Graham Macdonald MBMG International Ltd.
A tax free Thai retirement, fact or fantasy?
Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes (QROPS) explained, part 1
Most long term British Expatriates in Asia have little
intention of spending their retirement back in the UK. The climate is often
cited, as is what appears to be the ever increasing incidence of violent crime
However, probably the most common reason for not wishing to return is the cost
of living in Britain. With its ever increasing tax regimes, often being
implemented due to a European Union directive that, to the casual observer,
appears crazy, the United Kingdom has become a very expensive place to retire.
For European expatriates the politically correct European Union directives have
produced an unexpected benefit, however. One of the “Four Freedoms” in European
Union law is the “Free Movement of Capital”, including pension funds. This EU
Law was formulated into UK pension legislation on April 6, 2006, with the launch
of Qualifying Regulated Overseas Pension Funds (QROPS).
This ruling from Brussels now means that, subject to certain conditions, you may
move your pension fund offshore and draw your retirement income tax free.
Wherever you live in the world, a UK Regulated Pension Plan will be subject to
So the initial question is not too difficult to answer: do you want to pay tax
on your retirement income, or not?
However, you need to know all the parameters, potential risks as well as the
benefits before jumping in.
Therefore, the aim of this article is not only to inform you of the numerous
benefits of QROPS, but also to explain the limits and explode a few myths that
are being sold as benefits by less ethical “advisers”.
There has already been one case of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
overturning a QROPS transfer, winning the right to charge the individual a large
income tax bill, after he had paid a hefty commission to the “international
sales and marketing consultants” involved.
1. Your retirement income can be drawn free of UK income tax from a QROPS, and
free of Thai income tax, because in Thailand it is offshore investment income
and not earned onshore.
2. You are never obliged to purchase an annuity like a UK scheme. Ultimately
when you and/or your spouse dies, with an annuity there is nothing to pass on to
your children or estate.
3. With QROPS what is left to your estate is free of UK inheritance tax.
4. Provided you have been an expatriate for at least 5 years you may take a 30%
tax free lump sum immediately. In the first 5 years offshore this is limited to
25%, the same as a UK pension.
5. QROPS gives you much greater control over your income stream than a UK
6. With a UK pension, when you purchase an annuity your spouse may benefit after
your death from the pension, typically receiving 50%, subject to you taking a
lower income for life from the outset. With QROPS you take your full income and
should you pre-decease your spouse the income stream may carry on 100% and tax
7. Furthermore, you may place both or all of you and your spouse’s pension(s) in
the same QROPS making income and estate planning much easier.
8. Because of actuarial calculations the earlier you purchase an annuity in the
UK the less income you receive. With QROPS you may draw your income from age 50
(age 55 from 2010) with no actuarial reduction for taking income early.
9. You are protected from future UK Pension legislation.
10. You have unlimited investment choice.
11. Subject to obvious UK inheritance tax avoidance, you may make unlimited
additional contributions to your QROPS, and these contributions will be subject
to inheritance tax relief on the seven year sliding scale.
12. There is always a risk that if you have a “company pension” that the company
could become insolvent. Over 200,000 people in the UK have lost a pension that
they assumed was guaranteed. Up until late 2007 no one had received a penny from
Gordon Browns much vaunted “Pension Protection Fund”. A QROPS protects you
against this risk.
1. You will be charged an additional 15% tax on top of your marginal rate of
income tax if ever you “repatriate” and move back to the UK. QROPS are only for
you if you are certain of your expatriate future.
2. There are trust fees involved, both initial and ongoing, with some trustees
charging these fees as a percentage. Clearly this can become very expensive on
larger funds. Find a QROPS that has a flat charge if possible.
3. Obviously, if you transfer out of a “defined benefits” (final salary) pension
you loose the guaranteed income stream from the UK scheme. If the fund or funds
you choose to invest in under perform the result will be a lower pension income.
4. You will be taxed at 25% on the transfer value above your “lifetime
allowance”. However, for 2007/2008 that “Lifetime Allowance” is £1.6 million and
rising annually, so in many ways it would be a nice problem to have!
