Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Aug. 25 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Aug. 25

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THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE Roughly on par with its predecessor, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the second installment adapted from the late author Stieg Larsson's "Millennium trilogy" finds journalist Mikael Blomkist (Michael Nyqvist) investigating a sex-trafficking operation while punkish hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) continues to try to get her tragic life in order. But after the investigation results in a trio of grisly murders, the police settle on Lisbeth as the killer; Mikael of course realizes this is absurd and sets out to clear her name by nabbing the real culprits. Mikael and especially Lisbeth are such memorable characters that a satisfactory feeling emerges as we watch these two continue to evolve on screen. Rich as a character study and riveting as a thriller, the pleasures of The Girl Who Played With Fire only subside toward the end, as the connections between some of the players seem strained (not quite "Luke and Leia are siblings?" territory, but still ...) and the final standoff feels anticlimactic in comparison to numerous earlier confrontations. But despite these quibbles, the series is 2-for-2 — now let's see if the third and final chapter, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, can bring it home. ***

GROWN UPS Adam Sandler's worst film since the one-two punch of Little Nicky and the inexplicably popular Big Daddy a decade ago, Grown Ups marks the umpteenth collaboration between the comedian and director Dennis Dugan. Dugan is to screen comedy what the atomic bomb was to Nagasaki, and with this film, he and ostensible writers Sandler and Fred Wolf serve up a mirthless affair in which the only people laughing are the ones on screen. In fact, that's basically the plot of the movie: As five school chums reunite 30 years later to honor the passing of their former coach, Lenny (Sandler) makes a bad joke and the others laugh. Then Eric (Kevin James) makes a bad joke and the others laugh. And so on through Kurt (Chris Rock), Marcus (David Spade) and Rob (Rob Schneider). As they're laughing, those of us in the audience are cringing. Salma Hayek, Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph are wasted (in arrested-development movies like these, nerdy schlubs always have hot wives), yet even these actresses don't escape the script's indignities, as evidenced by the scene in which Bello squirts Rudolph in the face with milk from her tit. Countless sequences like this one reverted me back to my own infancy, as I wanted to do nothing more than curl up in a fetal position and block out the screen. *

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON Adults can rest assured that this is one of those smart animated flicks that needn't be reserved solely for the merriment of the young'uns. Based on the children's book by Cressida Cowell, this centers on a village wherein the Viking population is constantly at war with the neighboring dragons. Bumbling young Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), the son of the fearless Viking leader Stoick (Gerard Butler), wants to join the ranks of the dragon slayers, and he gets his chance when he wounds a feared Night Fury. But rather than go for the kill, Hiccup ends up releasing the creature, and before long, the two become inseparable — a real dilemma, considering the lad is expected to soon complete his schooling and start slaughtering dragons. Writer-directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (scripting with William Davies) gently advance the themes of acceptance and understanding without any pushy shoving, and the animators do a bang-up job in their designs of the various breeds of dragons on view throughout the picture. Craig Ferguson contributes some good moments as Hiccup's trainer Gobber, and how odd is it to see Butler involved in a film that doesn't suck? ***

I AM LOVE How devoted is Tilda Swinton to her craft? Thespians occasionally learn another language in order to play a certain role, but Swinton plunged even deeper: For I Am Love, she not only learned to speak Italian and Russian, she also learned to speak Italian with a Russian accent. Or at least that's what Swinton and director Luca Guadagnino have stated — for all I know, she could be speaking Italian with an Inuit accent. The point is that her fine performance is the cornerstone of this foreign import whose initially chilly demeanor will melt away for any viewer willing to stick with it. A drama centering on a wealthy family in Milan, this follows dutiful wife Emma Recchi (Swinton) as she embarks on a love affair with the younger Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a splendid chef and best friend to Emma's sensitive son Edo (Flavio Parenti). Accustomed to keeping her emotions on a low simmer, Emma finds her senses aroused by her extramarital tryst. The plot threads involving the family business (textiles) aren't nearly as involving as the ones centering on the characters' various relationships, and I didn't buy the late-inning tragedy for one minute. But through both its bird's-eye view of a world of privilege and its personal look at a woman's self-realization, I Am Love is easy to admire. ***


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