‘Movie 43’ tickles funny bones, ‘Memphis’ stimulates noggins in theaters

Among all of the new movies that I reviewed during the Jan. 31, 2013 edition of “Breakthrough Thinking: The Magazine,” there are two that stand out as the best of the bunch. On one end of the spectrum is “Movie 43,” a series of short stories about some of the sleaziest situations imaginable starring several recognizable actors and actresses. On the other end of the spectrum is “West of Memphis,” a documentary about the West Memphis Three. Both are brilliant but for drastically different reasons.

‘Broken City’

Mark Wahlberg plays an ex-cop-turned-private eye who is thrown headfirst into a hotbed of trouble after a mayor (Russell Crowe) hires him to look into his cheating wife. (R – 109 minutes)

“Broken City” is a cinematic rarity, relying on aesthetic style and smartly written dialogue to entertain viewers whereas most movies nowadays go straight for explosions and other fireworks-fueled action. Moreover, director Allen Hughes’ new dramatic crime thriller never once becomes even remotely boring because of that. Instead, it is bracing from beginning to end. Having said that, the politically propelled final act can be considered confusing, a subplot involving a romance on the rocks is really irrelevant and the entire affair lacks sufficient substance. However, star Mark Wahlberg’s consistent on-screen charisma more than makes up for the film’s few flaws. (Grade: C)

‘Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters’

Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play vigilantes who, after getting a taste for blood as children, must face an evil far greater than witches – their past. (PG-13 – 100 minutes)

“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” starts off in a fast and furious fashion with practical special effects reminiscent of 80’s disasters such as “The Garbage Pail Kids Movie” and “Howard the Duck,” one-liners that are more likely to make you roll your eyes than laugh and unadulterated violence that forever defiles the basis behind children’s fairy tales. In other words, writer/director Tommy Wirkola’s action-packed fantasy flick begins as a very good bad movie. But, before long, the good goes away as the flick evolves into a strangely sober “Saturday Night Live” skit that overstays its welcome and exhausts its cheesy charm. (Grade: D)

‘Movie 43’

A series of interconnected short films follows a washed-up producer (Dennis Quaid) as he pitches a profane motion picture project to a Hollywood big-wig (Greg Kinnear). Its ensemble cast includes at least 36 recognizable actors and actresses. (R – 90 minutes)

There are some people who might find the prospect of jokes about sexual organs in unusual places, equating defecation as the ultimate expression of love and a game of truth or dare that escalates from blowing out the candles on a blind kid’s birthday cake to undergoing extreme plastic surgery to resemble someone of another ethnicity to be the most sickening scum ever seen on the silver screen. However, anyone who is not afraid to let loose and laugh a little – or, in “Movie 43’s” case, a lot – may not have more fun watching any other film this year. (Grade: B)

‘Parker’

Jason Statham plays a thief with a unique code of professional ethics who is double-crossed by his crew and left for dead. Assuming a new disguise and forming an unlikely alliance with a woman (Jennifer Lopez) on the inside, he looks to hijack the score of the crew’s latest heist. (R – 118 minutes)

Whatever the opposite of the “Midas touch” is, Jennifer Lopez has got it. The last movie in which she had top billing – “The Back-up Plan” – was a box office flop of colossal proportions, her short stint as a judge on “American Idol” marked the official end of the reality show’s ratings dominance and now her presence in the motion picture “Parker” spoils an otherwise competent crime thriller. Granted, director Taylor Hackford’s new flick is far from fantastic, but the actress’s putrid performance – in which she mistakes the material for that of a romantic comedy – is the film’s worst offender. (Grade: D)

‘Quartet’*

Maggie Smith plays an eternal diva whose arrival disrupts a home for retired opera singers’ annual concert. (PG-13 – 95 minutes)

“Quartet” – the latest movie that appears to be riding the newly formed wave of entertainment aiming to appeal exclusively to aging audiences – is so sweet and conflict free that it makes “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” look like an extremely complicated and complex motion picture. Granted, one does not want to upset the apple cart of viewers who venture out of their retirement homes on field trips to the picture show too much, but the new drama from director Dustin Hoffman – yes, that Dustin Hoffman in his inaugural effort behind the camera – is in desperate need of more weight. (Grade: F)

*Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5.

‘West of Memphis’*

Filmmaker Amy Berg examines a catastrophic failure of justice in Arkansas, telling the story behind an extraordinary and desperate fight to bring the truth to light. (R – 147 minutes)

One would think that Amy Berg, the director of “West of Memphis” – a remarkably well-researched documentary that essentially condemns the criminal system for taking too long to grant justice to the wrongly convicted – would have found a way to tell the story of the West Memphis Three in less than two-and-a-half hours. All irony aside, this motion picture packs a powerful punch – both intellectually and emotionally. Prepare to be disturbed. Prepare to be angry. Prepare to be inspired. The movie is as compelling as it comprehensive, drawing those who are familiar with the case as well as newcomers deep into the difficult ordeal. (Grade: B)

*Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5.

Joseph J. Airdo

Joseph J. Airdo is a film critic, producer and on-air personality for Breakthrough Entertainment, a talk radio show airing 10-11 a.m. Saturdays on KPHX 1480 AM and BreakRadioShow.com that shines a spotlight on the practical perspectives of the topics and themes explored in movies. He has a pet duck named Frozen who is as opinionated about movies as he is. E-mail him at joseph.airdo@gmail.com.

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