Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The

At the start of  Jon Turteltaub's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, legend tells us (in Ian McShane’s uncredited dulcet tones) that there was a great Sorcerer’s War back in the day.  The good guys were led by Merlin (of course).  He had three apprentices: Veronica (Monica Belucci), Balthazar (Nicholas Cage), and Horvath (Alfred Molina). For plotty reasons, Horvath betrays his comrades and joins with Morgana Le Fay (Alice Krige).  It’s the Borg Queen, so why resist?  Besides, all she wants to do is raise the dead and unleash untold horrors upon mankind.

What’s sexier than world domination?

Through a bit of luck and sacrifice, Morgana is imprisoned inside the body of Veronica and a dying Merlin sends Balthazar on the quest for the Prime Merlinian (not to be confused with the Prime Meridian, though that’s what I kept hearing).  A montage shows his centuries’ long search, testing children all over the world.  Then, we leave Balthazar be and focus on the movie’s hero.

Now, imagine you’re ten years-old and on a school trip.  Imagine that you’ve been trying to impress the cute girl in your class for ages.  You finally give her one of those: “Do you want to be my girlfriend: ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” type of letters.  Before you get a response, it’s blown off into the street and, finally, into creepy-looking shop where you run into a crazy man.  The man then hands you an awesome ring and tells you you’re a sorcerer.  That’d be pretty cool, right?  Either that or it’d be grounds for years of therapy.  Unfortunately for Dave (Jake Cherry), it’s the latter after a magical battle royale between old frenemies Balthazar and Horvath leaves him looking like he’d wet himself during a nervous breakdown.

And we fast-forward ten years (to the day) to an older Dave (Jay Baruchel) waking up, grabbing the obligatory nerd breakfast of Mountain Dew, and getting lectured by his friend and roommate about not participating in life.  Friends really need to stop giving these lectures in movies.  People tend to get hurt.  Lucky for Dave, this is a Disney movie.  Otherwise, he’d be totally screwed.  As it would happen, he runs into the girl he’d adored when he was ten, Becky (Teresa Palmer), and decides to give it another go.  Again, it’s Disney.  This is entirely plausible.  Then, Balthazar catches up with him and tells him that he's taking Dave on as his apprentice as they try to save the world from Horvath and Morgana.

Some highlights of the rest of the very Disney movie include Nicholas Cage finally embracing the insanity that actually makes him fun to watch and Alfred Molina chewing up every scene he’s in like it’s delicious candy.  Oh, did I mention the neat Tesla Coil effects?  There are Tesla Coils!  There’s also a nice homage to the original “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” short from Disney’s Fantasia.

Disney’s lucky that my inner child and I are the best of friends and that we’re both easily amused.  Otherwise, I might have started on a tirade about how the three female roles boil down to simple stereotypes: bitch, damsel in distress, and self-sacrificing beauty who just wants to be normal.  Or I could have gone into how the more interesting characters didn’t get as much screen time as they deserved.  As it was, I enjoyed it for the fluff it was and try not to think about how awesome it could have been.

Knowing

Nicolas Cage movies generally fall into in two categories: intentionally funny (Raising Arizona), and unintentionally funny (The Wicker Man). However, Knowingis neither of these. Knowing uses Cage as a regular actor to portray a regular guy...and that, my friends, the least entertaining path to take.

It all begins with in 1959 with a Wednesday Adams look-alike (the painfully cute Laura Robinson), withsad eyes and a large forehead, looking very worried. When her teacher presents a time capsule project for her class, the girl hears voices (of course) telling her to write down a series of numbers, instead of drawing the future like she was told.

Fifty years later, physics professor Johnathan Koestler’s (Cage) smarter-than-average (read: amazingly argumentative) son Caleb (Chandler Cantebury) gets the numbers, and things start getting nuts. Koestler figures that a lot of the numbers are the dates and body counts for natural disasters,but he’s not sure what the other numbers mean... yet.

