeing The Dark Knight Rises? Of course! It really is a great ending to the Nolan trilogy and it’s genuinely kind of sad (but probably for the best) that this will be the last film in this series.

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Ginie Reviews Films: The Hunger Games

Film: The Hunger Games
Director: Gary Ross
Year: 2012
Notable Actors: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Rating: 3.5/5

Happy Hunger Games and may the odds be ever in your favour.

I admittedly don’t have much to say about this movie that hasn’t been expressed in Nostalgia Chick’s vlog.

Other thoughts:

  •  I felt like there was a lot of relevant details that may have left some people at a loss if they weren’t familiar with the books. The fact that the Mockingjay is a symbol of subversion (and therefore not just a pretty pin that her little sister gave her to keep her safe),  or the significance of the three-finger District 12 salute, that sort of thing.
  • Or the fact that poor families can put their children’s names in for the Reaping more times in exchange for food. That seemed like a significant piece of social commentary that wasn’t really made clear.
  • Also I felt like it was much harder to feel the horror of it all because in the books you get to know most of the tributes by name, and you spend more time getting to know them. When a tribute dies, regardless of whether they were “good” or “bad”, it made an impact in the books. Few of the deaths made an impact in the film because we barely spent time knowing them as people. I guess this is a screen-time restraint, which can’t really be helped.
  • Speaking of deaths, I do wish they’d spent a bit more screen-time building up Rue and Katniss’s rapport/relationship. It just felt a little too rushed. I cried anyway, but I cried because of the character I knew in the book. If no one else, I wish the film had just given the audience a bit more time to get to know Rue and really feel the impact of the senselessness of her death.
  • Films are a different medium to books – and you can’t really get the same internal perspective in a film that you can with a book.  Jennifer Lawrence is an amazing actress, but I felt that the played-up romance with Peeta could easily have been mistaken for a real romance in the film, whereas in the book it’s a lot more clear that Katniss’s feelings and motivations are more ambiguous. Yes, Katniss cares for Peeta – but she doesn’t yet love him romantically and her romantic interactions are forced through because of her need to survive the Hunger Games. The only indication we get of this in the film is Haymitch’s note: “You call that a kiss?” which well, doesn’t say much about Katniss’s actual feelings about the whole thing or Peeta’s for that matter. I think those later scenes in the film lack the tension that I feel exists in the book as a result.
  • And yeah – the editting is a bit weird. Also, the weird censorship of the actual goriness of what is going on. You’ve got kids beating each other to death – but there’s no blood? I see. I know they did it to keep the PG-13 rating, and I’m happy that the younger Hunger Games fans will get to see it but I do think any film/book that attempts to deal with these kinds of issues does a disservice to its subject-matter when it glosses over the realities of just how horrific and senseless violence is.
  • That said, I do like the way certain things were articulated in the film that weren’t necessarily done in the books. The last quote by Cato, a career tribute, particularly: “Go on. Shoot. Then we both go down and you win. Go on! I’m dead anyway – I always was, right? Tell that to them! How’s that, is that what they want? HUH? I could still do this. I could still do this. One. More. Kill. It’s the only thing I know how to do and we pride it in my district. Not that it matters… “

But yes. Other than that – Jennifer Lawrence is stunning and the acting in this was really well-done, from everyone. Definitely worth seeing if you enjoyed the books – and if you haven’t read the books it’s still worth seeing though I’d always recommend to read the books first. My brother really enjoyed it despite having never read any of The Hunger Games, and he now wants to borrow my books. So yes. Happy Hunger Games!

^^EDIT^^
Ooh actually, this sums up most of my feels. Although I did actually quite like Peeta’s performance:

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Ginie Compares: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bete

  

Films: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bete
Directors: Gary Trousdale/Kirk Wise and Jean Cocteau
Years: 1991 and 1946

So, as you may or may not have picked out from this blog, I’m something of a fan of fairy-tales. As someone who is quite visually driven, I’m a fan of the imagery they evoke – and as someone who likes understanding people, I’m a fan of how the way in which a fairytale is told (what is included, what gets left out) often speaks volumes about the society that produced it.

But that’s not exactly what I wanted to talk about today. Mainly I just wanted to get around to comparing two versions of one of my favourite fairy-tales of all time: Beauty and the Beast.

While the Disney version seems to have taken a lot of inspiration from the Cocteau version (including the design of the beast, the enchanted household items and Avenant, a Gaston-like character); the two movies are very different (as you would expect from the America’s upholder of family values and a French surrealist), and they were clearly made for very different audiences.

Visually, both movies are absolutely stunning. I remember the first time I watched the Disney version I was only a wee-thing but I was so completely and utterly drawn into the world and frequently felt genuine fear – of the beast, of his castle, of the woods – there is so much in this movie that is terrifying for very young kids (as in, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t older than five the first time I saw this). The music and the visuals and the atmosphere in this film are just incredible, and I am not surprised that people still consider this one of Disney’s best animated feature length films.

(Seriously though, this scene. Like holy crap how terrifying is the beast when he first steps into the light?)

