The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists
* * * *
Cert U, 88 mins

IT’S been seven years since Aardman Animations delivered the Oscar-winning Plasticine perfection of Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005).

After computer-generating last year’s Arthur Christmas, the company’s fifth feature-length film uses mixed techniques while relying heavily on gloriously old-fashioned Plasticine.

Directed by Aardman co-founder Peter Lord (Chicken Run, 2000), The Pirates! operates on several chaotic levels at once.

It is, by rapidly-twisting turns, enchanting, surprising, predictable, eccentric, chaotic, confusing and, even though it has a U-certificate, rude.

Lacking the core appeal of Wallace & Gromit, their sometimes look-alike shipmate ‘relatives’ are not always as endearingly funny by comparison as you might hope.

At the heart of the action, me hearties, is Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) – a man who will seemingly stop at nothing to win the coveted Pirate of the Year award.

Even if it means being taken in by Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and leaving behind the shores of Blood Island.

Over in London, where Queen Victoria hates pirates more than anything, his passion for ham might not save a man who introduces himself with lines like: ‘I’m a Pirate Captain and I’m here for your gold’.

Even in 1837 he’s like a wannabe celebrity pirate who wants to ‘wash my hair in £50 notes’ and the language is often decidedly modern. How inappropriate this turns out to be in the long-run for young children remains to be seen.

Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) looks more like Anne Diamond than the popular image of her, while there’s a Rubik’s cube on view even though it wasn’t invented until 1974.

Most bizarrely of all, an adult reference about looking down women’s tops; I doubt they’d have got away with one about looking up skirts.

The voice cast includes Brendan Gleeson (Pirate with Gout), Jeremy Piven (Black Bellamy), Brian Blessed (Pirate King), Salma Hayek (Cutlass Liz), Martin Freeman (Pirate with Scarf) and Ashley Jensen (Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate).

None of them could be accused of trading on their voices like some Hollywood stars so readily do.

The easiest star to recognise is Lenny Henry because his Peg Leg Hastings character looks so much like him.

Film industry honours don’t come much higher for Dudley folk than that.

The Pirates is out in 2D and 3D, but the latter isn’t necessary so do save your money. Watching the 3D version, the picture looked a lot brighter – and more fun – when I took my dark glasses off.

What a shame it was then blurred.

The Hunger Games
* * * *
Cert 12A, 143 mins
After the soporific nature of the Twilight series, The Hunger Games represents the dawn of another potential trilogy for teenagers to get far more excited about.

Based on the bestselling young adult novels by American author Suzanne Collins, It’s a gladiatorial story which offers a will-they-won’t-they romantic element to a thrill-of-the-hunted plot.

Here, children having to kill each other in order to a) survive and b) to keep populations repressed on behalf of the government.

When the youngsters hear the draw for which boy and girl will be chosen to ‘represent’ one of 12 districts outside the Capitol in the post-US apocalyptic world of Panem, there’s more than a hint of the Holocaust.

The colours are muted, the atmosphere mute with nerves and hesitation.

The combative nature of the future action is orchestrated by TV contest designer Seneca Crane (West Bentley), with Caeser Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) as the show’s host and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) the stylist.

Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and the boozy Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson, resembling Robbie Savage) escort the selected ones to the Capitol.

From District 12, two of the best young actors of their generation play Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark respectively.

Though still only 21, Jennifer Lawrence was a best actress nominee last year for Winter’s Bone, while the 19-year-old Josh Hutcherson has Little Manhattan and Bridge to Terabithia on his impressive CV.

This is the first movie to have been directed by Gary Ross since he made Seabiscuit (2004), a horse racing drama with Jeff Bridges that was cruelly rather overlooked in the UK.

The Hunger Games is less emotionally involving but it will have teenagers on the edge of their seats.

And, while parents wonder quite what the purpose of it all is, at least this is one film where the killing of children serves to remind us of the value of life.

The Kid With a Bike
* * * *
Cert 12A, 143 mins
Nominated for the Palme d’Or and winner of the Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes last year, this film is a real gem.

