Smurfs: The Lost Village ****

From The Hobbit’s Shire to the Smurfs’ mushroom village, big and small kids love the idea of a place of serenity, harking back to simpler living. Ironically, defending territory from an external ‘terror’ threat by those wanting to change an existence strikes a chord in today’s unsettled world – one way to use Smurfs: The Lost Village to explain world affairs to curious little minds. So, however simple in plot the new Smurfs film first seems, it does combine in one story a positive sense of self-preservation with a healthy dollop of adventure, all for the benefit of kiddies in glorious multicolour with intrepid gnome explorers. It also attempts to shine the spotlight on Smurfette and mould her (pardon the pun) into a lead character in her own right.

Voiced by Demi Lovato, Smurfette is still trying to figure out what her unique skill is, four years on from the second film, and where she fits in in the Smurfs’ world? A chance encounter with a masked stranger in the forbidden forest and a map leads the only girl gnome and her best buddies, Brainy (Danny Pudi voices), Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) and Hefty (Joe Manganiello), on an adventure to find a lost village. However, Smurfette has unwittingly led the Smurfs’ sworn enemy Gargamel (voiced by Rainn Wilson) and his beastly crew to the new location – and an untapped source of ‘blue power’ the sorcerer needs to be invincible. It’s up to Smurfette and co to warn the residents before it’s too late.

This time creator Peyo’s Smurfs are re-immersed in their own animated existence – no real-world shenanigans like in the 2013 film or creepy-looking ‘human-featured Smurfs’. Sadly, this also means no Hank Azaria in panto as Gargamel – nor in voice, though Wilson is just as entertaining. It does mean the filmmakers have full creative licence to explore the Avatar-styled world, equally bathed in blue. This film bounces along with 100 per cent enthusiasm and is very much about the gnome personalities, the introduction of which at the beginning wastes no time in reeling off a list of character traits in fun-filled, erratic fashion that younger viewers delight at. The rest of the frenetic pace follows suit, as expected with present-day kids animation.

As the momentum roller-coasters on – requiring a certain degree of concentration, as not to miss any ‘adult puns’, there is plenty of silliness, honesty, vulnerability, bravery and morals for kids to latch onto, absorb and ultimately cheer on their diminutive heroes. Admittedly, some of the funnier scenarios are touched on in the trailer, but the little personalities more than make up for this. Indeed, curiosity pays off as we’re all rewarded with plenty of ‘girl power’ in the end – hardly surprising given the writers are women and the scope for potential storyline spin-offs (and merchandise) could run on for years to come.

The fact is youngsters delight in the idea of little people saving the day in their narratives. The Lost Village delivers this thrill, with a few hiccups along the way. There’s also a nostalgic animated innocence to the whole affair that helps the Smurf personalities shine through – something the very busy, effects-heavy 2013 film lost. Smurfs: the Lost Village even has scampering dayglow bunnies, ready for Easter family viewing. There’s enough cinematic cuteness for everyone; if the plight of Smurfette doesn’t win you over, the bunnies will, while keeping the youngsters entertained for 90 minutes.

4/5 stars

By @Filmgazer

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Magic Mike XXL ****

magic-mike-xxl

Ex-stripper-turned-actor Channing Tatum knows how to thrill the ladies/gays – whether he believes his real-life stripper anecdotes are all but used up after this film, a mere wriggle and a ripple of the actor/dancer’s torso is all it takes to put bottoms on cinema seats. Whereas Magic Mike in 2012 had a little more serious tone to it, charting some of the business’s realities, the 2015 film is pure ‘tongue in cheek’, the premise being to roll out the six-packs to thrill one last time, at one last stripper convention.

Three years on, and Mike (Tatum) currently makes an honest living as a removal man with his own expanding business. But when the boys pass through town and make him one last offer he cannot refuse, he joins the remaining Kings of Tampa on the road to Myrtle Beach to put on one last explosive performance.

The plot is thin and blatantly obvious, but that’s not the appeal. It’s the big, dumb camaraderie of the boys on their road trip, played by Tatum, Joe Manganiello (Big Dick Richie), Kevin Nash (Tarzan), Matt Bomer (Ken), Adam Rodriguez (Tito) and Gabriel Iglesias (MC Tobias) that is infectious. This is coupled with a trace of pity at first at their predicament, as they appear to only be one-trick ponies ready to be retired. All the cast are hilarious as they ‘sex it up’ one last time, and live life as it’s thrown at them.

Ironically, this film is incredibly empowering to watch as a woman too. The people that hold the boys by the ‘proverbial balls’ are all women – Jada Pinkett Smith plays a ballsy MC called Roman with her own successful club, and Elizabeth Banks is the Myrtle Beach convention’s organiser, Paris. Even Andie MacDowell plays a wealthy Southern divorcee called Nancy who gets her pound of flesh, and is a tonic to watch.

There is an almost unrecognisable turn from Amber Heard as ‘feminist’ Zoe, who seems to easily succumb to the frivolity like Anastasia Steele does in Fifty Shades. It just shows that animal instinct will always thrive over reason, and if you allow this, Magic Mike XXL is one big bag of entertainment, doing exactly as it sets out to do, unashamedly, and well worth the ticket price for sheer titillation. Straight males won’t get it – the rest of us will, so bring along ‘the girls’ for a satisfying night out.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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