Monthly Archives: July 2013

Film Review: The World’s End

Gary King’s (Simon Pegg) never did quite complete the ‘Golden Mile’, a 12 stop pub crawl in the sleepy village of Newton Haven ending up in The World’s End, but now he’s getting his old group of friends back together to finally complete the crawl. However, there’s something not quite right about the residents of Newton Haven, and not only do they put Gary’s quest at risk but also the very existence of the human race.

Since being released in 2004, Shaun of the Dead has become somewhat of a cult hit. Hot Fuzz then followed in 2007, which although still very good, didn’t quite hit the highs of its predecessor. Now Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have released the final part in what is dubbed the ‘Cornetto trilogy’ and the stakes have been raised significantly.

The World’s End is bigger and bolder than the previous two films in just about every way. The central cast is larger (or stays around for longer), the special effects are more grandiose and it’s probably expected to pull in significantly more money, too. But all of this does somewhat detract from what made Shaun of the Dead so loveable. Shaun felt like a few guys just throwing ideas together, much like their equally-loved TV show Spaced, but a much of The World’s End feels a little too forced, like they’re trying just a bit too hard.

Now that’s not to say it’s not a good film and that I didn’t enjoy it, because it is and I did, but too many of the jokes miss their mark, and when you know you should probably be laughing, more often than not a slight chuckle is the best you get. Sometimes it’s brilliant but it’s just a little too inconsistent. It seems they’ve gone with the attitude that if you throw enough jokes then enough will stick. And they do, but only just.

Where the film does improve on both Shaun and Fuzz is with the depth of its characters. Pegg’s Gary King has a pretty substantial backstory, of which all of other characters (particularly Nick Frost’s surprisingly straight-laced Andrew) are an integral part. Each of the other characters has their own little side story going on, but it’s as a part of Gary’s larger story arc that they really matter. Unlike those around him, Gary hasn’t grown up, and none of his ‘friends’ even really like him that much. He’s both an entertaining and a pitiful character; there’s much more to him than either of Pegg’s previous incarnations as Shaun or Nicholas Angel.

And it really feels as if the three writers have put a lot of love into the film. There’s plenty of lovely little touches that catch your eye and likely plenty more that will only surface after a few rewatches, which is one of the great things about all three films in the trilogy. They really do feel like films made by film fans, and The World’s End is no exception to that.

Perhaps it was because I was expecting too much, but The World’s End does feel like slight disappointment. I still had fun with it, and in some ways it’s a more developed piece of work that either Shaun or Fuzz, but it does lack just a little originality and spark. Just as similarly-named apocalyptic comedy This is the End is a joke starting to wear thin, The World’s End unfortunately feels a little the same.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Pacific Rim

Giant monsters, known as Kaiju, are emerging through a rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, destroying cities across the world. In response, humans have created Jaegers, huge robots designed to repel the alien threat. As more and more Kaiju start appearing, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and other elite Jaeger pilots are tasked with wiping them out once and for all.

There are various reasons why one goes to the cinema. Maybe it’s to be scared by a horror film or intellectually challenged by something arty. Maybe it’s to laugh yourself hoarse. However, for many a trip to the cinema is an opportunity for mindless escapism, and if that’s you then Pacific Rim delivers in swathes.

Because, you see, Pacific Rim isn’t going to make you think, but that’s never its intention. Director Guillermo del Toro has been quite open about channeling his inner 11 year old when making this film and that’s precisely what he intends the audience to do also.

Let’s get the nitpicks out the way first. The script is terrible; there’s no other way of putting it. It’s cheesy and cliched throughout, and I actually laughed out loud at one point at something that wasn’t intended to be funny. But yet it somehow works. Sure, I’d preferred the script to have a little more brains to it, but its cheesiness still works for the film in the most part. The story is also incredibly predictable. You know exactly what’s going to happen next pretty much all the way through and nothing comes as much of a surprise. However, again, you can largely overlook this. You might see everything coming a mile off but it’s not the kind of film than needs loads of twists and turns.

