Smurfs: The Lost Village

Posted on April 6, 2017 at 5:21 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Mild peril/violence, no one injured
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 7, 2017
Date Released to DVD: July 10, 2017

Copyright Sony 2017
Copyright Sony 2017
The Smurfs are back where they belong, in a fully-animated feature film that wisely gives up on the idea of trying to put them into the real live action world and even more wisely gives up on the brash and unfunny storylines that relied much too heavily on substituting “smurf” for various words. Better than that, “Smurfs: The Lost Village”creates a truly enchanted and enchanting world for the Smurfs, a candy-colored pastoral setting that is just right for the little blue creatures. And best of all, for the first time this is a Smurf story that engages with the ultimate existential dilemma of the Smurfs: why are all the male Smurfs given names that reflect their most salient attributes (Hefty, Clumsy, Brainy, Nosy, Painter, Table Eater, Therapist) while the lone female Smurf is only defined by her gender and called Smurfette? Does her lack of a more descriptive name mean that there is nothing special about her? And why aren’t there any other female Smurfs, anyway?

These questions will all be answered in a delightfully satisfying and beautifully designed film that will be enjoyed by long-time fans and newcomers. Those steeped in Smurfology know that Smurfette’s gender is not the most important difference that sets her apart from the other Smurfs in her village.

Smurfette (with the sweet, spunky voice of Demi Lovato) was not born a Smurf (if, indeed Smurfs are born). She was created out of clay by the Smurfs’ nemesis, the evil wizard Gargamel (delightfully voiced by Rainn Wilson), who wanted her to infiltrate the Smurfs so she could spy on them and create mistrust and jealousy. But she was turned into a real Smurf by the Smurf’s wise and benign leader, Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin). As this story begins, she is living happily in the Smurf community, though wistful at not having a (literally) defining characteristic. If her name does not tell her who she is, how will she and the boy Smurfs know?

As in most Smurf stories, the bad buy here is Gargamel, who as usual has an evil plan that involves capturing the Smurfs and extracting their magic to create a potion that will give him unlimited power. Smurfette discovers that there is another Smurf community, so she, Hefty (Joe Manganiello), Brainy (Danny Pudi), and Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) go on a journey to find it. The adventures along the way and the fun of getting acquainted with the Amazonian warriors of the lost village (including Julia Roberts as their leader) are whimsically imagined and a lot of fun, with bright, lively music and a sweet message of finding your own way and being a part of a community.

Parents should know that this film has some mild fantasy peril and violence, with no one badly injured. There is some mild language and brief potty humor.

Family discussion: If you were a Smurf, what would your name be? Which Smurf is your favorite and why?

If you like this, try: the Smurf cartoons and books and “Trolls”

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Saban’s Power Rangers

Posted on March 23, 2017 at 5:28 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, language, and for some crude humor
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Teen drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi peril and violence, some disturbing images, explosions, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 24, 2017
Date Released to DVD: June 26, 2017
Amazon.com ASIN: B0727PMH49

power rangersWhy why why why why make the popular series for children into a PG-13 movie? Why emphasize that decision in the very first scene with a crude joke about bovine body parts? Why drag the origin story on for an hour so we don’t get to the good stuff about the powers of the Power Rangers until the movie is half over?

These were among the questions I pondered between glances at my watch as I slogged through “Saban’s Power Rangers,” a big-budget theatrical version of the television series created by Haim Saban (originally “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”), based on the Japanese Super Sentai show about teen superheroes (and using some of its footage).

Our soon-to-be heroes meet in “Breakfast Club”-style detention. There is the handsome quarterback (Dacre Montgomery as Jason), the cheerleader kicked off the squad (Naomi Scott as Kimberly), the self-described crazy loner who cares tenderly for his sick mother (Ludi Lin as Zack), the nerdy guy on the autism spectrum (RJ Cyler as Billy), and the sullen new girl (Becky G. as Trini).

