The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG for fantasy action violence, some mild rude humor, and brief language
Profanity: Brief mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Reference to colllege partying
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy violence, not very graphic but some characters injured and killed, some skulls and corpses, and other scary images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 14, 2010
Date Released to DVD: November 30, 2010
Amazon.com ASIN: B002ZG99KO

A pinch of movie magic makes this fantasy action movie a summer movie popcorn pleasure for kids and their families. The story goes back to an 18th century poem by Goethe that inspired a symphony by Paul Dukas a century later. But is best remembered as an animated chapter from Disney’s “Fantasia,” with Mickey Mouse in his most famous role, enchanting a broom to carry buckets of water and watching in dismay as things get very, very out of hand.

It is tempting to make the comparison to the hubristic overkill of stunts and special effects that is producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s trademark. But as Mae West once (or many times) said, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful,” and if this movie doesn’t quite make it to wonderful, it is still a lot of fun, in part because even the most over-the-top effects can’t compete with the most special effects of all — a story that never loses its sense of fun and performances that keep it all grounded.

The very engaging Jay Baruchel plays Dave, an NYU physics nerd still traumatized by a childhood experience when he got separated from the group on a school field trip and had a scary encounter in a curio shop that seemed like it was magic. Humiliated in front of his class, he switched schools and never found out what Becky, the girl he liked, replied to his note asking whether she wanted to be his friend or his girlfriend.

Ten years later, he sees Becky (Teresa Palmer) again. Just as a more conventional kind of magic seems possible with her, he has a second encounter with sorcerer Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) and his nemesis, Horvath (Alfred Molina). Back in 740 AD, Merlin had three apprentices. Balthazar and Horvath both fell in love with Veronica (Monica Bellucci). When she chose Balthazar, Horvath swore his allegiance to evil Morgana (Alice Krige) and they tried to raise an army and destroy pretty much everything. For centuries, Balthazar has kept Veronica, Horvath, Morgana, and a couple of wizards who tried to free them sealed inside some Matryoshka nesting dolls as he sought The One who could defeat them for good.

That of course would be Dave.

And of course this is all just an excuse for some cool fight scenes. A Chinatown paper dragon turns real and a gargoyle flies. And there is a charming shout-out to Mickey and the buckets as Dave tries to clean up his underground research space before Becky arrives. It gets out of hand. Some things never change.

There are some nice humorous touches including sly jokes about “Star Wars” and Depeche Mode and pointy old man shoes. Cage is very good at meaningful thrusting of his arms as though he is conducting a universal orchestra and Baruchel is good at looking abashed but game. I liked the way they put science and magic on a complementary continuum. And the relationship between Dave and Becky is sweet.

The movie is more science than magic, more formula than inspiration. But there is something to be said for the formula: top talent in production design, stunts, and effects, capable pacing, and characters to root for. It’s harder than you’d think to stay out of the way of the audience’s fun; this movie makes it easy to sit back and enjoy.

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Fantasy

Knight and Day

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for action violence scenes throughout and brief strong language
Profanity: A few bad words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, characters are drugged
Violence/ Scariness: Constant action violence, characters in peril, chases, explosions, shooting
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 23, 2010
Date Released to DVD: November 30, 2010
Amazon.com ASIN: B002ZG9864

As refreshing as a cool drink of lemonade on a hot day, “Knight and Day” has just what we want from a big summer Hollywood summer movie: glamorous locations, even more glamorous movie stars, lots of crazy stunts and chases, a couple of romantic smooches, and of course some really big explosions.

It helps to have Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, two stars with smiles that can fill a 40 foot screen. Wisely, screenwriter Patrick O’Neill and director James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) create the whole movie around what these two performers do best, which is have fun on screen and make it fun for us, too. Their effortless charm gives off enough sizzle to keep things going between stunts.

Cruise plays Roy Miller. We see right away that he’s really good at hand-to-hand combat and running and jumping and shooting. And apparently he is also very good at lying, which is why we do not know whether to believe him when he says he is the good guy. Neither does the person he says it to, a vintage car restoration expert named June (Cameron Diaz). They first run into each other, literally, at the airport. She is on her way to her sister’s wedding. Coincidentally, they bump into each other twice, once before going through TSA security, once on the other side. Don’t think it’s a coincidence? You just might be right!

Cruise and Diaz seem a bit relieved to have a chance to be silly in a summer popcorn movie, after less-than-successful efforts at serious drama (“Valkyrie” and “My Sister’s Keeper”). Both are adept at hitting the sweet spot that keeps the tone light, even in the midst of mowing down bad guys. There’s a lot that doesn’t work in this movie, including repeated scenes of characters being drugged (though Diaz makes a truth serum scene amusing with her matter-of-fact delivery), a distracting amount of jet-setting all over the globe, and literal overkill of legions of bad guys. That title, really? And surely they could do better for the talented Paul Dano (“There Will be Blood” and “Little Miss Sunshine”) than yet another nerdy genius with a universally coveted invention. But there is a lot that works. Diaz and Cruise have a natural chemistry and easy equality that is just plain entertaining. They bring enough conviction to the story to keep us believing and rooting for them without taking it so seriously that we start second-guessing the storyline. Supporting players include the always-welcome Viola Davis, Peter Sarsgaard, Celia Weston, and Marc Blucas. The stunts are expertly staged with Cruise and Diaz clearly right in the middle of it all, not checking their email back in the trailer while stuntmen do anything more strenuous than opening a door, and I have to say, they are summer movie crazynutsfun. It’s not as easy as it looks to combine action, comedy, and romance (I’m talking to you, Killers). But Diaz and Cruise show us how both characters want more of what the other has, without making too big a deal out of it. And they make it seem not just normal that you’d interrupt a deadly chase to capture a hugely valuable little doo-hicky to attend a wedding, but rather sweet.

