The Elephant King (2006) Poster

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A Highly Nuanced Very Late-Bloomer Coming-of-Age Transformation and Self-Discovery Indie Gem!
KissEnglishPasto19 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers
............................................................from Pasto,Colombia...Via: L.A. CA., CALI, COLOMBIA and ORLANDO, FL

****There Is a Phrase In This Review That Might Be Considered a SPOILER!*****

Deciding to watch a film like ELEPHANT KING is always a gamble. Ellen Burstyn was the only easily recognizable name. DVD artwork Layout and IMDb synopsis looked interesting; shot mostly in Thailand by an international crew. I took a chance! Lucky me! This is one gamble that paid off nicely-In The End-BOTH literally and figuratively!

Here's a direct quote from IMDb: "...won Best Picture/Best Score at Sacramento International Film Festival. Jonno Roberts was Nominated for Best Actor." It's a rather sad commentary on the realities of film marketing/distribution that an unpretentious little wonder like this, made in 2006, only received Limited 2008 theater release, and took another year to be released on DVD! The first half of the Blurb is erroneous. The author either didn't:

A) Actually see ELEPHANT, or

B) Missed the opening minutes, or

C) Didn't pay the slightest attention to the opening.

Perhaps the TITLE may conjure up grandiose expectations of regal splendor and sumptuous royalty. There is certainly none of that here. There is a baby elephant, which besides offering detached moments of poignancy, also serves a pivotal symbolic and metaphoric purpose, at least before the film ends. Incidentally, the ensemble performance was remarkable.

Seth Grossman (Butterfly Effect 3) must be complimented on his understated, evenhanded direction, which, when coupled with the outstanding acting; spot on depiction of the vapid, high-energy emptiness of Thailand's nightlife and its minions; the highly nuanced very late-bloomer coming-of-age transformation and self-discovery of the younger brother central character; as he finally manages to free himself from the gravitational pull of his slacker older brother; Plus the low-key ever-so-slightly surreal Buddhist/Zen spin that is imparted via a bittersweet finale that manages to neatly "THAI" together most of ELEPHANT's loose ends, make it a solid 9* experience!

Before viewing ELEPHANT, I recommend you contemplate this THAI proverb: Patience and Forbearance are always rewarded with Happiness!.....ENJOY/DISFRUTELA!

Any comments, questions or observations, in English o en Español, are most welcome!
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excellent acting, scenery and cinematography....
maria-20927 April 2006
I saw this film at the Tribeca Film Festival on its opening night and I was quite impressed. The cinematography was amazing, the soundtrack was awesome, not only the music used but the sound editing choices. But the thing that impressed me the most was the acting. Acting can make or break a film before anything else. Ellen Burstyn delivered a breathtaking performance (as she always does). Newcomer Tate Ellington was absolutely amazing, more than capable of holding his own in scenes where he had to perform head to head with Burstyn (as his mother), he left a memorable impression that makes me want to see him in a lot more films in the future. Jonno Roberts was also quite good, full of energy and emotion.
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The expat experience in Thailand
turnpike18 June 2006
A young New Yorker travels to Chiang Mai on an anthropological research grant and quickly loses himself in drink, drugs and loose women. Sound familiar? Substitute gender, nationality and mission as needed, and this plot could be about many foreigners who arrive in Thailand intent on noble causes and find themselves a bit distracted.

The Elephant King was shot almost entirely on location in and around Chiang Mai, Thailand's northern capital, and one of the film's primary characters is Chiang Mai itself. A montage of muddy city walls and steaming moats, 7-Elevens and abandoned housing estates, Space Bubble disco and Wat Chet Yot, night markets and old wooden houses, the city's paradoxical grit and grace have never before been so well-captured in any feature film, Thai or international. The script in fact turns Chiang Mai into a microcosm of Thailand, thrusting Western stereotypes about the country to the fore - and then turning them inside out.