The blah-blah: an ancient civilization perished fighting Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a rogue former Power Ranger who wants to destroy everything. Tens of thousands of years later, our merry band of misfits all happen upon the same power-granting “coins” of different colors (but apparently all the same powers) and learn that their job is to continue the fight, as Rita returns. Their challenge, as she gains her powers from chomping on jewelry and pulling the fillings out of the teeth of homeless people (she feeds on gold), is to learn to use their powers and work as a team (with the only white male Power Ranger as the leader), figuring out how to morph (manifest their primary color-coordinated armor/uniforms) and learning about Rita and her army of rock creatures. They also have access to some very cool Morphin Power Rangers weapon vehicles, but we don’t get enough time to really enjoy them.

Rita’s challenge is to find a last missing infinity stone, I mean crystal, hiding (I am not making this up) in a Krispy Kreme store. I’m not sure if I was the marketing department of Krispy Kreme that I would chose this form of product placement, but, to be fair, they do say the name a lot and a character does stop mid-chaotic fight for the future of the universe to eat a donut. And the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles already have pizza on lockdown.

This uncomfortable mixture of teen angst (Sexting! Disappointing parents!) and cartoonish violence only comes alive when Banks is on screen, clearly having way too much fun swanning around as the embodiment of evil. Bryan Cranston is wasted as an Oz-like talking head and Bill Hader does not have enough to do as a cute little android sensei. The teens are bland and forgettable. The final action sequence departs from the series’ tradition of covering the actors’ faces with the costume (making it easy for them to switch out performers who left or asked for too much money). We see their faces, but it is still hard to remember which one is who.

Long-time fans will get a kick out of glimpsing some of the original stars, hearing a bit of the show’s theme song, and a couple of inside references. But that doesn’t make up for a Power Rangers film that is sadly lacking in any narrative or emotional energy.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi peril and violence with characters injured and killed, explosions, guns, a character impaled, some disturbing images, brief strong language, teen drinking, and crude sexual humor.

Family discussion: Why was it difficult for the Power Rangers to learn how to morph? Why were the Power Rangers all kids who had gotten into trouble?

If you like this, try: the television series and the “Transformers” movies

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alvin-road-chip-300x169.jpg

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip

Posted on December 17, 2015 at 5:13 pm

Copyright Fox 2000 2015
Copyright Fox 2000 2015

About five minutes after it began, the long-suffering Dave (Jason Lee, looking tired and oh so over this) comes home to find that the irrepressable little singing chipmunks in the midst of a wild party with a half-pipe set up in the back-yard and LMFAO’s Redfoo working the turntables as DJ. Two-thirds of the dear little creatures experience flatulence, which middle chipmunk Theodore (the hungry, chunky one) describes as “pizza toots.” Sigh. Later on, when one of the chipmunks is hiding inside a character’s clothes as he goes through TSA, pee and poop come out the character’s pant leg. And another character gets pooped on by a bird. Yes, this is that movie. It’s so proud of its potty humor that most of it is featured in the trailer.

Once again our little scamps create chaos and destruction wherever they go. Dave wails, “AAAAAAAAlvin!” Then he scolds them. Then he forgives them. Rinse and repeat.

Dave has two developments in his life, and it is the task of the Chipmunks to create as many complications and catastrophes as possible to impede both of them. First, there is the release of a new album he produced from Taylor Swift-style pop artist Ashley (Bella Thorne), at a big, splashy event in Miami. Second, there is a new woman in Dave’s life. Her name is Shira (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), she is a heart surgeon (but so adorably ditzy that she keeps forgetting that her stethoscope is still around her neck), and she has a son named Miles (Josh Green, a welcome bright spot we hope to see in a better movie soon). When the chipmunks discover an engagement ring just before Dave and Shira are about to leave for Miami, they decide to hide the ring and, when that doesn’t work, they decide to go to Miami to prevent Dave and Shira from getting engaged. At this point, their relationship with Miles is one of outright hostility, but he shares the goal of keeping Dave and Shira apart, so they set off for Miami together.

After various hijinks, they are put on the no-fly list by air marshall Benson (Tony Hale, slumming and looking glum about it) who makes it his personal vendetta to hunt them down as they make their way to Miami, finding (duh) that they and Miles kinda like each other.  This road trip, I mean road chip, provides opportunities for musical numbers. The choreography by Richmond and Anthony Talauega is joyously inventive.  Unfortunately, the “singing” is just the same sped-up buzzy drone sound that Dave Seville (Ross Bagdasarian) came up with for a novelty Christmas record back in 1958.

