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Capsule reviews: `Train Your Dragon' and others

By The Associated Press
March 25, 2010

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Capsule reviews of films opening this week:

"Chloe" -- This sex thriller from director Atom Egoyan is a pure guilty pleasure, if you take away that part about pleasure. The devoted cast led by Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson and Amanda Seyfried really burrows into the roles, but the intense performances cannot conceal the fact that these characters are shallow narcissists at their best and outright crazy people at their worst. This marital story of infidelity, deceit and obsession is not much more absurd than "Fatal Attraction," one of the great guilty pleasures in screen history. Yet the movie rings false from the moment suspicious wife Moore, convinced husband Neeson is cheating on her, hires call girl Seyfried to push the man's buttons and see if it's true. The characters are so abnormal and their situation so contrived that it's impossible to sit back and enjoy the train wreck the way you can revel in Glenn Close murderously popping out of that bathtub one last time in "Fatal Attraction." R for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, nudity and language. 96 minutes. Two stars out of four.

-- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

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"The Eclipse" -- The acclaimed Irish playwright Conor McPherson ("The Weir," "The Seafarer") has crafted a film every bit as affecting and haunting as his plays. It's a small, humble gem of a movie that in less than 1 1/2 hours proves McPherson's talents for character and atmosphere fit the screen as much as they do the stage. Ciaran Hinds ("There Will Be Blood") stars as Michael Farr, a father and widower living a quiet life in the Irish coastal city of Cobh. While volunteering for the city's annual literary festival, he befriends a writer of ghost stories (Iben Hjejle), who, herself, is badgered by a former fling (Aidan Quinn). Michael, clinging to grief over his wife, is haunted by horrifying, realistic visions. What's curious about the supernatural elements is that their appearances feel more like ugly cameos of reality: In McPherson's world, life is the dream from which the ghosts wake you. Rated R for language and some disturbing images. 88 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

-- Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer

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"Hot Tub Time Machine" -- John Cusack heads back to the 1980s with this time-travel adventure that's occasionally amusing but mostly is as lazy, self-involved and garish as that chintzy decade itself. Casting Cusack, one of the most enduring stars to rise out of the '80s, adds some promise. If this guy signed on (he's also a producer on the movie), it cannot be as dumb as it sounds, right? It pretty much is as dumb as it sounds, though, landing closer to the moronic monotony of "Dude, Where's My Car?" than the inspired idiocy of "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure." Cusack and co-star Craig Robinson are fine as half of a foursome whose drunken night in a magic hot tub hurls them back to 1986, where they have a chance to fix their loser lives. But much of director Steve Pink's comedy hinges on character actors Rob Corddry and Clark Duke, who overdo everything with a shrillness that makes the movie's crass jokes and gags all the more obnoxious -- and a lot less funny than they might have been. R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language. 99 minutes. Two stars out of four.

-- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

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"How to Train Your Dragon" -- DreamWorks Animation has been at the head of the pack for adorable, fast-talking critters with movies such as "Over the Hedge," "Kung Fu Panda" and the "Madagascar" series. With DreamWorks' latest, writer-directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois tone down the glib factor and tell a pretty good action yarn, a boy-and-his-dragon story filled with fiery Viking battles, swordplay and dazzling aerial imagery. For small children, the movie may not rate as high on the laugh and sight-gag meter as some of those earlier, more slapstick-y DreamWorks tales. After a slow, rather droning start, though, the film takes off on an exhilarating ride through the ancient Norse world, the hardscrabble landscape also a pleasant change from the softer realms of other cartoons. Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera and Gerard Butler lead the voice cast in the story of a misfit Viking teen who befriends a wounded dragon and discovers the beasts make better allies than enemies. PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language. 98 minutes. Three stars out of four.

-- David Germain, AP Movie Writer

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"Vincere" -- In Marco Bellocchio's operatic historical melodrama, a beautiful woman, intoxicated by sexual desire and political sloganeering, abandons all judgment and reason, losing her money, her freedom and her son, in that order. The woman, Ida Dalser, happened to fall for Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and Bellocchio uses her delusion as a metaphor for the madness that befell his own country during Mussolini's rise to power in the aftermath of World War I. Dalser's story, suppressed during Mussolini's rule, has come to light only fairly recently and, in Bellocchio's riveting, cinematic film, makes for a harrowing tragedy on both a personal and global level. Giovanna Mezzogiorno plays Dalser with trembling emotion, but without the express interest in making the character a sympathetic heroine. Dasler's continued belief that Mussolini will embrace her remains preposterous -- as it should be. Unrated. Contains nudity, sexual situations and adult themes. In Italian with English subtitles. 128 minutes. Three stars out of four.

-- Glenn Whipp, for The Associated Press

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"Waking Sleeping Beauty" -- This documentary is a behind-the-scenes look at Disney animation during the heady times of 1984-1994, a streak that produced "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin" and "The Lion King." Made by the Walt Disney Company and directed and narrated by longtime Disney producer Don Hahn, the film is an unabashed bit of navel-gazing. But it's also a good story and includes more insider intrigue than you might expect, much of it involving executives Roy Disney, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Much of the film maintains the perspective of the rank-and-file animators. It's stuffed with grainy home movies of office life on the Disney lot, water cooler griping and -- best of all -- caricature drawings by the animators of their bosses. The biggest success of the movie is its depiction of the fraught, passionate and idiosyncratic collaborative process of animation. Times change, of course, and now it's Pixar's world: the circle of life, or something. Rated PG for some thematic elements and brief mild language. 86 minutes. Three stars out of four.

-- Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer

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