Onto the good stuff.

The sense of scale in Pacific Rim is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Both the Jaegers and the kaiju look absolutely immense and you really feel every skull-crunching blow during the fight scenes. And unlike Man of Steel (and many others), you can actually tell what’s going on during these scenes. The camera lingers just a little longer and is much less frenetic, really helping you fully appreciate the action and impressive CGI.

And despite the predictable plotting, the film also has a surprising amount of heart. Fallen comrades, daddy issues and childhood trauma all play a part in adding just a little more depth to the story. It’s all pretty standard fare but still handled reasonably well.

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It’s also delivered well, too. Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi all do admirably as the film’s major players, whilst bit parters such as Ron Perlman’s black market kaiju trader add a bit of flavour to proceedings. Only Geiszler & Gottlieb (Charlie Day & Burn Gorman), the two eccentric professors and the film’s obvious comedic relief, feel a little awkward and irritating.

It’s not difficult to see where Pacific Rim gets its inspiration from. The Japanese kaiju movies from the 1950s and 60s such as Godzilla and Mothra are the most obvious influence, along with mecha anime films, but there are a number of other influences, including World War 2 and martial arts films mixed in as well. It’s clear del Toro had a blast with this and that really comes across.

Pacific Rim ticks pretty much all the blockbuster boxes and is never going to win any originality awards, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. It’s big, cheesy and dumb, but ya know what? Sometimes that’s OK.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Monsters University

18Mike Wasowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) are scare students at Monsters University. A rivalry ensues between the two to be top of the class and an accident gets them thrown off the course by the imposing Dean Hardscrabble (Dame Helen Mirren). Only by working together to win the annual Scare Games will they be allowed back on the course.

The release of Cars 2 in 2011 signalled a change in attitude from Pixar. Prior to that they had largely dealt only in new IPs (Toy Story being the exception) and had shied away from sequels. However, since then the Disney-owned company have followed Hollywood’s lead and started to revisit past successes. As well as the return of Lightning McQueen et al, we now have Cars spinoff Planes and Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory on the way. And then, of course, we have Monsters University, a prequel to the 2001 original and the Pixar franchise with arguably (again Toy Story aside) the most to lose.

The good news is that Monsters University is a worthy addition to Pixar’s portfolio. It does lack a little originality, but that’s to be expected; we don’t get that initial ‘wow factor’ as we’re already familiar with the film’s universe and its inhabitants. As such the film does labour slightly in the outset, although it soon picks up and we settle back in to where we were an amazing/depressing 12 years ago.

It’s a delight to be back with Mike and Sully, but the film does seem to rely on this almost nostalgic feeling a little too much. Whilst the scrapes the duo get themselves in are amusing, the stakes just never seem as high as they did in Monsters Inc. The worst that will ever happen is that Mike and Sully don’t get back on their scaring course; there’s never much in the way of peril to make you really worry about them.

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What the film does show off is Pixar’s amazing character design. On top of the regular cast to which we’re now accustomed, we are introduced to a plethora of new characters, some playing major roles, others less so. However, the sheer number of incidental background characters is staggering and really does showcase Pixar’s imagination and attention to detail. From the Scare Games’ jock announcer to Mike and Sully’s furry, hippy biped friend, it’s a joy to let your eyes wander around the screen to check out the variety of characters.

One thing that did cross my mind was how well the film would hit the mark with a young audience. Pixar films always have a vein of adult humour running throughout to keep us older ones entertained, but they’re first and foremost children’s films. As such, I’m not sure if children will fully appreciate jokes based on university life. There’s still plenty of stuff for children to enjoy, but I don’t know if they’ll really get the maximum from it. Also, I don’t know if kids will properly understand the concept of a prequel. If your children have been to see it, please feel free to prove me wrong!

