MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

MW on DVDs: Antichrist, Liverpool, Moonfleet, Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 … and more

CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK: NEW

Antichrist (Two Discs) (Three and a Half Stars)

Denmark/U.S.A.: Lars von Trier, 2009 (Criterion Collection)

Lars von Trier strikes again. The beginning looks like a poor man’s Citizen Kane which segues into a disease-of-the-month teleplay that becomes a Sam Shepard two-character Gothic pop drama in the deep woods, and then finally goes full-bore horror and metamorphosizes into something almost as creepily violent and nauseatingly graphic as the Saw movies.
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Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg (Cannes “best actress” winner for this) are a couple who lost their infant son, who was playing at an open window while they were preoccupied, making love. He’s a therapist; she’s a sexual historian specializing in bad women. This couple proves here that there are some things you just can’t talk out, especially when there are chains and axes lying around.

Lars von Trier isn’t a likable director, and I think there’s a genuinely sadistic element to his vision, which comes exploding out here. But it is a vision, and he’s a real filmmaker. Be aware that this movie is going to repel and annoy and maybe creep you out. Then watch it, if you can.

Antichrist, by the way, is dedicated to the late Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris, Andrei Roublev), whose lyrical influence is visible in some of the forest scenes. I can‘t imagine Tarkovsky liking Antichrist, but I may be wrong.

Extras: Commentary with von Trier; Video interviews with von Trier, Dafoe and Gainsbourg; Seven video pieces on Antichrist; “Chaos Reigns at the Cannes Film Festival,” a documentary on the film and the furor it caused at Cannes; Booklet with essay by Ian Christie.

Liverpool (Three and a Half Stars)
Argentina: Lisandro Alonso, 2009 (Kino)

Another excellent minimalist, neo-realist quest film from the writer-director of La Libertad and La Loi: here, a taciturn Argentine sailor (played by non-professional Juan Fernandez), journeys form the port city where his ship is docked, to the small Tierra del Fuego logging town where he once abandoned his family and where his old mother now lies dying.

The dialogue is spare, the scenes tend to be one-take tableaux with moving camera, the mood is sad and restrained. Here is a picture of common people done without sentimentality, but with great reservoirs of unspoken feeling. Among modern minimalist art film directors, Alonso is one of the best. His landscapes and people stay in your mind like visions of the real world haunting us like waking dreams. (In Spanish, with English subtitles)

Extras: Booklet with Alonso interview; Stills gallery.

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COPICKS OF THE WEEK: CLASSICS

Moonfleet (Three Stars)

U. S.: Fritz Lang, 1955 (Warner Archive)

Fritz Lang isn’t known for swashbucklers, but this adaptation of the lusty best-selling novel by A. Meade Falkner — in which Stewart Granger plays a dashing, lusty, sword-slashing outlaw on the Dorsetshire coast — is both lush-looking and exciting, though befitting Lang’s roots as king of noir, a lot of it takes place in the dark.

Granger, playing Jeremy Fox, connects up in various ways with the cad’s cad George Sanders, witchy Joan Greenwood, solemn Viveca Lindfors, and various brawny tavern thugs, though his heart seems to belong to child actor Jon Whiteley, who acts if his character just wandered in from a Robert Louis Stevenson novel. (Whiteley himself seems just too early for the Oliver! additions.)

Warning: Though the staff of Cahiers du Cinema liked Moonfleet a lot, ranking it high on their 1960 “best” lists, this movie is not half as good as Metropolis — though you may want to sharpen your Lang chops by sampling it. Made on demand. Link warnerarchive.com or wbshop.com.

One Way Passage (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Tay Garnett, 1932 (Warner Archive)

A neglected gem, beloved by French Cahiers-style cinephiles — in which William Powell, as a fugitive murderer, being transported to San Quentin, and Kay Francis, as a fatally ill socialite, enact one of the best Hollywood shipboard romances ever. This is one classic you may not have seen; the rest of the cast includes Warren Hymer as the hardboiled cop who caught Powell, Frank McHugh as a chortling pickpocket and con man, Roscoe Karns tending the ship bar, and Aline MacMahon as a phony countess.

The only Tay Garnett movie as good as this one is the John Garfield-Lana Turner version of The Postman Always Rings Twice. (Here, he rings twice too.) Made on demand by Warner Archive Collection. Link warnerbrothersarchive.com or wbshop.com.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: BLU-RAY

Knight and Day (3 Disc Blu-ray DVD Combo; Also DVD) (Three Stars)

U.S.; James Mangold, 2010

Knight and Day, doesn’t make much sense, but do we really want it to?

