Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening January 22-28, 2015

The Songs of Rice

My favorite film of 2014, The Songs of Rice (พลงของข้าว, Pleng Khong Kao), finally comes to Thai cinemas this week in a limited release.

Directed by Uruphong Raksasad and produced by Pimpaka Towira, The Songs of Rice is a joyous celebration of the often-lively (and even explosive) rites and festivities that accompany rice cultivation in Thailand.

It premiered about a year ago at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where it won the Fipresci Award, and made several other festival appearances. I saw it twice, at Salaya Doc and in Luang Prabang, and both times I was blown away by the film's gently building tempo and the vivid intensity of the images.

A documentary, it is the completion of a trilogy of farming films that Uruphong began with in 2005 with The Stories from the North, a collection of short stories from around his native Chiang Rai province. He followed that up with the ambitious documentary Agrarian Utopia, which followed two families growing rice by hand for a year on a small plot of land, also in Chiang Rai, way up in Thailand's North.

With The Songs of Rice, Uruphong starts out in that same location, but then moves further afield, travelling the length and breadth of the country as he documents religious ceremonies, beauty pageants, parades, communal food preparation, dancing and music. He covers the rocket festival in Yasothon in the Northeast, the buffalo races in Chonburi in the East and falls in with a travelling band of workers and their rice-harvesting spaceships in Roi Et.

Released by Extra Virgin, The Songs of Rice is at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. Next week, it spreads to Chiang Mai's Maya and SF Cinema City in Khon Kaen on February 5. Rated G

For more details, check the movie's Facebook page. There's also a trailer.

Also opening

American Sniper – One of this year's nominees for the Academy Awards, Bradley Cooper portrays Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. A U.S. Navy SEAL, he's so effective at protecting his comrades that they nickname him the "Legend", which also puts a price on his head and has insurgents gunning for him. Despite the danger, he serves four harrowing tours of duty in Iraq. But upon returning home, he finds the can’t leave the war behind. Sienna Miller also stars. Clint Eastwood directs. American Sniper is nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor for Cooper. The film is controversial in the U.S., where society is divided over whether the film is pro-war propaganda or a tribute to the men and women who sacrifice their lives in service to the country or even just anti-war. Critical reception is mostly positive. Rated 13_

Big Eyes – Tim Burton directs fact-based comedy-drama about 1950s and '60s American pop artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) and her entrepreneurial husband (Christoph Waltz), who took credit for his wife’s famous paintings of big-eyed children. Terence Stamp, Danny Huston, Jason Schwartzman and Krysten Ritter also star. A return to form for Burton, whose recent output has been assailed critically, Big Eyes was nominated for three Golden Globes, and won best actress for Amy Adams. Oscar buzz for it was high, but it was snubbed in the end. Critical reception is mostly favorable. Rated 13+

Maps to the Stars – David Cronenberg taps into the inner-psyche of Hollywood with this social satire about a family that is involved with various facets of show business. John Cusack is a famed TV self-help therapist while his wife (Olivia Williams) is managing the career of their child-star son (Evan Bird), who, at the age of 13, has already been to rehab. Their mentally unstable daughter (Mia Wasikowska) is an assistant to a faded movie star (Julianne Moore). And on the fringes is an aspiring writer-actor (Robert Pattinson) who works as a limo driver. Maps to the Stars premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, and critical reception is mixed. The consensus seems to be that it's got just enough of the requisite Cronenberg weirdness to satisfy the director's fans. Rated 18+

Mortdecai – Well, there's no Johnny Depp in this year's Tim Burton film, but that doesn't mean you can't go watch Depp put on silly costumes and clown around. In Mortdecai, he's a moustache-twirling upper-class British twit who is assigned to recover a stolen painting that contains a code to a lost Nazi bank account. He gets help from his leggy girlfriend (Gywneth Paltrow) and his long-suffering servant Jock (Paul Bettany). Ewan McGregor and Olivia Munn also star. It's based on a series of comic novels from the 1970s by British writer Kyril Bonfiglioli. David Keopp (Premium Rush, Ghost Town) directs. Can't imagine critical reception is going to be kind. Rated 13+

