Tag Archives: 2011

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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Quickie: Headhunters

Headhunters_Movie_PosterRoger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is Norway’s most successful headhunter, but he’s also an art thief. Having stolen a hugely valuable painting from executive and former mercenary Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Roger becomes embroiled in a deadly game of cat and mouse that tests him to the limit.

Headhunters, based on a novel by Jo Nesbø, continues the outpouring of gritty films and TV shows from Scandinavia and is another lesson in how to make a tight, well constructed thriller. It wastes no time whatsoever in getting to the point of the story and has virtually no scenes that are surplus to requirements. Almost every scene is important and plays some role in either developing the characters or progressing the narrative. There’s little to no meaningful backstory here, and whilst that does mean it’s slightly shallow, it allows you to focus purely on what happens over the film’s runtime.

Unlike some of its contemporaries, the film has a dark vein of humour running throughout, although whether this is intentional or not is unclear. This may enhance the film for some who love a bit of dark humour, but it may derail it for others who prefer a straight up thriller.

Aksel Hennie is very good in the lead role, perfectly portraying Brown’s cockiness that soon turns to despair and fear. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is also very good in his apparently customary smug arsehole role. Headhunters isn’t revolutionary or particularly original but it has pretty much everything you could want from a thriller: tight, intelligent and well thought out. The Scandinavians are really rather good at this.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: The Skin I Live In

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Following the death of his wife, surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) threw himself into his work and developed a new form of prosthetic skin, much tougher than regular human skin. Ledgard performs his experiments on Vera (Elena Anaya), a young woman held captive in his house, but as we learn more about her and why she’s there, the shocking truth behind Ledgard’s experiments are revealed.

It’s difficult, maybe impossible, to really identify what kind of film The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito in its mother tongue) is. Without a doubt, it has its roots in films such as Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, but it uses so many different elements from other films, that it only really keeps a company of one. At times it feels like a body horror film, whereas it could be argued that it’s a love story deep down. It’s also part mad scientist film, whilst there are undoubtedly surrealist elements mixed in – guy dressed as a tiger, anyone?

Similarly, the film explores a wide range of themes, including control within relationships, coping with grief, sexuality and gender. There’s an awful lot going on but it never becomes overwhelming; these themes are laid out in front of you but are never shoved in your face at the expense of the story. When Vera watches a wildlife documentary showing a cheetah toying with its prey, it’s a clear metaphor for Ledgard and Vera’s relationship. Similarly, Ledgard also enjoys ‘straightening’ bonsai trees in his spare time, another sign that he loves to manipulate nature’s design. Both simple but very effectively portrayed.

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As is the film’s aesthetic. It has a minimalist look about it that is stylishly shot, with almost every scene being perfectly framed. The cinematography is almost meticulous in its execution and the vibrant and clever use of colour sometimes make the whole thing feel like an art exhibition, which, again, appropriately fits the themes the film presents.

Narratively, The Skin I Live In is a very clever film. Early on we naturally make judgements about the characters and their actions, but through flashbacks we are shown what led them to be where they are in the present and this (will likely) drastically change our opinion of them. As such, it ends up being almost a completely different film to the one at the beginning. The ending is perhaps the film’s weakest moment as it is slightly predictable and a little underwhelming (it also should have ended about 20 seconds sooner), but it’s still a fitting denouement nonetheless.

Of director Pedro Almodovar’s other films, I have only seen Volver, but there seems to be something truly fantastical about his work. Both these films seem almost fairytale-esque, rooted in the impossible yet managing to feel grounded in reality. I can imagine his films not appealing to everyone, and The Skin I Live In isn’t for those who don’t completely buy into a film’s story. You definitely get out what you put into it. Fortunately, I was completely invested in it and am now eager to check out more of the director’s work.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin

we-need-to-talk-about-kevin-movie-poster-03When Eva (Tilda Swinton) fails to bond with her firstborn child Kevin (Ezra Miller), the relationship between the two becomes more and more volatile over time. As Kevin grows up he learns how to push Eva’s buttons and she has a hard time dealing with his cold demeanor and vicious actions. However, when Kevin does something beyond anyone’s worst nightmares, it brings Eva’s life crashing down around her.

I’m going to start this review my spoiling It’s a Wonderful Life. You know at the end when the whole town give George money and bail him out and everyone’s super happy because they all pull together and you get type 2 diabetes because it’s so sweet? Yeah, well We Need to Talk About Kevin is the polar opposite of that. There are no smiles here, no jokes; it’s a film with a bleak outlook that asks some difficult questions of its audience and refuses to let but the smallest glimmer of light escape from its dark and twisted core. But it’s brilliant.

We see Eva in the present day, alone, with the entire town gunning for her because of some monstrous event that’s occurred. We’re then shown, through a series of flashbacks, what it is that has cause such a reaction amongst everyone, and it’s in these flashbacks that we get the real meat of the story. It invokes myriad reactions and emotions and throws up endless questions with no easy answers. Kevin is clearly a troubled individual, but why is he like that? Was he born evil? Did Eva not show him enough affection? Should some people never have children? Can a mother always forgive her child? These are just some of the things you’ll find yourself conflicted about during the film and likely for a long while afterwards.

