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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Movie Review: Kick-Ass

Hi all…

Kick-Ass is one of those movies you’ll probably either love or hate. If you take something like this film out of the realm of satire and try to look at it from a real world perspective, you will probably find it not only offensive, but a horrible influence on younger minds. But if you do that, you’re missing the point entirely and I’d suggest that you skip it. Nobody is forcing you to see it. And you can object in the comfort of your own home by changing the channel when you see a movie trailer. If you’re old enough to understand what Kick-Ass is about, but too old to see it the rampant violence as anything but rampant violence… again, I recommend you skip this film.

[rating:3.5/4]

Obviously this isn’t a movie for kids under a certain age. I suspect that age may be the middle teenage years, but your mileage may vary based on the kids involved. If you don’t think your kids can handle separating fact from fiction and reality from satire, then this isn’t a movie for them. It’s that simple. We don’t need any kids running around thinking they can fight crime in costumes. The results would vary from minor injuries to death, and it’s kind of tough to recover from that.

That said, what is this movie about? Kick-Ass is a movie based on a comic book series written by Mark Millar and illustrated by John Romita, Jr. that was published by Marvel Comics under their Icon imprint back in 2008. The story focuses on teenager Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) who decides he’ll take a crack at becoming a real life superhero called “Kick-Ass”. Lizewski manages to get his butt seriously kicked his first time out, but that doesn’t deter him from doing it again. And when he gets caught on amateur video, he’s an overnight sensation.

Lizewski is enjoying his new fame so much he doesn’t notice he’s getting pulled into a bigger war between a crime kingpin, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong, Sherlock Holmes and the upcoming Robin Hood) and an ex-cop turned vigilante, Damon Macready (Nicolas Cage, National Treasure and the upcoming The Sorcerer’s Apprentice). Macready has donned the persona “Big Daddy” and dressed himself up as a wanna-be Batman while taking out parts of D’Amico’s operation a bit at a time. Along the way, Macready trained his 11-year-old daughter Mindy (Chloe Moretz, (500) Days of Summer) to be a lethal killing machine herself, donning the persona of “Hit-Girl”.

Add to that D’Amico’s son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad, Role Models, and Year One), who wants to become part of the “family business” but is still considered a kid by his father. To get his dad’s attention, he comes up with a plan to help stop the costumed crime-fighters causing his father trouble by becoming a costumed hero himself and calling himself “Red Mist”. But will Red Mist help his father stop Kick-Ass, Big Daddy, and Hit-Girl permanently or help the heroes stop crime in the city?

The only way to really describe Kick-Ass is as an orgy of violence and gunfire. There are enough weapons in this film to stock a National Guard armory and enough ammunition fired for a small war. And watching young Moretz as Hit-Girl is both disturbing and entertaining as she attacks this role with unsuppressed glee. It’s obvious this was a role she was born to play.

For me, the only weak spot in the cast was Cage as Macready. I just didn’t buy him as an ex-cop focused on a vendetta. Sure, the costume was there and the cool room with all the firearms – but he never sold the role to me. Maybe it was because the majority of the cast appeared so much younger than Cage on screen. I really don’t know. But it wasn’t enough to spoil the raw entertainment of watching things develop as the movie progressed.

Kick-Ass has been compared favorably to Zombieland, and I can see the comparison. But Zombieland worked a bit better for me as a whole, even though I absolutely loved Moretz as Hit-Girl. Though Johnson’s Kick-Ass gets top billing, the movie should have been called “Hit-Girl”, ’cause that’s who you end up watching on screen.

So I’ll reiterate that if you can’t get past the idea of gratuitous violence, gunfire, and an 11-year-old girl committing some serious carnage, I’d skip Kick-Ass. But if you can get past that, be sure to leave the kiddies at home and enjoy this amazing display of comic book destruction. And if you get a chance, be sure to read the original Kick-Ass comic book series as well – I’ll be ordering mine soon!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these great Kick-Ass books for your reading pleasure!

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New Trailer for KICK-ASS!

Hi all…

Typically I’m not one to jump on a bandwagon, but I have to say that the campaign that the KICK-ASS group has been running to get the word out for their movie coming out on April 16, 2010 has been great. It built slowly for me and has piqued my interest so I’ve actually written it on my calendar. 🙂

Here’s the latest trailer for the movie and it looks hilarious and fun – in the vein of Zombieland (which is a must see on DVD if you didn’t catch it in the theater)…

Enjoy!
–Fitz

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