December 29, 2006

Back in Bangkok now, but flying to Sydney this afternoon. Remarkably, we made it back from the island painlessly – sod’s law the weather improved on the day we were leaving, but at least this meant the express catamaran ride was smooth to the point of being pleasant. Such a contrast. And such a relief. No bile!

Back in Bangkok we had two nights, basically one full day, so we decided to explore a different part of town – not the Grand Palace and wats and sites, not the scruffy real-world market area, not the bogglingly backpackery area of Khao San (which is like Camden, but hot), but the central commercial area, specifically along Phloen Chit Rd.

Got a water bus down the Chao Phraya, then the freakily immaculate Skytrain. Which felt like something from Singapore, as did a mall we spent much of the day in.

Malls are anathema to me normally, but we kinda appreciated the escape from the street-level chaos of a SE Asian mega-city. Even in the areas that feel like a modern capital as we’d recognise it, Bangkok is chaotic – the traffic is as bad as that of Mumbai, worse even. As Vietnam gets wealthier and people replace their scooters with cars, Hanoi might go the same way sadly. At least with millions of scooters, the traffic seems to keep moving.

I’ve been desperate to go to the cinema, given that I’ve earned most of my living from an involvement with its wares for the past, ooh, six or so years. It’s all very well having HBO and Star TV channels, or catching bits of movies on shoddy pirates in bars, but nothing can compare with a big screen, a big sound system and a big seat. The two cinemas we ended up visiting had all these. Especially the latter.

We ended up in a half-finished, half-empty mall called Central World Plaza. After some Japanese food for lunch, we went to see Eragon. We even treated outselves to a ‘Sofa Sweet’. This huge reclining double seat was a fab way to resume our cimema-going. The film was okay, in a Willow or Krull or even Dragonheart kinda way, but one of the most memorable things about the experience was having to stand at the stand to ‘Pay your respect to the King’. It’s essential you do – seeming to disrespect the king, Bhumibol Adulyadej (aka Rama IX), is a definite no-no in Thailand as he’s enormously revered.

The country is riddled with huge portraits of him, and his missus Queen Sirikit. He’s shown in various poses that show him in roles that range from a great social planner (talking to a peasant or engineer as he pores over a map) to a religious leader (one oft-seen image has him in a blessing-like pose, like that of the Pope say). He’s monarch, pope, wise man, even living god (born in the US and educated in Switzerland, he’s also a jazz musician, artist and interesting political figure. Far more interesting than our lame old soap opera Windsors).

Anyway. Eragon – what can you say? I’ve not read the book but fancied a big, fantasy production. Despite the silly names (especially the hammy Malkovich’s ‘Galbatorix’), an unknown director (Stefen Fangmeier, an American former visual effects guy making his directorial debut), and a plot that felt squashed, it was entertaining enough. Though of course it in no ways lives up to any comparison to the LOTR films. Still, it was a lot better than the dreadful Dungeons and Dragons movie that was rushed out before The Fellowship of the Rings and also featured Jeremy Irons (a lot better here) and eastern Europeans landscapes (handsome, but not as spiffing as those of NZ).

The film was very badly received by critics. Being an erstwhile critic, I can understand them having issues with it, but also having stepped off the treadmill of turning out reviews and having requisite cynical conversations with my jaded peers, and instead become a punter who just fancied a fantasy flick, it was enjoyable. And hell, it was a nice break from the bustle of the streets.

Later on we went to see Night at the Museum. This being a ‘family movie’, ie aimed at kids during their school holidays, and the director being the man responsible for the appalling Pink Panther from earlier in 2006, I wasn’t expecting much, despite the premise looking fun. We were pleasantly surprised.

Some of it didn’t work – like the incongruous Ricky Gervais character, which jarred with Ben Stiller’s lead specifically and much of the film generally – but much of it did, like the CGI work to bring the museum to life, Robin Williams’ Teddy Roosevelt (which he managed to do in a way that combined his OTT comedy style and his over-earnest serious acting style, somehow balancing them out), and best of all the idea of having three old codgers as the bad guys (the superannuated Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney seemed to be having fun). Also, in contrast to the unsucccessful Stiller/Gervais rapport, that of Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan (as, respectively, bickering, scrapping miniature cowboy and miniature Roman general) worked well. In fact, the film got better as it went along, and the audience in our auditorium warmed up.

Jeez it was nice to go to the movies, even it was just for two fairly middling Hollywood flicks. I plan to do a lot more of that in Sydney – hopefully both Clint Eastwood’s Iwo Jima films will be showing somewhere, amongst other things I need to catch up with. Also Deju Vu, which dear old Channel 4 Film seems to dig (but I’ve avoided on cruddy pirate here in Bangkok), Stranger Than Fiction, etc etc. I do miss that big screen action.

Really want to see the upcoming Thai film called King Naresuan too – which, after seeing the trailer, I correctly guessed would be ‘the most expensive Thai film ever made’ (supposedly around 500 million baht, a paltry $14 million in Hollywood terms, but pretty pricey for here). Hope a subtitled version reaches somewhere English-speaking we’re passing through as it looks pretty spectacular – it’s a 15th century historical epic replete with charging elements, enormous muskets, myriad extras etc.

The unforgivable discomfort of a British Airways long haul will bring us more movies later, but a tiny screen on a seat reclined to a point a few inches in front of your face is just not the same is it?


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