So for those worried that Pixar are on a slippery slope, Monsters University, at least for now, shows that they still have plenty in the ol’ think tank. Asking the film to live up to its predecessor was always going to be a near impossible task, but it does get about as close as you could hope for.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

Pixar short: The Blue Umbrella

It’s been customary for quite some time now for Disney and Pixar to screen short films before their main features (which makes it even more annoying when people grumble about having to sit through them) and their latest, The Blue Umbrella, is quite simply one of the most stunning pieces of animation you’re likely to have seen.

THE BLUE UMBRELLAThe Blue Umbrella is about a, erm, blue umbrella who meets a red umbrella amongst a sea of black umbrellas. However, the two become separated, with our little blue friend desperate to get back to his new fancy ‘lady’.

In terms of narrative, The Blue Umbrella is very similar to Paper Man (shown before Wreck-it Ralph). In fact, it’s probably a little too similar; originality is something that has always set these shorts apart, but it’s lacking somewhat here. But it’s in the animation that the film really amazes. There are times when you really won’t believe this is an animated feature; only our blue and red protagonists are obviously animated, which adds something to the whimsicality of the picture.

Whilst it is disappointing that The Blue Umbrella lacks a little something in originality, it’s still a delightful short and the perfect appetiser before the main feature.

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Quickie: Now You See Me

A group of four magicians known as The Four Horsemen (Isla Fisher, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco) are enlisted by a mysterious fifth party to undertake a serious of impressive, and illegal, illusions that begin attracting the attention of the authorities, and in particular FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo).

Now You See Me starts off on the right foot. We’re treated to a bit of close-up magic that actually involves the audience, immediately inviting us to buy into what’s on screen. Even up until about half way in, we’re still in a world of mystery and illusion. However, it all suddenly starts to fall away. Gone are any trace of nuance or intricacy and in comes a paint-by-numbers action film complete with car chases, fight scenes and a ridiculously unnecessary romance.

Most of the cast do reasonably well with what they’re given, but none are particularly stand out. Woody Harrelson probably provides the most personality of the four leads, with Dave Franco and Isla Fisher being really rather nondescript. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are also fleetingly entertaining but never do more than hover around the periphery.

Jesse Eisenberg’s character comments at one point that with magic “the more you look, the less you see”, and the same could be said of Now You See Me. Look too closely and the whole thing starts to unravel – some rather sizeable plot holes and laughable exposition prevents you from ever fully engaging with the film. However, there is some fun to be had. Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige this most definitely isn’t, but take it at face value and the various twists, turns and red herrings should provide just enough to provide some popcorn entertainment.

3 pigeons3/5 pigeons

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What Dya Mean You Haven’t Seen… Metropolis

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I thought it was about time I watched some more silent cinema. I watched some when I was at university but it’s something in which I have never been that well versed. I’m well aware of the significance of Metropolis and how well it’s revered, but it was a film that had somehow passed me by until now.

Plot: Metropolis is a sprawling city with high-rise skyscrapers and futuristic transport systems. However, below the city live the lower class workers who endlessly toil to provide Metropolis with power. Freder Fredersen (Gustav Fröhlich), whose father Foh (Alfred Abel) is the Master of Metropolis, falls in love after a brief encounter with Maria (Brigitte Helm), a young woman idolised by the workers as a figure of hope. In order to find Maria, Freder becomes one of the workers, discovering how terrible their life is. Worried about a worker uprising, Joh orders Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), a crazed inventor, to use his latest creation, a Maschinenmensch (or Machine-Human), to take the form of Maria in order to ruin her reputation amongst the workers.

First, a bit of a history lesson. When Metropolis was released in 1927, it was the most expensive film made to that point, costing 5 million Reichsmarks, and is considered the first ever science fiction. In 2001, it became the first film to be inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register. Previously, the original premiere cut of the film had disappeared and over a quarter of the film was lost. However, in 2008 a print of writer/director Fritz Lang’s original cut was found in a museum in Argentina, and after a long restoration process, was screened in 2010. Some portions of the film are still missing, whilst others are unable to be fully restored and, as such, are of very poor quality and in the incorrect aspect ratio. End lesson d’histoire.