Dumb and Dumber To – Twenty years after they made their name with Dumb and Dumber, directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly revisit goofball characters Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne, with original stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels finally returning to their iconic roles after years and years of sequel rumors. The story reunites the two friends for a road trip in search of Harry's long-lost child. Critical reception is mixed. Ratedc 13+

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death – With bombs raining down on London during World War II, a schoolteacher and her headmistress take their orphan charges to seek refuge in the countryside. Stranded in a deserted village, they set up their school in a manor where supernatural events occurred years before. Phoebe Fox, Helen McCrory and Jeremy Irvine star. Critical reception is mixed. Rated 13+

Ror Dor Khao Chon Phee Thee Khao Chon Kai (รด.เขาชนผีที่เขาชนไก่) – Respected Thai director Tanwarin Sukkhapisit shifts to horror-comedy with this picture distributed by Phranakorn Film. It's set at at the Khao Chon Kai bootcamp in Kanchanaburi, where rival groups of schoolboys going through the ror dor territorial defence training deal with mysterious happenings at night. Somchai Kemklad stars as a ghostly drill instructor. Rated 15+

The Fox Lover – White Fox spirit Xiaochui (Gillian Chung) is in love with the naive mortal Wang Yuanfeng (Julian Cheung), who has hidden powers that enable him to destroy demons. But when Xiaochui’s loyalties are tested in the clash between humans and demons, she is willing to sacrifice her life for love. Thai-dubbed.

Baby – Akshay Kumar stars in this Bollywood actioner as a counter-intelligence agent battling a global plot by a maniacal mastermind. In Hindi with English and Thai subtitles at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit, Central Rama III and Pattaya. Opens Friday.

Also showing

Polish Film Festival – Wrapping up today, two entries remain in the festival at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. First up at 7pm is Fanciful, a coming-of-age drama about a teenage girl who comes down with a mysterious illness after the death of her mother. Producer Eyrk Stepniewski will be on hand afterward for a q-and-a. That's followed at 9pm by One Way Ticket to the Moon, in which a young man about to enter the navy's submarine service is taken on a road trip to lose his virginity. Tickets are Bt120.

The Friese-Greene Club – Pedro Almodovar is the Spanish director in focus tonight with his romantic film, Talk to Her. Tomorrow, head to Jesus Camp, a documentary about an unusual South Dakota summer camp. The club hosts a private event on Saturday but is open for all on Sunday with another classic Doris Day movie, Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, with James Stewart and featuring Day's signature song, the Oscar-winning smash "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)". Next Wednesday is another documentary, 2008's Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father, a touching tribute to a murdered best friend. Shows are at 8pm. The FGC is down an alley next to the Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22.  For more details, check the club's Facebook page. There's just nine seats, so book them.

Mini-Wathann Film Festival – Filmvirus and the Reading Room present a two-day program of old and new Myanmar films from the Wathann Film Festival, which was Myanmar's first film festival and the first to feature independent films. It was founded in Yangon in 2011 by Myanmar filmmaking couple Thuthu Shein and Thaiddhi, who studied at the Czech National Film School. Opening at 1pm on Saturday and Sunday, the fest will have an older feature from the festival's "memory" section followed by a line-up of short films. Saturday opens with Tender Are the Feet, a 45-minute film from 1972 by Mg Wunna. Short documentaries follow at 2pm. Sunday kicks off with an old memory, 1953's feature Yatanabon (Treasure-trove) by U Tin Maung, followed at 2.30pm by short fictional and experimental films. Myat Noe, Myanmar filmmaker and critic, will be on hand for talks afterward. Admission is free. The venue is the Reading Room, a fourth-floor walk-up near the corner of Silom Soi 19.

