A weekly feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at the historical betrayals of “Mary Queen of Scots,” the cortex boiling animation of “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” and the drug addiction drama of “Ben is Back.”
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the weekend’s big releases including the wild and webby “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse,” the political drama of “Mary Queen of Scots” and the Julia Roberts’s drug drama “Ben is Back.”
“Ben is Back,” starring Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges as mother and son, is a film about addiction, trust and love.
It’s Christmastime in a small bedroom New York community. The church Christmas concert is looming and Holly and Neal Burns (Roberts and Courtney B. Vance) and their kids teenager Ivy (Kathryn Newton), little ones Lacey and Liam (Mia Fowler and Jakari Fraser) are rehearsed and ready. They arrive home after church to a surprise, Holly’s oldest son Ben (Hedges), sitting on the front step, on leave from his Sober Living house in the city. “I thought there was no way my counsellor would go for this,” he says, “but he did. That’s how good I’m doing.” Despite having left a trail of scorched earth behind him he looks good. Sober for seventy-seven days—“I just want to get to 78.”—he’s up a few pounds, has colour in his face and talks about living his life with “rigorous honesty.”
Still, Holly hides all the medication and jewellery in the house. Neal is welcoming but reticent. Ben’s drug taking has ruined several Christmases and the last time he was home he was found strung out, overdosed on the stairs with a needle in his arm. “I’m confused,” Neal says. “Everyone knows it’s in your best interest not to be home yet. There are too many triggers here for you.”
The town certainly has a lot of ghosts for Ben. Hooked on painkillers after a routine accident as a kid, he became a small time drug dealer and user, a teen who may or may not have been responsible for the OD death of his school friend Maggie. But Ben insists all is well, he does a drug test for his mom and attends the Christmas Eve concert with the family.
The past catches up with Ben and the family when they come home to find the house trashed and their beloved dog stolen. “This can’t be happening,” Ivy says. “Not again.” Ben isn’t sure who is responsible—“There were so many people it could be,” he says.—but is determined to find out. “You’re all still scared of me,” he says. “That’s the last thing I want to make you feel.” With Holly he confronts his past, journeying into the dark underbelly of his former suburban town to find the dog and test the bond of mother and son.
“Ben is Back” works best as a family drama of how addiction impacts loved ones. Cute though the dog may be, it works less so when it introduces the hunt for the lost canine. The dramatic tension is kept alive and well by carefully calibrated performances from Roberts and Hedges.
As Holly, Roberts moves away from the persona she has spent a career crafting. On the surface Holly is precise, a suburban soccer mom who will only buy organic cranberries and who changes the Christmas ornaments because the old ones, Ivy says, “didn’t fit the current aesthetic.“ Underneath though is a woman teetering on the edge, someone who believes in Ben despite having been disappointed so many times in the past. “This time will be different,” she says. “You’ll see.” It’s co-dependency and a mother’s unconditional love wrapped up in one complicated package.
Hedges is a roiling mix of self loathing—“ If you really knew me you’d be done with me.”—and hope. He’s a dark soul, tormented by what he has done and still vulnerable to falling back into the life that haunts him. Ben is revealed slowly and perhaps his most telling statement, the line that makes us question everything that has happened, comes late in the movie. “You can’t trust addicts,” he says to Holly. “All they do is lie.”
“Ben is Back” paints a compelling picture of addiction but is almost undone by a silly plot twist that threatens to turn the movie into a thriller, diluting its effectiveness. Luckily strong work from Roberts, Hedges and Newton keep it grounded.
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the big weekend movies, the “Smurfs: The Lost Village,” “Going in Style,” “Song to Song” and the documentary “Giants of Africa.”
The all-animated Smurfs: The Lost Village aims to reintroduce the little blue creatures of Smurf Village to a new generation. It’s the first time more than one female Smurf exists in the community.
Featuring the voices of Demi Lovato, Joe Manganiello and Michelle Rodriguez, it trades on its inherent cute factor and nostalgia for much of its appeal. There are some good messages for kids woven in and the animation is relentlessly adorable but is there anything here for anyone over the age of five?
In what may be the most adult plotline in Smurf history, it’s a hero’s journey, a character’s search for purpose. It’s Joseph Conrad via Smurf Village. Smurfette’s Heart of Darkness.
As voiced by Lovato, Smurfette ponders 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?
Smurf aficionados will know she is the only female Smurf, created by wizard Gargamel to sow the seeds of jealousy in Smurf Village. With the help of Papa Smurf she became a beacon of sweetness-and-light and the love interest of Smurfs everywhere.
That’s quite a backstory and her quest for purpose is certainly noble, even if her beginnings weren’t. The character was first introduced in Franco-Belgian comics magazine Spirou in 1966 as a marketing tool. According to writer Hal Erickson the comely Smurfette was created as a means to “bow to merchandising dictates” and “appeal to little girl toy consumers.”
It worked and in the decades that followed Smurfette became the most sought after toy from Smurf Village.
The Smurfs are big business, in addition to this weekend’s big screen animated feature, the “three apples tall” characters have been translated into 30 languages (en français: Les Schtroumpfs, in Dutch: De Smurfen) to create an estimated worth of $4 billion, but not all Smurf related marketing has been successful.
Remember Smurf-Berry Crunch? At the height of 1980s Smurf mania Post Cereal released a sugary breakfast cereal they claimed tasted, “like crunchy Smurf Berries… In berry red and Smurfy blue.” To ensure the Smurfiest experience possible Post added little blue corn puff berries laden with food colouring to the mix.
Unfortunately the blue additives weren’t easily digestible by the body, leading alarmed parents to report cases of blue and strange coloured poop after breakfast time. According to poopreport.com, “when metabolized in sufficient quantity, the blue dye combines with bile,” to form a rainbow effect at potty time. The problem was fixed with the release of Smurf Magic Berries, which contained smurfberries made of yellow corn puffs and marshmallows.
For Jack Black Smurf-Berry Crunch also brings back some bad memories. The Kung Fu Panda actor remembers his second professional gig, a breakfast food commercial. “Being in a Smurf-Berry Crunch cereal ad and being pulled along in a red wagon…?” he says, too humiliated to finish the sentence. “My stock plummeted at school.”
I was a bit too cynical to buy into the North American Smurf craze of the 1980s — they were so popular one writer called them “kiddie cocaine” — but now in 2017 I see them as something other than an hour-and-a-half advertisement for Smurfs Are Us.
The new incarnation is a sweet kids movie designed for little ones but with just enough grown-up material to keep parents interested.
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 be 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.
Richard and CP24 anchor George Lagogianes do a refresher on “Captain America: Civil War” and then talk about the weekend’s big releases,the George Clooney – Julia Roberts thriller “Money Monster” and the lusty and lurid “A Bigger Splash.”