Kids' movies may be the most difficult cinematic mountains to climb. The filmmakers must cater to two perspectives at constant odds with one another: young ones who find amusement in simplistic stories and broadly painted humor and their parents who need enough of a grounded hook emotional core and clever jokes to keep them from nodding off. Not an easy task.
To see this winning combination pulled off by a 3-D animation/live-action hybrid adaptation of a rather irritatingly sweet cartoon from the '80s…well it's both a shocking and welcome surprise. The Smurfs transcends recent property-grabs like Garfield Alvin and the Chipmunks and Marmaduke by embracing the cartooniness relishing in the fact that it can get away with anything with the help of adorable little blue people.
Smurfs takes the model employed by 2007's Enchanted kicking things off in the colorful fantasy world of Smurf Village and quickly bringing its cheery clueless characters to the terrifying metropolis of New York. After Clumsy Smurf accidentally leads the Smurf-obsessive Gargamel (Hank Azaria) to the hidden mushroom haven of his brethren the bumbling black sheep of the Smurf family finds himself and a few clan members Papa Brainy Grumpy Gutsy Smurfette at the wrong end of a Blue Moon-induced worm hole. The group (along with Gargamel and his cat) find themselves face-planted in NYC's Central Park where they meet Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris) yes man to the cosmetic titan Odile. This sets the race in motion—the Smurfs enlisting the help of Patrick to find a way back home Patrick seeking the perfect ad campaign for Odile's new make-up line and Gargamel questing hungrily for a few drops of Smurf essence.
If Smurfs was simply a barrage of fart jokes and pop culture references the movie wouldn't click but by giving each of his characters something to do (seems obvious no?) director Raja Gosnell injects the film with a helpful dose of heart. Along with Clumsy's quest to be more than his name insists Harris' Patrick also has his own problems to overcome. Namely preparing to be a Papa Smurf to the kid he's about to have with his wife Grace (Glee's Jayma Mays). Harris and Mays take their roles here seriously going all out when they need to chase the adventurous Smurfs around town in one slapsticky sequence after another but they put just as much into their smaller scenes. One moment where Papa Smurf sits Patrick down for a "Dad talk" even has weight—a near impossible task for a "kids" movie.
But let's not get too sappy: the movie is funny plain and simple. Azaria makes a living bringing cartoon characters to life—he's a reason why The Simpsons has been on for more than 20 years—and his goofy Gargamel antics are inspired. A recurring gag where the evil wizard continually steps through ventilation steam grates probably read fine on paper but Azaria knows how to play big and doesn't allow any moment of physical comedy to lazily fall through the cracks. On the flip side Harris nails the straight man role and acknowledges that hanging out with Smurfs is just as bizarre as you'd imagine. Think The Brady Bunch Movie for the world of animation.
With solid kids' flicks becoming a rare occurrence Smurfs is a breath of fresh air a film that believes in its own simple message while simultaneously being self-aware of its cartoonish heritage. The movie's a smurfy good time but it takes a particularly smurfy Smurf to let go of cynical baggage and smurf it.
Louis Leterrier’s remake of Clash of the Titans the 1981 cult favorite that fused Greek mythology with sci-fi theatrics is a grand experiment in the ancient art of alchemy a big-budget attempt to spin fanboy nostalgia for a 30-year-old novelty into contemporary box-office gold. The main ingredients in this ambitious concoction are a potent arsenal of CGI weaponry and the star of the biggest movie ever Sam Worthington who inherits Harry Hamlin’s role as the heroic Perseus. But it’s what’s missing from the formula that ultimately dooms this remake.
Clash of the Titans redux mimics the original film’s epic ethos and preference for spectacle over all else but its storyline differs dramatically. Perseus is still the half-breed product of a one-night stand between the god Zeus and a human hottie and he still must to defeat the monstrous Kraken in order to save the lovely Princess Andromeda. Almost everything in between however has been altered — and not necessarily for the better.
The new version casts the Greek city of Argos as the primary battleground in a proxy war fought by dueling Olympian superpowers Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Born of a god but raised by and partial to humans Worthington’s Perseus battles not for the hand of Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) — as Hamlin’s character did — but instead for the people of Argos who stand to perish along with their princess at the hands of the dreaded Kraken. The film’s love story if it can be called that consists of the briefest of flirtations between Perseus and Io (Gemma Arterton) his self-appointed spiritual guide. (Cursed with immortality by the gods Io’s been secretly watching him all his life — which ostensibly makes her a glorified stalker.)
