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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

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Kate Winslet somehow stars in "Movie 43."
Kate Winslet somehow stars in "Movie 43."

"Movie 43" is just plain wrong ... and not in a good way

Critic confessions: Writing reviews for comedies is not easy. Comedy, more so than any other genre, is very subjective, so it's pretty hard to try to explain why some fall on their faces and others are raucous laugh riots. What one person may find hilarious, another may find juvenile, offensive or just plain unfunny. It's all just a matter of personal preference.

That being said, it would be my personal preference for "Movie 43" to be buried at the bottom of the ocean, never to be seen again by human eyes. It is not funny. It barely even registers as amusing. It's a painfully unpleasant and uncomfortable 90-minute sit that made me angry walking out of the theater. The profane short film compilation doesn't even have the decency to be well made.

The frame story feebly holding "Movie 43" together involves Dennis Quaid pitching terrible movie ideas to an increasingly befuddled movie producer, played by Greg Kinnear. The awful pitches take the form of the short stories that comprise the film. Now, this is the point during the pre-production meetings that somebody should've raised his or her hand and asked "Wait, the entire movie is made up of bad movie concepts? Isn't this a dumb idea?"

Unfortunately, this hypothetical conversation never happened, leaving viewers with the following painful skits: Kate Winslet goes on a blind date with Hugh Jackman, who has male genitalia dangling from his neck; Anna Faris wants her boyfriend Chris Pratt to poop on her; Terrence Howard encourages his basketball team to victory by constantly reminding them of their race; Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin profanely bicker in a supermarket while creepy customers leeringly listen; Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville kidnap a profane leprechaun; Richard Gere invents an iPod in the shape of a naked woman; and an animated cat wants to have sex with Josh Duhamel, which doesn't please his girlfriend, Elizabeth Banks.

There are a few other sketches, as well as a few clumsy commercials that don…

Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard star in "Rust and Bone."
Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard star in "Rust and Bone."

Lead performances find the soul in wearying "Rust and Bone"

The main characters of "Rust and Bone," played by Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts, have names, but they might as well go by the title's featured elements. They're both broken and beaten people, their wounds – both emotional and physical – covered with gritty, tough calluses. Yet somehow, beneath all that hurt and pain, they find a way to feel, love and survive.

French director Jacques Audiard presents a hard, rough tale, beautifully shot and guided by two captivating lead performances, but there's something missing. For all of its seemingly natural and realistic grit, a strenuously heavy hand for drama pulls "Rust and Bone" down. It's less of a serious movie than a movie that wants to be serious. I don't want to use the dreaded p-word, but it's unfortunately the one that fits best: pretentious.

Schoenaerts (from last year's "Bullhead") plays Ali, a wannabe kickboxer suddenly put in charge of his young son (Armand Verdure). Ali has almost no money for himself, much less for a child, so the two move in with his estranged sister Anna (Corinne Masiero) while Ali attempts to find a job in between trips to the gym and quick one-night stands.

He eventually wrangles a job as a bouncer at a popular nightclub, where he meets Stéphanie (Golden Globe nominee Marion Cotillard), a killer whale trainer at a French SeaWorld. He's graceless and awkward. She's bloody and bruised after a fight at the club. Things don't go far, and the two don't appear too intent on seeing each other again.

That is, until Stéphanie suffers a terrible accident at SeaWorld that leaves her without both of her legs. In her loneliness, she gives Ali a call, and the two form a vaguely sweet relationship from their broken selves – complicated by Ali's immaturity and responsibilities.

Audiard's last movie, the gritty prison drama "A Prophet," won itself an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film with its intense performances and authentic story with a few ethereal touches thrown in for ar…

Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg star in "Broken City."
Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg star in "Broken City."

"Broken City" delivers decent but derivative detective drama

Have you ever seen "Chinatown?" If you haven't, you should. Right now, if possible. Roman Polanski's classic detective noir is filled with brilliant performances, a twisty plot, authentic period – as well as genre – style and an ending that hits the viewer like a cinderblock to the stomach (that's meant as a good thing). It has a pretty confident spot on my list of all-time favorite movies.

"Broken City," a hard-edged detective drama starring Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, is pretty much "Chinatown," albeit moved into modern times and across the nation to New York City. I suppose if first-time screenwriter Brian Tucker was going to cheat off someone else's work, it makes sense to choose one of the best movies ever made. It just ensures that "Broken City," even with its overqualified cast, quick pace and political intrigue, won't feel particularly fresh.

Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart, a disgraced former cop trying to get his life back on track running a struggling private detective agency. Despite having to nag his employers for payment, life is edging toward normalcy for Jake Giddes – pardon me, Billy Taggart. That is, until he receives a call from the city's powerful mayor, Nick Hostetler (Crowe), asking Billy to spy on his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones, underutilized but also overacting), who he assumes is having an affair. It's reelection season, and according to Hostetler, the only thing worse than voters thinking he’s a bad politician is voters thinking he’s a weak husband. 

After some quick snooping, Taggart finds out that Mrs. Hostetler is not only having an affair, but she's having it with the campaign manager (Kyle Chandler from "Zero Dark Thirty") for her husband's political rival, Jack Valliant, played by Barry Pepper. He presents his evidence to the mayor, seemingly closing the case, but when the manager ends up dead in the middle of the night, Taggart gets pulled into a web of under-the-table political deals, hidden motives and cold-blooded…

Bill Murray stars as FDR in "Hyde Park on Hudson."
Bill Murray stars as FDR in "Hyde Park on Hudson."

Sleazy "Hyde Park on Hudson" shows some secrets should be kept

FDR stands for Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Well color me shocked, because throughout "Hyde Park on Hudson," Roger Michell's sleazy piece of Oscar bait, I would've sworn it stood for filthy, dirty and rotten. And that's just the way the film portrays the 32nd President. The movie itself is pretty ugly in its own right.

It starts off nicely enough. Daisy, played by Laura Linney, lives a quiet life in the country taking care of her aging mother when she receives a call from the President's mother. It turns out presidential duties can be quite stressful, especially for a nation just edging its way out from the Great Depression. Franklin (Bill Murray, whose performance deserves a better movie) needs to relax, and his mother can think of no one better than his sixth cousin to take FDR's mind off of his work.

The two quickly become friends, looking at his stamp collection and going for drives out into the scenic beauty of upstate New York. It's all sweet and pleasant until, during one special drive, FDR and Daisy go off without their police escort into a field and turn their friendship into a sexual arrangement. She finds a deep connection and affection for Franklin. He seems far less attached, especially with his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams, making the most out of a poorly written role) and his other mistress, Missy (Elizabeth Marvel), both living at Roosevelt's estate as well.

The story is based on the private journals of the real Margaret "Daisy" Suckley (the sexual nature of their relationship is still up for debate), but that doesn't excuse the way Michell and screenwriter Richard Nelson handle the material. Nelson's screenplay barely develops the couple's relationship, so when it gets to the presidential hanky-panky, it feels uncomfortably sleazy – even more so since their friendship originally seems to be based on being family. Yuck.

There may be some material there to create a decent melodrama, but Michell (whose previous work was 2010's immediately forgetta…