DVD 10/12/10: How to Train Your Dragon, I Am Love, S&Man, Leaves of Grass, The Killing Machine

How to Train Your Dragon: Dragon Double Pack (PG, 2010, Dreamworks)
Not every teenage viking is dragon hunter material. That’s a truth that Hiccup, despite being the son of Stoick the Vast and a fairly skilled inventor of his own creation, learned the hard way after one of his inventions finally ensnared a young dragon. Rather than kill the beast, Hiccup frees him and names him Toothless. And in the face of a territorial war between humans and dragons that’s as old as time, the two develop a reluctant trust for one another. “How to Train Your Dragon” puts itself at a disadvantage by telling a story that falls outside the usual bounds of computer-animated movies, because there’s really only one way this conflict can work itself out, and anyone with any movie-watching savvy can spot it almost as soon as the table is set. But “Dragon” does so much so well that it really doesn’t need the element of surprise to completely entrance a viewer. The human characters on both sides of the conflict — to say nothing of Hiccup’s crush, Astrid, who represents the lynchpin in the tide — are immensely likable and wonderfully designed. The dragons, meanwhile, are a marvel of great character design and animation, able to express so much without being able to mutter anything beyond a fiery growl. “Dragon” could have taken the easy way out by just letting the beasts talk like people, but it did no such thing, and fruits of choices like that — along with the film’s ability to so artfully execute on those choices — more than make up for whatever big-picture surprises the plot has to surrender along the way.
Extras: Animated short “Legend of the Boneknapper Dragon,” filmmakers commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, dragon activity center, Dreamworks video jukebox.

I Am Love (R, 2009, Magnolia)
Just about everybody in the Recchi family is in some state or another of flux. Patriarch Eduardo is ready to hand off the family business to son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono), but he surprises everyone by giving grandson Edo (Flavio Parenti) a cut as well. Edo, meanwhile, has dreams of opening a restaurant with friend Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), while Edo’s sister Betta (Alba Rohrwacher) is ready to embark on a significant lifestyle shift. But while “I am Love” has a lot of stories to tell, its centerpiece is the one person — Tancredi’s wife Emma (Tilda Swinton) — who has nothing much going on at all. The movie kind of reflects that, too: Emma’s silently restless, and while so many developments swirl around her and occasionally pull her in, she appears to view them as the dull, meaningless side stories they ultimately become to us. Emma’s story eventually picks up some steam, but what happens amounts to 20 minutes’ worth of storytelling stretched over a two-hour movie and wrapped around many, many minutes of storytelling that just kind of dangles there. “Love” is a beautifully-shot movie, and it’s one that revels in its own self-indulgence to such a degree that some will happily buy what it’s selling and lose themselves in the empty beauty that punctuates all that inconsequence. Be prepared, however, to not only not feel this way, but also to wonder what it is you just spent two hours doing once “Love” ends. It’s a special kind of film for a particular kind of audience, but it isn’t for most.
Extras: Director/Swinton commentary, interviews, behind-the-scenes feature.

S&Man (R, 2006, Magnet/Magnolia)
Horror filmmaker JT Petty’s attempts to shoot a documentary about a former neighbor who was caught videotaping neighbors — but never convicted for the crime, because neighbors didn’t want the footage shown in court — went south when the neighbor refused to speak. So Petty shifted gears and decided to delve deeper into the world of voyeuristic, exploitative horror. Once there, he found a world of filmmakers who produce movies that, at least psychologically, make the most contemporary horror films look like Saturday Morning Cartoons. “S&Man” (pronounced “Sandman”) is a document of these encounters, but getting any more specific than that about Petty’s shifted intentions, and where those intentions take the film, would constitute a serious spoiler. “S&Man” ventures down familiar documentary roads, but it also doesn’t, and while anyone with an interest in horror’s underground movements will learn something here, those who wait until the end credits to have their burning questions answered will enjoy this more than those who read too much about the film and spoil it for themselves in advance. If that warning sounds uselessly vague, that’s the point. If you see “S&Man,” you’ll understand.
Extras: Two commentary tracks, a complete cut of one of the films featured in the movie, additional film clips/trailers, deleted/extended scenes.

Leaves of Grass (R, 2009, First Look Studios)
They may be twins, but Bill and Brady Kincaid (both played by Edward Norton) could scarcely be different: The latter turned a pot habit into a cottage industry in small-town Oklahoma, while the former bolted his hometown and is so enamored with life as an Ivy League philosophy professor that the only way to get him to come back would be if Brady or their mother (Susan Sarandon) died. So that’s what Brady — who needs his brother’s identical twin powers to assist him in a complicated ploy to escape the drug trade before his wife (Melanie Lynskey) gives birth to their son — pretends to do. That bit about things being complicated cannot be overstated, either. “Leaves of Grass” is pretty messy on paper, and it’s a pig sty in practice. Divergent moods play off one another, and a mountain of quirks dance with numerous crucial and completely useless plot points to create a storm of moving parts. Some of these parts are funny and engaging, and Norton is great in both of his roles. But all that activity nonetheless leaves “Grass” feeling more unwieldy than anything else, and it’ll leave those holding out for some consistency feeling exasperated and exhausted by the credit roll. Keri Russell also stars.
Extras: Director/Norton commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.

The Killing Machine (R, 2010, Anchor Bay)
Sometimes, the only fair way to critique a movie is with the metrics by which it measures its own self. “The Killing Machine’s” plot design is as nuanced as its name: Eddie Genn (Dolph Lundgren) is a renowned KGB assassin who has managed to keep his profession a secret from his now-ex-wife (Stefanie von Pfetten) and child (Katelyn Mager), but a mission gone wrong causes worlds to collide and everything from secrets to lives to stand in the path of grave peril. Things get messy, things get personal, and “Machine” lays out a minefield of cheesy character designs and dialogue exchanges in hopes of showing both ends of Eddie’s heart. It isn’t Oscar-worthy, Golden Globe-worthy or even worthy of a blue ribbon at a film festival. But “Machine” plays entirely too many B-movie tricks for anyone to mistake it for something wanting to be anything other than what it is. And where’s the harm in that? The shootouts and fights are executed well, the twists are just ridiculous enough to enjoy without totally shredding logic, the kid is cute, and Lundgren’s under-appreciated charisma gets a chance to shine in limited doses. As throwaway popcorn entertainment goes, this one fulfills its objective at leaves it precisely at that.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.