Filmvirus Kawaii Luv Luv – Filmvirus' Sunday afternoon double features of Japanese films offers a change of pace this week with Key of Life, a 2012 comedy by Kenji Uchida, about an out-of-work actor who steals the identity of a stranger at a bathhouse and finds himself in the shoes of an elite hitman. That's followed by 9 Souls, a 2003 crime drama by Toshiaki Toyoda about nine escaped prisoners hunting for buried treasure. The show starts at 12.30 on Sunday in the Pridi Banomyong Library at Thammasat University Tha Prachan, in the Rewat Buddhinan Room, floor U2, the basement. Dress appropriately and inform the desk worker you are there to see a movie. For details, call (02) 613-3529 or (02) 613-3530.

German Open Air Cinema – It's a western set in the Alps with The Dark Valley, a 2014 drama in which a lone rider takes a hidden path and turns up in an Alpine town, where people wonder where he came from and how he got there. It screens at 7.30pm on Tuesday, January 27, at the Goethe-Institut of Sathorn Soi 1.

Alliance Française – A lonely man on a park bench is observed by an immense all-star French cast in Bancs publics (Versailles Rive-Droite), a 2009 comedy by Bruno Podalydès. It's in French with English subtitles at 7pm on Wednesday, January 28 at the Alliance.

Sneak preview

The Imitation Game  – As if 11 new movies in general release and the many other film events going on aren't enough, here's one more – The Imitation Game, a biographical drama about Alan Turing, the mathematician and mastermind of the Allied effort to crack the German Enigma code of World War II. After he heroically helped defeat the Nazis, Turing was criminally prosecuted for his homosexuality. Starring recent Golden Globe winner Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game is nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Morton Tyldum, Best Actor for Benedict Cumberbatch and Best Supporting Actress for Keira Knightley. Critical reception is mostly positive. It's in sneak previews from around 8 nightly at most multiplexes before opening wide next week.

Take note

The Japanese Film Festival is coming up next week, from January 30 to February 8 at Paragon. I'll aim to provide a special update soon. Another upcoming event is the Thailand International Destination Film Festival, running from February 4 to 12.

Major Cineplex is celebrating 20 years with an update of its website. After being dysfunctional for probably close to a year, it's now a bit easier to use and actually provides showtimes.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening January 15-21, 2015

The Isthmus

A singularly weird film, The Isthmus (ที่ว่างระหว่างสมุทร, Teewang Rawang Samut) opens for a limited run this week, more than a year after it made initial bow on the festival circuit.

Tapping into indie Thai cinema's popularity for "contemplative" or "shoegaze" films, the film's poster adds a new tagline for the Bangkok theatrical run, "A celebration of nothingness."

Directed by a pair of university film-studies lecturers, Sopawan Boonnimitra and Peerachai Kerdsint, The Isthmus deals with a little girl who suddenly starts speaking only Burmese after her Myanmar nanny dies. The girl's hi-so single mother (Sangthong Gate-U-thong from Citizen Dog and Muay Thai Chaiya) is desperate to find out what's wrong, so she takes the girl and journeys to Ranong, the coastal border province that's home to the late nanny's sister and a vast community of Mynamar migrants. There, they encounter various other characters, such a local physician and community activist, and an oddball Japanese priest.

Screened at the 2013 edition of the Busan film festival and the World Film Festival of Bangkok, The Isthmus is a strange film and is difficult to sum up, though it is a worthy attempt to address the issues of Myanmar migrants and show their place in society. It's at House on RCA and at Apex in Siam Square.

Also opening

Blackhat – Celebrated director Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral) makes his return with this globe-trotting high-tech crime thriller. Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker who cuts a deal with the authorities to be freed from prison so he pursue a network of cyber-criminals in a hunt that takes him from Chicago to Los Angeles and Hong Kong to Jakarta. Viola Davis also stars, along with top Taiwanese talents Tang Wei and Wang Leehom. Critical reception is forthcoming. Rated 15+

Into the Woods – A baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) are cursed with childlessness by a witch (Meryl Streep). So they venture into an enchanted forest to find a way to break the spell and encounter various fairy-tale characters who are searching for their own happy endings. Based on the hit 1980s Broadway musical by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim, there are plenty of songs and dancing along the way. Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp also star. A nominee for three Golden Globe Awards (Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, best actress for Emily Blunt, best supporting for Meryl Streep), critical reception is leaning to positive. Rated G