But the core story isn't about Chiang Mai or Thailand at all, but about Jake (Jonno Roberts) and Oliver (Tate Ellingham), two brothers locked in a bully-victim relationship which both are struggling to transcend. Expat life in Chiang Mai, and their competing love for the same bar girl (Florence Vanida Faivre) merely serve as catalysts for the relationship to achieve its bloody catharsis.

Several parts of the film, including the opening sequence, were shot in New York and include memorable performances from Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) and Josef Sommer (The Enemy Within, An American Story), playing the brothers' parents, Diane and Bill. As a father envious of his sons' carousing in Thailand, Sommer provides several of the film's best comedic moments. Burstyn shines during her time on film, playing the weepy, overly-doting mother with textbook technique.

Because co-producer DeWarrenne Pictures is a Thai-registered company, the screenplay did not need advance government approval. This means we get an unvarnished - if somewhat Western-orientated - look at Thai culture and society. If and when the film does receive distribution in Thailand, there's a good chance some scenes will be censored for depictions of drug use and sex, even though these elements are neither overly graphic nor gratuitous to the story.

Although this is writer/director Seth Grossman's first feature film, I'd say chances are good to excellent that the effort will be well received critically. The film pegs Grossman - an NYU film grad who loosely based the movie on his own experiences living in Chiang Mai as a Princeton-in-Asia scholar four years ago - as something of a story-telling genius.

His art film attitude - which is thankfully more substance than pose - is ably assisted by the intense cinematography of Diego Quemada, a disciple and close associate of camera wunderkind Rodrigo Prieto of 21 Grams fame. Whether or not the film does well commercially, The Elephant King could easily reap a few international film festival awards, perhaps even becoming an underground classic along the lines of Trainspotting.
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I saw this film at Tribeca...
marty41630 April 2006
I saw this film at tribeca. I enjoyed it immensely. Especially the visuals which felt quite free and transported. I traveled with this film in a sense because it took me to a magical place.

This is a well crafted drama searching through a twisted connection between two American brothers-one an ogre, the other a quiet, retiring type-as they go on a bender through Thailand devouring women in exotic Thailand. Writer-director Seth Grossman's compelling film is topped off by memorable performances from veteran actors Ellen Burstyn and Josef Sommer as the brothers' parents. I think this is a film that deserves a place as a special film with art house value.
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The Elephant King is a must see.
pokethepuma28 July 2009
Coming in under the radar in today's film industry is nothing new, but The Elephant King came in low and is going to strike hard. Wonderful performances from a talented cast only scratches the surface. The imagery and cinematography coupled with the honest story telling make for a must see film. If there's going to be a stand out performance, Jonno Roberts as the conflicted Jake, delivers a powerhouse emotional roller coaster of a ride that should not be missed. Ellen Burstyn is at her amazing best and the beautiful Florence Faivre is both stunning and troubled and can not help but hold the viewer's heart in the palm of her hand. Tate Ellington's Oliver meshes the whole story together seamlessly. Writer-Director Seth Grossman has much to be proud of. Even the use of Thailand as the back drop presents as stunning, haunting and frightening all at the same time. Do not miss this movie.
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A Cinematic Masterpiece
limited-ed1 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I saw the second showing of The Elephant King at the 5th Annual Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday, April 29th, 2006 and was thoroughly entranced by this cinematic masterpiece. Unfortunately I was not able to make it for the premiere of the film on Wednesday, April 26th, but I think that this showing was equally or possibly more enjoyable, due to the fact that it was shown in a larger theater with a larger, brighter screen and a better sound system (I have been told). The 400 seat theater was filled to capacity, with people still filing in half an hour after the film had started.

The film itself is beautifully shot, with lush, gorgeous scenes of both rural and urban Thailand. As the Tribeca Film Festival website states, "This pensive, artfully crafted drama explores the twisted symbiosis between two American brothers-one domineering and nihilistic, the other guileless and introspective-as they binge on drink, drugs, and women in exotic Thailand." The two brothers' relationship spirals out of control to a dramatic conclusion.