5. If you have left the UK less than 5 years, any income drawn up until you have
been an expatriate for 5 years will be subject to UK income tax. You will be
able to draw a tax free lump sum of 25% of the fund, however, within the first 5
6. Some old style “Defined Contribution” (Money Purchase) or “Personal Pension”
schemes may have exit charges prior to your selected retirement age.
1. The main myth that is being used currently as a sales tool is “100% tax free
cash lump sum!” To achieve QROPS status, i.e. to be “recognised” by HMRC and
therefore be “qualifying” to receive pension transfers tax free, the QROPS
trustees/administrators must enter into a “spirit of co-operation” with HMRC.
One of the main tenants of this “spirit of co-operation” is that at least 70% of
the funds transferred will be designated to provide the retiree with an income
for life. Clearly if the “spirit of co-operation” is broken by taking a “100%
tax free cash lump sum”, then HMRC will remove the QROPS status and you could be
left with a very large tax bill.
To be continued…
The above data and research was compiled from sources
believed to be reliable. However, neither MBMG International Ltd nor its
officers can accept any liability for any errors or omissions in the above
article nor bear any responsibility for any losses achieved as a result of any
actions taken or not taken as a consequence of reading the above article. For
more information please contact Graham Macdonald on
Snap Shots: by Harry Flashman
Stage photography for amateurs
Evening of One Acts by the Pattaya Players thespian society presented a
good opportunity to try your hand at stage photography. Readers in other
parts of Thailand have similar opportunities, even if it is just for
Likay or similar Thai productions.
In stage photography, you are not in control of the model. You also have
some very difficult composition and lighting problems to contend with.
You cannot quite ask someone in the middle of Othello’s death bed scene
to hold that pose and say “Cheese”. Mick Jagger will not also stop for
you to focus while running frenetically from one side of the stage to
The lighting too is quite different from that you normally experience.
Stage lighting is generally tungsten based and sharp (what we call
“spectral” lighting). Spots for the performers and floods for the
background are the hallmarks of the usual stage lighting. The use of
spots in particular is used to highlight the principal performer or
action on stage.
Successful “stage” photographs have managed to retain that “stagey”
lighting feel to them, so that instantly you look at the image you know
it is of a performer on a stage somewhere. Remember that, as a
photographer you are recording events, people and places as they happen.
You are a mirror of the world!
The secret of retaining that stage feel is in the lighting. Because it
tends to be dark, the first thing the average photographer will do is to
bolt on his million megawatt gerblinden flash gun with enough power to
light up the far side of the moon. While understandable, I do not
endorse that approach to stage photography, but more on that shortly.
Do you use a telephoto lens? No. Because it gets you too far from the
light falling on the performers. Again it is the old adage of “walk
several meters closer” for this type of photography too. Use a standard
lens and get close. If needs be, find which row seat you need to be able
to do this. All part of being prepared.
Now in the good old ‘film’ days, you got hold of some “fast” film. 800
ASA if you could, but 400 ASA will do. It was a good all-round film that
does not give too “grainy” an image, yet will allow for handholding the
camera in the stage situation. However, with today’s digital cameras, I
have found you can run the camera on a nominal 100 ASA, or 200 ASA at
most. (Anything over this and the digital image begins to break down.)
So, what about lighting? Pro photographer’s tip: leave the flash in the
bag, or turn it off at the camera. Now I know it is dark, but you are
trying to retain the stage lighting effects. In other words, you are
going to let the stage’s lighting technician be the source of light for
Now get a seat as close to the action as you can, and then select a lens
that can allow you to fill the frame with the performers. Funnily
enough, that will be, in most cases, the ‘standard’ 50 mm lens. Shots
that show an entire dark stage with two tiny little people spot lit in
front are not good stage shots. In fact they are not good anything
shots! If all you have is a fixed lens point and shooter, get as close
to the front of the stage as you can. You can still get the scene
stopping shot - you have just to get very close. OK?
There is also the ‘problem’ with white balance with digital cameras. The
constantly changing lights with stage performances means that the
digital camera can get very confused, but honestly that is not a
problem. You will still get an image that says “stage performance”,
which is what you want.