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As should be fairly evident from the plot synopsis, which only covers the main points, Metropolis is pretty epic in scale. There is plenty more going on besides that gives the film an immensely deep plot that goes far and beyond a huge number of films made since. I can’t recall many films I’ve seen recently at the cinema that have been quite so layered. Obviously the visual side of cinema has improved thanks to advancements in technology, but many such films are depressingly shallow.

What also hit me about the story was how relevant it still is. The underprivileged working class toil and sweat whilst the bourgeoisie enjoy a life of luxury is a theme that rings incredibly true today; ask many about the UK’s Conservative government and you’ll likely hear stories to this effect. Of course, the class system has always been there; it’s nothing knew, but the fact that this film is just as poignant now as ever makes it timeless. For me, Metropolis is right up there with George Orwell’s 1984 in terms of social commentary that was way ahead of it’s time.

The film also excels in its visuals and, again, feels years ahead of its time. The sets are hugely impressive considering when the film was made; sure, some do look like sets rather than an actual city but their attention to detail soon makes you buy into them completely. It seems that there was a penchant for impressive sets during the first couple of decades of cinema; just look at the sets for DW Griffith’s Intolerance. The special effects are also spectacular, again considering the film was made nearly 90 years ago. When you think that they are all created using proper, old-fashioned camera and editing techniques, it’s even more impressive.

The film is a product of German expressionism, the artistic movement that came out of Germany in the early 20th century. Many of the recognisable hallmarks are present and correct, including themes of madness and betrayal as well as angular sets (although less so than some other films of the period), monumentalism and modernism.

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Metropolis has clearly been a huge influence on directors and their work. You could argue that it has an some kind of influence on most science fiction films since 1927 and others besides. Blade Runner is a film that likely wouldn’t exist without Metropolis, whilst the effect on Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is obvious. Nolan has even gone on record to cite Metropolis as one of his biggest influences. Just take a look at the design of Gotham City in Batman Begins for irrefutable proof. However, Metropolis clearly has influences of its own. The Maschinenmensch is straight out of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, whilst the forbidden love story of Freder and Maria harks back to Romeo & Juliet and probably various other works.

I also feel as if I have to mention the film’s score. The original score was composed by Gottfried Huppertz and was rerecorded for the 2010 re-release by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. It is quite simply magnificent. Not something I’d listen to in the car, but it works so perfectly for the film. It’s quite startling at first to hear a full orchestral score blasting out, but after a few minutes it just becomes an integral part of the film and, along with title cards, actually helps to tell the story in the absence of dialogue.

So there are my thoughts on Metropolis and I feel as if I’ve barely scratched the surface. It’s ripe for analysis thanks to its many layers of social commentary and religious messages, but I would have to watch it again a few times to properly decipher some of that. A real visionary piece of work, this is a film that everyone should take the time to watch and appreciate.

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Film Review: This is the End

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Whilst at James Franco’s housewarming party, Seth Rogan and Jay Baruchel are suddenly faced with the apocalypse. Holed up in Franco’s house with a number of other celebrities, they must survive the fire and brimstone closing in on them as well as settle some personal differences.

If you’re not a fan of the specific brand of humour that Seth Rogan and his merry gang have largely built a career around, then there’s not a huge amount in This is the End that’s going to convince you to the contrary. However, for those who find nothing funnier than Seth and friends riffing of each other, then there’s plenty to enjoy.

In terms of the humour, we know pretty much exactly what we’re getting for most of the film. There’s plenty of the standard drug and dick jokes that raise a giggle the first few times but ultimately become a little stale and repetitive. There is also a fair few references to previous films the actors have appeared in, so if you aren’t well versed in their filmography, some jokes may go a little over your head.