Giving us an eyeful of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz — as Roy Miller and June Havens, a couple pursued (seemingly) all around the world by rogue C.I.A. agents and murderous international gun-runners, all after a mysterious new energy source called The Maguffin (excuse me, The Zephyr) — this is a big, splashy top-star romantic comedy that tosses logic to the winds. It‘s a nightmare fantasy love-on-the-run chase thriller and it tries to revive some of the glamour, fun, and crazy paranoia of a classic suspense romp like North by Northwest or Charade, while pulling them into a CGI era spin.

Sometimes, it succeeds.

Actually, Knight and Day is a movie so charmingly senseless, so knowingly and unrepentantly way over the top, and so cannily exploitive of the killer grins and happily narcissistic sex appeal of both Cruise and Diaz, that it entertains you almost in spite of yourself. I kept waiting to get tired of it, but the movie was always a skip or two ahead of me. It kept me smiling, even though it doesn’t really have an original bone in its body (any more than Cruise or Diaz have a tooth out of place in their smiles).

Did we just see Roy and June meet cute in the Wichita airport, banging heads over June‘s over packed luggage? Soon they’re on a strangely under-populated plane to Boston, flirting like mad, and when June takes a bathroom break to hyperventilate over Roy’s sheer cuteness, the entire population of the plane disappears — before the plane crashes in a cornfield (North by Northwest) and Roy slips June a mickey, the first of many. (To get her through the bad spots, or so he says, Roy keeps drugging his ladylove unconscious — a treatment the movie‘s detractors may wish for themselves.)

Has June just tumbled into the hands of Roy’s antagonist, the maybe sinister FBI agent Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard), about whom she‘s been warned by Roy? Soon, they’re all in a mad Boston freeway chase, with Roy bounding from roof to roof like the young Jackie Chan, and June driving the driverless car (“You’ve got skills,“ Roy admiringly marvels after popping through a window to take the wheel), while guns blaze, windows shatter, cars flip, and bad guys splatter like ripe tomatoes.

You can’t walk into a warehouse in this movie, without dozens of CIA ninja-looking commandos dropping though the roof on you. You can barely board a plane without everybody getting killed. You can’t try for a little star-to-star smooching without a fresh troupe of killers and kibitzers running by. And, as for that Maguffin, you get the definite feeling that if we don’t get a new energy source by this movie’s end, Knight and Day may have used up half the world’s existing oil reserves in car chases and explosions (and hair oil for Cruise). “There’s a reason for everything,” Roy tells June as he cuts aboard the Boston plane ahead of her. Sure. Sure.

The movie is senseless, and its also too fast and loud and relentlessly CGI-filled, but it’s fun to watch anyway. Anyway, complaining about the senselessness of a big Hollywood action movie may be a bit like walking into a bordello and complaining that there are no prayer meetings. I‘m just grateful that one of these exploding blockbusters could laugh at itself.

What makes Knight work, is the way Cruise’s Roy and Diaz’s June keep reacting to the chaos around them. He‘s bewildered and nervous at first, starting about the time she sees a planeload of passengers roll off their seats, but he keeps smiling and trying to calm her down, explaining that he‘s a pro, that he’s on top of everything and that everything will be all right. There’s even a loony logic in his response; after all, he is Tom Cruise, and he is going to survive anything that director James Mangold (Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma) and co-writer Patrick O‘Neill throw at him.

Their movie is a bit like Scream, the reflexive horror move that kept commenting on itself. Roy and June don’t talk about North by Northwest; they just live it, magnified. Knight and Day, at its best, is a reflexive action thriller-rom-com that keeps grinning at itself. And, in Cruise and Diaz, it has two of the worlds champion grinners.

Extras: Featurettes.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: CLASSIC & BOX SET

Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 (Four Disc Blu-ray/DVD Special Collection) (Four Stars)

United States: Various Directors, 1940, 2000 (Walt Disney)

Ah, Fantasia!

I first saw Walt Disney’s spectacularly ambitious 1940 attempt to fuse animation and classical music — or at least the segment with a Bacchanalian mythological revels set to Beethoven‘s “Pastoral Symphony“ — on a small black and white T.V. showing the old ‘50s show Disneyland. It was a weekday school night. I was only twelve or so. I knew classical music a little, because my mother played Beethoven almost every night on our old upright piano. But I’d heard precious little orchestral music yet, and that animated rhapsody on Disneyland (one of my favorite shows) knocked me out, enraptured me.