Next time you are getting shots of people on stages, try turning the
flash off, and you will see the end result is much better.
by Dr. Iain Corness, Consultant
Just a stone’s throw away
We have just come through the hottest spell in the Thai
calendar and the incidence of kidney stones rises. Why? Quite simply,
dehydration. The lack of water concentrates all the chemicals in the urine
and some of them form kidney stones. Did you ever ‘grow’ sugar crystals at
school? You increase the concentration and eventually a sugar crystal will
form. Your kidney stones are very similar.
I was reminded of this topic when my neighbor went down with the problem. He
is a classical case. He has had stones before and was living in a cold
climate up till recently, and having come here, his water intake was poor.
Kidney stones may contain various combinations of chemicals. The most common
type of stone contains calcium in combination with either oxalate or
phosphate. These chemicals are part of a person’s normal diet and make up
important parts of the body, such as bones and muscles.
A less common type of stone is caused by infection in the urinary tract.
This type of stone is called a ‘struvite’. Another type of stone is a uric
acid stone, but are less common, and cystine stones are rare.
Looking at the common calcium oxalate stones, there are some foods rather
rich in oxalates, so if you are prone to stones, I suggest you stay away
from rhubarb, spinach, beets, wheat germ, soybean crackers, peanuts, okra,
chocolate, black Indian tea and sweet potatoes.
The stones in the kidney begin as small concretions, not much bigger than a
grain of sand. If there is enough water flowing through the kidney, the
early stone is washed away down the ureter (the tube connecting the kidney
to the bladder) and is passed within the urine. The problem occurs when the
stone gets a little larger and jams in the ureter.
How do you know if you have a stone stuck in the ureter? Quite easily. You
begin to experience one of the most painful situations known to mankind (and
yes, women can get stones too, though not as prevalent as men). Ureteric
colic will bring grown men to their knees. Believe me. The pain can be
referred to the penis, and some people report the feeling as if they cannot
fully empty the bladder. You may also begin to pass blood-stained urine.
Interestingly (if you haven’t got a stone), is that stones as small as 2 mm
have caused many symptoms while those as large as a pea have been quietly
passed. In fact, the initial treatment for small stones which are not
causing symptoms is for the patient to start drinking many liters of water,
with the increasing volume of resultant urine washing the stone out. In my
own clinic I used to suggest the owner of the stone pass urine on to a tin
wall. He would hear the ‘p-tang’ as the stone ricocheted off the tin!
But what do we do if you present at ER all grey and sweating in pain? Well,
first we have to make the definitive diagnosis, though the presenting
symptoms will generally point us on the right path and give us a push. You
will be asked for a urine sample and then have an X-Ray and/or ultrasound.
In the meantime we should have dribbled some magic giggle juice into your
veins and you will be feeling much better.
However, we still have to get that stone(s) out of the ureter. The easiest
way is Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL). In this procedure, the
stones are bombarded with shock waves from the ‘lithotripter’ which breaks
the stone into pieces small enough to pass out with urination. The
lithotripter is focussed on the ureteral stone inside the abdomen and whilst
the shock waves pass easily through the body, they are stopped by the stone
which then begins to fragment, eventually being small enough to pass.
Remember a good first step to prevent the formation of any type of stone is
to drink plenty of liquids - water is best. Not water brewed with hops and
stored in colored glass bottles! And if you have had a stone before, you are
a prime candidate for another.
Heart to Heart with Hillary
A guy wrote to you a couple of weeks ago wondering just how the local expats
make it through the day with all the nudge-nudge wink-wink you know what I mean
side benefits that are available here and you suggested it was the same as just
getting over the kid in the candy store thing. Hillary, I am sorry to say,
Petal, you are not really right. All that happens is that half of the expats
settle down and get married but the other half never get out of the candy store,
and what’s wrong with that. I know of guys who are in their 70’s and 80’s and
maybe even older who still go to the bars every day, and even if it does take a
couple of blue diamonds to get them going, does it really matter? They’re having
fun, the girls get paid and surely that is a win-win situation. You would have
to agree, Miss Hillary, as well as admitting that you were wrong for once.
