DVD Tuesday: ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ and ‘Knight And Day’

by W. Andrew Powell

Nicolas Cage and Jay Baruchel in The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Nicolas Cage and Jay Baruchel in The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Coming out this week on DVD and Blu-ray: Jay Baruchel and Nicolas Cage star in Disney’s live-action remake of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz are on the run in Knight And Day; plus a look at Going The Distance, and the Twilight Saga: Eclipse.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer, Toby Kebbell, Monica Bellucci, Gregory Woo, Ethan Peck
Director: Jon Turteltaub

Rated: 6.5/10

There is something oddly surreal about seeing Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina and Monica Bellucci in a remake of one of Disney’s most treasured animated classics. It’s a feeling that all is not quite right in the world, and yet I won’t deny that I was entertained.

Recreating Disney’s original Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which was a short in the classic 1940 film, Fantasia, director Jon Turteltaub walks on hallowed ground with the guiding help of producer Jerry “You Can Never Have Too Many Explosions” Bruckheimer.

Featuring an army of screenwriters, with no less than six writers credited for the overall story, this Sorcerer’s Apprentice is set in modern day New York City where a very young boy named Dave finds himself face-to-face with a real-life wizard named Balthazar, played by Nicolas Cage.

For hundreds of years, since Merlin was killed by the witch Morgana, Balthazar has been looking for what he calls the “Prime Merlinian,” a magician who will one day be able to destroy Morgana. Through a strange incident, Dave finds himself wandering into Balthazar’s store and not only claiming the ring of the Prime Merlinian, but also releasing Morgana’s minion, Horvath, played by Alfred Molina.

Unfortunately for Dave, the meeting leaves both Balthazar and Horvath trapped in an urn for ten years, and without any proof, everyone basically thinks he’s crazy.

Jump ahead ten years though, to the day, and young Dave has turned into young-adult Dave, played by Jay Baruchel, and he’s about to find out the truth: he really is a wizard, and he’s got to help Balthazar overcome Horvath before the villain finds a way to release Morgana from her imprisonment.

Meanwhile, Dave also has to decide how seriously he’s going to take his role learning magic and helping Balthazar since he’s falling in love with the girl of his dreams, played by Teresa Palmer.

Earning his keep as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Baruchel is a surprising lead in this film, and he makes the film both fun and funny, while still managing to be a fairly authentic action star. The trouble is that Cage is good at this role of being a father figure, but even as he chews the scenery, the character ends up getting lost in the overall story.

Molina on the other hand plays a decent villain once again. This is not as mesmerizing a performance as his role of Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2, but it’s acceptable for what the film is: a big joke-filled popcorn-adventure, which should be enough to amuse movie fans.

While my biggest problem with the film is the script itself, Turteltaub was also clearly not the best choice for this film. His direction is ambitionless, and overall the film feels rather jagged and uneven. Like National Treasure: Book of Secrets, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is filmmaking lite, with no real passion or flavour of its own–just a lot of borrowed sights and sounds.

Taking cues from superhero films, a little Harry Potter, perhaps, what I realized the most was that The Sorcerer’s Apprentice really wants to be like some of those fun and campy classic from the 1980s. The flavour feels like a partial ripoff of The Never Ending Story, and maybe just a little nod to The Princess Bride, but with very little character of its own. Even a stunning actress like Monica Bellucci as Balthazar’s imprisoned girlfriend, is somehow lost in this odd little story that revolves around magic and electricity in some combination I never quite believed or understood.

Great as Baruchel was in this role, and bad as some of the scenes were, I earnestly hope that he gets a chance to play the role again in a sequel. I also hope that Disney realizes what a crumby director Turteltaub is and replaces him with someone more up to the challenge of bringing real magic into this still-powerful concept.

Knight And Day
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano
Director: James Mangold

Knight and Day might be the movie that finally broke Tom Cruise’s career. After years of ridicule, and less than spectacular results at the box office, the industry at large may finally have to question Cruise’s box office appeal after Knight and Day essentially flopped on opening day at the box office.

Here’s the catch: worldwide, Knight And Day actually pulled in audiences to the tune of $260 million in ticket sales, even if critics had a lot to say against it.

Knight and Day has Cruise playing Roy, a secret agent on the run from the government and trying to evade another agent played by Peter Sarsgaard. The operation to nab Roy gets further complicated after he meets June, played by Cameron Diaz, and drags her into his world of explosions, violence, and non-stop action while the government hunts for the duo around the globe.

The problem with the film is that Knight and Day just does not live up to the hype, and for a “comedy,” a lot of critics thought Cruise was reliving his days in Mission: Impossible.

Liam Lacey of the Globe and Mail wrote, “A little more time developing why these strangers come to care for each other might have helped, and ultimately, it’s a failure of script more than performances.”

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle gave the film a positive review though, writing, “Knight and Day is a high-functioning entertainment machine, guaranteed to please just about everyone who isn’t determined to be grumpy.”

Going The Distance
Starring: Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate, Charlie Day, Ron Livingston
Director: Nanette Burstein

Drew Barrymore and Justin Long star in this romantic comedy as long-distance lovers trying to make their relationship work between New York City and San Francisco.

Torn between their friends, the distance between them, and a few other opportunities to go astray, Erin and Garrett will try to turn their brief time together into a long distance relationship that actually works, but it’s going to be difficult.

Overall the critics are torn about Going The Distance, but it’s definitely getting the worst reviews of the week. As critic Emanuel Levy wrote for his website, “Helmer Nanette Burstein comes from documentaries and so the film is more grounded in realistic detail, but as a comedy, it’s rather flat and neither funny nor insightful enough about its subject.”

While Lou Lumenick of the New York Post wrote, “It smothers the already frail story of their characters’ long-distance relationship with enough R-rated gross-out humor for half a dozen Judd Apatow movies — except that virtually none of it is funny.”

Twilight Saga: Eclipse [December 4]
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Nikki Reed, Kellan Lutz
Director: David Slade

How does the idea of sparkling vampires make you feel? If the answer is all hot, sweaty, and filled with more excitement than you can contain, then I have great news for you this week.

Arriving on DVD and Blu-ray this Saturday, the latest Twilight film is somewhat shocking because, out of the pack of Twilight films so far, it’s earning praise from some critics who have otherwise suggested they hated the franchise.

Created by author Stephenie Meyer, the Twilight Saga is a hit that barely needs any introduction, but for the uninitiated who are still curious, the latest film has Bella, played by Kristen Stewart, once again surrounded by danger, but this time she’s forced to decide between the vampire Edward, played by Robert Pattinson, and the werewolf Jacob, played by Taylor Lautner.

This decision is, in fact, the biggest driving force behind the saga’s storyline and promises to ignite further angst and anger between the vampires and werewolves.

At the same time the city of Seattle is currently the site of numerous killings as one vampire also hunts for her revenge.

Although the film is only 51% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the top critics are rating the film 67% fresh, and Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal went so far as to write, “I can’t pretend that the third episode instilled a fever in my blood, but it didn’t leave me cold. For the first time in the series I felt I’d seen a real movie.”

While Kyle Smith of the New York Post wrote, “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse dispenses with much of the caramel gooeyness of the first two episodes in favor of decent action, some heartfelt tender moments and even a splash of wit. This time they’re actually Twi-ing.”

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