Film: Also Showing

The Sixth Sense M Night Shyamalan (15) East Is East Damien O'donnell (15) Following Christopher Nolan (15) Jakob The Liar Peter Kassovitz (12) The Story Of O Just Jaeckin (12)
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The Independent Culture
INSUFFICIENTLY SPOOKED by The Blair Witch Project? Then you might like to try The Sixth Sense, the other ghost story that's taken America by storm.

Set in a gloomy Philadelphia, it concerns the spiritual crisis of a child psychologist (Bruce Willis) whose marriage seems to have broken down. He hasn't been the same since a troubled ex-patient broke into his home and took a pot shot at him. Then he becomes involved with a nine-year- old boy, Cole (Haley Joel Osment), who has been haunted by paranormal visions, baffling his mother and alienating his schoolmates.

Through gentle prompting Willis discovers Cole's secret - he sees dead people, explaining the sudden temperature drops, frosted breath and scratch marks on his back. Writer-director M Night Shyamalan doesn't overdo any of this, to his credit, but turns the screw by degrees. Crucial to his effect is an amazing performance by child actor Osment, whose small mouth and red-rimmed eyes have the piteous vulnerability of a mini Stan Laurel. He's quite extraordinary in his seriousness, and allows us to feel every scintilla of horror when the ghosts start crowding in. Willis doesn't let the side down, soft-pedalling the smirk and looking a little haunted himself, while Australian Toni Collette, as the kid's mother, alternates superbly between desperation and tenderness - it's not too early to call her a great actress.

For all that, The Sixth Sense isn't quite the knock-out we've been promised. Yes, the hairs do stand up on the back of your neck, and yes, there is a twist which jolts you at the end. But this is to overlook the incredibly sluggish pace and the tremors of mawkishness which keep disrupting the ominous mood. I felt inclined to admire it, simply because it's not your regular Hollywood scarefest. But I didn't really enjoy it.

East is East, adapted from Ayub Khan Din's celebrated stage play, is a boisterous comedy about an Anglo-Asian family undergoing cultural meltdown in 1971 Salford. George Khan (Om Puri) is a stern patriarch - "Ghengis" to his seven kids - who runs the local chip shop with his English wife, Ella (Linda Bassett). He strives to instill Muslim traditions into his recalcitrant family. His eldest son Nazir has already disgraced him by fleeing an arranged marriage, so George is determined that the next two will buckle down as proud Pakistani husbands.

Director O'Donnell catches the early Seventies atmosphere with nice squiggles of detail - from Enoch Powell's repatriation speeches to The Clangers at teatime. And, thanks to some energetic ensemble playing, he also conveys a real sense of the Khans as a family.

Puri and Bassett conduct a terrific duet of fond exasperation until the comedy is up-ended in the final quarter by some incongruously grim domestic violence. Indeed, the longer it went on the less I felt inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt.

In spite of its pleas for racial tolerance there's an unpleasant streak of body fascism - it's OK to ridicule fat people, apparently - and I rather despise that strain of humour which relies simply on the sound of people swearing in Northern accents (see Little Voice). Oh, it's all right, and may look even better when screened where it belongs, on telly.

In Christopher Nolan's debut feature, Following, an under-confident young writer, Bill (Jeremy Theobald) decides to relieve his boredom by stealthily tailing complete strangers on the street. That's authentic, at least. Only a freelance writer could find so much time to waste. He falls in with a suave gent named Cobb (Alex Haw), who dresses like a merchant banker but turns out to be a housebreaker. Cobb swiftly introduces Bill to the tricks of his nefarious trade. "You take it away, and show them what they had," says Cobb, expounding a whole metaphysics of burglary as he cheekily uncorks someone else's bottle of wine. Filming in grainy black and white, Nolan structures his yarn via disorienting time-shifts and cooks up a twist that nods to David Mamet: unfortunately his leading man hasn't the poise or presence to see the thing home, but it's still an agreeable box of tricks.

As someone recently remarked, the world would be a better place if Robin Williams didn't keep trying to make it a better place. In his latest, Jakob The Liar, he plays a Jewish baker who inadvertently becomes a symbol of hope to a beleaguered Polish ghetto in the last days of Nazi Europe. Leave aside the obvious historical fudging (was there a ghetto still unliquidated by 1945?) and you'll still hear your teeth grind as Williams runs through his ingratiating repertoire of crinkly-eyed smiles and comedy voices.

No comic actor since Chaplin has made such a desperate spectacle of wanting to be loved. If we could convince him that he was, would he then promise never to make a film as mortifying as this again? It's surely worth a try.

After being banned for 25 years, the S&M porn extravaganza The Story of O finally disrobes itself - to incredulous jeers, I'll wager. Corinne Clery as the eponymous O embarks on a badly dubbed odyssey of sexual degradation - while ageing playboys interrupt dinner-party chitchat to have their way with her. If the Ferrero-Rocher ad team and Hugh Hefner were to collaborate on a soft-core fantasy about sexual domination among alpha males, then it might just look like this.

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