Much of the humour, however, particularly in the first half of the film comes from the novelty that everyone is playing themselves, although usually twisted, over the top versions. The decision to do this is a masterstroke but sometimes comes across as a bit of self-congratulatory circle jerking. If they had played ‘proper’ characters then it would have lost a lot of its humour and arguably its largest USP, but there are times when the self parody goes so far that it just feels like they’re patting each other on the back and saying how awesome they all are.

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There are some excellent interactions between some of them, however, with Danny McBride probably providing most of the laughs. He’s not afraid to send up most of his buddies, and an argument between him and James Franco over a ‘used’ porno magazine is disturbingly hilarious. Jonah Hill as an uber nicey nicey version of himself is also worth a few laughs although, like Seth Rogan, if you’re not a fan, there’s little here to change your opinion.

Having several other celeb cameos popping up throughout raises a fair few laughs and further adds to the novelty factor of the whole thing. Michael Cera as a coked up sex pest, for instance, is pretty funny, whilst Emma Watson’s feisty five minutes is also a highlight.

The second half of the film actually mixes things up a little, dispensing with the straight up comedy angle and actually becoming more of an action film. This change of pace really gives the film a bit of drive, stopping it from becoming too stale and gives some of the characters more of a sense of purpose. There are also a bunch of fun references to horror films, including Rosemary’s Baby, Ghostbusters and The Exorcist.

So, whilst This is The End is funny in places, it’s also pretty inconsistent and for large parts isn’t nearly as funny as it thinks it is. It relies a little too heavily on Seth Rogan’s tried and tested formula and feels a little too familiar in places, despite the setting. Having said that, when it’s funny, it’s very funny and for fans of Rogan et al, this could well prove to be one of this year’s funniest films.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Man of Steel

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After his father Jor-el (Russell Crowe) sent him to Earth to escape the destruction of his home planet of Krypton, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) must discover his true identity and assume the role of Superman to protect Earth from ruin at the hands of fellow Kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon).

With the massive success of the The Dark Knight Trilogy, the news that Christopher Nolan was brought on board alongside director Zack Snyder for the new Superman film was met with almost unanimous delight. After all, the woeful Superman Returns in 2006 meant that Clark Kent et al really needed a strong outing, and Man of Steel provides just that. For about half a film.

For the first half of Man of Steel, we get much of what the trailers promised: a more grounded origin for Clark (aside from the sections on Krypton) and more of an idea of what life was like growing up as he tries to hide his powers. Even the early scenes with Clark in his blue & red threads work well. However, it’s almost as if Snyder comes along about half way through and chucks a glass of cold water over the film, reminding it that it’s supposed to be a brainless summer blockbuster. Gone is any kind of real storyline or character development and in comes, well, Transformers. The action seems to last an age, and with so much going on, it can be difficult to keep track of everything.

Man of Steel

The CGI gets ramped up to dangerously high levels and we see the utter decimation of Metropolis, which, whilst reasonably  impressive, seems very out of place in a Superman film. This is a superhero known for saving lives yet his quest to stop Zod presumably causes untold loss of life during the destruction of the city. I say ‘presumably’ because we never actually really see much peril whatsoever. Where are all the people?! There never really feels like much of a threat to humanity because we don’t see them. It all feels a little shallow and like some kind of dick measuring contest with Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.

We also get possibly the most shoehorned romance in the history of cinema. We all know what’s going to happen; it comes as no surprise, but when it does arrive, it feels so out of the blue with no foundation to it whatsoever. It’s in there because someone felt it needed to be to sell movie tickets and for no other reason.

Now there is still plenty to like in Man of Steel. The first half, maybe even two thirds is perfectly enjoyable and there are some excellent scenes, particularly those showing Clark as a youngster and an excellent fight scene between Supes and some of Zod’s cronies on the streets of (I think) Smallville.

