Movie reviews: Few adult laughs in new 'Smurfs' animation
Published Friday, April 7, 2017 6:30AM EDT
SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE: 3 STARS
The new all-Smurf, all-animated movie may be the most adult take on the pint sized blue creatures ever. “Smurfs: The Lost Village” is a hero’s journey, a character in search of a purpose. It’s Joseph Conrad via Smurf Village. Smurfette’s “Heart of Darkness.”
Smurf fans know she is the only female Smurf, created by wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) from a lump of clay to sow the seeds of jealousy in Smurf Village. With the help of Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin) she transformed, becoming a beacon of sweetness-and-light and the love interest of Smurfs everywhere.
The new story finds Smurfette voiced by Demi Lovato and pondering her place in the world. All the other perky pint sized blue creatures have descriptive names—Clumsy Smurf (Jack McBrayer), Jokey Smurf (Gabriel Iglasias) and Baker Smurf (Gordon Ramsey)—but what exactly, she wonders, is ‘ette’ supposed to mean?
Her quest of self-discovery leads to the Forbidden Forest where, for the first time, she sees others just like her, girl Smurfs with names like Smurfstorm (Michelle Rodriguez), Smurfwillow (Julia Roberts) and Smurfblossom (Ellie Kemper).
Unfortunately Gargamel, on the hunt for fresh Smurfs to drain of their essence so he can become the most powerful wizard in the world, takes note and makes a plan to invade this previously uncharted Smurf settlement. “If it wasn't for you,” Gargamel cackles to Smurfette, “I wouldn't have known about those other Smurfs!” With the help of Clumsy, the bespectacled Brainy (Danny Pudi) and strongman Hefty (Joe Manganiello) the plucky Smurfette sets off to sound warning bells.
First though, the little blue ones must navigate the perils of the Forbidden Forest, a colourful place where the flora and fauna are have minds of their own and aren’t happy to receive visitors. “Nice forest, nice flowers,” says Hefty. “Not nice flowers!” In the inevitable showdown between our heroes, the new Smurfs of the Lost Village and Gargamel, someone shouts, “Smurfette, why did you do this to us?” Gargamel’s chilling response? “Because it was her purpose.”
There’s that word again, purpose. It’s at the heart of Smurfette’s journey. Is she a pseudo-Smurf, a former lump of clay masquerading as part of the tribe? Of course not. The story is one long set up for a feel good message about being anything you want to be and defying labels placed upon you by other people.
Along the way there is loads of gently paced action for young viewers, silly jokes and lots of ear-wormy songs.
“30 Rock’s” Jack McBrayer naturally has the Smurfiest voice of all the Smurfs in Smurfdom but is supported by playful work from Wilson, Kemper, Manganiello and Lovato.
“Smurfs: The Lost Village” may have an adult subtext but unless a surfing pun—“Let’s go smurfboarding!”—cracks you up few over the age of fifteen will find the journey particularly engrossing. This is first and foremost a kid’s movie without the pop culture references that sometime add a layer of maturity to keep things interesting for parents. Older folks might want to put the kids to bed and watch this as a drinking game. Do a shot every time one of the characters says the word “Smurf” and you’ll be blue in the face in no time.
GOING IN STYLE: 3 STARS
“Going in Style” is a blistering social commentary disguised as an old coot caper comedy. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin play factory workers who did all the right things only to have the system give them the middle finger in old age.
A remake from the 1979 George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg adventure “Going in Style,” the movie begins with Joe (Caine) confronting his condescending bank manager (John Pais). The older man’s mortgage has tripled and he will soon be evicted from his home. As they argue, outside the manager’s office armed masked men invade the bank, scooping handfuls of cash from the tellers. Joe is unharmed in the heist—one of the thieves tells him, “It is a culture’s duty to take care of the elderly.”—and later excitedly tells his family and friends Willie (Freeman) and Al (Arkin) about the robbery.
The afternoon’s excitement aside, Joe’s financial situation is still dire. His old company, now in the midst of a takeover, has frozen all pension cheques. He needs to come up with a way to get his hands on some cash. Ditto for Willie, who needs a new kidney and Al who can barely afford to feed himself.
When their favourite waitress gives them a free piece of pie with the truism, “Everybody deserves pie,” it dawns on Joe that she's right. “We should be having our pie and eating it too,” he says, hatching a plan to steal back their pensions. “These banks practically destroyed this country and nothing ever happened to them,” he says. “If we get caught we get a bed, three meals a day and free healthcare."
“Going in Style” then drops the social commentary and becomes a heist flick. Think “The Italian Job” with electric wheelchairs and you’ll get the idea.
