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The Smurfs: Smurftastic Comedy For Kids Only
Belgium’s answer to Disney is the great Peyo; the brain behind The Smurfs. In its original form, the Smurfs started as a comic book series in the 1960s, and several spin-off comics, cartoons and endless lines of merchandising have all lead up to this; the ultimate big-budget Hollywood adaptation.
Head honcho Papa Smurf (Winters) is a godfather figure for his small blue compatriots as they lead a fairly simple life in the forest. The evil Gargamel (Azaria) and his sadistic cat Azrael pursue the inch-sized creatures, believing that he can harness some kind of extraordinary super powers by capturing them. Having been in hiding from this evil wrongdoer, a slip in Clumsy Smurf’s usual covertness leads Gargamel to the Smurfs’ village.
During a frantic escape, some of the Smurfs are sucked into a vortex that spits them out into New York where they meet Patrick (Harris) and his pregnant wife Grace (Mays). The couple, who are expecting a baby, take them into their home and help them find a way back to their own world.As well-known as they are, the Smurfs as a concept and gimmick have never really pierced the mainstream psyche. The progression of 3D animation has spawned even more competitive dynasties, and so The Smurfs is the franchise‘s first big rebuttal.
The formula is cringingly tired; but then again, there’s only so much one can do with the concept of otherworldly beings existing in the human world to comic affect. Hop, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and even Jim Carrey's latest family flick Mr. Popper's Penguins are just some of the more recent films to use the same template. Two worlds meet, collide, find common ground, help each other, love each other and then leave each other; both better off for the experience. Pretty basic stuff.
Depending on the state of mind that you are in when watching this, the use of the word ‘smurf’ as a substitute for other words will either hit you as being cute and funny or incredibly irritating. For example: ‘Oh my smurf!’, ‘Where the smurf are you?’ and Smurfette’s ‘I kissed a smurf and I liked it’. Yes, she’s voice by Katy Perry.
Neil Patrick Harris, of How I Met Your Mother fame, is likeable and familiar enough to excuse his participation with what can only be a gross lack of judgment, and Mays is pleasant enough as his pregnant wife. Azaria brings all his tricks as a regular cast member of The Simpsons to play Gargamel, and somehow manages to be the most over-the-top character in a film full of small blue people. His performance might amuse very young audience members, but was at times a chore to sit through.
The Smurfs has been such a box office success already that a sequel is being drafted up as we speak. Considering that this was advertised as an adventure for both kids and adults, it doesn’t succeed in ticking all the boxes like a film such as Shrek does for example. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but your young ones might enjoy it.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.
As an exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military, Dito Montiel’s Man Down is a muddled story that’s pretty challenging to sit through. Though on paper there’s plenty of potential depth in this particular effect of war – and a solid cast at its disposable – the film descends into military-movie clichés, while not really keeping up with its complex set-up.
The movie to take place over four separate time periods and opens with U.S Marine Gabriel Drummer (LeBeouf) and his military buddy, Devin Roberts (Courtney), making their way through a vast and seemingly wasted American landscape which appears to have been destroyed by a chemical attack. On the look-out for survivors, the pair is hoping to find Drummer’s son, Jonathan (Shotwell), whom he believes has been kidnapped.
Before the audience gets a chance to find out what is really going in, the story flashes back to another time period where a seemingly distraught Drummer is being interviewed by Counselor Peyton (Oldman) about an ‘incident’ that occurred on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Moving on to yet to another period, we also get to see the story of Drummer and Roberts during their Marine Corps training at Camp Lejeune before, eventually, cutting to the story of Drummer’s life at home with wife, Natalie (Mara) and their son.
Taking on several narrative threads without really knowing where to take them, let alone how to put them back together, is one of Man Down’s major issues. Used to give some kind of visual interpretation of PTSD, the movie’s choppy editing is ineffective and comes across as a messy, superficial tool.
Clocking in at precisely ninety minutes, Man Down is a relatively short film but, thanks to the overworked script and slow pace, it takes forever for any of the stories to build into something bigger.
Working its way through a series of military clichés, the story works best when it is focused on digging into Drummer’s fractured mind, with the conversation between him and his counsellor – played by the seemingly wasted talent of one Gary Oldman – serving to be one of the movie’s best elements. LeBeouf is convincing as a troubled soldier desperately trying not to sink deeper into madness and his commitment to the role is commendable, making it all that more frustrating to see that the script itself is so lacking.