Film reviews: Dream Home | Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives | Adrift | Chico and Rita | Unstoppable

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Dream Home (18)**** Directed by: Pang HO-Cheung Starring: Josie Ho, Eason Chan, Derek Tsang

SET in Hong Kong in the run-up to the global financial crash (but flashing back and forth between its pre- and post-handover days), Dream Home is both a entertainingly excessive slasher film and a surprisingly astute satire on the insanity of the property market – one that literalises in gleefully gory ways its cut-throat nature while pulling off a more incisive deconstruction of the savagery of modern capitalism than Oliver Stone managed in his recent Wall Street sequel. Josie Ho takes the lead as Sheung, an ambitious call-centre employee so desperate to get her foot on the property ladder she embarks on a ruthlessly inventive kill spree. How inventive? Let's just say vacuum packing will never be the same again, and a scene of mid-coitus castration ups the yuck factor for extreme horror a good few notches above the likes of Audition. What makes the film thoroughly engrossing, though (apart from its innovative framing and slick visuals), is the way writer/director Pang Ho-Cheung structures proceedings to provide Sheung with a surprisingly poignant back-story and the film with blackly funny and ironic sting in the tail. It's sick and surprising stuff to be sure, but in a good way.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (12A) ***

Directed by: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Starring: Thanapat Saisaymar, Sakda Kaewbuadee, JenJira Pongpas

IF THE awkwardly translated title of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's unexpected Cannes Palm d'Or winner sounds strange, it's merely a precursor for the oddness of the film itself. Revolving around a dying farmer confronting the guilt he feels over his participation in the Thai government's bloody suppression of Communism in the 1960s, the film's relatively straightforward premise is transformed into a rather more baffling pantheistic meditation on the karmic value of making peace with your past. That's mostly down to the director's decision to have his titular protagonist salve his inner turmoil via communion with a series of ghosts and mystical creatures. An early scene in which Boonmee is entertaining his sister and her young companion at dinner, for instance, is rendered eerily off-kilter by the casualness with which the characters greet the out-of-the-blue appearance of Boonmee's long-lost son, who turns up in the form of a hirsute "monkey ghost". Later, the film spins off on a tangent involving a malformed princess making love to a catfish. It's that kind of film. Meaning may prove elusive, and boredom is never exactly kept at bay, but what's on screen is unique and beguiling enough to make it worth persevering.

Adrift (15)***

Directed by: Heitor Dhalia

Starring: Vincent Cassel, Dborah Bloch, Camilla Belle, Laura Neiva

TAKING its title a tad too literally, this marital drama/coming-of-age film frequently seems all at sea thanks to a wave of obvious imagery designed to signify the swell of emotions pushing apart the beatific Brazilian family at its centre. Mercifully, Vincent Cassel provides a strong lifeline as family patriarch Mathias, a philandering novelist whose hormonally charged 14-year-old daughter, Filipa (Laura Neiva), becomes obsessed with his extramarital indiscretions and begins acting out in sometimes cruel and unusual ways with boys her own age. It's yold from Filipa's point of view, and Neiva helps buoy the film, her confident, remarkably assured performance enabling writer/director Heitor Dhalia to serve up a few narrative surprises as Filipa's nascent sexuality is gradually revealed to be clouding her perspective somewhat when it comes to the true complexity of her parents' marriage. It's a shame, then, that the good work done by her and Cassel – not to mention the fine supporting cast – is undercut somewhat by a resolution that proves as conventional as much of Dhalia's symbolism.

Chico and Rita (15)***

Directed by: FerNando Treuba, Javier Mariscal, Ton Errando

Voices: Limara Meneses, Eman Xor Oa

IN THE past few years, adult animation has evolved from novelty status to valid artistic storytelling choice thanks to innovative films such as A Scanner Darkly, Persepolis and Waltz with Bashir, films that have exploited the form in bold and daring ways. Chico and Rita doesn't quite fall into the same league thanks to its conventional plot and underdeveloped characters, but it proves a worthwhile showcase for the way blocky, relatively inexpensive animation can be used to as a tool to effectively recreate an era too cost-prohibitive for live action. Set mainly in post-war 1940s New York and pre-revolution Cuba, the film plays like a fictional prequel of sorts to the Buena Vista Social Club, charting the evolution the Cuban jazz scene in the form of a thwarted love story between a destined-for-stardom chanteuse called Rita and her fiery but pathologically jealous pianist, Chico. Told in flashback as regret-filled Chico's old-man memories are stirred by hearing on the radio recordings that should have propelled both him and Rita to the big leagues, the film follows a fairly standard music movie trajectory, but charmingly evokes the vibrancy of a bygone era, even as it smoothes away some of its complexity in the process.

Unstoppable (15)***

Directed by: Tony Scott

Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson

TYPICAL. You wait ages for a train-themed Tony Scott movie featuring Denzel Washington, and two come along almost at once. Following last year's uninspiring Taking of Pelham 123 remake, Unstoppable sees Hollywood's most frenetic director reuniting with his favourite leading man in yet another film about a blue-collar public transport operator forced to save the day despite being screwed over by his nasty corporate employers. This time, Washington deploys his vast charisma to play a veteran signalman coerced into showing Chris Pine's upstart train driver the ropes on the very day a runaway locomotive filled with toxic chemicals ends up on a collision course with a highly populated area (it goes without saying that said area is home to a highly combustible fuel depot as well as Pine's estranged wife and child). What's an ordinary working guy to do except risk his neck because it's the right thing to do? Washington is arguably the only star who could pull off such a cheeseball character, and to this end, he's complemented by Scott, whose refusal to let the film's alleged true-life inspiration impinge on his instinct for the ridiculous is almost to be commended.

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