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Action/Adventure Comedy Date movie Romance

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense scenes of action and violence and some scenes of sensuality
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and sometimes graphic scenes of vampire and wolf pack violence, characters injured and killed, off-screen rape, character sacrifices herself to save her husband
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 30, 2010
Date Released to DVD: November 30, 2010
Amazon.com ASIN: B0042MEQVG

Things — and people — heat up in this third chapter in the “Twilight” saga. Bella (Kristen Stewart) begins by quoting Robert Frost’s famous poem about whether the world will end in fire or ice. That will be more than a metaphor as she must decide between Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner), both more than human, and both utterly devoted to her. Both, too, have sworn to keep her safe, and at times during this chapter that forces them into a grudging and very uneasy alliance.

Bella met Edward, a vampire, and they realized they loved each other in “Twilight.” And then in “New Moon” being separated and almost losing each other showed them that they could not be apart. But it also gave Bella a chance to grow close to Jacob, a shape-shifter who is part of a wolf pack. In this chapter, Bella and Edward are back together and she wants to become a vampire so they can stay together forever, even though it would mean giving up everyone else she has ever cared about. But Jacob insists that he loves her and is better for her. “You wouldn’t have to change for me,” he tells her.

And at graduation, Bella’s friend Jessica (“Up in the Air’s” Anna Kendrick) addresses the class, telling them that this is not the time to make irrevocable decisions.

Edward does not want her to change. He misses his human life and knows what it would mean to give it up. And his sister Rosalie tells Bella she feels the loss of her dream of living in a normal world. Bella worries that she might lose what it is that Edward loves about her if she becomes a vampire. But if she does not, she will lose him as she grows old while he stays forever young.

Edward and his family are benign vampires, living among humans and confining themselves to a sort of vampire vegetarianism, with animals as their only source of blood. But two groups of evil, destructive vampires are after them, Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, taking over from Rachelle Lefevre), bent on revenge because Edward killed her lover when he attacked Bella, and the Volturi, a ruling body that destroys any members of the vampire community they believe put them at risk of exposure.

Director David Slade ably takes over from Chris Weitz and Catherine Hardwicke, staying consistent with their vision but demonstrating his own take on the key elements of the story, adolescent longing and primal physical confrontations. Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, continues her skillful adaptation of the books, respectful of the source material but translating it for cinematic story-telling. They maintain a connection that makes the the Northwest settings and the intensity of the fantasy battles feel like a physical manifestation of the between the teenage angst and desire.

Stewart and Pattinson still have the chemistry that launched dozens of magazine covers and Lautner really comes into his own in this chapter, showing more confidence and maturity as his character grows up. Like the book, this chapter has more action, more romance, and more drama, and sets us up very nicely for the grand finale.

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Fantasy Romance

Tribute: Irvin Kershner, Director of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’

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Irvin Kershner, director of what is generally considered to be the best “Star War” movie, “The Empire Strikes Back,” died last week at age 87. George Lucas issued this statement of appreciation:

“The world has lost a great director and one of the most genuine people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing,” says Lucas. “Irvin Kershner was a true gentleman in every sense of the word. When I think of Kersh, I think of his warmth, his thoughtfulness and his talent. I knew him from USC — I attended his lectures and he was actually on the festival panel that gave the prize to my THX short. I considered him a mentor. Following Star Wars, I knew one thing for sure: I didn’t want to direct the second movie myself. I needed someone I could trust, someone I really admired and whose work had maturity and humor. That was Kersh all over. I didn’t want Empire to turn into just another sequel, another episode in a series of space adventures. I was trying to build something, and I knew Kersh was the guy to help me do it. He brought so much to the table. I am truly grateful to him. He was a friend as well as a colleague. He will be missed.”

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Directors Tribute

2011 Oscar Hosts Revealed!

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Hosting the Oscars is one of the highest-pressure jobs in show business. It is also one of the most thankless. Hosting the show requires months of preparation and the ability to ad lib on the spot. We expect Oscar hosts to be funny without insulting anyone too much. And we tend to blame them when the show is overlong and dull, as it inevitably is.
The hosts are usually people who performed as stand-up comedians, and the most popular have included Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, and Billy Crystal. The announcement today that instead of a comedian this year’s hosts will instead be two young actors, James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Both are possible candidates for awards themselves — Franco’s role in “127 Hours” is likely to get a Best Actor nomination and Hathaway might get a Best Actress nomination for her role in “Love and Other Drugs.”
Both have proved themselves hosting “Saturday Night Live,” showing poise and comic timing. Most important, they have both shown that they can project an instant likability at the same time as real star power. I think it will be a great show.

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