I’ve seen the movie many times since, in theaters or on television or video players, I just saw it again on this newly released DVD package, in a new digital restoration. It always enthralls and delights me. I never feel the kitsch overwhelming the classics or vice versa. The great orchestral musical pieces chosen by Disney, his people, and by the film’s conductor, Leopold Stokowski — major works by Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Schubert, Mussorgsky and Ponchielli — sound superb to me still, even after hearing many other versions by many other musicians.

And the Disney-drawn images, creatures and phantasms that dance to them — from twisting protozoa, to thrashing tyrannosauruses, to tutu-skirted hippos and lecherous crocodiles, to waltzing centaurs and sky-sweeping Pegasuses (Pegasi?), and to little Mickey Mouse himself, desperately trying to stave off a horde of over-enthusiastic water-carrying magical brooms who are sloshing and drowning his boss‘ sorcerer’s den — move and amuse me as much as ever. You’ve just never heard Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” ‘til you see it danced by a Disney ostrich and a line of leaping elephants.

What a wonderful idea: For the Disney Studio at the peak of its early cartoon power and glory, to set pieces of great classical music, by the greatest composers, played by one of the era‘s finest conductors and orchestras (Leopold Stokowski and his Philadelphians) — to cartoon sequences, in state-of-the-art animation, which was then, indisputably at the Disney Studio.

Disney and Stokowski concoct and execute us a fabulous program, with critic-host Deems Taylor’s urbane introduction leading into an abstract visual poem, set to Bach’s overwhelming “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” (Stokowski‘s transcription of course). Then there‘s a dance of twirling flora set to Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” a ballet of the non-creationist creation of the earth, up through the dinosaur age, set to Stravinsky‘s “Rite of Spring”; a wondrous little fairytale, starring Mickey Mouse (with voice by Walt), set to Dukas’ ’The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (directed, to his eternal glory, by James Algar); that Beethoven orgy of Greek gods and mytho-beasts set to Ludwig van‘s “Pastoral Symphony”; the multi-species ballet and seduction romp of Ponchielli‘s “Hours,” and finally the double finale of profane and sacred, of the devils erupting in the Walpurgisnacht of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” and worshippers carrying candles against the backdrop of Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”

In the midst of it all, in one of my favorite moments of the movie, after the very best section (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), Mickey bounds up to the podium, in a tux, cq to pull at Stokowski’s tails and squeak excitedly (in the voice supplied by Walt) “Congratulations, Mr. Stokowski!” after which Stokowski generously replies (one colleague to another) “And congratulations to you too, Mickey.”

I still love it. How could you not? But I think I know why Fantasia wasn’t popular with the same Depression audiences that worshipped Disney‘s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The movie, which may be a little too sophisticated even for today’s Tea Party Crowd, also may have had too much profane or secular stuff (including a sequence based on evolution, and others showing romps with pagan gods, sorcerers, bare-breasted centaurettes, devils and Satanic revels, plus inter-species seductions) and not enough sacred (only “Ave Maria” at dawn to wipe all the debbils away).

Disney became a famous Hollywood conservative, but I wouldn‘t be surprised even today to see a Fox=man like Glenn Beck haul out his blackboard, and start waving his chalk and proclaiming “Fantasia” a Communist, paganist, anti-creationist plot, with all the fervor with which Beck “exposed” the Marxist agenda of that hilarious ecological funny-penguin cartoon Happy Feet. How would Depression audiences have taken it all? (With a sense of humor, I hope.)

On the other side of the fence, if you’re a bit of a snob, you may have heard or read composer Igor Stravinsky’s sour dismissal of Stokowski’s performance of Stravinsky’s great ballet score “Le Sacre du Printemps” (a Franco-Russian plot?) as “execrable,” as well as Stravinsky’s squelch of Disney‘s “dinosaur” ballet as “an unoffending imbecility“ — and you may have decided that the smart people should be against Fantasia.

