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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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An attendee signs in why she loves the Wisconsin State Fair at last night's 100 Days to the Fair Preview.
An attendee signs in why she loves the Wisconsin State Fair at last night's 100 Days to the Fair Preview.

State Fair celebrates 100 days until cookie pops, cattle and cream puffs

The Wisconsin State Fair is still many months away, but it’s not quite too early to start the anticipation.

It was in that spirit that the fair held its 100 Days to the Fair Preview at the State Fair Exposition Center Monday night. Many of the fair’s vendors and foundation members were in attendance, as well as, yes, cream puffs (or at least cream puff boxes, with one six-pack adorning every table at the event).

The celebration mainly served as a pep rally, with attendants asked to sign in on a large white sign with not their name, but why they love the State Fair. The results ranged from the expected (cream puffs) to the somewhat less expected (people watching) to the amusingly vague (fun!). Most importantly, however, the event was an elaborate thank you to the various vendors scattered around the event, meeting, greeting, sharing tales from the past year and enjoying the free grilled cheese sandwiches, nachos, fried pickles and cookie pops making the rounds on the floor.

After about an hour of munching, casual conversation and live cover songs being played in the background, State Fair Park CEO Rick Frenette took the blue-lit stage to address the crowd, say some thanks and give a shout out to the 2014 Main Stage lineup, including Aretha Franklin, Phil Vassar, 311, Alabama and the main headliner Lady Antebellum.

That was the general vibe of the evening, less a news event than a pleasantly festive calendar reminder, albeit one that served grilled cheese and cookie pops. However, there were a few notable parts to the evening.

For one, the winner of the inaugural Fairtastic Poster Art Competition, Larry Schultz of Milton, was in attendance with his winning design on display, shaking hands and talking about the inspirations for the poster.

"I’m a horse man, so the draft horse show just sticks out to me as something big about the State Fair," Schultz said. "Then, of course, the dairy and the pigs and the animals period. And then there’s all of the food that’s …

Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in "Sabotage," now playing.
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in "Sabotage," now playing.

Arnie's comeback turns ugly in "Sabotage"

When Arnold Schwarzenegger made his brief uncredited cameo in 2010’s "The Expendables," it seemed to signal the former superstar’s return from political exile to his native, ass-kicking action movie habitat.

Four years later, the comeback hasn’t gone as planned.

"The Expendables 2," featuring an expanded Governator presence, grossed less than its predecessor. As he stepped further into the spotlight with true lead roles in last year’s "The Last Stand" and "Escape Plan," the results, quality wise, were lukewarm at best.

Meanwhile, at the box office, lukewarm would be considered an improvement. While his last two efforts played well abroad, domestically they stand alongside the failed Conan spin-off "Red Sonja" as the worst grossing films in his career (and generally speaking, it’s never a good thing to be mentioned in the same sentence as "Red Sonja").

Blame it on poor material (the old jokes have become exactly that). Blame it on his broken-down public image – or, perhaps worse yet for an action hero, his broken-down body. Blame it on the fact that he’s the face of a type of innocently dumb, sincerely mindless action movie that doesn’t play with today’s cynical, grittier tastes. The fact of the matter is the general public is telling Arnold to talk to the hand.

Instead of licking his wounds and safely heading back to familiar territory, however, "Sabotage" finds Schwarzenegger briefly pushing his persona in a new direction. It’s not simply that the film is unexpectedly more murder mystery than action thriller; "Sabotage" is easily the most unpleasant, most vulgar and most violent movie on Arnold’s resume. Credit where credit is due for trying something new, but considering the film’s startlingly mean, brainlessly scummy ugliness, it qualifies merely as a not-quite-noble failure.

Schwarzenegger plays Breacher, the rugged old leader of a rough-and-tumble DEA task force filled with corrupt psychopaths (including Sam Worthington, Terrence …

Country a cappella group Home Free won the fourth season of "The Sing Off" in December.
Country a cappella group Home Free won the fourth season of "The Sing Off" in December.

"The Sing Off" champs Home Free bring a cappella to country

Thanks to the combined musical efforts of Straight No Chaser, "Glee" and "Pitch Perfect" (not to mention maybe a bit of nostalgia for the old "Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego?" theme song), a cappella music has become a legitimate pop cultural phenomenon.

Oddly enough, however, while pop and a cappella are pretty much intertwined, the Venn diagram of country music and instrument-free crooning has so far included two very separate, non-overlapping circles. That is until the last season of NBC’s "The Sing Off," which saw the Minnesota-based country a cappella quintet Home Free take the stage, and the title, back in December.

Now, just over a month after releasing their first album "Crazy Life," they’re on "The Sing Off" tour with fellow season four competitors VoicePlay and The Filharmonic, as well as season three singers – and Wisconsin natives – The Fannin Family. Before they take The Pabst Theater stage for two shows Thursday night, I talked to Home Free tenor Rob Lundquist about the group’s origins, its time on "The Sing Off," and why country music and a cappella just haven’t gotten along. How did you guys come together?

Rob Lundquist: The group started back in 2000. Chris and Adam (both Rupp) formed the group just out of high school. They were in college at the time. They started off with a few guys, and it just kind of snowballed into a career. They met me about six years ago after I was done with a group called Four Shadow out of Minneapolis that had just broken up. They needed a tenor, so I joined the group.

We met Tim (Foust) about five years ago. We had known about him for a long time. He had been in a bunch of different a cappella groups, so his reputation made it so that we gave him a call to see if he knew of any basses that would be interested. And he said, "Well, I’m not really doing anything right now if you want me?" And we were like, "Yes please."

And then we met Austin (Brown) on a Royal Caribbean cruise …

Diogo Morgado stars as Jesus Christ in "Son of God," now playing.
Diogo Morgado stars as Jesus Christ in "Son of God," now playing.

Blessed art thou who skippeth "Son of God"

"Son of God," the latest cinematic retelling of the saga of Jesus Christ, isn’t based on the much-ballyhooed History Channel miniseries "The Bible." It literally is "The Bible," albeit vigorously edited down from ten hours to 138 minutes with some deleted scenes added in for a bonus. To call "Son of God" a new movie is like a date reheating leftovers and saying he cooked dinner for you, then asking for $10 to cover the cost. And it was Chinese takeout to begin with.

To be fair, this isn’t the first time a TV mini-series has been brought to the big screen. Michael Winterbottom’s "The Trip," most recently, was originally a TV series before it was edited down into a two-hour movie. However, that was originally aired on the BBC in the United Kingdom. "The Bible" was a widely promoted television "event" on a basic cable network, already watched by millions.              

It rings more than a little exploitative to charge audiences – some of whom perhaps going based on a sense of faith-based obligation – $10 to see an extremely condensed version of a film they’ve already seen for free (plus scenes that somehow weren’t worthy of the ten-hour cut), reskinned, retitled and resold as something new.

Also, "The Trip" was a good movie. "Son of God" is not, though it should be commended for accurately recreating the soul-sucking boredom of watching a dull and uninspired ten-hour film into one-fourth the running time. Hmm … "commended" may not be the word I’m looking for.

After sprinting through the Old Testament chapters in a manner that’s only missing a voiceover proclamation of "Previously on ‘The Bible,’" "Son of God" dives into, well, the son of God, played by handsome Portuguese soap opera actor Diogo Morgado. He’s first seen emerging from a desert via an attempt at an epic "Lord of the Rings"-esque helicopter shot, ready to find some followers.

What ensues is pretty much a clunky, disconnected highlight reel of Jesus’ story. Fish a…