Capsule reviews of films playing the week of August 18 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of August 18



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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. ***

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

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