But it didn’t sound execrable or look imbecilic to the 12 year old me back then. Nor does it look that way to the much older me today. Besides, Stravinsky was angry that he wasn’t being properly, financially compensated by Disney, and he could be a bit of a prick himself.
Anyway, Stokowski could conduct. The music soars. The colors and creatures blaze. Dreams leap up around us and whirl like ballerinas gone mad. I hope they always will, for all the twelve year olds in small towns who have yet to experience “Fantasia,“ and will be spellbound when they do.
It is the seemingly unlikely teaming of the classical (Stokowski and the great composers) and the popular (Walt Disney and his great mouse, Mickey) that accounts for “Fantasia’s” power to entertain and lift us up. And though we’ll probably never see “Fantasia” in a major theatrical release again, here it is, in DVD and Blu-ray, in High Definition picture and sound, packaged with “Fantasia 2000” — a labor of love from Walt’s nephew, Roy E. Disney, the man truly behind the resurgence of Disney animation in the 80s and ’90s. The four-disc combo pack also has another of Roy’s obsessions, the 2003 completion of the short cartoon “Destino,“ the fabled joint collaboration between Disney and surrealist painter Salvador Dali.

Whatever the reasons, “Fantasia” didn’t really attract 1940 audiences, and it’s too bad. Disney wanted it to be a continuous ongoing project, like the Silly Symphonies were, with new segments added, new “Fantasias” born, a classical circle of life, eternally renewing, the rites of spring. That would have been wonderful. (Think what Disney could have done, in the ’50s and ’60s, with Leonard Bernstein.) But the audiences deserted him somewhat for both his 1940 masterpieces, “Fantasia“ and “Pinocchio,” and Disney had to scale back his ambitions. His next movie was 1941’s more modest “Dumbo” (which I love too, by the way).

Mickey and Maestro Stokowski never met and shook hands again, except, of course, whenever “The Sorcerer‘s Apprentice” plays.

As they do in Fantasia 2000. Roy Disney, the man who hired all the people (or hired the people who hired the people) who, along with Roy, brought about the Disney Studio‘s ‘80s renaissance — and who took over animation, and committed himself to the animation projects that bore such spectacular fruit, for Disney and everyone else — is someone who deserves much, much more credit than he usually gets, for everything from The Little Mermaid on. Roy‘s the one who wanted most to revive his Uncle Walt‘s dream. And did.

Roy‘s grand project Fantasia 2000 is a true continuation, even to reprising “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.“ It has a lot of all-star hosts (from Steve Martin, Quincy Jones and Better Midler, to Izhtak Perlman), and good, lively, painstaking versions, performed by James Levine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, of Beethoven’s Fifth (another abstract spree) Respighi‘s “Pines of Rome (whales dancing near the Pole), and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” ( an Al Hirschfeldian ensemble of Manhattan dreamers).

Then: Hans Christian Andersen’s macabre and poignant romance “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” done surprisingly fittingly to Shostakovich‘s Piano Concerto No. 2.“ (But shucks to that

SPOILER ALERT non-Andersen happy ending.

END OF SPOILER

Some pink flamingo funk to Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals.“ A two-by-two Noah‘s Ark procession led by Donald and Daisy Duck (with a Mickey and Minnie cameo) to Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.“ And (no hard feelings, Igor), a finale of Stravinsky, an ecological forest fantasia to “The (1919) Firebird Suite.”

Fantasia 2000 is not on the artistic, or cartoonistic, level of Fantasia. But it didn’t have to be. It was good enough, and it’s sad that Roy or the family studio never made any more, before his death last year. Roy though did finish one of Walt’s most provocative projects, “Destino” — Disney’s collaboration with Salvador Dali, for which the master Spanish surrealist Dali left a story, five paintings and over 70 drawings — and which Roy and French director Dominique Monfery finished. “Destino“ itself, and a documentary about it, are included in this set.

Fantasia 2000 was good enough for what it was meant to be, and now that Roy has died, maybe someone else should take up his labors of love.

As for the first Fantasia, I agree with my 12-year-old self: a canny critic with a wise teacher, who hadn’t yet had any of the capacity for joy kicked out of him by the sometimes snob-encrusted academy and the often greed-crazed, classist corporate world. Like him, I love “Fantasia” and, in the truest test of a classic, I can see it again and again. For me, “Fantasia” is the “Citizen Kane” of Golden Age animation.

Congratulations Walt. Congratulations, Roy. Congratulations, 1940 Disney Studio cartoon workers, one and all. Congratulations, Mr. Stokowski. And congratulations to you too, Mickey.

Contains: Fantasia (U.S.: Ben Sharpsteen, supervising producer, 1940) Four Stars. Sequence directors: James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Ford Beebe, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield. Story directors Joe Grant, Dick Huemer. Narrator/host: Deems Taylor. With Leopold and Mickey.

