Movie Review: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Hey there…

Yes, I know that there are people who on principle skip anything Jerry Bruckheimer produces. And yes, I know that there are those people who try to miss anything Nicolas Cage appears in because they simply don’t like him. And there are probably a third group who believe that Fantasia is sacrosanct and must not ever be touched again by human hands… But I’m evidently not one of those.

I’ll admit that I was skeptical that it could be done. Who could possibly write a script for a two hour film that’s based on the short animated feature as part of 1940’s Fantasia from Walt Disney? How could you take Mickey Mouse and the dancing mops, brooms, and buckets and modernize it for today’s audiences?

Well, I think they actually managed to pull it off. We went as a family and all of us really enjoyed The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with Cage, Jay Baruchel, and Alfred Molina playing the lead roles. Hopefully it will make more money than it has so far so that we can continue to see the adventures of “Dave the Sorcerer”.

What is it about? It starts in medieval times with the saga of Merlin (James A. Stephens) and his three apprentices – Veronica (Monica Bellucci), Balthazar (Cage), and Horvath (Molina). When Horvath turns on his friends and master to join the evil wizardess Morgana (Alice Krige) in an attempt to take over the world and killing Merlin – Veronica sacrifices herself and binds Morgana’s soul within herself, and Balthazar captures them both in a Russian Doll magic item. That starts a war between the Merlinians, with Balthazar at the lead, and the Morganians seeking to free Morgana to take over the world.

Balthazar spends the next thousand years trying to find what Merlin called “the Prime Merlinian” – an individual with the potential to take Merlin’s place in the world. Along the way, he captures other evil wizards in the doll as they continue to try to release their queen.

When young Dave stumbles into Balthazar’s magic shop while on a field trip, it’s revealed that he is the Prime Merlinian Balthazar’s been looking for all this time… But through a series of mishaps, Dave unwittingly releases Horvath and a battle ensues that eventually finds the two ancient enemies locked away for 10 years. That gives Dave some time to get some therapy for what nobody believes he saw.

And that brings us to the present day, with Dave having become a physics geek working with electricity and plasma. I won’t spoil the rest, but suffice it to say that it’s a wild ride where Balthazar and Dave must work together to try and save the world from Horvath and Morgana.

Before I saw the film, I read a few reviews chastising the exposition at the beginning that sets the stage for the transition to the modern day. As such, I was a bit concerned. Turned out that I need not have been. Though director Jon Turteltaub might have chosen to “show, not tell” that section of the story, I think it would have added another 30+ minutes to the already two hour long film. As such, to keep it short enough to play frequently at most movie theaters I think it was a good choice to avoid the lengthier storytelling option.

It was obvious that Cage and Baruchel had a good time working together. The relationship between Balthazar and Dave seems genuine and the Master/Apprentice ties that bind them together lead to some touching moments. Molina simply ate up the screen as Horvath and cut a dashing figure in what looked like a late 18th century/early 19th century suit, hat, and cane. Even Teresa Palmer as Dave’s eventual girlfriend Becky played the “fish out of water” character well, even going so far as to play a pivotal role in the climax.

The only character I didn’t like was Toby Kebbel’s magician Drake Stone, the evil wizard who helps Horvath set Morgana free. Stone played a Criss Angel-type stage magician who was in it more for stroking his ego than for any perfection of his art. But I think we were supposed to dislike the slimy character – so if that was the case then bravo to Kebbel’s acting chops.

The special effects were spectacular. From the dragon in Chinatown to the car chases on the flip side of a mirror, the effects seamlessly transported me into a world where magic exists. I found myself watching, wide-eyed and enjoying every minute in that world – wishing there was a bit more magic day to day in our own.

For me, Bruckheimer has struck again as he did with films like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and National Treasure. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice offers escapism and a big budget popcorn movie where you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.

If you don’t like Bruckheimer, Nick Cage, or the idea that a Mickey Mouse cartoon could be made into a big budget live action adventure movie, I’d recommend that you stay home. But I’m certainly glad I went to see it.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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DVD Review: G-FORCE

Hey all!