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The casting is also generally pretty strong. Cavill is an excellent Superman, looking eerily like Christopher Reeve at times, and could well be the face of Clark and his alter ego for a whole new generation of fans. Russell Crowe does an admiral job as Jor-el, whilst Michael Shannon is a suitably formidable Zod, even though for much of the film he doesn’t seem to carry any threat whatsoever, instead just being a bit mean and doing some shouting. Only in the final 15 minutes or so does he actually get his hands dirty and even then he just punches Superman a bit. Good luck with that. In fact, it felt like most of the threat came from henchwoman Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) who seemed a much more menacing villain. Amy Adams as Lois Lane is also decent enough, although the obvious attempts to make the character a strong female role ultimately fall a little flat.

So is this the Superman film to finally put Metropolis back on the map? Personally, it didn’t quite hit the mark. It felt like it was caught between being an origin story and part of an already established series. Batman Begins has a similar structure but holds everything together with a much more grounded crucial final act. Man of Steel certainly has its moments but is ultimately let down by a lack of focus, depth and conviction to do something a little different.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: The Kid With a Bike

the_kid_with_a_bike_1Cyril (Thomas Doret) is a 12 year old boy living in foster care in Seraing, Belgium. He is desperately searching for his father and his treasured bike, but is devastated when his father wants nothing to do with him. However, Cyril meets Samantha (Cécile de France), a local hairdresser, who not only finds his bike, but also agrees to foster him at weekends. This arrangement turns out to be an unstable one, especially when Cyril gets mixed up with a local drug dealer.

During the first ten minutes of The Kid With a Bike, it’s immediately evident that Cyril, at just 12 years old, is already a pretty damaged character. He lives in a care home, has no mother of which to speak and is clearly on a hiding to nothing looking for his father. It’s not a nice situation to witness and is made all the more frustrating by the unfaltering faith Cyril puts in his disinterested dad. Right from the off we’re aware that Cyril’s life is a crossroads and he could take either direction. His bike is the only constant in his life, which is why he’s so protective over it.

This should provide all the ammunition needed to identify and sympathise with Cyril, but it just doesn’t quite happen (at least not for me). Some of the scenes with Cyril and his dad are truly gut-wrenching, but those just don’t seem to make up for how difficult a child Cyril is. He’s clearly had a difficult upbringing that’s been devoid of any kind of parental love, but it’s hard to sympathise with someone who is often purposely irritating, disobedient and, at times, violent. Samantha seems to have never ending patience with him.

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But that’s another slightly contentious issue – Samantha’s motivation for fostering and caring for Cyril are completely unknown. After a very brief meeting with Cyril in a doctors’ surgery, she goes out of her way to find his bike and agrees to foster him, yet we never know why. She’s even prepared to sacrifice her other relationships for the sake of Cyril, which whilst hugely admirable, just seems a little far fetched. It would be nice to learn a little more about Samantha and why she is so dedicated to helping a boy she barely knows. Some may like the ambiguity of her motivations and argue that one shouldn’t be so critical of someone else’s altruism, but it just doesn’t quite feel believable.

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne provide excellent direction for the film, which gives it a slightly more arthouse feel. It could easily have been straightforwardly shot, but the use of long takes, the odd jump cut and the juxtaposition of drab and vibrant colours help to give it more of an identity.

It’s also worth mentioning the performances from the two leads, Thomas Doret and Cécile de France. Both give superb (and often very physical) performances, with de France in particular really standing out. Doret occasionally doesn’t exude enough emotion in the role, but for such a young actor, it’s a fine debut feature.

The Kid With a Bike is a very succinct little film. It’s not concerned with what came before and leaves us to make up our own mind about what comes after. It also has an ending that some may not get along with, appearing more allegorical than providing any actual narrative purpose, but it doesn’t harm the film at all. At times The Kid With a Bike is a very moving piece of cinema, but too often it feels a little shallow and keeps you just at arms’ length. A little more depth to the characters would have worked wonders.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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