This detail is a small but crucial one. Strong-willed Perseus braves an obstacle course of giant scorpions gorgons and other horrors laid out for him by the wheezy fiend Hades but it’s never quite clear why he bothers with it all since what’s at stake is a princess he isn’t particularly interested in and a community of people he doesn’t really know — and who frankly don’t seem all that worth saving. His deadbeat dad up on Mount Olympus certainly isn't worth dying for nor are the battlefield compatriots he met barely a week prior. And while I’m sure that a few inviting glances from Gemma Arterton are positively delightful I wouldn’t risk being doused in flesh-eating scorpion venom for them.
This narrative oversight triggers a drain in enthusiasm that persists throughout the film. For a movie so epic in scale Clash of the Titans makes for a disappointingly bland ride. Leterrier’s CGI set pieces are at times magnificent but they’re proffered in the service of weak story filled with characters whose motivations are either unclear or unconvincing. During the film’s climax when Neeson’s Zeus utters the portentous words “Release the Kraken ” what should be an emotional high point instead feels perfunctory and anticlimactic. The only excitement it spawns comes from the knowledge that the end is mercifully imminent.
Part Rocky Horror Picture Show part Velvet Goldmine part Tommy Hedwig and the Angry Inch tells the story of Hedwig née Hansel (John Cameron Mitchell) a transsexual transvestite wannabe rock star whose botched sex change operation left him/her with only an "angry inch." As she tours the pit stops of America with her Eastern Block band "the Angry Inch " Hedwig's search for fame success and fulfillment with another eventually becomes a search for wholeness within herself. That's the easy version. But to tell the truth Hollywood doesn't have a label for this intricate film. It's a fun movie about rock stars and drag queens but it's also a finely tuned look at gender and its impact on human experience. It's a musical. It's a journey. It's a destination. It's David Bowie meets Iggy Pop meets Camille Paglia at a midnight showing of Rocky Horror. It's falling walls and building bridges. "Listen " Hedwig sings "There ain't much of a difference/between a bridge and a wall/Without me right in the middle babe/you would be nothing at all."
Mitchell who wrote directed and starred in both the film version and the hit off-Broadway play captivates in the title role creating a perfect blend of rock star and star-crossed lover in his beautiful complex Hedwig. The chemistry between Hedwig and the object of her affection her protégé Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt)--who steals her music and leaves her to become a rock god--is a sight to behold. Pitt's turn as a Jesus freak-turned-punk rock star is believable if a bit stilted. Andrea Martin as Hedwig's agent Phyllis Stein plays the only "straight" speaking part in both the comedic and the sexual senses. Completely absent from the off-Broadway play except in voiceovers Stein might have been better left out of the movie version as well; the subtlety of her straightness is lost on the big screen. Though Martin makes a valiant effort the character is flat in the midst of this cacophony of music and gender. The big surprise in the film is Miriam Shor's finely tuned performance as Yitzhak Hedwig's "husband" with a voice like a Welsh choirboy and an alternating fixation with Hedwig women's clothing and Rent.
Mitchell does a fantastic job of translating both character and story from the stage onto the big screen. His script draws universal lessons in humanity from a very specific and uncommon situation turning Hedwig's quest into a question: Can she can anybody ever really be whole? Or does Hedwig's "angry inch " merely manifest the fundamental divide in human experience? Can the wall between East and West Berlin between man and woman between me and you become a bridge? Tommy may be singing Hedwig's songs at Madison Square Garden while she's playing dive bars but are they really all that different? The questions are asked answered and asked again in a different way in Stephen Trask's music and lyrics a crucial element in the film. If the movie shows us Hedwig's search for her other half the music tells her story from her childhood in East Berlin to the "defining" moment on the doctor's slab to her love for Tommy and her final self-acceptance in an operatic finale. Animated sequences further illustrate what could have been an obscure examination of gender flux creating a mythos around Hedwig's sexuality. Flashbacks tell the tale of Hedwig's life in East Berlin before the Berlin Wall fell and reveal just how she became the rock star hopeful she is in the present.