Parents should know that this movie includes potty humor and slapstick peril and violence. There are some issues of fears of parental abandonment and actual parental abandonment.

Family discussion: Why did Miles lie about his father? Why didn’t Miles want to like Dave and the chipmunks? Which is your favorite chipmunk and why?

If you like this, try: the earlier chipmunk movies and the “Garfield” movies

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Based on a television show Comedy Family Issues Scene After the Credits Series/Sequel Talking animals

Trailer: Dad’s Army

Posted on September 12, 2015 at 8:00 am

This remake of the 1971 movie and 60’s television series about the WWII Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard platoon, a visiting female journalist, and a German spy, stars Toby Jones, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Bill Nighy.

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The Man from UNCLE

Posted on August 13, 2015 at 5:34 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for action violence, some suggestive content, and partial nudity
Profanity: Brief crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style violence, guns, chases, explosions, torture, bombs, some archival wartime footage
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 14, 2015
Date Released to DVD: November 16, 2015
Amazon.com ASIN: B00ZS21J6E

Copyright 2015 Warner Bros. Pictures
Copyright 2015 Warner Bros. Pictures

Guy Ritchie’s update of the 1960’s television spy series is sleek, sophisticated, and sexy, with lively banter, high style, and oodles of roguish retro charm.

Henry Cavill (“Superman,” “The Tudors”) takes the Robert Vaughn role of Napoleon Solo, an army vet turned cool, elegant high-end thief turned reluctant spy in a plea deal to avoid a jail sentence. We meet him as he is arranging an extraction from the divided city of Berlin. An auto mechanic named Gaby (Alicia Vikander of “Ex Machina”) is the daughter of “Hitler’s favorite rocket scientist,” a man who came to work for the United States after WWII but has now disappeared and is thought to be working for some very dangerous people who are interested in his invention, basically a quicker, smaller, atomic bomb. The CIA is not the only group to figure out that Gaby might be the way to find her father. A very tall, very determined Soviet agent named Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer of “The Social Network”) is after her, too. After a thrilling chase, Napoleon delivers Gaby to the CIA only to find out that he has been assigned to work with both Gaby and Ilya to find her father and make sure that the bomb does not fall into the wrong hands.

As with his “Sherlock Holmes” films, Ritchie has a lot of fun with the chemistry between his actors. There’s a fire and ice vibe; Napoleon’s understated confidence and unflappable charm plays off well against Ilya’s smoulder and barely-controlled rage. They call each other “Cowboy” and “Peril” (as in “Red Peril”) and one-up each other with gadgets that are endearingly analog. What they refer to as a “computer disk” looks like a scotch tape dispenser made out of Fiestaware. Vikander continues her unstoppable trajectory into superstardom with another impeccable performance. And then there are the bad guys. Elizabeth Debicki (“The Great Gatsby”) plays Victoria Vinciguerra, “a lethal combination of beauty, brains, and ambition.” She is a 1960’s high fashion vision, part Catherine Deneuve, part Jean Shrimpton, part Penelope Tree, and a femme fatale in the most literal and lethal sense. They should give Joanna Johnston the costume design Oscar right now, and maybe the Nobel, too for her take on 60’s couture, from Courreges to Mary Quant.

Ritchie’s kinetic camerawork, spiced up with some split screen work is accompanied by Daniel Pemberton‘s swanky cocktail-stirrer of a score. With Hugh Grant’s unmatchable dry wit as a spy honcho and charm to spare from the leads, it’s enormously entertaining — with a welcome hint at the end that a sequel is in the works.

Parents should know that this film includes extended action-style violence, chases, explosions, shoot-outs, bombs, torture, some disturbing images including archival wartime footage, sexual references and situations and brief nudity, drinking, and smoking.

Family discussion: How do Napoleon’s and Ilya’s backgrounds affect the way they approach their jobs? Do you agree with their decision about the computer disk? What has changed the most since the Cold War era shown in the film?

If you like this, try: “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation,” “Torn Curtain,” and the old “Man from UNCLE” television series

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