Fantasia 2000 U.S.: Various directors, 1999) Three and a Half Stars. Sequence directors: Don Hahn (live action), James Algar, Gaetan and Paul Brizzi, Hendel Butoy, Francis Glebas, Eric Goldberg, Pixote Hunt. Hosts: Steve Martin, Deems Taylor, James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Bette Midler, Quincy Jones, Penn & Teller, and Izhtak Perlman.

Extras: The Oscar-nominated short “Destino” (U. S.-France: Monfery/Hench/Dali, 2003) (Three and a Half Stars); Commentaries; Documentary “The Schultheis Notebook,” on “Fantasia’s special effects; Featurettes on “Destino” and the unfinished “Fantasia” follow-up “Musicana”; Interactive features.

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OTHER CURRENT AND RECENT DVDS

Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Two Disc Blu-ray DVD combo) (Two Stars)

U.S.; David Slade, 2010 (Summit Entertainment)

Midway through Twilight Saga: Eclipse — a mediocre movie based on another Stephenie Meyer novel, that raked in oodles of cash, — Taylor Lautner suddenly showed up, grinning and preening, seemingly deep into his role of Jacob Black the spurned but persistent Native American werewolf. Jacob was still competing for the affections of Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan, that somewhat sullen blue-jeaned virgin from small town Washington state, a girl who was still dippy for Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen, the dreamy-eyed perfect-gentleman teen vampire, but who also still had some serious hots for Wolfman Jacob too.

As Bella wavered between the two smitten hunks, a mass squeal of delight, accompanied by yelping kittenish moans, and a fusillade of “Aaaahs” and “Ooooohs” of near-orgasmic proportions, suddenly rose up in the theater with the inevitability of an oil spill crashing on the Gulf Coast shores.

What a guy! What a pair of guys! Thanks to Jacob’s apparent inability to keep on his shirt and Edward’s seeming inability to take off his pants, the Twilight Saga target audience seemed about to achieve double delirium, at least at the screening I saw. These moaners, probably pretty typical, seemed deep in the throes of a bizarrely mesmerizing Teen fantasy that involved no sex, lots of smooching in empty mountain landscapes, swooning embraces, seductive fangs, marriage vows and mother‘s wedding rings, a puzzling no-show inattendance at school and the relative rarity of parents, teachers and shirts, plus occasional or climactic rumbles between gangs of competing good and bad vampires, with the good vamps (Edward’s gang) aided by huge, galloping but strangely weightless-looking werewolves, the size of horses (Jacob’s pack).

This is a dream whose inarguable appeal to sometimes moaning mass audiences just mystifies the hell out of me. When I was a teenager, the boys may have had fantasies of love and sex, and the girls fantasies of love and marriage, but those sometimes wet dreams lacked the weird intensity, or should I say the bite, of these new twilight heart-in-your-throat dreams.

Melissa Rosenberg once again wrote the script (from Meyer’s novel) and the new director, succeeding Catherine Hardwicke (the first movie) and Chris Weitz (the second), is David Slade, who did his vampire prep on 30 Days of Night, won fans with Hard Candy, and delivers the kind of movie you’d expect from an ex-rock video helmsman: slick and full of fancy tableaux and big star close-ups.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Two Stars)

U. S.; Jon Turteltaub, 2010 (Walt Disney)

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a movie for people easily impressed with CGI magic trickery, Harry Potter knockoffs and nerds-get-the-babe romantic fantasy comedies — as well as all those moviegoers who think Jay Baruchel may be the next Shia LaBeouf, and not just the next Eddie Deezen, and anyone who would cheerfully watch Nicolas Cage in anything, even if it’s called “Blinky Blinkoff, the Disco-Dancing Chipmunk.”

In other words, it’s for people who don’t care how they throw away their money. Co-starring Cage and Alfred Molina as dueling sorcerers, Baruchel as a doofus sorcerer, and Bellucci and Krige as sorceresses in sexy outfits, both trapped inside a Russian nesting doll, this is a movie that never really answers the questions: Why was this picture made? Were the kazillions of dollars it consumed well spent? Will life go on happily and productively even if we never even think about going to see, or buying a DVD of The Sorcerer‘s Apprentice? (Or to “Blinky Blinkoff?”)

It’s not for want of effort. Or kazillions of dollars. The Sorcerer‘s Apprentice has been produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Jon Turteltaub, the duo behind the National Treasure movies, neither of which, I‘m sorry to say, was a national treasure. And it was written by six screenwriters who should consider taking temporary vows of literary celibacy, or maybe spending the next thousand years, or at least the next three sequels, trapped inside a Russian nesting doll.

