This week, we’ve got oodles of mystical, magical mayhem on offer in the home video department. The latest in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga hits the market, alongside a very badly reviewed spoof. Then there’s a viking actioner set during the Crusades, and two films from Disney that sort of overlap each other in story, one being a classic animated short and the other being a modern, live-action interpretation of the same. Lastly, we’ve also got a new rom-com starring Justin Long and Drew Barrymore and an action-comedy with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. Most of these hover somewhere in middle-of-the-road territory, but there’s some genre fun to be had, so check out the choices and pick accordingly.
Let’s start off by saying this: if you aren’t a fan of The Twilight Saga, based on the poplar tween fiction by Stephenie Meyer, then kindly skip to the rest of the entries below. This selection is clearly not for you, because if you aren’t a fan, then you either don’t care whatsoever about the films, or you actively hate them. There just isn’t much reason to believe you’ve “never heard of them,” because they have been everywhere for the past few years. This week, we get the home video release of the third and most recent installment of the series, Eclipse, in which Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) finds herself in the middle of the ages-old feud between vampires and werewolves, and she’s got suitors in both camps (Robert Pattinson as vampire Edward Cullen, and Taylor Lautner as werewolf Jacob Black). Who will she choose, and what will the repercussions be? Directed by David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night), Eclipse received the best reviews of the series so far, though it notched just a 51% on the Tomatometer. It’ll be passable entertainment for any who know what they’re getting into, but the fact that you’d have to sit through the first two to get the underlying story sort of precludes any non-Twilighters from giving this a shot.
Disney has already taken a crack at telling the story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the 1797 German poem by Goethe, in its animated extravaganza Fantasia. This year, however, the studio decided to release a live action interpretation of it with help from Jay Baruchel, Nicolas Cage, Alfred Molina, and Monica Bellucci, among others. In this modernized tale, Cage plays Balthazar, a former apprentice to the great wizard Merlin, who is engaged in an ageless struggle against evil sorcerers who seek to free from prison the other apprentices who betrayed and murdered Merlin. At the same time, Balthazar is constantly searching for the one who will become Merlin’s successor, and in the year 2010, he quite fortuitously unites with Dave Stutler (Baruchel), a physics student who turns out to be the chosen one. Backed by producer Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Jon Turteltaub, the team that made the National Treasure movies possible, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is your typical special effects-driven, star-studded Summer popcorn flick, and it never really strives to be any more than that. If you keep that in mind, the 42% Tomatometer may not be such a big deal to you.
Tom Cruise may not have quite the star power he once did, and Cameron Diaz has always been a little hit-or-miss with mainstream audiences, but the two can still sell a few tickets. During a year absolutely filled to the brim with over-the-top action flicks, Cruise and Diaz starred in a spy thriller/comedy about an everywoman named June (Diaz) who gets swept up into some international intrigue by spy-on-the-run Roy Miller (Cruise). Not knowing who to trust, but embracing the mystery, June joins Roy as he attempts to outwit and outrun FBI agents at every turn, and hilarity presumably ensues. Knight and Day didn’t do gangbusters at the box office, but it still brought in a solid $76 million and earned a 53% Tomatometer rating based almost solely on the chemistry between its two stars and the brisk pace of the movie. If you’re not looking for much more than a globetrotting escapist genre flick graced by beautiful people, then you might get a decent rental out of this one.
He’s got his share of detractors, but Justin Long tends to play pretty likable characters, and for her part, Drew Barrymore has been one of Hollywood’s biggest child-actor success stories, emerging from a drug- and alcohol-addled adolescence to become one of America’s sweethearts. So one would think the pairing of the two in a romantic comedy would be a perfect fit. Indeed, critics felt that the duo’s collective charisma onscreen in Going the Distance, about a new couple who attempt to maintain a long distance relationship, was relatively effective, and the subject matter of the film felt timely, but also that the film overall fell a little flat, particularly when the two leads weren’t shining individually in scenes that had them apart. With just a 52% on the Tomatometer, this isn’t one of Long’s or Barrymore’s Fresher efforts, but there is something to be said about a movie that tackles a topic relevant to the current generation of 30-somethings, and the charm of its stars may be enough to carry the story for you.
The art of spoofing vampire movie conventions is hardly a new one; Bela Lugosi played his iconic Dracula role for laughs in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and such noteworthy filmmakers as Roman Polanski, Mel Brooks, and Andy Warhol have tried their hands at lampooning those immortal bloodsuckers with mixed results. It probably goes without saying that Vampires Suck, the latest spoof from critical whipping boys Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, marks a new low in the sub-genre. Sending up the self-serious Twilight movies shouldn’t be too hard, but the critics found nary a laugh in Suck, a parade of lame pop-culture references that nonetheless marks something of an advance for Friedberg and Seltzer – their last three movies each scored two percent on the Tomatometer, whereas Suck notched a relatively robust four. The DVD and blu-ray editions compile a number of outtakes and a gag reel.
Nope, it’s not another Norwegian black metal documentary. Valhalla Rising is a rough, gloomy action flick about One Eye (Casino Royale‘s Mads Mikkelsen), a mute Norse warrior who lays waste to everything in his path, a man whose only relationship is with a young boy who brings him sustenance. He’s recruited by Christians to take part in the Crusades, and embarks on an ill-fated and hellish journey which results in brutish violence. The critics were largely impressed with Valhalla Rising‘s brooding, dreamlike evocation of Medieval times, as well as its deviation from any trace of period clichés. The DVD includes a making-of documentary and commentary from director Nicolas Winding Refn.
Back in 1940, Walt Disney Productions premiered its third feature-length animated film in the form of Fantasia, an omnibus film featuring eight animated shorts set to famous classical music and separated by live-action introductions. One of Disney’s most famous cartoon sequences, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (also reimagined in another of this week’s home video releases) came from this offering, which also included the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky, The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, and Night on Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky. Then, sixty years later in 2000, the studio released a sequel titled (appropriately) Fantasia 2000, which followed the same formula as the first and included animated pieces set to classics like Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with a special reappearance of the original Sorcerer’s Apprentice. This week, both are being released in a four-disc package that includes not only the two films, but also a slew of extras that include a feature-length documentary on the relationship between Disney and Salvador Dali, newly discovered production notes on Fantasia, a look at the Disney Family Museum, an interactive art gallery, and more. Plus, you get both films on Blu-Ray and DVD; definitely worth a pickup for anyone interested in animation or classic Disney.
Written by Ryan Fujitani and Tim Ryan