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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INCEPTION Christopher Nolan's first film since the eye-popping success of The Dark Knight is a moviegoing marvel with the ability to get cineastes intoxicated on the pure pleasure and the pure possibility of the medium of film. Offering any sort of synopsis is a risky business, since this is one of those pretzel-shaped pictures that rewards the unaware. Suffice it to say that it's set in what appears to be the near future, when it will be possible to enter other people's dreams. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the best in the business of creeping into targets' minds and extracting valuable secrets for which others will pay a hefty price, but his latest assignment doesn't go exactly as planned. Tackling such prominent themes as (to borrow from dream expert Salvador Dali) the persistence of memory, Nolan has created a head-scratching one-of-a-kind that's both knotty enough and ambiguous enough to lead to conflicting opinions down the years. Nolan also slyly borrows from the classics of yesteryear, with particularly obvious nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Citizen Kane and select Hitchcock titles. It all adds up to a superb motion picture, one with the ability to infiltrate both our dream state and our waking life. ****

IRON MAN 2 Iron Man 2 doesn't quite degenerate into Transformers 3, but those of us who thought the weakest part of the enjoyable original was the hero's climactic showdown with Iron Monger will doubly wince upon seeing the battle royale chosen to end this installment. Even before this supersized slugfest, this follow-up to the 2008 blockbuster has its fair share of problems. Whereas its predecessor kept its eye on the narrative ball, this one ends up all over the place, impatiently cramming in extraneous subplots and supporting characters that might have been better served by being placed in a holding pattern until the next film. On the plus side, Mickey Rourke, as Ivan Vanko/Whiplash, makes for a spectacular villain, and Sam Rockwell adds some salty humor as a nerdy weapons manufacturer. Mainly, though, there's Robert Downey Jr., who again invests himself completely in his character. His Tony Stark is at times a drunken lout, an egotistical prick and a poor friend. Downey takes the role to the edge before snapping him back into place, a high-wire act that's thrilling to behold. In fact, Downey's so good as Stark that we miss him whenever he becomes the man in the iron mask. Then again, it wouldn't be a superhero movie if the superhero never showed up, would it? **1/2

THE KARATE KID If your parents are Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, you're probably going to get what you want, no matter how ill-advised. And certainly, mounting a remake of one of the 80s' definitive crowd-pleasers, a movie that led to major box office, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Pat Morita and (alas) three inferior sequels, probably constitutes some sort of career death wish. Yet The Karate Kid turns out to be a pleasant enough surprise. To be sure, there's absolutely no area in which it improves on the original, yet the basic plot remains durable enough that there's no harm done by this easy-to-take update. Jaden Smith plays Dre Parker, who's forced to move from his Detroit home when his single mom (Taraji P. Henson) lands a job in Beijing. Dre catches the eye of a cute schoolmate (Wenwen Han), but most of the time, he's being beaten to a pulp by a local bully (Zhenwei Wang) and his sycophants — at least until his building's maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), teaches the lad how to protect himself. This Karate Kid clocks in at 135 minutes, which seems absurd until one recalls that the original itself runs a lengthy 126 minutes. But that version flies by; this one proceeds in fits and starts. Chan and Smith are charismatic enough, although no match for Morita and Ralph Macchio. **1/2

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT Annette Bening and Julianne Moore star as the fastidious Nic and the openhearted Jules, a married lesbian couple with two upstanding children, 18-year-old Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson). The kids decide that they'd like to meet their biological father, the man who donated the sperm that led to both their conceptions. He turns out to be the laid-back Paul (Mark Ruffalo), whose scruffy demeanor and easygoing attitude eventually earn the affection of the kids and Jules but sets Nic on edge. One more movie exploring family dysfunction might sound like a slog through well-trodden indie film terrain, yet this piece from writer-director Lisa Cholodenko is written with such perception, directed with such sensitivity and acted with such brio that the result is not only a path paved with good intentions but also one lined with loving detail. Besides, while many films of this ilk focus more on the "dysfunction" — often with a trace of bemusement if not outright condescension — this one centers more on the "family," specifically how a true family is determined not by society-approved labels but by the hard work that molds all those involved, and how simply wanting to belong to a family doesn't mean that carte blanche will (or should) automatically be given. ***1/2


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