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.
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.
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.
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.
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.