Dear Blue Diamond,
What you describe is certainly a win-win situation Mr. Blue Diamonds, but is
real life just as much a win-win situation? Unfortunately no, as you will have
seen from the thousands of letters that have been posted in this column over the
years, Petal. If it were such a win-win situation, why would anyone be
complaining about their lot? Here’s the real situation. The ones that get
married suffer from the same divorce statistics as marriages in their own
countries, with about 50 percent down the drain. That’s real marriages. Then
there are the ‘marriages of convenience’ (mia chow - rented wife) which also do
not last (usually because the money dries up and the mia chow departs with
whatever is not too hot or too heavy), and then a large portion of the remainder
just get tired of the lack of the chase. The foreplay being restricted to “You
want short time?” Followed by “OK. How much?” This is hardly hunter and hunted.
There’s no conquest, let along no contest here. You would have to agree, Mr.
Blue Diamond, and some of the chaps you think are in their 70’s and 80’s are
probably only 45, but very dissipated.
I know this is a bit out of the ordinary, but do you know where I can get winter
weight clothes for Europe made? I have been here in Thailand for a couple of
years and the clothes are not warm enough for the European winters. Because
clothes are so cheap here, that’s why I’m asking.
Dear Frigid Frank,
Writing to me with your wardrobe problem Frankie, is like writing to the Pig
Breeders Monthly about problems with your pet giraffe. If you were having
problems with the other sort of frigidity then I could certainly have pointed
you in the right direction, but where do you get woolly jumpers? I really don’t
know, my Petal. I would suggest Pratunam markets in Bangkok and ask there.
Pratunam is the center of the clothing retailing/wholesaling industry, but don’t
take the giraffe, there isn’t much headroom.
I’ve lived in Thailand for five years (three in Phuket and two in Chiang Mai)
having been sent out here from England by my company. I love it over here and
used to send great emails back to my mates telling them all about what a super
time I was having. Here’s the problem. It seems to have backfired on me though,
as now those same mates are arriving in Thailand at least two a month and expect
me to take them round everywhere and show them the sights, and what’s more they
expect me to pay for it as they’ve had to fork over for the air fare. I only
have a two room apartment, and these guys are coming over in twos and threes and
then want a lady for the night as well. I am getting like a stranger in my own
place. How do I get them to stop using me like a hotel, but still remain as
Harry the Hotel
Dear Harry the Hotel,
This is not the first (nor will it be the last) time I have heard of this
problem, but it is easily fixed. Since you are in contact with your friends by
email, all you have to do is to tell them, after they announce they are coming
over, that you are really looking forward to seeing them, but unfortunately
there is no room in your apartment, but you will find them a hotel near by, and
how much do they want to pay per night? You can also warn them that you are
currently very busy, so won’t be able to look after them every night, but you
will keep the weekends free to be with them. That is enough to let even the
thickest skinned friends know that you are not running a hotel, that you are not
on holidays even if they are, and get the relationship back on a more healthy
level. Try it and see if it doesn’t work. If they complain at this, they weren’t
real friends anyway, were they?
Learn to Live to Learn: with Andrew Watson
Form follows function, follows passion
Things must be looking up. At no expense spent, I find myself in
Milan, fashion capital of the world. Dressed according to the
occasion, I’m visiting the world’s largest furniture design
fair, “Interni”, an extraordinary event which just about doubles
Milan’s population for a week. A million people descend on the
city from around the globe in a rampantly extravagant
celebration of design. Hotel rooms, at any time of the year few
and far between, are nigh impossible to find and the price hikes
when you do find them generate such an intake of air that they
are prone to pop the buttons off your Armani suit. Milan is very
expensive to those who can afford it, but fortunately for me,
free to those who can’t. Milan in the springtime; who could wish
follows function, follows fashion!
Such is the scale of the fair that the hundreds of exhibitions
stretch far beyond the myriad spires and sculptures that
dominate the central Duomo, a suitably magnificent High Gothic
cathedral in white marble, spared the ravages of a Second World
War which rendered less central districts of Milan relatively
aesthetically unappealing. No matter, for this week, where’s
there’s space there’s a show.