The cinematography is not the only area of excellence in this movie. The acting, directing and screen writing were also top-notch. Jonno Roberts as the domineering older brother Jake transforms from lovable to despised almost effortlessly during the course of the film. And the transformation of Tate Ellington as the younger brother Oliver from a depressed man-child to a fully developed and confident man develops quite naturally.

Seth Grossman is an amazing screenwriter who really shows his chops in this movie, his debut film. Loosely based on a novel he wrote while living in Thailand teaching English, the inspiration for this movie was fully developed prior to the beginning of the screen writing process. This may have made the writing process develop quicker, but it does not take anything away from the freshness of the final product.

There are many opportunities to laugh during the first act of the film, which helps to quickly drawing the viewer in to the more dramatic second and third acts. It was easy to identify with the characters, who grow to feel like family by the end of the film. I recommend this film to anyone who has ever traveled to a faraway land or just dreams of such travels.
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Great writing, acting and shot selection.
edward_tyndall21 September 2006
I had the pleasure of screening Seth Grossman's film The Elephant King at the 2006 TRIBECA Film Festival. I was highly impressed by the film. Grossman's evocative narrative follows the relationship of two brothers as they overcome alienation, begin to understand one another and struggle with conflicted desires. The film is beautifully shot on location in Thailand and the setting, exotic to the film's main characters, adds to the themes of self-exploration and alienation. The acting, shot choices and writing are all indicative of Grossman's genuine talent as a Writer/Director. The strength of this film, Grossman's first feature length narrative, promises great things to come from this fresh and energetic new filmmaker. I look forward to seeing more of Grossman's work.
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Two brothers in Thailand
jotix1005 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Oliver Hunt is a young New Yorker who is a secret writer, still living at home. When we first meet him, he is working as a dishwasher in a restaurant. He has a brother, Jake, who has been living in Thailand. Jake has left New York under the pretext of studying Thai culture, but he is really a piece of work, whoring around, indulging in drugs, Thai boxing; he is living a life of excesses. His worrying parents relent in letting their son Oliver travel to Thailand in order to bring his debouched brother back home where he is supposed to face the music.

Alas, poor Oliver is charmed by the sights around Chiang Mai, where Jake introduces him to the bar scene. Jake is a nasty sort who hasn't exactly endeared himself to the locals. They see in him a detestable person who has overstayed his welcome among the easy going locals. Oliver falls hard for the beautiful Lek, a bar hostess that introduces the naive man into pleasures he hasn't known. Lek, who is loved by a local musician, who will come between her and Jake, a situation that will be fatal in the end.

"The Elephant King", written and directed by Seth Grossman, was a rare find. It examines the lives of the brothers in an unfamiliar locale. Mr. Grossman presents a credible story about the siblings that are so different, yet so much alike. By taking the action to Thailand, he introduces another layer of cultural differences that plays well in what he is trying to say.

Tate Ellington appears as the shy Oliver in an understated performance. The more flamboyant Jonno Roberts' Jake shows a young man who has gone beyond his capabilities and has stepped in too many toes. Mr. Roberts is also an asset. The lovely Florence Faivre is the object of both brothers desires. Ellen Burstyn is seen briefly in her usual fine style as the Hunt brothers' mother. Josef Sommer doesn't have much to do.

Mr. Grossman promises to be a director with talent and who, no doubt, will be around for quite a while, judging by what he was able to create in this film.
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catmmo8 November 2009
I enjoyed the way this movie portrayed the relationship between two brothers; and the way they each dealt with their individual problems. The actors who played the brothers both did a fantastic job. Unlike other reviews, I didn't find the showing of different places in that area of Thailand to be overdone, much of it was during the scenes where the younger brother is getting to know the girl, Lek, and play in well to the the story.