Ok, it’s time to come clean on this one. G-FORCE found its way onto the big screen from Walt Disney Pictures in July 2009. The “G” in this case stands for guinea pigs. Not just any guinea pigs, but computer-generated, talking guinea pigs who were trained to be FBI Special Agents. And did I mention the mole in the group? Yes, there’s a mole. And a fly with electronic surveillance capabilities literally turning him into a “fly on the wall…”

Who was this movie meant for? Kids. The trailers made no bones about it when they were promoting the film for the theater and I won’t deny it here either. When one of the most memorable lines in the movie is “Poop in his hand! Poop in his hand!” spoken in unison by a group of not-so-bright mice in a pet store, it leaves little room for doubt. My two girls (ages 4 and 8) begged to see it in the theater and we eventually picked it up to watch on DVD.

What’s Jerry Bruckheimer doing producing this kind of film when he could be working on improving the story for the next Transformers sequel? I haven’t a clue.

But back to G-Force. The plot revolves around this special group of trained animals who can talk and use fancy equipment in the line of duty. The team consists of Darwin (Sam Rockwell), Juarez (Penelope Cruz), Blaster (Tracy Morgan), Speckles (Nicolas Cage as the mole), and Mooch (the fly, Dee Bradley Baker). Their trainer who came up with the idea, Ben (Zach Galifinakis), sends the team out on an unsanctioned mission to retrieve sensitive information from a potentially evil mastermind – Leonard Saber (Bill Nighy). Though the team does manage to survive the mission, it’s considered unsuccessful when they discover that the data they thought they had wasn’t the right data at all…

When Agent Kip Killian (Wil Arnett) comes in to take a look at Ben’s operation, the failed mission becomes the excuse needed to shut the project down. In the chaos that occurs, the team becomes separated and loses Speckles, who is presumed dead in an accident involving a trash truck.

The rest of the movie explores the team as they try to figure out what went wrong and try to stop Saber’s evil plot for world domination. Along the way, they encounter Hurley (Jon Favreau) and Bucky (Steve Buscemi).

Really G-FORCE has a top-notch team of funny actors doing voices for these characters I really wanted to like – unfortunately it really dragged in spots. On the plus side, there was a saving grace at the end – a twist ending! None of us saw it coming and it actually made the ending much more satisfying than what I was predicting.

Was this a great film? Not really. Was it as horrible as I was expecting? Not really. It was fun in spots and boring in others, so I think it broke even. I know my kids really enjoyed it, which is always a good thing. And the pet store scenes were pretty dang funny (Buscemi is a major scene stealer). Definitely a good renter if you get a chance to see it.

The version of the DVD I watched came from the Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo back, which provides a lot of bang for your buck. As someone looking at upgrading to Blu-Ray in the next year or so, I have to admit that I really like these Combo Packs from Disney and other manufacturers. They save me the trouble of having to purchase another copy of a film when I upgrade.

In addition to the movie itself, many special features are included on the discs. Some were on the Blu-ray – “Cine-Explore With Darwin, Blaster & Their Creator,” “Bruckheimer Animated: A Look Back at His CG Work,” and “Access Granted: Inside the Animation Lab.” Unfortunately, without a Blu-Ray player I was unable to view these.

However, the DVD included all the other features including audio commentary from director Hoyt H. Yeatman, Jr. and a number of fun bits. “Blaster’s Boot Camp” introduces you to the exciting world of the G-FORCE team, including the training and various toys used (grappling hook, launch tubes, and so on). “G-FORCE Mastermind” features interviews with Bruckheimer and director Yeatman about how the project came about. It was interesting to hear the son of the director talk about coming up with the idea that his dad turned into a feature film.

Of course, the “G-Farce” blooper reel has some great scenes, especially from Galifianakis and Morgan. The cast and crew seemed to have a great time filming, which I expected due to the many comedic personalities involved.

The Music Videos I could have done without, but I know my girls enjoyed dancing to the music. And some of the Deleted Scenes were hilarious. The “March of the Cockroaches” was my favorite, with the automated boots stomping in unison to prove how hard it was to kill the buggers… and accidentally killing one of them in the process!

Though I can’t say this is my favorite Disney film in recent years, G-FORCE definitely was a hit with the kids and had some funny parts. If you have kids, I’d recommend it as a solid renter for them over the holidays!

–Fitz

p.s. Be sure to look for G-FORCE at your favorite retailer or click below!

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