Cocteau’s world is just as entrancing, but in an entirely different way. Like the Disney, Cocteau’s world is frightening – but not in an overtly obvious way. There’s just something incredibly unsettling about the beast’s castle (the human arm chandeliers for one) and I think in a way, this difference perfectly demonstrates who the different audiences are. While Disney’s version was terrifying for children (and is still visually dark and impressive at times, though you’ll be glad to know I no longer quake at the site of the best), Cocteau’s version was made for adults. Even in the 40’s (especially after the war, where no horror could amount to what people probably saw in real life) adults are much harder to scare, and I think it’s the familiar made unfamiliar that is so unsettling in this movie, especially for adults.

Also, it reminds me a bit of Joel Peter Witkin’s photography. There’s a kind of visual deception where everything looks as it should be until you notice the disembodied arm. And the arm isn’t even doing anything. It’s just there. But that’s what’s so unsettling about it.

Where Disney’s film was a movie aimed primarily at children to teach them a moral about judging surfaces rather than inner qualities; Cocteau was a movie that asked adults to be children again, to suspend their disbelief and allow themselves to be transported into this world that he has created. He states so quite literally in the very opening of the film:

Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can plunge a family into conflict. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he slays a victim, and that this will cause him shame when a young maiden takes up residence in his home. They believe a thousand other simple things.
I ask of you a little of this childlike sympathy and, to bring us luck, let me speak four truly magic words, childhood’s “Open Sesame”:
Once upon a time…

Does it succeed? Partly yes, and partly no. But I think this is perhaps true of all films.

While the atmosphere of the film is rich and all-enveloping, the visuals stunning and the music haunting – I had some issues with the characters, namely the Beast and Belle, and to be fair, a lot of it isn’t strictly speaking Cocteau’s fault.

Take the Beast. Admittedly, I believe my issue with Cocteau’s Beast is partly derived from the fact the he is very based on the Beast in the traditional fairytale and also partly derived from the fact that I am a modern viewer and this Beast was not meant to appeal to someone like me. While the Beast is indeed a tragic figure who clearly suffers greatly and who is clearly desperately lonely, I found it hard to like him and I found it hard to believe that Belle could ever love him. As in all versions of this tale, Belle is repulsed and horrified by his appearance and only later discovers his gentle side. Every night the Beast asks her if she will marry him, and every night she says no – because despite the fact that she has grown to like him as a friend, she finds his looks too horrifying to contemplate marrying.

This dynamic makes me super uncomfortable because it makes the basis of their relationship essentially one of pity, which he later uses to manipulate Belle into coming back. When she asks to leave to see her father, he says he will allow her to do so on the condition that she must return to him – otherwise he’ll die. He essentially emotionally blackmails her to return (which isn’t what the film intended, but is how  feel when I see Belle and the Beast interact). It means that while I can understand Belle feeling compassionate for the Beast and even feeling fond of him, I cannot understand her falling in love with him – especially when throughout the movie and throughout their interactions there is no indication that she has developed feelings for him beyond a pitiful sense of affection. Moreover when the Beast transforms back into his handsome self his entire attitude and personality changes – from the meek, self-deprecating Beast he turns into a confident-bordering-on-arrogant prince who looks just like Avenant, the attractive suitor Belle originally rejected. Aside from the sudden demeanour change, the fact that Belle openly admires how he looks like Avenant and basically says that this pleases her (Yey! An Avenant who isn’t a dick! I guess…?) makes it hard for me to believe in her love for him and believe in their relationship.

The relationship between Disney’s Beast and Belle on the other hand, I can understand a bit better (but then, this movie was made to appeal to someone of my generation). I tend to feel accusations of Stockholm Syndrome are unfair as Belle doesn’t even remotely like him until long after he’s stopped being a violent douchebag. I also feel it doesn’t play into the “bad boy” trope because in most of those tropes the girls can’t help but be drawn to someone they know is wrong for them – which isn’t the case with Belle. She argues with the Beast and tells him she ran away because he’s a violent asshole and he needs to calm down otherwise she won’t stay. That’s not falling for a “bad boy”, that’s quite rightly standing up for yourself and drawing some boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. (It does however play into another trope: the love of a virtuous woman redeeming a terrible man). But she doesn’t start to love him until after they’ve formed a friendship and more importantly until after he’s realised that if you love someone you can’t force them to stay with you against their will and that you have to let them make their own choices, even if that choice means leaving you. Which she does. Not once does he tell her that she is his last chance at becoming human again and he does not even ask her to come back – he just lets her go free. Simple as that.

Not that the Disney version doesn’t have it’s issues (Oh god comic relief characters why, just why), but overall I am much fonder of the Disney version than I am of Cocteau’s. I know, I know – Ginie you’re such a philistine! Preferring Disney over Cocteau? Pssh! What can I say? Obviously my fondness for Disney is also largely nostalgia-fuelled, and as I’ve stated, the movie Cocteau made wasn’t made for post-WWII adults, not for a child of the 90’s. So if liking the Disney version more makes me a philistine, than I guess so be it. In the meanwhile, share your thoughts in the comments!

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