The Sorcerer‘s Apprentice was very dimly inspired by that wonderful Mickey Mouse-does-Paul Dukas cartoon segment with the magical, rebellious brooms and mops, from Fantasia. (See above.) To reprise this Apprentice’s yowza-wowza of a new plot: Many centuries ago, when kings, queens, wizards and dragons walked and slithered over the earth, when the once and future King Arthur romped with Merlin in the forest, and when nobody had yet heard of that little upstart Harry Potter, the actual Merlin the Magician (James A. Stephens) inserted and trapped in that nesting doll two souls: both the scrumptious sorceress Veronica (Monica Bellucci) and the evil Morgana Le Fay (Alice Krige) — a bad babe who intends to destroy the world if unleashed, thereby preventing any more National Treasure sequels.

Trying to free them is Veronica’s spurned suitor and Morgana’s dangerous hench-sorcerer Maxim Horvath, aka Magic Max (played by Alfred Molina), who has been locked in an urn for 1,300 years, thereby seriously derailing Alfred Molina‘s movie career (except for voice-overs). And Merlin has entrusted doll and urn to his last great disciple: the dour, sarcastic, stringy-haired, whimsically dressed but highly sorcery-skilled Balthazar Blake (Cage). Balthazar, apparently the last good sorcerer for 13 centuries, has a huge Medieval to Victorian era rummage shop in New York City, and he has been taking care of business, guarding that urn and doll well, since the time of Camelot. But now, Baltho badly bungles the job by asking New York City‘s biggest 10-year old dweeb, Dave Stutler (Jake Cherry) to hang around while he goes out — after which rather simple chore, young Dave promptly breaks the urn, releases Maxim, and generally screws up everything for maybe the next thousand years.

Why did Balthazar do something so preposterously stupid? Because one glance at Dave told Baltho that this unpromising looking lad, who had been racing around witlessly, trying to retrieve a wind-tossed love letter, is the long-awaited Prime Merlinian, a kind of Dalai Lama of sorcery. Contrite at his gaffe, Dave promptly has a nervous breakdown and comes back ten years later as a longer, lankier, dweebier Dave (Baruchel), an NYU physics major (specializing in Nikola Tesla), a shambling doofus with a hangdog expression and a monotone delivery. Unaccountably, Dave still has Balthazar’s trust and favor, and he’s still considered the Prime Merlinian and A-1 Sorcerer material.

So Dave hooks up with Balthy and soon the two chummy Sorcery Guys are palling it up all around New York casting spells, bantering away, riding in luxury cars and having little tiffs with Maxim — who has had a magazine named after him (sorry, just kidding), finally won that great part in “Prick Up Your Ears” (sorry, just kidding) and has hooked up with his own youthful companion and foxy blonde, magician Drake Stone (Toby Kennell). I tell you, when these four get together, there‘s no end of fun! (Sorry, just kidding.)

Cars chase! Subway mirrors break! The Eagle on the Chrysler Building flies! Parisian streets fold over on themselves like Escher lithographs! (No, that’s some other movie.) Buildings crumble! Dragons come alive in Chinatown parades! Nic Cage waves a pickle! Urns shatter! Sorcerers sorcerize! (As George W. Bush might say.) Mops and brooms do their crazy stuff! And love interest Becky smiles and spins those tunes! Hot! Cool! All of this leads to a big, exploding, super-awesome climax, which looks like it cost at least half a flubbilion of those multi-kazillion dollars the moviemakers spent, and does a peachy-keen job of setting up the sequel.

I know you’re all panting with excitement at the thought of seeing this movie, and its sequel, and all the National Treasure sequels, and the sequels to the rip-offs of the sequels, and maybe even “Blinky Blinkoff,” and all its knockoffs. Never fear. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was booked into so many theaters that only an idiot could have failed to find it, though probably plenty of idiots finagled their way inside anyway. Now even more movie-lovers and sorcery fans, and even more idiots, will get a chance to see it on DVD, including all those blissfully happy youthful cinephiles for whom Federico Fellini is probably a pizza parlor, and Alfred Hitchcock is maybe a dirty movie with fornicating puppets.

Sorcerer’s Apprentice forever, I say! Meanwhile, I hope Nicolas Cage, who is no doubt cackling and nickling all the way to the bank, doesn’t put off his next Werner Herzog or David Lynch project to sign up for five more Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequels, and maybe a special promotional “National Treasure“ Ponzi scheme.