Out to the northwest of the city there is a vast chasm of an
exhibition hall called the “Salone Mobile”. It takes about half
an hour to drive around the thing. “Size and scale are not
synonymous,” I was once taught. “He must have been kidding,” I
thought. The place is immense, but packed, with designers like
Tom Dixon, Vitra and Established & Sons; a veritable pantheon of
great designers. But I was heading for one show in particular
(it would have been foolhardy indeed to have attempted random
entry) and one young designer in particular, whose name is
reverberating with increasing resonance around European
furniture design and soon, the wider world.
Chris Skøjtt, a third culture kid if ever there was one, is a
tri-lingual Dane, brought up in Africa and the Middle East
(where I first met him) and currently strutting his funky
furniture in London. One might suggest that we should expect
nothing less than innovation from the best that Central St
Martins (CSM), the leading interior design school in Europe, has
to offer. Sharing the stage with Chris were the cream of the
crop from CSM. Their unique exhibition at the “Salone
Satellite”, the traditional meeting space where top European
talent is snapped up by the world’s top design houses, was
perhaps no more nor less than we should have expected.
There was no furniture on display at all. At least none in
physical form. Minimalist minimalism if you will, or perhaps a
comment of most subtle irony. But what you did have was a
panoramic stage set of blurred monochromatic images of an
interior of some sort, composed of a rich variety of furniture,
touched with orange and blue piping in places. It was visually
engaging, thought provoking, possibly disconcerting and reminded
me of a condition of altered state. “Usually, I pay good money
to get like this,” I thought. At the entrance to the exhibit, on
a simple contemporary low coffee table with gentle radius edges,
there lay a familiar interactive object, a pair of 3D glasses.
“You’re meant to put them on,” came a voice laced with humour,
from beside me. I turned to see the powerful six foot-plus frame
of Chris Skjøtt. He played top level basketball in both Denmark
and the UK and he possesses the chiselled angularity of someone
who keeps in rude health. I did as he suggested and put the
glasses on. He’s not the kind of person you feel particularly
inclined to disagree with.
At once, the set was magically transformed into a room of
gloriously physical dimensions. A champagne glass sprang out at
me. Instinctively, I reached for it. “Come, let me clutch thee,”
Chris and I began to chat; he was all charm and grace with an
artistic intensity that was refreshing and frankly, inspiring.
Whilst he is unquestionably on the cusp of greatness, it has
been a long hard slog in a highly competitive market. So what
keeps him going, I wondered?
He paused, reflective, before responding with consummate
clarity, “Wanting to design something better than what is
already out there. The search for the thing that isn’t out
there, the search for the thing that looks and feels right. The
search for the thing that when you see it, puts a smile on your
face and brings understanding. The search for the thing that
when it is used, it feels like something that you’ve always had,
or should have always had.”
It sounded like a utopian quest. Apparently not, or not quite;
“Because there are human needs to be met in a design.
Practicality, comfort, colour; form follows function, follows
passion,” enthused Chris.
So where does his passion come from? A spark flashed in his
eyes, “From life experience, living where I have lived, in
Africa, in Israel, in Denmark, in the United Kingdom. Although I
think that the designer within me didn’t appear until I moved to
Denmark at the age of 18. It was then that I realised just how
much furniture design is intertwined in Danish culture. I felt
at home. Everybody in Denmark has a view and an informed opinion
on furniture design; it’s a bit like fashion in Italy.”
I took that as an indirect compliment on my sartorial splendour,
a light blue four button linen suit by Nini, with mandarin
orange silk shirt. You can get away with anything in Milan,
“What do you remember about Africa?” I asked. He appeared
delighted to be able to recount what turned out to be rather a
disturbing tale, right out of Atwood’s “The Poisonwood Bible”;
“My family moved to Liberia when I was 8 months old. I was born
in Denmark, then moved to England at 3 months. Once in Africa, I
nearly died (he says with a disconcerting grin). I had three
diseases at once. I had Malaria, some kind of lung disease and
some other dreadful affliction. My dad had me in his arms on the
balcony overlooking the jungle and suddenly I stopped breathing
and went purple, you know, really blue, as you do when you’re
dying, and dad thought ‘woops, that’s it!’ He rushed me to the
American family who lived in the next village, across mud dirt
roads in the middle of the jungle, roads made by the car that
passes once a week (with the occasional wild boar crossing). The
American was a doctor, but somehow on the way there, I started
breathing again. When we finally got to a hospital I was
diagnosed with these three different things.”