Much of the charm of “Going in Style” comes from watching Caine, Freeman and Arkin glide—OK, it’s more like shuffle—through this material. There’s nothing particularly new here, we’ve seen loads of elderly men take back their lives on film in recent years, but subtext and actor goodwill elevate this slight story.
Caine, Freeman and Arkin are formidable actors but expertly portray the invisibility that can come with old age. As eighty-somethings they are unseen—banks take advantage of them, the police ignore them—until they take their future into their own hands. The story is implausible but by the time the heist happens you want the best for these grandpas, no matter how silly the story gets.
“Going in Style” is part knockabout comedy, part rage against the machine. Director Zach Braff adds in just enough sentimentality and slapstick to frame the film’s message of “having a pie of pie whenever the hell I want to!”
SONG TO SONG: 1 STAR
I think it’s time Terrence Malick and I called it quits.
I used to look forward to his infrequent visits. Sure, sometimes he was a little obtuse and over stayed his welcome, but more often than not he was alluringly enigmatic. Then he started coming around more often and, well, maybe the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt is true.
For most of his career he was a tease, a mythic J.D. Salinger type who burst on the scene in a blinding flash of brilliance, made two of the best films of the 1970s, then left us hanging. Like spurned lovers we waited for him to return for two decades and at first were happy to see him again. He told wondrous stories about personal connections and the nature of relationships.
Then he started repeating himself. In the beginning I didn’t mind but soon his whispered philosophical asides became tiresome and I began to look for reasons to avoid him.
Now I have one.
It’s been said that the essence of cinema is beautiful people saying interesting things. In his new film Malick gets it half right, parading good-looking heart throbs like Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman around in a pointless exercise called “Song to Song.”
Fassbender plays a Machiavellian a record producer who uses his wealth and power to seduce those around him, including aspiring musician Mara, rising star Gosling and waitress-turned-wife Portman. The willowy women and mumbling men run barefoot through the loose story—which often feels cobbled together from scraps of film found on the editing room floor—pondering philosophical questions in hushed tones. “How do you know when you were lying to yourself?” they whisper. “Is any experience is better than no experience?”
All the while Malick’s camera, light as a feather, floats above it all capturing his puzzling whims. For the entire running time nobody looks like they're having any fun even when they're dancing, being goofy or laughing. They’re not having any fun and neither will you.
Airy and disjointed, it’s a collage of feelings and shards of life strung together on a fractured timeline. Malick indulges himself to the point that the film is less a movie and more like an experience, like going to “Laser Floyd.”
There are highlights. Val Kilmer singing to a festival crowd, “I got some uranium! I bought it off my mom!” before hacking off his hair with a giant Bowie knife is a memorable moment and cameos from Patti Smith and John Lydon are welcome, but at its heart “Song to Song” is a movie about people trying to connect that keeps its audience at arms length.
There’s a quick shot of a tattoo in the movie that sums up my feelings toward my relationship with Malick. Written in flowery script, the words “Empty Promises” fill the screen, reminding us of the promise of the director’s early work and amplifying the disappointment we feel today. “Song to Song” is the straw that broke the camel’s back, the Terrence Malick movie that put me off Terrence Malick movies.
I’ll be nice though and say, it’s not him, it’s me.
GIANTS OF AFRICA: 3 ½ STARS
Like most great sports documentaries “Giants of Africa” isn’t about really about the game. Sure much of the film happens on the basketball court but this isn’t about learning to do layups or a final, climatic game, it’s about universal themes of teamwork, survival and empowerment.
Front and centre in Hubert Davis’ documentary is Masai Ujiri, the charismatic Toronto Raptors general manager who founded the Giants of Africa, a program that educates and enriches the lives of underprivileged African youth through basketball.
The Zaria, Nigeria born former player uses basketball to inspire and to bring hope to places where it is often in short supply. In Nigeria he passionately lectures the players about the country and their need to help chance their culture.
“You have to grow up and you have to be better,” he says. “You have to put it in your heart that you have to be a good person and you have to be better. You have to make a difference in this country. We all have to make a difference.
“Go out and make a difference in your life. Make a difference in other people’s lives.”
It’s a pep speech with huge ramifications. Ujiri knows the power of words and uses them to inspire on and off the court.
Davis also gives voice to the players. Through them we learn their personal histories, stories of poverty, abuse and civil war, and gain context as to how the Giants of Africa program can help change their lives.
“Giants of Africa” is a moving, inspirational documentary about change, about how dreams can improve lives and maybe even countries. “In those kids I see myself,” says Ujiri, “and I think this is a little window of opportunity to help them find themselves.”