Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Double Reviews: “THE LAST AIRBENDER” and “THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE”




Below are reviews of two movies I have recently seen – ”THE LAST AIRBENDER”, which stars Noah Ringer and Dev Patel; and ”THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE” that stars Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel and Alfred Molina:


Double Reviews: “THE LAST AIRBENDER” and “THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE”





”THE LAST AIRBENDER”

Director M. Night Shyamalan decided to explore the world of fantasy-adventure by filming an adaptation of an animated television series called ”AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER”. This movie is a fantasy-adventure tale set in a fictional, Asian-influenced world with Chinese martial arts and elemental manipulation. ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” tells the story of a young monk and the only surviving airbender (one with the psi ability to manipulate air) named Aang, who is believed by others to be the future Avatar – one who can manipulate all four elements of air, water, fire and earth. With his two new friends from the Southern Water Tribe, Aang seeks to learn to manipulate three other elements – water, earth and fire. In this movie, he journeys with his friends Katara (a waterbender) and her brother Sokka to the Northern Water Tribe, where he can learn how to master the waterbending skill from a master. Tracking Aang, Katara and Sokka is Prince Zuko, the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation; who has been exiled by his evil father, Fire Lord Ozai and sent to capture the future Avatar. With the Avatar’s capture, Zuko’s honor and right to the throne will be restored.

I would have never bothered to see this movie. But an office colleague of mine had really enjoyed the movie and recommended that I go see it. Needless to say, I do not regret following her advice. Mind you, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” was not perfect. The movie’s first five to ten minutes failed to kickstart my interest. It bored me so much that I found myself on the verge of falling asleep. Most of the cast members gave performances that ranged from mediocrity to sheer boredom. And a good deal of the movie’s dialogue seemed extremely cheesy to me – the kind of dialogue one would find in the ”STAR WARS” and the ”LORD OF THE RINGS” franchises.

However, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” definitely had its virtues. I was impressed by the performances of the two leads, Noah Ringer and Dev Patel, who portrayed Aang and Zuko respectively. These two literally kept this movie together. It also helped that both had genuine martial arts experience. I was also impressed by Shaun Toub, who portrayed Zuko’s wise uncle, Iroh; Aasif Mandvi, who played the Fire Nation’s cold-blooded military commander, Zhao; and Cliff Curtis, who portrayed the ruthless leader of the Fire Nation, Fire Lord Ozai. Andrew Lesnie’s photography, Philip Messina’s production designs and the art directions supervised by Richard L. Johnson were very impressive, if not mind blowing. However, I did find Judianna Makovsky’s costume designs to be very beautiful and memorable.

From what I understand, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” is not exactly a hit. It has failed to fully earn back the money spent on its production. Well . . . what can I say? Regardless of whether it was a hit or not, I found it an entertaining movie to watch and look forward to viewing it again on DVD.






”THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE”

Apparently, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” is not the only recent summer release struggling at the box office. Disney’s new live-action adaptation of its 1940 animated classic, ”THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE” is also struggling. Directed by Jon Turteltaub and starring Nicholas Cage, Jay Baruchel and Alfred Molina; the movie is a fantasy-adventure about a long-living sorcerer named Balthazar Blake who is fighting against the forces of evil and his arch-nemesis Maxim Horvath in modern-day Manhattan; while searching for the person who will inherit Merlin's powers. This person turns out to be Dave Stutler, a physics student at New York University, whom Balthazar takes as a reluctant protégé.

Did I have any problems with ”THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE”? Well, I had a few. Although some of the scenes managed to capture Manhattan in the daytime, most of the scenes were filmed at night. Manhattan makes a vibrant and colorful setting and I found it frustrating that I got to see most of it at night, when it was not really necessary. The special effect of the flying gargoyle from the Chrysler Building really did nothing for me. And the movie criminally – in my opinion – underused actors and actresses such as Omar Benson Miller, who portrayed Dave’s roommate; Monica Bellucci, who played Balthazar’s fellow sorceress and secret love, Veronica; and Alice Kriege, who portrayed the evil Morgana le Fey from the King Arthur legend.

As much as I liked ”THE LAST AIRBENDER”, I enjoyed ”THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE” more. There are no cheesy lines. Yet, there is plenty of sharp humor. Thanks to the screenplay written by Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard and Matt Lopez, it is also a solid adventure story about how Dave Stutler who learns to achieve his full potential and a good deal of self-respect. Dave’s mentor, Balthazar, also learns a good deal about patience and overcoming one’s past regrets. With a great deal of humor, the pair not only teaches valuable lessons to each other; but also form a solid pair to take out Balthazar, who hopes to raise the evil Morgana le Fey and stop her from destroying the world.

Despite too many nighttime scenes, I must admit that I found Bojan Bazelli’s photography to be colorful and impressive. I found the special effects supervised by John Fraizer very impressive – especially during the Chinatown sequence and the scene featuring Dave’s use of Tesla coils. And despite the film’s failure to utilize performers such as Omar Benson Miller, Monica Bellucci and Alice Kriege; the ”THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE” could boast a very entertaining cast. Nicholas Cage was perfectly cast as the intense and sometimes impatient sorcerer, Balthazar Blake. And he had excellent chemistry with the deliciously wry and sardonic Jay Baruchel, who portrayed physics student-turned sorcerer, Dave Stutler. Alfred Molina seemed to be more in his element as the sarcastic and villainous sorcerer, Maxim Horvath than he was in ”PRINCE OF PERSIA”. And he managed to produce a surprisingly effective screen chemistry with Tobey Kebbell, who portrayed the young and self-absorbed celebrity magician, Drake Stone. And although I did not find Teresa Palmer’s portrayal of Dave’s lost interest, Becky Barners, particularly memorable; I must admit that she managed to prevent her character from becoming bland.

Looking back at ”THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE”, I cannot help but wonder if producer Jerry Bruckheimer had refrained from allotting a bigger budget to the movie. I think it had the potential to be a major crowd pleaser, but failed to do so with too many night scenes and an unwillingness to utilize the entire cast. But, the movie still had some dazzling special effects, a solid adventure story and a talented cast in Nicholas Cage, Jay Baruchel and Alfred Molina. In the end, ”THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE” proved to be a pretty good movie.

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