Abandoned by his father, young Cyril runs away from a children’s home to search for his bike before being taken under the wing of hairdresser Samantha (Cécile De France).

Cyril goes everywhere on his bicycle.

But other children keep stealing it – and he’s forever chasing after them ready to stick up for himself.

One misadventure brings him under the controlling influence of local dealer Wes (Egon di Mateo), but he’s also still brave enough to try to persuade his father to show an interest in him.

Directed by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne and showing at the Electric Cinema for a week from Friday, March 30, this could be seen as a companion piece for Dexter Fletcher’s Wild Bill last week, in as much as it’s about a child who will get you on his side while struggling to find a place in the adult world we all once feared.

Cyril’s red top has many filmic references and adds colour to a relatively linear story which is anything but black and white.

With themes ranging from a carefree thirst for adventure and disregard for danger in the young, to adult responsibilities and physical weaknesses in old age, The Kid With a Bike (Le Gamin Au Vélo) works on many levels.

And 11-year-old Thomes Doret’s standout performance in the title role certainly deserves to be seen.

The Woman in the Fifth
* * * *
Cert 15, 84 mins
The director of this film is Polish, but after somehow making Todmorden look Italianesque in My Summer of Love (2004), Pawel Pawlikowski finally returns.

And, in an unconventional but certainly atmospheric Paris-based thriller/drama, the man of many talents has perfectly cast the now increasingly brilliant Ethan Hawke as a scruffy American who can speak French.

Having lost his job after a scandal Hawke plays Tom Ricks, a professor and writer who flees to the capital of romance to persuade his wife to return with their young daughter.

No such luck, but the femme fatale widow Margit Kadar (Kristin Scott Thomas) and young Polish emigré (Joanna Kulig) are two women who will have designs on him for different reasons.

The Woman in the Fifth will infuriate some by offering far more questions about the nature of grief and loss than it has answers about the extremes of the human condition.

But Hawke’s performance in such a bold attempt to make something welcomely different makes it none the worse for that.

After a 2pm screening at the MAC on Thursday (March 29), the film is showing at Warwick Arts Centre from Monday to Thursday next week.

Streetdance 2 3D
* *
Cert PG, 85 mins
A sequel should offer character development, not more of the same only far worse. The first Streetdance movie had a heart and a cast led by Charlotte Rampling alongside our own Patrick Baladi and Nichola Burley from Sutton Coldfield and Birmingham respectively.

The new leading dancers Ash and Eva and are now played by the anonymous Falk Hentschel and Sofia Boutella.

A best actor Oscar nominee for Reuben, Reuben almost 30 years ago, but sounding as if he’s learned the art of acting in a foreign language from Antonio Banderas’s Puss in Boots, Tom Conti doesn’t look as if he could dance to save his life.

Which is perhaps why he ends up in a hospital bed.

Perhaps it was the stress of having former Britain’s Got Talent winner George Sampson as the second lead, spouting words akin to: ‘Could I have une beer, please?’

As soon as you hear this in the early stages you’ll realise you’re the one who is going to be tangoed.

Act of Valour
* *
Cert 15, 109 mins
The relevance of this film is a lot higher than it was two weeks ago, before Mohammed Merah began his callous shooting sprees in Toulouse.

Indirectly, it’s a ‘celebration’ of the 50th anniversary of the US Navy SEALs, an elite commando force which JFK commissioned in January 1, 1962.

The idea was to have special forces capable of meeting various extreme challenges head on.

In seeking to reflect the sacrifices that armed forces are prepared to make in the line of duty, Act of Valour feels like the proverbial sledgehammer trying to crack a nut.

The voiceover is laid on so thick it’s a wonder anyone could talk having consumed so much treacle. Using lightweight digital cameras to capture real life SEALs acting out various raids has a ring of authenticity to it.

But one extended chase sequence resembled Hollywood at its most excessive, with the forces using far more ordnance than brain cells and so putting themselves at risk in the process.