Tuesday 25 April 2017

When East doesn't meet West

Aine O'Connor, Hillary A White

FILM REVIEWS: West Is West, Cert 15A



East Is East was one of the cinema hits of 1999. A rambunctious look at a mixed-race family in Salford in 1971, important issues and conflicts merged with satire and slapstick in a combination that worked. Twelve years on, the sequel West Is West appears, the trailers announcing it to be "hilarious".

It's now 1976 and George and Ella Khan (Om Puri and Linda Bassett reprising their roles) are concerned with their youngest son Sajid (Aqib Khan), who is responding to being bullied with bad behaviour. George decides the only solution is an extended trip to Pakistan for his youngest to get in touch with his roots. Off they set, proud patriarch and recalcitrant teen, arriving in rural Pakistan where George, Jahangir as he is known in his homeland, meets the daughters and wife he left 30 years ago and the half-English son Maneer (Emil Marwa) he dispatched earlier in search of a wife.

While West Is West is funny in places, the humour is predictable and scatological -- i.e. language/cultural and sanitation jokes -- and the film is gentler than its forerunner. Writer Ayub Khan-Din is older and wiser, and the change of director from Damian O'Donnell to Andy de Emmony too perhaps contributes to a rather different tone.

The wives are underwritten but powerful and Jimi Mistry actually only appears for one scene. West Is West is supposedly about George, through his family and friends. But, really it's about the conflict between two cultures, and George's monstrous ego, behind which he hides everything. This automatically makes the film a bit more middle-aged and pensive.

On this level it works fine, and probably better than had it tried to recapture the energy of the first film. It is often funny and stands alone for anyone who hasn't seen East Is East. In fact, comparison is misguided in ways.

AOC

West Is West is now showing

I Am Number Four

Cert 12A

JOHN Smith (Alex Pettyfer) is one of a group of gifted aliens sent to earth when their own planet was being destroyed by the evil Mogadorians. These special beings live secretly among humans, but always on the watch for their persecutors who have also come to earth. So far, three of the good aliens have been found and killed by the bad aliens. John is number four.

Reaching adulthood, John has tired of running, not least because he has fallen in love with Sarah (Diana Agron), so defies his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant) to make a stand in small-town Ohio. Not only does he have to deal with the extreme Goths that are the Mogadorians, but also with bullying high-school jocks. But it's thanks to his run-ins with the jocks that he begins to learn the extent of his alien powers, and help comes in the feisty and gorgeous shape of Number Six.

Based on the novel by Pittacus Lore and directed by DJ Caruso, I Am Number Four is pitched at teens, vampires having been done to er... death. Cute young stars overact their way through the ropey script and dodgy story in a manner that teens possibly won't mind as much as I did.

But there are some really silly parts. For instance, why would John, being sought by the entire town, go to a party where half of them are? Why would his heartbroken love interest Sarah be at the party? Why would they go to develop photos when they are being chased by murderers?

It's just a bit daft, although earnest enough in intent and it screams sequel as it draws to a close.

AOC

I Am Number Four is now showing

Waste Land

AWARDS and nominations have been showered upon this uplifting documentary from Lucy Walker (Blindsight, Devil's Playground), and it's not hard to understand why. While most of the work is done by the fascinating premise -- art changing the lives of Brazilian landfill scavengers -- it is Walker's slow zoom into her subjects' personal spheres and a strong narrative quality that provide the magic.

Walker follows superstar visual artist Vik Muniz, who left his native Sao Paulo 30 years ago for New York, where a flourishing career ensued. He sets out to change the lives of a group of catadores -- people who sort through refuse for recyclables-- by involving them in a grand art project, the proceeds of which will go back into the community.

The setting is immediately astonishing. Jardim Gramacho, a vast landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, is a sprawling hive of filth and activity surrounded by favelas. Waste Land somehow sanitises this intimidating place by meeting a selection of dignified catadores, all doing an honest day's work when turning tricks or drug-dealing would be more lucrative. Among them are Tiao, the young president of the recycling pickers' union, and Zumbi, who is versed in Nietzsche and Machiavelli from the books he found on site.

With Muniz's direction, they create stunningly vibrant portraits of themselves using only recyclable materials. These go on to fetch huge sums at a London auction, a scene that is the emotional climax.

HAW

Waste Land is on at the IFI, Dublin

Howl

JAMES FRANCO, as so often with beautiful actors, has favoured roles that prove he is more than just a pretty face. In Howl, he manages to deliver once again, playing the young Allen Ginsberg and making the Beat icon appear a vulnerable man.

Set in 1957, Howl is based around the obscenity trial of San Francisco publisher Ferlinghetti, who had first printed Ginsberg's poem Howl. A seminal and occasionally comical case was brought where censorship and freedom of speech took centre stage -- and the trial marked an important moment in gay history.

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's previous work has been in documentaries so this foray into docu-drama is somewhat new.

Franco is joined by an impressive cast. John Hamm is the defence lawyer while David Straithairn plays the prosecutor and Mary Louise Parker, Treat Williams and Jeff Daniels appear in different witness roles.

The film is four-pronged: Ginsberg's first reading in 1955 of the poem to a rapt audience, the obscenity trial, Ginsberg giving an interview in his home and an animated interpretation of parts of the poem. Although it requires a little concentration at first, the technique works well and the film very much captures the time, or how I imagine the time, and a post-Second World War generation not fitting into old moulds, of sexual shame being vanquished, a bit, and of Ginsberg's growing confidence, connection and importance.

It never treats Ginsberg or the poem as iconic, rather bringing both of them to life, and there is no need to know anything about them to enjoy the film. It's arthouse, and not for everyone, but at 80 minutes long it tells a story well without outstaying its welcome.

AOC

Howl is on at the IFI, Dublin

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