April movie guide

Your monthly collection of cinematic selections…


What this month lacks in quantity of notable film releases, it more than makes up for in sheer quality of the movies coming to theaters in the next few weeks.

Two franchise juggernauts will hit audiences with the force of an atom bomb, threatening to revolutionize the way we think about motion pictures.

Over 100 years of cinema have led us to this moment. This is where feature films reach their apex.

“Smurfs: the Lost Village”

April 7

Sony Pictures Animation has attempted films based on the Smurfs property in the past, but nothing like this.

Previous efforts in 2011 and 2013 saw the little blue dudes and one dudette invading a live-action New York City and the life of song-and-dance man Neil Patrick Harris. The two films were met with overwhelmingly negative reviews, forcing Sony to rethink their strategy with the classic characters.

“Smurfs: the Lost Village” abandons the trapping of reality that has been holding the franchise back, this time going for a fully animated feature from visionary director Kelly Asbury, the man who gave us “Shrek 2” and “Gnomeo and Juliet.”

The film focuses on Smurfette (Demi Lovato), who is feeling alienated from the rest of the Smurfs’ village as not only the sole female Smurf, but as the creation of Gargamel – the evil wizard set on capturing the Smurfs and stealing their life-force.

After a typical Smurf day of play, Smurfette sees what looks to be an unidentified Smurf on the outskirts of the village where Papa Smurf has forbidden any of the Smurf villagers from going.

Losing sight of the creature, but finding a map, Smurfette sets out on a journey to find not only the creature, but herself.

Accompanying Smurfette on her adventure are Hefty, Clumsy and Brainy Smurfs, played by Joe Manganiello (“Magic Mike”), Jack McBrayer (“30 Rock”) and Danny Pudi (Community) respectively. Filling out the star-studded cast are Rainn Wilson (“The Office”) as the villainous Gargamel and Mandy Patinkin (“The Princess Bride”) as the wise Papa Smurf, along with a slew of surprise celebrity appearances and cameos like Julia Roberts, Jeff Dunham and Gabriel Iglesias.

“The Fate of the Furious”

April 14

As the trailer for “The Fate of the Furious” proclaims at the start, “It’s time to get lit!”

While most film franchises lose steam by the third movie, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his family of street racers turned international criminals show no signs slowing down in the eighth installment of this mammoth series – which looks to be the most intense yet.

The trailer, smartly, does not reveal too much of the plot details of the movie. All we know is that Dom has done the unthinkable and turned his back on his family when it is revealed that he is working with Cipher, a criminal mastermind and terrorist played by Charlize Theron (“Mad Max: Fury Road”).

Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) recruits Dom’s old crew, along with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) – the villain of the last film – to take down Toretto and get to the bottom of his stunning betrayal.

Most of the remaining cast member of previous films return to reprise their roles, including Michelle Rodriguez as Letty, Dom’s wife, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as Tej, the auto shop mechanic turned hacker extraordinaire and Tyrese Gibson as the wise-cracking, sandwich-crazy Roman.

What the trailer lacks in plot detail it makes up for in glimpses of the set pieces that made this franchise famous. After jumping a sports car across skyscrapers in the last film, they look to be outdoing themselves once again as Roman faces off in a Lamborghini against a submarine in the arctic.

The franchise also carries on the tradition of bringing on legitimate directors to spearhead the film. F. Gary Gray takes over for James Wan (“The Conjuring”) who directed “Furious 7.”

Gray proved with “The Italian Job” and “Law Abiding Citizen” that he can do over the top action. He was also the director of Ice Cube’s hood classic “Friday” and the Oscar nominated “Straight Outta Compton,” so we know he can do strong character work.

That may seem out of place for a film franchise that seems to run on adrenaline and Nos. But even as the series has transitioned over the years from relatively grounded movies about illegal street racing, to pulling off bank heists in Rio and fighting British terrorists, there has been one constant: family.

David Tunis-Garcia is the arts editor and can be reached at david.garcia@ubspectrum.com