By now we’re expecting a classic Nic Cage style freak-out ("HOW'D IT GET BURNED!?! "), and instead we're disappointed by him actually doing a rather decent job with a well-realized character. Koestler and his son have a strained relationship, as his wife died in a hotel fire, and naturally they both miss her dearly. They never talk about things like “emotions” outside of a painfully sweet exchange in sign language exchange, being men and all.

Koestler throws himself into trying to solve the mystery using the "Single Barrel" Research Method, which involves crawling into a bottle and watching the newsfor any headlines matching the numerical pattern.  After doing this all night, he sleeps through a whole day and wakes up to his son calling, saying he has afternoon car-pool. CRAP! Off he goes to get stuck in highway traffic, still contemplating what all the numbers mean when he realizes, after looking at his GPS, those other numbers are map coordinates: latitude and longitude...like the one he’s on right NOW. A few seconds afterthis realization, a 747 crashes,dipping its wing into the Earths’ crust and cutting a trench through that very highway.

Koestler tries in vain to help these people, and we still don't get that freak out we've been waiting for! His next step is to seek out Diana Wayland (Rose Byrne), the daughter of Worried Wednesday from the opening. She too has a daughter (Robinson again). Koestler tries to get Wayland to open up about her dead crazy mother and reveal the secret to life, the universe, and everything.

The exchange begins poorly, of course, but later they hit it off just in time for Koestler to figure out that there’s a massive Solar flare heading for Earth and everyone’s going to die unless. . . well, nothing. You can’t really stop the sun from reducing the Earth to a heavy metal album cover, but the movie still has forty-five minutes to go. What happens is a half interesting, half Deus-Ex Machina-but with a fiercely depressing twist.

Overall, this movie suffers from a case of “Not Quite Enough-itis.” While director Alex Proyas (I, Robot , Dark City ) is not short on directing skill or adorable brunettes in various stages of life, the plot is pretty much "figure out the code, realizeit's hopeless and do NOT give us a Nicolas Cage Freakout in spite of this."  It’s competent enough, but asks heavy questions and presents some crazily optimistic answers, playing it fairly straight the entire time with no zany antics and few ludicrous moments. As such, it might not work for a Cavalcade, so go with NeXt instead.

Kick-Ass

Movie adaptations of comic books are tricky. Things that work in comics do not always work in film, and vice versa.  As a result, changes need to be made appropriately.  Filmmakers have to weigh the value of faithfulness to the source against creating a stronger film.   Like Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen (2009)Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.’s Kick-Ass primary weakness as a film is how well it adapts the story from the comic book.

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is an average American teen, mildly bored with life and reader of comic books.  Dave decides to make his life more meaningful by getting involved in his community, helping out at homeless shelters, joining extra-curricular programs at school, and working up the nerve to talk to girls.  Wait… no, that would be an appropriate response.  No, Dave goes the saner route of buying a SCUBA outfit, and fighting crime as the superhero, Kick-Ass.

Shockingly, on his first real patrol, Dave is stabbed and run over by a car.

After “months of healing” are over, Dave goes right back out and fights crime again-albeit more successfully-and is broadcast on YouTube.  Kick-Ass becomes a sensation, inspiring a father and daughter vigilante team to also don super-hero costumes as Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage), who go on a mission to destroy local mob boss, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong)-enlisting Kick-Ass to help...with graphically violent results.

Like the original comic book, the film’s tone is uneven at best.  At varying points, the film is about the realities of trying to be a vigilante, dealing with high school awkardness, an epic revenge drama, a shoot ‘em up, a commentary on fame and mass media, a satire of super-hero films, a mob film, and an absurdist comedy.  While Vaughn’s strong visual sense makes the film a pleasure to watch, and the film is at no point boring, the constant shifting between various genres left the film with no real identity.  Which in Vaughn’s defense, is very faithful to the comic book.

Also faithful to the comic, Kick-Ass is actually the least interesting character.  At minimum, he needs to anchor the ludicrous story of Hit-Girl, Big Daddy, and Frank D’Amico.  In the comic book, Dave’s constant narration provides this anchor.  Unfortunately, in the film, he becomes lost in his own story, struggling to keep up with the other personalities on screen. This is not a shock considering the acting talent he's up against. Nicholas Cage, as always, delivers an interesting performance combining his normal insanity with more than a little nod to Adam West.  Mark Strong demonstrates that he possesses probably the best American accent in all of England.