Sorry, just kidding. But one can only hope that all these nice people will find another franchise after this one — to protect themselves when, as all good things inevitably do, this new series inevitably dies, or gets ripped off, or gets locked in an urn for 1,300 years.

Of course, in a pinch, there’s always “Blinky Blinkoff.”

Extras: Documentary; Deleted scenes (on DVD); Featurettes (on Blu-ray).

Going the Distance (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Nanette Bernstein, 2010 (New Line)

Rom-com anyone? This thinking person’s romantic comedy about a long-distance relationship between Seattle reporter Erin (Drew Barrymore) and Manhattan music industry guy Garrett (Justin Long), has a snappier more verbal script (by Geoff La Tulippe) than usual. It’s certainly not drivel like those would-be comedies The Switch and The Back Up Plan. And thank God there‘s not a sperm donor in sight. (There are two screwing-on-the-dining-room table gags and I’m sorry, I don’t get them. The dining room table? Couldn’t these hot-pants lovers wait at least until they staggered to a couch?) But it continues my disaffection from most modern rom-coms: an awful abbreviation for a once great but now sadly damaged genre.

The biggest problem here: Barrymore’s Erin and Long‘s Garrett, partly due to the smart-alecky script, never strike you as being wildly enough in love to sustain any kind of long distance relationship for any length of time or space, even between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Erin seems like she kinda sorta likes the guy, he’s cute okay, as long as she didn’t have a better offer, or maybe some roller derby tickets, by Tuesday. And Garrett seemed to be running some kind of con game involving frequent smiling and incessantly widened eyes. Sometimes, there s more affection between Garrett’s two goofy buddies, Charlie Day as toilet-conscious Dan and Jason Sudeikis as “cougar”-hunting stud Box. But maybe that’s the point.

A point in the movie‘s favor: These Going the Distance characters, unlike all too many modern movie rom-com couples, do have topical conversations and they do make topical jokes about politics and culture. And the movie, if nothing else, may start a new craze for dining room tables with retractable foam mattresses in drawers.

Extras: Commentary with Burstein; Featurettes; Additional scenes.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Thor Freudenthal, 2010 (20th Century Fox)

This one is better than it first looks — and it initially looks pretty silly, despite the source.

That source: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a best-selling children‘s book by Jeff Kinney, written in the form of a diary by a supposedly actual wimpy kid, Greg Heffley (Zach Gordon), who’s suffering through the torments of middle school (Grades 6-8).

This wimpy kid is the Job of junior high, a sort of Coen-Brothersish Serious Boy. He’s picked on by classmates and older thugs, dissed by his teachers, shut out of a seat at the cafeteria, abandoned by his friend, pestered by guys even dorkier and wimpier than he, teased by the school paper editor, joshed by his parents, bullied by his gym teacher, out-wrestled by a female nemesis and ignored by the prettier girls. To top it all off, he‘s a bit of a jerk himself: an unreliable friend and a little liar.

What saves all this school-kid angst, done in high-Spielbergian exaggerated style by Thor Freudenthal (who made the visually inventive but mostly awful Hotel for Dogs)? The actors, mostly. Gordon as the “wimpy kid” diarist Greg and Robert Capron as his plump, sweet tempered best friend Rowley Jefferson, are so cute, so easy and adept, and so funny, that they redeem a lot of the movie’s sprightly, but over-cute and over-obvious comedy.

One point. Greg is a writer, a diarist. So, where are all his books? He’s got a room that doesn’t look like any 6-8th grade boy‘s I ever saw — so neat and clean, so orderly, and so full of ceramic bird-bowls, horse-statuettes, and portraits of hens that it suggests Greg will grow up to be an interior decorator, or maybe a production designer.

No DVDs or CDs either. Instead, Greg’s shelves were covered with those ridiculous ceramic birds and bowls. I got depressed just looking at his room. But maybe the designers were deliberately trying to promote neatness and regular house-cleaning. And the ceramics industry. Or does this wimpy kid have a Kindle?

Extras: Commentary by Freudenthal; Featurettes; Trailer.

Vampires Suck (Zero Stars)

U. S.; Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer. 2020 (20th Century Fox)

Vampires may suck. But not as much as this movie.

A legitimate contender for worst movie of the decade, Suck is a parody of Twilight (oxymorons suck?) in which madcap writer-directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (Meet the Spartans, Epic Movie) keep trying to turn bad scenes into worse jokes. (Team Jason! Team Aaron!) I refuse to name any of the actors here, since they seem like defenseless pawns — and act like them too.

