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The Sorcerer's Apprentice

John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage stars in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."
By the time viewers sit through the two flashbacks—one set in the Middle Ages, the other a mere 10 years ago—that are required to get "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (Disney) rolling, they will likely have a sense that director Jon Turteltaub's generally inoffensive but routine fantasy adventure is on track to do more lumbering than levitating.

And so, alas, it turns out, as the special effects-driven proceedings that follow fall well short of movie magic.

The second of the film's prologues introduces us to seemingly ordinary New York City school kid Dave Stutler (Jake Cherry). When Dave accidentally crosses paths with mysterious merchant Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage)—owner of a store called the Arcana Cabana—our diminutive hero gets caught up on the back story that was explained for us in the opening scene; to wit, Balthazar is, in fact, a wizard and a former pupil of the legendary medieval wonderworker Merlin.

For centuries Balthazar has been searching for the prophesied heir to his old mentor's powers while also keeping Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina)—another of Merlin's proteges who went over to the dark side—safely cooped up in a Russian-style nesting doll. Dave, it need hardly be said, turns out to be the "prime Merlinian" Balthazar has been seeking.

Flash-forward to the present to find that Dave (now played by Jay Baruchel) has grown into a 20-year-old New York University student and physics geek who is convinced that his boyhood encounter with Balthazar was simply a hallucination. His unremarkable daily affairs are interrupted, however, when the newly freed Maxim comes calling, followed in short order by Balthazar.

Once Dave accepts his destiny, most of the remaining screen time is consumed by his efforts, under Balthazar's tutelage, to master the powers he has inherited—bring on the computer-generated "plasma bolts"—a task from which he's constantly distracted by his love for comely fellow NYUer Becky Barnes (Teresa Palmer), whom he started pursuing, as we witnessed early on, during their time together in the fifth grade.

While happily free of vulgar language, the script—credited to three screenwriters (Matt Lopez, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard) working from a story with as many authors (Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal and Lopez)—has the feel of an adventure by committee.

But, besides unbloody battle scenes too intense for tots and a passing invitation from a college friend of Dave's to join him in a drinking spree, the only material that might give pause to some parents is a bit of potty humor, as when we encounter a bulldog with gastric difficulties or follow Dave into a men's room where he expresses audible relief while using a urinal.

Like the rest of the magical rigmarole on display, the ability to raise old comrades from the dead, attributed to Merlin's nemesis, Morgana (Alice Krige), need not be taken seriously, nor need the inclusion of a Franciscan friar in the ranks of these deceased practitioners of the black arts necessarily elevate Catholic hackles.

The latter detail merely permits the camera to survey a group of unburied skeletons such as can be seen in the Capuchin crypt of Rome's Church of the Immaculate Conception, a long-standing—albeit somewhat macabre—tourist attraction.

The film contains extensive stylized violence and brief scatological humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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Francis of Assisi: Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a sense of self-importance. 
<p>Serious illness brought the young Francis to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi's youth. Prayer—lengthy and difficult—led him to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: "Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy." </p><p>From the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, "Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down." Francis became the totally poor and humble workman. </p><p>He must have suspected a deeper meaning to "build up my house." But he would have been content to be for the rest of his life the poor "nothing" man actually putting brick on brick in abandoned chapels. He gave up all his possessions, piling even his clothes before his earthly father (who was demanding restitution for Francis' "gifts" to the poor) so that he would be totally free to say, "Our Father in heaven." He was, for a time, considered to be a religious fanatic, begging from door to door when he could not get money for his work, evokng sadness or disgust to the hearts of his former friends, ridicule from the unthinking. </p><p>But genuineness will tell. A few people began to realize that this man was actually trying to be Christian. He really believed what Jesus said: "Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff" (Luke 9:1-3). </p><p>Francis' first rule for his followers was a collection of texts from the Gospels. He had no idea of founding an order, but once it began he protected it and accepted all the legal structures needed to support it. His devotion and loyalty to the Church were absolute and highly exemplary at a time when various movements of reform tended to break the Church's unity. </p><p>He was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He decided in favor of the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. He wanted to be a missionary in Syria or in Africa, but was prevented by shipwreck and illness in both cases. He did try to convert the sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. </p><p>During the last years of his relatively short life (he died at 44), he was half blind and seriously ill. Two years before his death, he received the stigmata, the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. </p><p>On his deathbed, he said over and over again the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, "Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death." He sang Psalm 141, and at the end asked his superior to have his clothes removed when the last hour came and for permission to expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.</p> American Catholic Blog The joy of the Gospel is not just any joy. It consists in knowing one is welcomed and loved by God…. And so we are able to open our eyes again, to overcome sadness and mourning to strike up a new song. And this true joy remains even amid trial, even amid suffering, for it is not a superficial joy: it permeates the depths of the person who entrusts himself to the Lord and confides in him.

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