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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014

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The Milwaukee Children's Film Festival presents "Le Tableau" Oct. 6 and 7.
The Milwaukee Children's Film Festival presents "Le Tableau" Oct. 6 and 7.

"Le Tableau" paints a lush story for all ages

The best children's movies are those with universal appeal. Often, though, that appeal is achieved with snappy double entendres and gimmicks that, while well done, are forced to fly over kids' heads to find an audience.

I'm sure it's no picnic for the kids, who have to sit there wondering why their parents are laughing at something they don't even understand, but it's also the movie doing a disservice to itself by not finding a way to entertain both generations at once.

"Le Tableau," on the other hand, makes catering to every age of its audience look as easy as Color by Numbers art. It's a simple story of the Allduns, Halfies and Sketchies, three segregated races of people that inhabit an unfinished painting. The completed Allduns lord over the framed realm believing themselves to be The Painter's favorites, while the Halfies and fragile Sketchies live in the shadows of their exclusive and opulent castle.

In the midst of this tense world is Lola, a young Halfie who dreams of finding The Painter and settling the conflicts between his creations. She's motivated by the forbidden love between her best friend, a Halfie named Claire, and Ramo, an Alldun.

After the Allduns' prejudices escalate as a result of Ramo's behavior, he, Lola and a Sketchie named Quill set off to find The Painter and settle things for good.

The film embraces both sweetness and sadness, from Lola's intrepid kindness to the Allduns' savage treatment of the Sketchies. What makes the story unique, though, is its accessibility. Even though the subject matter is flush with weighty metaphors and morality, it's delivered through clean, simple storytelling.

The plot becomes more complex as it moves on, but "Le Tableau" doesn't shy away from building on its tale. Instead, it develops in a way that allows younger audience members to rise to the occasion and take in more of what's going on without sacrificing the engagement of its older members.

While the story is beautiful in its own right, the visuals…

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Ron Perlman and Charlie Hunnam star in "3, 2, 1...Frankie Go Boom."
Ron Perlman and Charlie Hunnam star in "3, 2, 1...Frankie Go Boom."

"3,2,1...Frankie Go Boom" a laugh explosion

I always get nervous when I get really excited about a movie. When it finally starts rolling it somehow doesn't live up to my expectations, or my cynicism gets in the way, or something else betrays me and I end up leaving disappointed. I must have knocked on enough wood before seeing "3,2,1...Frankie Go Boom," though, because I'm still laughing over it – and for all the right reasons.

In case you missed me gushing over it in my Milwaukee Film Festival picks or on the brand new movie podcast, "3,2,1...Frankie Go Boom" is about Frank Bartlett (Charlie Hunnam), who's spent his entire life as the unwitting star of his brother Bruce's (Chris O'Dowd) incredibly unflattering viral videos. The embarrassment level has only increased as Frankie's gotten older, and Bruce's latest "masterpiece" – which captures Frank's bumbling one-night stand with the drunk Lassie (Lizzy Caplan) – has somehow become his most popular yet. Fed up with letting Bruce's career path derail his life, Frankie is determined to take this video down.

Chris O'Dowd is just stellar as the bumbling, self-absorbed Hollywood wannabe Bruce. He's not just your average egotistical big brother – he's more like a big brother on crack, except he's clean now, and he's ready to make amends. He might have gotten off the drugs but he's still plenty high on his own narcissism, and it's very clear he hasn't learned his lesson about poking his camera lens where it doesn't belong.

It's his influence that makes Frankie's bad situation worse, alternately guilting and goading him into jumping into a stagnant pool after a pet pig, breaking into an elderly housekeeper's house and more on his mission to squash the sex tape.

It would have been easy to write Frankie as a whiny victim, but "3,2,1...Frankie Go Boom" gives the titular character room to develop as an actual person. He does, after all, have to move on after getting inadvertently subjected to his brother's constant video antics, and he does so realistically a…

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"Hotel Transylvania" checks into theaters today.
"Hotel Transylvania" checks into theaters today.

Hold off on a visit to "Hotel Transylvania"

I don't think it's unfair to be hesitant when Adam Sandler's name is attached to a movie these days. He's turned his career into a magnet for stinkbombs (Do we really need to rehash "Jack and Jill" or "That's My Boy?"), so he only has himself to blame when his new projects meet with my skepticism.

"Hotel Transylvania," however, was kind of a combo-buster. While he's done animation ("Eight Crazy Nights") and kids movies ("Bedtime Stories"), this animated kids movie doesn't leave a lot of room for Sandler's typical schtick. Better yet, he didn't have a hand in writing it. Overcoming any of Sandler's potential influence must have been a lot of work, though, since the resulting movie barely clocked in above average.

Reviving the "monsters are people, too" mentality of Disney Pixar's "Monsters, Inc.," Sony's "Hotel Transylvania" is named for a remote, lavish resort hotel for monsters run by Count Dracula (voiced by Sandler). His faithful clientele include Frankenstein (Kevin James) and his bride (Fran Drescher), wolf-people Wayne (Steve Buscemi) and Wanda (Molly Shannon), Murray the Mummy (CeeLo Green) and other assorted scaremongers looking for a people-free place to let loose.

When he's not busy catering to his guests, Dracula has his hands full with a spirited teenage daughter named Mavis (Selena Gomez). Haunted by visions of angry villagers with torches and pitchforks, Dracula has kept Mavis tucked away in the confines of the hotel her whole life in an effort to keep her safe, but now that she's reached her 118th birthday Mavis is intent on discovering the outside world. (Don't ask me to explain the vampire aging logic. The best I can do is rationalize a cross between "Twilight" rules and dog years.)

Dracula, luckily, has devised a plan to trick Mavis into sticking around. But, just as things start to look up, a young human named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) stumbles into the hotel and inadvertently throws a wrench into Dracula's scheme – and Hotel Transylvania's spar…

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Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Won't Back Down," in theaters now.
Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Won't Back Down," in theaters now.

Cliched "Won't Back Down" really should have

I'm sure the people behind "Won't Back Down" knew what they were doing when they decided to release this public school politics firebomb to theaters when they did.

Between the heated discussions resulting from its subject matter and the buzz generated by its star-studded cast (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis and Holly Hunter are the top-billed draws), opening this "inspired by actual events" movie – in Wisconsin theaters especially – is essentially like lobbing an active grenade into a crowd and telling each side the other was responsible.

And you know what? It was the smartest thing they could have done. Button-pushy themes and award-winning cast aside, "Won't Back Down" is what happens when you Mad Libs the "underdog movie" archetype. It's got nothing to offer cinematically speaking, so plucking the country's discords is a genius piece of movie marketing.

"Won't Back Down" is driven by Maggie Gyllenhaal's Jamie Fitzpatrick, a lower-middle class single mother juggling two jobs and a daughter with dyslexia. When she discovers the poor standard of education her daughter receives at her inner-city public school, Jamie goes full Erin Brockovich to overhaul the system.

She's reluctantly joined by teacher Nona Alberts (Viola Davis), a struggling mother herself, who acts as the proverbial inside man, and – to a lesser extent -- the school's young music teacher Michael (Oscar Isaac), who surprises no one when he ends up smitten with Jamie within five minutes of their meet cute. Their challenge: to shake the school's teachers out of their cynicism and take independent control of their elementary school through a loophole law, all the while battling the school board's stagnant bureaucracy and the teachers' union's staunch opposition.

Against all odds (and to the expectations of any half-conscious audience member), Jamie's stubbornness leads her mission to victory. I'd apologize for the spoiler, but I'm not sorry. The plot is so methodical it can be worked out over …

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