I didn’t quite know what to say. I suppose that what doesn’t
kill you makes you stronger? The way he told what was after all,
quite a story, made me want to sit down. I noticed rather a
pleasing looking recliner in the corner and made for it,
forgetting that I was still wearing the 3D glasses.
Next week: Reclining
DOC ENGLISH Teaching your kids how to learn English:
Which thinking hat are you wearing today?
it seems like teachers are just teaching students how to think, rather
than what to think. Teaching sometimes appears to be simply the process
of transferring ‘facts’, and neglects to include the process of teaching
students how to find the ‘facts’ out for themselves. This second process
is called ‘Critical Thinking’. This week we discuss how you can
encourage your kids to become ‘Critical Thinkers’.
If your children are having problems reading and interpreting a story or
text, writing a half decent story or essay and/or solving a mathematics
problem requiring several steps you might find this article useful.
Definition of Critical Thinking
Critical thinking means ‘reasonable,
reflective, responsible, and skillful thinking that is focused on
deciding what to believe or do’. A person who thinks critically can ask
questions, gather information, sort through this information, reason
from this information and come to conclusions.
Children are not born with the power to think critically. Critical
thinking is a learned ability that must be taught. Some individuals
never learn it.
What is a Critical thinker?
Raymond S. Nickerson (1987), an authority on
critical thinking, characterized a good critical thinker in terms of
knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and habitual ways of behaving. Here are
some of the characteristics of such a thinker.
* Uses evidence skillfully and impartially
* Organizes thoughts and articulates them concisely and coherently
* Suspends judgment in the absence of sufficient evidence to support a
* Understands the difference between reasoning and rationalizing
* Attempts to anticipate the probable consequences of alternative
* Understands the idea of degrees of belief
* Sees similarities and analogies that are not superficially apparent
* Can learn independently and has an abiding interest in doing so
* Applies problem-solving techniques in domains other than those in
* Can structure informally represented problems in such a way that
formal techniques, such as mathematics, can be used to solve them
* Can strip a verbal argument of irrelevancies and phrase it in its
* Habitually questions one’s own views and attempts to understand both
the assumptions that are critical to those views and the implications of
* Is sensitive to the difference between the validity of a belief and
the intensity with which it is held
* Is aware of the fact that one’s understanding is always limited, often
much more so than would be apparent to one with a noninquiring attitude
* Recognizes the fallibility of one’s own opinions, the probability of
bias in those opinions, and the danger of weighting evidence according
to personal preferences.
Teaching Critical Thinking
One way to teach critical thinking at home or
in the classroom is to follow a program, such as de Bono’s ‘Thinking
Edward de Bono’s thinking hats were developed in order to illustrate the
various ways of thinking when problem solving. Each of the hats
represents a different method of thinking. The hats help us understand
the different ways that we think and help us understand how others feel
about a problem. If we look at a problem together, from different angles
(wearing different hats) it will help us solve the problem more
constructively and enable us to use our critical thinking skills more
The Hats represent six thinking strategies. De Bono believed that if the
various approaches could be identified and a system of their use
developed which could be taught, that people could be more efficient
thinkers and work more cooperatively.
Each way of thinking is symbolized by the act of putting on a coloured
hat, either actually or imaginatively. This he suggests can be done
either by individuals working alone or in groups. In my school, children
enjoy making the hats and putting them on when they are using a
different thinking strategy. Every time you read or carry out an
activity, you can try using a different hat to approach the problem, or
to interpret a story in a different way.
The Red Hat represents Emotional thinking. The Yellow Hat represents
Positive thinking. The Black Hat represents Critical thinking. The White
Hat is purely the facts. The Green Hat is Creative thinking. The Blue
Hat represents the Big Picture, sort of looking at it from all the
I don’t have enough room to include more information on the Hats, but
you can find out all about De Bono’s ideas at his web site http://www.
edwarddebono.com/Default.php and more information on using Hats at
That’s all for this week ladies and gentlemen. If you want more
information on critical thinking skills please email me at:
Enjoy spending time with your kids.