What really makes the film, however, is the central performances. Tilda Swinton is totally believable as a mother who wants to love her child but finds it immensely difficult and then struggles with everyday life following her son’s atrocity. It’s a performance filled with heartbreak, frustration and inner turmoil and is matched only by that of Ezra Miller opposite her. It’s slightly disturbing how convincing Miller is as Kevin, his cold, piercing stare as unsettling as anything you’ll see in any horror film. Despite that, it’s absolute joy to watch a young actor take on a role like this and deliver it with such aplomb.

The film is adapted from Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same name, and it’s clear there are certain elements that would work much better on the page. This is a story that requires as much depth as possible to the relationships within the family to try and discover why Kevin is the way he is. The film does a decent job of examining these issues but it never feels quite as thorough as it needs to be or, although whether it’s even possible for the film to be that thorough is debatable.

We Need to Talk About Kevin isn’t an easy watch and some may find it a little too dark. However, it is stunningly shot, features an excellent score from Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood and revolves around a fascinating nature vs nurture argument. There’s a real intrigue to the story, and whilst you may be shocked at what happens, why it happens is the most fascinating part.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May MarleneWhen Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) escapes from a commune, she goes to stay with her sister but struggles to adapt to normal life. As she continues to alienate herself from those around her, her grip on reality gets looser and looser.

MMMM is apparently loosely based on the Manson Family cult, which gives the film a much more sinister undertone, one that comes to the forefront as the film progresses. We see Martha’s experiences in the commune through a series of flashbacks, each of which gets progressively unsettling. And it’s ‘unsettling’ that best describes the film. There’s not much to scare, but plenty to unnerve thanks in part to the remote rural setting and constant perturbing use of sound.

It can be rather slow paced at times and the distinction between present and past is sometimes (deliberately?) ambiguous, which may prove slightly confusing. The film’s conclusion is also likely to be contentious for many. Without giving too much away, it’s hugely open-ended and relies on the audience to fill in quite a few gaps. This abrupt ending may be frustrating for some but it does leave you mulling over the various interpretations and the possibilities of what may or may not happen.

This is Elizabeth Olsen’s second picture after 2011’s Silent House and she does a superb job throughout. As Martha (Marcy May & Marlene are names she picks up in the commune) she is perfectly on edge at all times, whilst John Hawkes as commune leader Patrick is also excellent.

MMMM is not an easy watch but it’s one that gives more the more you invest in it. Its quirky Instagrammed look becomes slightly tiresome and you do have to work hard at times, but there’s enough here to keep you intrigued to the end.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Midnight in Paris

Midnight in ParisGil (Owen Wilson) is a screenwriter with writer’s block. On a trip to Paris with his high maintenance fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) he talks a midnight stroll and finds himself mysteriously time travelling to 1920’s Paris where he meets various famous historical figures including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali, amongst others.

Beautifully shot in the French capital, Midnight in Paris really is as quirky as it sounds. It’s essentially a time travel story but is a million miles away from the likes of Looper and 12 Monkeys. The premise itself is enough to keep your interest throughout as you wonder which different famous faces Gil will bump into next. However, it also crosses the line into self indulgent and pretentious at times, too. You have to have a fairly decent knowledge of the characters to fully appreciate all the references; for those that don’t it could be an incredibly alienating experience.

Wilson is the perfect light-hearted lead, whilst McAdams barley gets chance to make an impression. Michael Sheen is excellently despicable has Inez’s arrogant know-it all friend Paul, and the various others who pop in and out also add their own little something to the film. Marion Cotillard, for example, is marvellous as usual as a 1920s love interest for Gil.

However, whilst Sheen’s character makes a habit of talking down to those around him, Midnight in Paris too often does the same to its audience. If you can get past this, though, there’s a fantastical story here that makes you just a little jealous of Gil and his Parisian adventure.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Friends With Benefits

Friends with BenefitsWhen Dylan (Justin Timberlake) moves to New York for a big job, he and his new best friend Jamie (Mila Kunis) attempt to have a purely sexual relationship without any emotional involvement whatsoever. Can they manage it?

Everyone already knows the answer to this question whether they’ve seen the film or not, which is its biggest downfall. Whilst the horrendous amount of product placement is annoying enough, it’s nowhere near as annoying as the fact that Friends With Benefits very nearly managed to escape from the clutches of the middle of the road rom-com that the characters themselves are so keen to avoid, but ultimately ends ups decaying into mediocrity.

There are some genuinely funny moments here and much of the dialogue is witty and delivered snappily by the two leads. There is also a sobering and interesting story arc with Dylan and his dementia-suffering father that probably warranted more screen-time. However, just when you think this could break the mould or even ignore the mould altogether, it delivers exactly what you expect it to with a dulling inevitability. It also ends up feeling like little more than a vehicle for Timberlake, as many an eye is sure to be rolled at him flexing his muscles (vocal and actual) on more than one occasion. Of course, Kunis also manages to forget her clothes occasionally too. All of this doesn’t mean that Friends With Benefits is a bad film, just one that could have been so much more.

3 pigeons

3/5 pigeons

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