Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Releases: Salt and The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The offerings at the average cinema have not been particularly exciting so far this summer.  Art houses, maybe, but not wide releases so much.  However, I ventured out to see a few I had a vague interest in seeing, and thankfully wasn't disappointed.  Salt was a good action thriller with a fairly interesting (and ironically timely) twist.  The Sorcerer's Apprentice was entertaining, and as campy as expected.  Some movies are good merely because they exceed expectations (see Get Him to the Greek) and some are good when they are basically exactly what the trailer told you they would be, with some originality thrown in.

Salt stars Angelina Jolie as a CIA agent who is exposed as a Russian sleeper agent.  We saw from the previews all that she does to deny this, going on the run, trying to find her husband, etc.  However, what they don't tell you in the preview and I'm going to ruin now **spoilers** is that she actually IS a Russian sleeper agent, inserted into the US as a child who is brainwashed to grow up to be part of the CIA (as if that's an easily achievable goal) and then when "triggered" go on a rampage with other sleeper agents and destroy the US for the benefit of Mother Russia.  The children are chosen and inserted during the Cold War, and the movie doesn't really explain why they're even triggered in the first place since the Cold War ended.  I think they were trying to pretend the people in charge were actually terrorists, but that part doesn't get clear.  While Salt does a good job of the thriller, escape and capture over and over, all the characters are fairly shallow and there isn't enough back story.  It did remind me of The Hunt for Red October minus the submarines, but that might have just been because the US is once again fighting the Russians, though October had much better characters and depth of story.  Jolie did a good job, once again, as the bad-ass superhero/villian.  Liev Schrieber was also good as her CIA partner who has a lot of secrets of his own.  The only character will an actual arc of good acting is Chiwetel Ejiofor, though for the first half he's basically playing the exact same character as in Serenity, a guy searching for someone and being bad-ass and single minded about it.  So other than shallow characters, the story was interesting, and action was terrific.  Overall a 3.5 of 5 stars/lambs

The Sorcerer's Apprentice was kind of a campy cross between Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Percy Jackson and the Olympians.  There's a kid (Jay Baruchel doing a better version of his shtick from Almost Famous as the Zeppelin fan and not quite as good as his character from Tropic Thunder) who is destined to be a master of the fantastical - in this case The Prime Merlinian (say it out loud and you'll probably get the joke).  He is a sorcerer and the descendant of Merlin, destined to destroy Merlin's nemesis Morgana la Fey who has been trapped in a nesting doll for centuries.  Protecting this doll, former apprentice of Merlin himself and future mentor of the Primer Merlinian, Nic Cage plays Balthazar in all his campy mediocrity.  The movie missed a great opportunity to let Cage run wild with all his a point.   Cage is only mildly funny, and it's usually on purpose, which is too bad.  There's not much to say - like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, he learns just enough to avoid being killed himself, and finds other people to help him out.  I like the National Treasure movies so I was actually looking forward to seeing this, and it was only exactly as advertised.  Alfred Molina does play a pretty impressive bad guy (other of Merlin's other apprentices who turned to Morgana's side) and Toby Kebbell as his new apprentice offers a lot of funny moments making fun of famous "magicians".  Not great, but not terrible either.  3 of 5 stars/lambs


Nick said...

I agree about Sorcerer's Apprentice. It's pretty much exactly as advertised, and they wasted a good opportunity to let Nic Cage up the camp. I think he had a few moments in there (I mention the "I CAN READ MINDS!" moment in my review). But otherwise, it was a pretty entertaining romp in fantasy-land.

Have yet to see Salt.

Jess said...

Nick -I try not to read reviews just before I write my own but I couldn't resist reading yours so I purposely didn't mention that moment so I wouldn't be copying. Great review.

Mike Lippert said...

I liked Salt quite a bit. It proves just how important a good director is to the art of making good action as opposed to these young, ambitious kids who just throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. In terms of aesthetic value, Salt is a winner before you even consider plot, acting, etc.