Then there’s Chloe Moretz.

Moretz steals the show playing an 11-year-old, unstoppable engine of violence.  Her least disturbing aspect is her foul mouth.  Much, much worse is how she brutally dismembers at least thirty armed mob enforcers.  Granted, the audience won't feel bad for the guys getting killed, but when it’s a cute little girl, it’s at the very least...disconcerting.  The most amusing audience reaction to Hit-Girl was when someone finally managed to hit her.  Everyone was shocked and horrified that the little girl got kicked in the face.  You know, after she spent the better part of the film lopping people’s legs off and crushing them in hydraulic presses, I may be jaded.

Overall, Kick-Ass is an intriguing addition to the growing library of super-heroes on film.  It’s visually gripping, action-packed, and entertaining; and while it's not a “realistic” portrayal of what someone trying to be a super-hero in real life like Mark Millar said it would be, it does have a sweet jetpack. If nothing else, he doesn’t call the audience assholes at the end for reading his comics.

Drive Angry 3D

A few days ago, my father asked me if Nicholas Cage was able to make a good movie anymore.  Having recently watched trailers for Next (2007)Knowing (2009), and The Sorceror’s Apprentice (2010), I immediately responded with no small amount of sadness, “no.”

Then I saw Drive Angry.

Now, like Zarathustra taught us the Ubermensch, the Cavalcade teaches to you the Drive Angry!

John Milton (Nicholas Cage) has broken out of Hell in a sweet muscle car.  This is a completely different concept from Ghost Rider (2007), in which Nicholas Cage is possessed by a demon hunting other demons on behalf of the Devil with a sweet chopper.  His purpose: to stop Satanic cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke) from using his granddaughter in a sacrificial rite to bring Hell to Earth.  In between Milton breaking out of Hell and [Spoiler Alert] stopping King is nothing short of glorious.

Brought to us by the writer/director team Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier who have brought us epics like Jason X (2001) and My Bloody Valentine 3-D (2009)Drive Angry’s primary goal is showing as many car stunts, bodily mutilations, and gratuitous nudity as humanly possible in 104 minutes.  Gentle readers, you have to understand, the marketing for this film is deplorable.  Remember those commercials with Cage shooting people in a hotel room and dodging an axe thrown at his head?  What the advertisers do not want you to know is that Cage is actually having sex with a completely naked woman the entire time!

I do not have the space or the legal rights to list every incredible action stunt in the picture.  But I can tell you about the performances featured in this film because they are all gold.  Cage is surprisingly restrained here.  There is maybe one Elvis-ism, no screeching, and no quirkiness for quirkiness’ sake.  Cage plays it straight and it works perfectly.  Lussier takes full advantage of Cage’s ability to go from zero to BROODING in .0005 seconds flat.

Amber Heard is plays Milton’s sidekick, Piper.  Having only seen her previously as “406” in Zombieland (2009), I did not expect much.  This actress is phenomenal.  She is essentially Elly May Clampett if she were metal.  Billy Burke’s ability to work leather pants and puffy shirts while simultaneously making any semi-religious nonsense sound like the Gettysburg Address firmly cement him as the heir-apparent too Billy Drago.  Our esteemed screenwriter, Todd Farmer, makes a cameo doing exactly the same thing as he did in My Bloody Valentine 3-D.

However, the man that steals the show is William Fichtner.  Playing “The Account,” the Devil’s bounty hunter, Ficthner joins the “Why didn’t anyone think to give him superpowers before?” list.  Said list includes Christopher Walken after The Prophecy (1995) and Robert Forster in season two of "Heroes." Fichtner glides through the movie as the entire world is his amusement park.  Drive Angry Fun Fact: It is!

The thing is, you all have to go out and embrace this film in the 3-D in which it was intended.  If you don’t, we’ll never get another one.  And we need another one.  This is a film that gives Nicholas Cage license to say with complete seriousness that he will not drink a beer unless it is the skull of his mortal enemy.

Wanna guess what he does before the credits roll?