The Water Diviner – Russell Crowe directs and stars in this historical drama as an Australian farmer whose three sons go off to war in Turkey. When they fail to return after the Battle of Gallipoli, he heads to Turkey himself. In Istanbul, he forms a bond with a hotel owner (Olga Kurylenko) while trying to find a way to get to Gallipolli. Critical reception is mostly positive. Rated 15+

Home (a.k.a. At the Devil’s Door) – As she's preparing a house for sale, a real-estate agent encounters a young runaway girl and then becomes entangled with a supernatural force. An indie horror, it premiered at last year's South by Southwest festival and is directed by Nicholas McCarthy, who earlier did the indie horror The Pact. Critical reception is mixed. Rated 15+

Laggies – Keira Knightly stars in this indie coming-of-age comedy as a 28-year-old slacker woman. At her 10-year high-school reunion, she panics after her long-time boyfriend suddenly proposes marriage. She then crosses paths with a 16-year-old girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), buys her beer and feels a kinship. Sam Rockwell also stars. Lynn Shelton (Humpday, Your Sister's Sister) directs. Laggies premiered at Sundance last year. Critical reception is generally positive. Rated 15+

Wolves – A popular high-school student (Lucas Till) awakens from a horrific nightmare, only to realize that he’s living it. Forced into a life on the run, he is drawn to a remote mountain town where he discovers others like him. Jason Momoa and Merritt Patterson also star. David Hayter, screenwriter on Watchmen and X-Men 2, directs, making his feature debut. Critics are howling. Rated 15+

Tevar – A young man goes to factionalism-hit part of the country to participate in a kabaddi match, but ends up being drawn into a conflict over a young woman and the dangerous faction leader who seeks to marry her. Arjun Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha and Manoj Bajpai star. It's in Hindi with English and Thai subtitles at Major Cineplex Sukhumvit, Central Rama III and Pattaya. Opens Friday.

Also showing

The Friese-Greene Club – Tonight, it's a masterpiece of Spanish cinema with Spirit of the Beehive, a 1973 drama by Victor Erice, it's been described as the "bewitching portrait of a child’s haunted inner life". Tomorrow's documentary is The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, a 2009 portrait of a family of redneck career criminals. Saturday's "strange future" is Woody Allen's Sleeper, while Sunday's Doris Day movie is Calamity Jane. Next Wednesday's documentary is Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. Shows are at 8pm. The FGC is down an alley next to the Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22.  For more details, check the club's Facebook page. There's just nine seats, so book them.

Filmvirus Kawaii Luv Luv – Up first in the Sunday double-bill of Japanese romantic dramas is Permanent Nobara from 2010. Directed by Daihachi Yoshida, it follows a young divorced woman back to her small hometown, where she takes up work in her mother's hair salon, where the women spend their days talking about men and relatinships. Next is 1995's A Last Note, about a group of ageing actresses and their friends and their reflections on life. The show starts at 12.30 on Sunday in the Pridi Banomyong Library at Thammasat University Tha Prachan, in the Rewat Buddhinan Room, floor U2, the basement. Dress appropriately and inform the desk worker you are there to see a movie. For details, call (02) 613-3529 or (02) 613-3530.

Polish Film Festival – Six recent examples of Poland’s celebrated cinema will be shown in the Polish Film Festival from Sunday until Thursday at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. Organized by the Polish Filmmakers Association, the Polish Film Institute and the Embassy of Poland, here is the lineup:

  • Ida Poland's official submission to the Academy Awards, the black-and-white drama is set in the 1960s and follows a young woman as she's about to take her vows as a Catholic nun. She takes trip to see the last surviving member of her family, and uncovers dark secrets about World War II and the Nazis. Screens at 6pm on Sunday with q-and-a by producer Ewa Puszczynska and 9pm on Wednesday. 
  • Walesa: Man of Hope – Veteran filmmaker Andrzej Wajda directs this acclaimed biopic about the Nobel Prize-winning founder of the Solidarity Movement, which spearheaded the Polish revolution. Screens at 8pm on Sunday and 9pm on Tuesday.
  • One Way Ticket to the Moon – It's 1969 and a young man is about to enter the submarine service in the Polish Navy. Before he goes, his older brother decides to take him on a trip across the country to meet friends and relatives – and for the young man to lose his virginity. Screens at 7pm on Monday with q-and-a by director Jacek Bromski and 9pm next Thursday.
  • Fanciful – After the death of her mother, a 15-year-old girl falls ill with a strange disease, and her previously distant father enters her life and tries to re-establish a connection. Meanwhile, the girl’s fight against illness presents a tough test for the family. Screens at 9pm on Monday and 7pm next Thursday with q-and-a by producer Eryk Stepniewski.
  • Gods – Another biopic, this one follows the efforts of Dr Zbigniew Religa, a maverick cardiac surgeon who led a team of doctors in Poland’s first human heart transplant. Screens at 7pm on Wednesday with q-and-a by director Lukasz Palkowski.
  • Life Feels Good – A young man grows up with cerebral palsy against the backdrop of major changes in Polish society during the 1980s and '90s. Screens at 7pm on Tuesday.

All films have English and Thai subtitles. Tickets are Bt120.

German Open Air Cinema – The fact-based story of a Swiss policeman who helped German and Austrian Jews escape the Nazis during the late 1930s is depicted in Akte Grüninger (Grüninger's Fall). It screens at 7.30pm on Tuesday, January 20, at the Goethe-Institut of Sathorn Soi 1.

Alliance Française – A woman struggles to balance her job as a journalist with raising her two young daughters, just as the president election arrives in her town and her ex-husband shows up for his court-appointed visit with the kids. It's La Bataille de Solférino (Age of Panic), in French with English subtitles at 7pm on Wednesday, January 21 at the Alliance.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Bangkok Cinema Scene: Movies opening January 8-14, 2015


One of the season's most-buzzed-about awards contenders, Foxcatcher is based on true events that I don't remember. And I want the story to be a surprise, so I'm avoiding reading too much else about it.

So here's what I've gathered by only halfway researching about the film. Channing Tatum stars as Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, who despite winning a gold medal, has always been overshadowed by his more-beloved brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo). But Schultz sees a way to greater glory when he and his brother are invited by eccentric millionaire John du Pont to move onto his large estate and train for the 1988 Olympics.

Both Mark Schultz and the creepy du Pont are desperate men, and their drive to achieve pushes them into a spiral of self-destruction.

Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) directs. Already, Foxcatcher has a number of accolades, including the best director prize from Cannes and three Golden Globe nominations – best picture, best actor for Carell and best supporting actor for Ruffalo.

Critical reception is generally positive. Rated 18+

Also opening

Taken 3 – Liam Neeson again brings his particular set of skills to the franchise that relaunched his career as an action star. In this third and possibly final entry, his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) is killed and he's framed for murder. While eluding the authorities and protecting his daughter (Maggie Grace), he must track down the real killers. Forest Whitaker also stars. Olivier Megaton (Taken 2, Colombiana) directs the script by producer Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. Critical reception is mixed. Rated 13+

Hector and the Search for Happiness – Simon Pegg is a quirky psychiatrist who is tired of his humdrum life. So he embarks on a global quest to uncover the secret to true happiness. Rosamund Pike also stars. Peter Chelsom (Hannah Montana the Movie, Shall We Dance) directs. Critical reception for this piece of schmaltz is mixed. If you're a fan of Pegg's work in such movies as Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, go watch those again. Rated 13+

Black and White: The Dawn of Justice – This is the second entry in a big-budget Taiwanese police-action franchise. Mark Chao stars as Hero Wu, a dutiful police detective. He's paired up with arrogant loner cop Chen Zhen (Kenny Lin) to track down the mastermind behind a series of bombings. They discover the attacks are just a prelude to a bigger scheme involving stolen missiles and biochemical weapons. Thai-dubbed. Rated 13+

Beauty and the Beast – Vincent Cassel and Léa Seydoux star in this live-action adaptation of the French fairy tale about a young woman who falls in love with a beastly-looking man. It's in release for one week only from tomorrow at the Apex cinemas in Siam Square.