One problem with the movie was lack of subtitles during parts where they weren't speaking English. I'm not sure if that was a flaw because of watching it on a DVD or not. It made certain parts of the movie a bit difficult to understand, but it wasn't too hard to get the gist of what was going on.
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Not too good a movie.
nikhilgokhale139 June 2008
Definitely not a movie for children with that detailed sex scene. Children below the age of 13 should not see the movie. I suggest the movie is not worth he money. The film contains a sex scene, a nightclub scene and some profanity. Excellent acting by Ellen Burstyn, Tate Ellington and Florence Faivre. I wonder how it got 6 awards. The cinematography by Diego Quemada-Diez is good but Seth Grossman's direction has wrecked the film. I suggest do NOT waste your money on the film. And again. This movie is rated R rightly and is not for children. A better one is 'Kiss the Sky'. It too contains strong sexual content and is not suitable for children. But it has a better direction than this movie.
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sparkle of nuances
Vincentiu14 February 2013
a story like a ladder. or labyrinth. about searches, fake victories and a place of Asia. sad, beautiful, salt for emotions and impressions. at first sigh, a basic story about a family. at the second, stage of need of sense. run against yourself. and balls of illusions, temptations, forms of hate, love and expectations. the axis - delicate performance of Ellen Burstyn. sure, it is not a surprise but the joy to admire her in a special role is seed of pure delight. her character is so fragile and wise, so strong and powerless. but she remains the character who can make things be OK. and this is secret of movie. the subtle taste of childhood and the unique patience of a mother. the small crumbs of fairy tale and the silhouette of peace in heart of dizzy storm. a film - key of questions.
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A good film with a few flaws
brianduffy123-116 January 2009
I saw it last night and was pleasantly surprised. My girlfriend was less than pleased in how it portrayed her home country, however. Apparently, she had seen an interview with Florence Faivre before the movie, in which Florence explained that Thailand is shown in a completely positive light. She went on to say that this is the 'real' Thailand and everyone should come to see the movie to experience how beautiful Thailand is. My girlfriend, while she didn't hate the movie in and of itself, found these comments to be particularly offensive. I must explain that she's a fairly inexperienced girl, who has been exposed only tangentially to the seedier aspects of Thai life (the reason why I care for her so much, perhaps). Her rose-colored glasses couldn't cope with the stark realism the movie portrays.

And it IS realistic. Many westerners come to Thailand to run away from various responsibilities and the movie shows just how easy it is to fall into that world. Indeed, one walk down beach road in Pattaya will show you just how 'zombie-like' foreigners can become here. Of the two brothers in the film, Jake is a wonderfully constructed character. You're definitely not supposed to like him, and Jonno Roberts pulls that off well. Ellen Burstyn is good as the doting old mother, and Tate Ellington plays a passable depressed New Yorker.

For the negatives, Seth Grossman (director) seems to spend about 25% of the film showing us montage scenes of 'life in Thailand'. This mainly seems to focus on tuk-tuk rides and open-air markets. While I understand that the vast majority of audiences won't be familiar with the setting as intimately as us expats are, for a 92 minute film you need to keep the 'atmosphere' shots to a bit of a minimum. Florence Faivre mails in a cardboard performance in badly accented 'Tinglish'. While she's obviously a looker, the voice-acting just didn't do it for me. While the film was often touted as being the vehicle for Diego Quemada-Diez's cinematographic genius, I didn't find it to be too revolutionary (or anything Darren Aronofsky hasn't done better). The most negative thing of all, however, is that they cut MY scene down to about one second! Two days of shooting (and drinking) and I'm on screen for an inaudible 'thank you' when Flo hands me a Singha. Tough business, show business! All in all, I recommend this movie as one to generate a bit of discussion between Thais and foreigners. As some mentioned before, no one really comes out as 'the good guy' here, and that's a pretty realistic depiction of the human condition.
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Stunning film
smartypantsfosho3 May 2008
I saw this film on the festival circuit and was blown away, particularly when I heard it was this director's first feature. This film is simply stunning. The direction and cinematography are exceptional. The story and location showcase the excitement--and potential underbelly--of living abroad in an exotic locale, and the convincing portrayal of the brothers' relationship is moving. I can understand how it won so many awards at festivals. This is one of those movies that I hope doesn't languish in the festival circuit and then peter out. This is a beautifully crafted film from a young filmmaker and cast, and deserves major backing and distribution. I'm eager to see it again and bring my friends who now have heard all about it.
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