WEST IS WEST * * *
Cert 15, 103 mins
East Is East started life as a play, first performed in 1996 at the Birmingham Rep.
It became a Bafta-winning film in 1999 and now comes a sequel.
Many of the original cast went on to greater things, like Archie Panjabi, Chris Bisson, Jimi Mistry and Ruth Jones.
They’re all too busy to return – apart from Mistry, who pops up briefly in an entirely pointless cameo – but the core stars of Om Puri as Salford chip shop owner George Khan and Linda Bassett as his wife Ella are back for the sequel.
The time has moved forward to 1976, when Sajid – the cute little lad who wouldn’t take off his hooded parka – is now a defiant teenager, played by Aqib Khan.
He already feels caught between the Westernised world of his mother and friends and his father’s strict Muslim ways, and is only more confused when his teacher Robert Pugh tries to talk to him in Urdu.
After he insults his own father by calling him a ‘Paki’, George decides to show Sajid his roots by taking him back to Pakistan. There he meets his cousins but also George’s first wife and two daughters, who he abandoned 30 years ago.
Of course it’s a culture shock, driven home by plenty of clichés.
After his initial resistance – he refuses to take his suit off – Saj settles into the local way of life. Mystic Nadim Sawalha gives him advice and he even decides to find a wife for his brother Maneer (Emil Marwa), who fancies bespectacled singer Nana Mouskouri.
It seems written in the stars when Saj spots Nana lookalike Neelam (Zita Sattar), who wants to find a husband.
Meanwhile, George – or Jahangir, as he’s known to his first family – also gets acclimatised and risks Ella’s wrath by staying away for too long. As we see a more vulnerable, emotional side to him, he must choose between his wives, as Sajid must decide on the life he wants.
West Is West takes a while to get into its stride and has quite a few flaws and annoyances, like Saj’s constant swearing. A bit of variety in his expletives would help.
But it’s colourfully shot, with a few witty lines, and pretty watchable. It’s just not as good as the original.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED * * *
Cert 15, 107 mins
Twenty years after When Harry Met Sally asked whether a man and woman can be friends without sex getting in the way, this movie asks whether it’s possible for them to have purely sexual relationship without emotions getting in the way. Inevitably, the answer is no.
Natalie Portman has chosen a rather shallow romcom for her next project after Black Swan, the intense drama for which she is bound to pick up an Oscar on Sunday.
You can’t blame her for wanting to lighten up a bit after all that physical and emotional trauma. And she shows good comic timing in her first comedy, though it’s hardly going to win her any awards.
She plays Emma, an overworked junior doctor who hooks up with Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and discovers they’re great together between the sheets.
Neither wants a relationship. In a gender reversal, Emma enjoys one night stands without commitment, while Adam has been put off romance since he discovered his father, Kevin Kline, is dating his ex-girlfriend.
So they agree to be friends with benefits, purely using each other for sex. Emma won’t even ‘snuggle’ with him afterwards and insists that they can’t have feelings for each other, though of course it’s more complicated than that.
The patchy script includes some good lines but others which are clearly meant to be edgy yet fall horribly flat. It’s not necessarily big and clever to use explicit, vulgar language.
It’s good to see Kline on screen again and Kutcher and Portman make an appealing couple. Kutcher doesn’t disappoint his fans who expect him to take his clothes off in every movie.
Still, one of my main problems with the film is that its central premise doesn’t work.
Adam is a good-looking, nice bloke who treats Emma well, so there’s no reason for her not to fall in love with him.
It’s obvious that she will and any obstacles in their way seem even more contrived than usual for a romcom.
ANIMAL KINGDOM * * * *
Cert 15, 113 mins
The title may sound like a fun family cartoon, but that is far from the case.
Starting and ending with a death, and with several bodies piling up on the way, this bleak but highly effective Australian film doesn’t pull any punches.
When the drug addict mother of 17-year-old Josh (James Frecheville) dies of a heroin overdose in Melbourne, he seems neither surprised nor upset.
He’s taken in by his grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver), a strong matriarch to four criminal sons.
They’re a family of armed robbers and drug dealers. Baz (Joel Edgerton) seems a decent enough bloke – he has a nice girlfriend and good personal hygiene and fancies giving up ‘grubby’ drug dealing to go into the stock market. But then something shocking happens and he’s killed.
That sets in motion a string of tragic events, which unfold in a leisurely, subtle and realistic fashion. There’s a constant air of tension, almost unbearable at times, but no telegraphing of what is to come, which makes it all the more startling.
Performances are good throughout, particularly from Guy Pearce as the police officer trying to get Josh to inform on his family, and from Weaver. She has deservedly picked up an Oscar nomination for her slow-burn, gritty performance – she really comes into her own in the film’s gripping latter stages.
THE RITE * * *
Cert 15, 113 mins
Apparently inspired by true events, this film starts with great promise. Michael (Colin O’Donoghue) works in America as an undertaker with his father Rutger Hauer before training as a priest.
About to take his vows, he has a crisis of faith. In a bid to persuade him to stay in the Catholic Church and perhaps take a different path, he’s sent off to Rome to learn how to be an exorcist.
Here he attends unusual lectures from Ciaran Hinds and meets Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), who shows him how the ritual works on a pregnant 16-year-old.
Michael is sceptical, unconvinced of the existence of God and demons. But Lucas warns: “You be careful. Choosing not to believe in the Devil won’t protect you from him.”
Hopkins shows glimpses of being as menacing as he was as Hannibal Lecter, while the strong European cast (O’Donoghue is Irish) includes Toby Jones.
The script, especially to start with, is fizzing with good lines.
It’s amusing in parts, such as when Lucas’s mobile phone goes off in the middle of an exorcism.
The tension builds well, but then an hour in it all starts to go wrong. It loses focus and becomes too repetitive.
Then, after all that melodrama, it’s all wrapped up too quickly and neatly. What a shame.
I AM NUMBER FOUR * * *
Cert 12A, 109 mins
Rising British teen hunk Alex Pettyfer strengthens his Hollywood CV with this sci-fi actioner.
He plays John, Number Four of nine, “the last of our kind” who are being hunted down one by one by the evil Mogadorians.
These numbered aliens take attractive human form, with just circular glow-in-the-dark symbols on his leg – oh, and super strength – to mark John out as any different from any other American teenager.
He’s always on the run, moving from place to place with his protector Henri (Timothy Olyphant).
Henri tells him not to attract attention to himself and not to get close to anyone – but as he starts yet another new school, he finds himself attracted to Sarah (Dianna Agron).
Then there’s picked-on pupil Sam (Callan McAuliffe), who thinks his father has been abducted by aliens. John is the only person in school who knows this is likely to have really happened.
Teenage girls will see this film for Pettyfer. The British star is gorgeous, but it’s a shame he’s such a wooden actor – and a shame the film’s most skilled thespian, Olyphant, only lasts for half the movie.
Glee star Agron does have some talent, too, though she must wonder when she’ll be able to leave high school.
The script is clichéd and clunky, and I laughed in a few places I wasn’t meant to.
Still, there’s a cute dog, and it does get quite exciting in parts, especially when monsters appear near the end. The special effects can be fully appreciated on the huge screen at Birmingham’s IMAX cinema.
The open ending is crying out for a sequel, but, while this film is watchable enough, I’m not at all sure it’s good enough to turn into a long-running franchise.