A truly miserable experience, my friend, though it suggests the CIA might productively use endless-loop prints of Vampires Suck as a replacement for waterboarding. Half an hour with Ken Jeong or Team Jacob in this show and anybody might confess to anything — including writing and directing Vampires Suck.

Bomber (Three Stars)

U.S./U.K.: Paul Cotter, 2010 (Film Movement)

A not-so-close-knit British family — taciturn World War II RAF bomber pilot Alistar (Shane Taylor), his too-compliant wife Valerie (Eileen Nicholas) and their bad-tempered, self-centered failure of a son Ross (Benjamin Whitrow) — embark on a not-exactly-planned, not-quite-wise road trip to Germany, after the parents have an accident, and Ross, on a tight schedule because of his love life, is pressed into reluctant service as driver. He’s a bad one, and his father has a bad conscience — about the bombing run in which he participated over half a century ago.

Cotter’s fine, extremely canny movie, done with an immaculate comic precision and darkish undertones, is about families and war and guilt: serious subjects which it imbues with a breezy, almost farcical lightness. That doesn’t mean the film doesn’t move us. The little and big disasters of the trip, the bizarre family dynamics, the ever-passing landscape and casual, sometimes odd populace, and the strange, unexpected, almost screw-loose ending, accumulate into a stinging portrait of a family coping with memory and each other, and maybe of a Europe whose scars healed too soon, and whose redemptions arrived too late.

Extras: “Edgar” (Germany: Fabian Busch, 2010) (Three Stars), a short film about pain, loss, old age and scant options; “Bomber” Commentary by Cotter; Behind-the-scenes extra.

Bomber
is a selection of Film Movement’s DVD-of-the-month club, an excellent offering of art and festival films from around the world. Link www.filmmovement.com.

Bee Movie (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Simon J. Smith/Steve Hickner, 2007 (DreamWorks)

Jerry Seinfeld is back, as the writer-producer voice-star Bee of this predictable but sometimes charming concoction about a bee that sues humankind for stealing honey and then has to re-right imbalanced nature. Clever, but not as seamlessly imaginative as the Pixar stuff, which it tries to resemble; the other actors include Renee Zellweger as the human love interest. (She’d be a better honey-bee.)

Extras: Commentary by Seinfeld, alternate endings, deleted scenes, featurettes, music video, trailers, games.

One Response to “MW on DVDs: Antichrist, Liverpool, Moonfleet, Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 … and more”

  1. Keil Shults says:

    Way to work a Tea Party reference into your Fantasia review. Did you merely giggle as you typed it, or did you finally crack open that new bottle of Astroglide and rub one out while Mussorgsky blared in the background?

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Quote Unquotesee all »

“I remember very much the iconography and the images and the statues in church were very emotional for me. Just the power of that, and even still — just seeing prayer card, what that image can evoke. I have a lot of friends that are involved in the esoteric, and I know some girls in New York that are also into the supernatural. I don’t feel that I have that gift. But I am leaning towards mysticism… Maybe men are more practical, maybe they don’t give into that as much… And then also, they don’t convene in the same way that women do. But I don’t know, I am not a man, I don’t want to speak for men. For me, I tend to gravitate towards people who are open to those kinds of things. And the idea for my film, White Echo, I guess stemmed from that — I find that the girls in New York are more credible. What is it about the way that they communicate their ideas with the supernatural that I find more credible? And that is where it began. All the characters are also based on friends of mine. I worked with Refinery29 on that film, and found that they really invest in you which is so rare in this industry.”
Chloë Sevigny

“The word I have fallen in love with lately is ‘Hellenic.’ Greek in its mythology. So while everyone is skewing towards the YouTube generation, here we are making two-and-a-half-hour movies and trying to buck the system. It’s become clear to me that we are never going to be a perfect fit with Hollywood; we will always be the renegade Texans running around trying to stir the pot. Really it’s not provocation for the sake of being provocative, but trying to make something that people fall in love with and has staying power. I think people are going to remember Dragged Across Concrete and these other movies decades from now. I do not believe that they will remember some of the stuff that big Hollywood has put out in the last couple of years. You’ve got to look at the independent space to find the movies that have been really special recently. Even though I don’t share the same world-view as some of my colleagues, I certainly respect the hell out of their movies which are way more fascinating than the stuff coming out of the studio system.”
~ Dallas Sonnier