Also showing

Frozen Sing-Along – Follow the bouncing snowflake and see if you can match the high notes of "Let It Go" with the sing-along version of Disney's Oscar-winning animated hit. More than a year on, Frozen remains crazily popular, thanks mostly to the hit song "Let It Go", which is not only a favorite with karaoke fans, but is also so insanely loved by children, that director Jennifer Lee has apologized to parents who are fed up with hearing it. The Frozen Sing-along runs in cinemas for just one week. Rated G

The Friese-Greene Club – Spanish filmmakers, "strange futures", Doris Day and documentaries help get 2015 underway at the Club. Thursdays are devoted to Spanish directors, opening with Abre Los Ojos by Alejandro Amenabar, which was remade as Vanilla Sky. "But the original is so much better," seems to be the consensus. Documentaries are featured on Wednesdays and Fridays. Tomorrow, it's 2012's The Imposter, about a man who returns his family after disappearing years before. "Strange futures" are on Saturdays, opening with the influential Silent Running, director Douglas Trumbull's 1972 sci-fi classic, starring Bruce Dern as the last man alive aboard a massive spaceship. Sundays are all about Doris Day. This week it's Pillow Talk. Next Wednesday's documentary is 2009's Cropsey, which examines the New York urban legend of a child-killing monster and segues into the story of Andre Rand, a convicted child kidnapper. Shows are at 8pm. The FGC is down an alley next to the Queen's Park Imperial Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22.  For more details, check the club's Facebook page. There's just nine seats, so book them.

The Circle – SF Cinema's "Doc Holiday" series continues with The Circle, a fact-based Swiss drama about the relationship between schoolteacher Ernst Ostertage and drag queen Robi Rapp, chronicling their efforts as members of the Circle, a pioneering gay-rights group that battled homophobia in the 1950s. It's Switzerland's entry for the best foreign language film at this year's Academy Awards. It screens in German with English and Thai subtitles at 9pm from tomorrow until Sunday and at 5pm on Saturday and Sunday at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. For details, check the SF Cinemas website.

Filmvirus Kawaii Luv Luv – Filmvirus starts 2015 with a series of Sunday double features of youth-oriented Japanese romances, running until February 8. First up is 2013's See You Tomorrow, Everyone by Yoshihiro Nakamura, followed  by 2012's The Drudgery Train by Nobuhiro Yamashita. The show starts at 12.30 on Sunday in the Pridi Banomyong Library at Thammasat University Tha Prachan, in the Rewat Buddhinan Room, floor U2. Dress appropriately and inform the desk worker you are there to see a movie. For details, call (02) 613-3529 or (02) 613-3530.

German Open Air Cinema – It's star-crossed romance in The Silent Mountain, when war breaks out in the Dolomites just as an Italian woman and an Austrian man hope to form their own European union. William Moseley, Eugenia Costantini and Claudia Cardinale star. It screens at 7.30pm on Tuesday, January 13, at the Goethe-Institut off Sathorn Soi 1.

Alliance Française – A bitter and depressed woman falls into an alcoholic coma and awakens 25 years in the past, giving her a second chance at life in Camille Redouble, written, directed by and starring Noémie Lvovsky. Will she make the same choices that led her to an unhappy marriage? It's in French with English subtitles at 7pm on Wednesday, December 14 at the Alliance.

Take note

In addition to the Polish Film Festival from January 18 to 22 at SF World cinema at Central World, another upcoming event is the Japanese Film Festival from January 30 to February 8 at Paragon. And Filmvirus and and Wathann Film Festival join for a screening of old and new Myanmar films on January 24 and 25 at the Reading Room.