Let’s go to the movies:
by Mark Gernpy
Now playing in Pattaya
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: US
Adventure/Action – Indy is back! With Harrison Ford, Ray Winstone, Shia
LaBeouf, and Cate Blanchett, and directed by Steven Spielberg. After
living a quiet life as a professor, Indiana Jones is thrust into a new
adventure when he races against agents of the Soviet Union to make one
of the most spectacular archaeological finds in history – the Crystal
Skull of Akator, a legendary object of fascination, superstition, and
fear. On his way, Jones meets a new buddy Mutt who carries a grudge for
the adventurous archaeologist. They set out for the most remote corners
of Peru – a land of ancient tombs, forgotten explorers, and a rumored
city of gold. There, Jones realizes that Soviet agents are also hot on
the trail of the fabled Crystal Skull.
Penelope: UK/US Comedy/Drama/Fantasy – This modern fairy tale
begins with a generations-old curse by a jilted lover: the next girl in
the aristocratic Wilhern family will be born with a pig’s snout and
ears. Though ages pass, the bad luck finally manifests itself in young
Penelope much to the shame of her mother. The film depends wholly on the
charm of Christina Ricci, James McAvoy, and Catherine O’Hara (as the
mother); if you enjoy them, you may well enjoy this slightest of fables.
Mixed or average reviews.
Memory: Thai Horror/Mystery – In Thai only. A much anticipated
film starring Thai superstar Ananda Everingham. Here he plays with great
charm a psychiatrist faced with deciphering the causes of the fear and
anxiety he sees in the eyes of a girl of seven, possibly the victim of
child abuse. It’s a really nice Thai horror film, very crisp and clean
in its direction and camera work, and with some of the world’s greatest
squeaking doors. But … the film is shown without English subtitles. This
is a real shame.
Speed Racer: US Action/Drama – A family film based on the classic
1960s Japanese and then US anime series (and subsequent comic books and
TV series) about a boy who was born to race cars. A dense and visually
inventive work, it was filmed almost entirely in front of a green screen
in high-definition video, with the backgrounds and foregrounds added
later, using a layering method reminiscent of anime that keeps both the
foreground and background in focus.
John Goodman and Susan Sarandon play the parents. Generally negative
reviews. Nevertheless, I think it is a milestone of a motion picture,
extraordinary in the details of its universe. I suggest you give it a
chance to work its magic. The more times you see it, the better it
becomes: the races become easier to follow, and you are able to spot
some of the incredibly rich details and better appreciate some of the
original sights never before seen on screen.
Seeing Speed Racer yet again reinforces for me how truly original and
visually sophisticated the film is. (Note for film buffs only: watch the
diegesis: I haven’t seen such delightful playing around with the
diegesis since “Last Year at Marienbad.” But because the characters so
intensely believe in their film world, even as it constantly changes, it
becomes real for us as well. And notice the incredible variety of wipes
used. It’s amazing, and playful, and fun.)
The new vocabulary is so innovative that there is a book just published
on May 13 called “The Art of Speed Racer” which includes the script and
in which more than 300 new words are introduced to describe innovations
in cinematography introduced in this movie. For example: ‘Faux lensing’
toward a ‘Photo Anime’ film format; designer shape de-focus; infinite
depth of field; bling and super-bling flare enhancements.
Special effects pioneer John Gaeta oversaw the visual effects for this
movie, as well as the entire Matrix Trilogy (for which he won an Oscar).
Referring to himself and the Wachowski Brothers about Speed Racer he
says, “How many disturbingly dark movies can you make before you start
wanting to experiment in another way? We were in an anti-Matrix place,
we wanted to make a bright, optimistic world and push the happy button.
It was a blast.” And it is a blast, worthy of your attention.
Iron Man: US Action/Adventure – Superb popular entertainment. A
huge hit in the US and around the world, not only with the public, but
with critics as well. I think they got everything right in this movie
for once, and I’m sure you’ll like it very much.
The difficult and driven actor Robert Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark, a
wealthy industrialist who builds an armored suit in order to escape his
terrorist kidnappers, and ultimately decides to use its technology to
fight against the evil use of weapons that he himself created. The
intense and powerful Downey is simply brilliant in the role. Generally