Tales to bewitch, Enchant and bemuse
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Tales to bewitch, Enchant and bemuse

As we count down to the New Year together, these three films offer explorations of spirituality and fate

Tales to bewitch, Enchant and bemuse

Ang Lee gives us a phosphorescent whale, blue-neon jellyfish, carnivorous seaweed and a sublime tiger as manifestations of fear, flesh, Vishnu, spirituality, the will to survive, etc. Visually, especially in the oceanic voyage of the boy Pi and his hungry Bengal tiger, this is a gorgeous film (in 3D) as Lee, adapting the Yann Martel book, pushes the tale beyond the realm of teen adventure into existential parable.

Suraj Sharma.

The story _ about a young man who professes to subscribe to Hinduism, Christianity and Islam all at once and who, while stranded on a lifeboat with a large tiger, announces that the experience has made him believe in God _ could very easily come across as so much Orientalist hokum. But its humour, playfulness and Suraj Sharma's nervous expressions save it from hollow preachiness and lull us into accompanying him on his trans-Pacific drift.

The film (actually, the book) has a thing for zoological spectacle. But Lee's lollipop menagerie, however beautiful, seems slight compared to two other films, both documentaries, that came out this year: Lucien Castaing-Taylor's and Verena Paravel's Leviathan, which concerns a monumental journey aboard a large fishing boat; and Denis Cote's Bestiaire, a wordless chronicle about the denizens of a zoo. Enjoy Pi, but those other two are wondrous indeed.

Piyathida Woramusik and Nopachai Jayanama.

Several characters are blinded by life and love and linked by fate _ or, more likely, by coincidences and the machinations of a plot. At times the eager hands of the scriptwriters become too apparent here, and yet Together is a surprisingly tender and sure-footed piece of filmmaking. It also features one of the year's best performances by a Thai actress, in Piyathida Woramusik's portrayal of a wife torn between duty and nostalgia.

Piyathida plays Nual, a woman whose husband has gone blind (Peter Jayanama, in another convincing performance) and who has just run into an old flame of hers: Nipon (Saharat Sangkapreecha). This Nipon is married to Orn (Princess Ubolratana) who nurses an incurable wound concerning her father, who has Alzheimer's.

In another strand, we meet a teenage couple and witness the sweet blossoming of their romance _ until an unplanned pregnancy upsets it all.

In fact, Together is also a story about children _ abandoned or adopted or looking for atonement.

Chance rules supreme, as tends to happen in a movie about interlocking lives. Looking past some stiff acting and the strong arm of fate, this film has moments that are genuinely moving _ the part about the young lovers, for instance, as well as the story of Nual and her husband _ and it injects a measure of freshness into a mostly mediocre year of mainstream cinema.

Pachara Chirathivat and Pattarasaya Kreuasuwansiri.

Competent, well-paced and yet strangely derailed by its own moralising agenda, this new Thai thriller grips all the way through, right up until the unlikely coda delivers a final bong hit. Give me more mushrooms, Jesus! But not the light at the end of that trippy tunnel.

Three Thai slackers in a New York apartment _ rich kids who splash their dads' dollars on weed and booze and a Woodberry outlet _ celebrate the countdown to the New Year by ordering a home-delivery of marijuana from a dealer called Jesus (pronounced "Hay-sus"), played by discovery-of-the-year David Asavanonda. Jesus, long-haired and bilingual, arrives on the dot bearing a bible (complete with prominent cross on the cover) _ and the fun starts. The three kids _ good-looking and satisfactorily dumb _ find their New Year's Eve weed high's been turned into a torture session reeking of everything from Psycho to Repulsion and Hostel and pseudo-Hanake. The apocalyptic Jesus (the guy plays with nails a lot... get it? ... nails?) slowly reveals himself to be something much more than a sadistic drug dealer, and Countdown becomes a tense mash-up of Christian guilt, Buddhist suffering and Hollywoodish thrills.

All is well, and director Nattawut Poonpiriya is certainly a promising dude (you hear "dude" a lot in this movie). Then comes the last reel, a perplexing move that, to me, nearly sabotages the spirit of the entire film. A joyfully violent, envelope-pushing and seemingly feel-bad movie turns out to be very conservative in its outlook. A visceral, psychological, expletive-ridden ride that warps into a hand-slapping morality tale? You'd need a hit of magic dope from a crystal bong to get that.

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