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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014

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Brit boy band One Direction invades the big screen in "This is Us," now playing.
Brit boy band One Direction invades the big screen in "This is Us," now playing.

"This is Us" a dark trip to the heart of ... Nah, it's just a One Direction ad

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat before the comments section gets mobbed like Harry Styles lost in a Forever 21 on Black Friday: If you are a One Direction fan, you will love "This is Us."

There are plenty of shots of the meticulously groomed pop stars shirtless and in their skivvies. They play all of their catchy hits. They say cute and charming things about their families, their newfound superstardom, and most importantly, their maniacally dedicated fans. Swooning, screaming and joyful tears are pretty much a guarantee (I know this because I watched the movie in a public showing with over a hundred fans, and the screaming began before the lights even finished dimming. Props to them, though; when the movie actually started, they became quite civil).

So those already converted to the Church of the Melodious Swoopy Hairs will have much to praise. They’ll be screaming. Everyone else, however, will likely be left snoring through what amounts to an exceptionally produced – and exceptionally shallow – ad.

"1D3D" (omg) follows the band as they fly across the globe for their massive world tour. For the uninitiated, there’s Harry Styles (the Heartthrob), Zayn Malik (the Mysterious One), Louis Tomlinson (the Goofy One), Niall Horan (the One Who Occasionally Plays the Guitar) and Liam Payne (the … uh … Fifth One?). Together, they tour exotic locales and perform the hits for crowds filled with sobbing fangirls and Martin Scorsese. Wait, what?!

In between numbers, the boys are seen having fun behind the scenes, playing harmless pranks on their mates and their loyal fans, enjoying the sights and giddily goofing around instead of learning choreography. Every now and then, they talk to the camera about life on the road, their origins on the British "The X Factor" and, uh, having more fun. 

Their mentor Simon Cowell (also one of the film’s producers) is briefly interviewed, as well as a few music experts, who dubiously describe One Direction as "d…

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Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman star in "Paranoia," now playing.
Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman star in "Paranoia," now playing.

"Paranoia" - the fear of yet another boring action thriller

"Paranoia," the new techno-thriller from "Legally Blonde" and "The Ugly Truth" director Robert Luketic, is the most difficult kind of film to write a review for. It’s not a good movie or even a particularly entertaining one, but at the same time, it’s hard to feel any spite or anger toward the movie. Hell, it’s hard to feel anything toward "Paranoia." It’s a product of apathy that, in turn, inspires more apathy.

You don’t really watch "Paranoia"; you register it. The senses passively process the flashing lights and colors on screen while the mind meanders to other things. Did I eat dinner tonight? Where’s the nearest grocery store? I wonder if "Chopped" will be on tonight or if it’ll just be another "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" marathon. Why are there subtitles on the screen now? Oh, those are the end credits. I guess I can leave now.  

The film doesn’t deserve bile being spewed in its direction, but considering how illogical and inert it all is, it’s worth asking why it even bothered showing up in the first place.

The blandness begins with the main character, Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth, letting his abs do most of the acting), a low-level cubicle drone at a high-tech cell phone company. The audience is first introduced to Adam via voiceover, where he spouts some of the key bullet points of the Frustrated Millennial Manifesto. School doesn’t ensure a job anymore. Greedy old folks run the world. Mom and dad don’t understand. Life is hard, etc.

They’re all very relatable gripes. It’s just too bad Adam then behaves like one of the "generation me" youths that give millennials a bad name. After he turns into a defensive hothead during a pitch to his snooty boss Nicolas Wyatt (Gary Oldman) and gets himself – and his team – fired, they decide to hit the club with their company credit card, take selfies and order up thousands of dollars in shots, beer and more shots.

Pro tip: Don’t do this.

Wyatt, of course, finds out about the evapo…

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloe Grace Moretz return as Kick-Ass and Hit Girl in "Kick-Ass 2," now playing.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloe Grace Moretz return as Kick-Ass and Hit Girl in "Kick-Ass 2," now playing.

"Kick-Ass 2" feels more like a kick to the teeth

"This isn’t a comic book; this is real life!"

This line and its variations get uttered seemingly every 15 minutes in "Kick-Ass 2." And every time a character would say it, I was baffled.

Which real life is this? The one where adrenaline is a mystical green substance that serves essentially as a video game power-up, granting super speed and strength? The one where a lawn mower is flung through a police car windshield, massacring the two officers inside (for your entertainment, of course)? A universe in which the Plastics from "Mean Girls," cranked up to their cattiest, get their comeuppance by being forced to simultaneously projectile vomit and poop in the middle of the lunchroom?

I don’t know, guys. This sounds just as ridiculous as the comic book world you’re desperately trying to tell me you’re definitely not in. I think your "reality" might need a reality check.

To be fair, the first "Kick-Ass" back in 2010 had the same problem. But then-director Matthew Vaughn brought a stylishly energetic flair, a gleefully go-for-it cast and a darkly giddy sense of anarchy to the project. In the end, it was more interested in having some crazy fun, and with Vaughn (and his co-writer Jane Goldman) confidently in charge, it was hard not to hop aboard.

What was once fun in Vaughn’s hands, however, has turned ugly and mean-spirited in "Kick-Ass 2." If "Kick-Ass" was a spirited, invigorating kick in the rear, round two is a rough kick to the teeth, complete with an ensuing bad taste in my mouth.

Four years after the events of the first film, Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is trying to get back into Kick-Ass shape with the help of now 15-year-old Mindy McCready, aka the viciously capable superhero Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz, still the sweet and sour highlight of the series). Mindy’s cop/replacement father (Morris Chestnut), however, wants no more of her costumed vigilantism and forces her to actually go to school, where she’s embraced – and soon embarrassed – by the a…

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Dane Cook voices Dusty Crophopper in "Planes," now playing.
Dane Cook voices Dusty Crophopper in "Planes," now playing.

Disney's "Planes" never takes off

Are you tired of animated movies yet this summer? Well, if you weren’t already suffering from animated movie exhaustion, here comes Disney’s – not Pixar’s – "Planes" to finish the job with a supersonic snore. Younger kids may enjoy it, but parents, be warned: This one’s more like "Planezzzzz" (I’ll be here all week, folks).

"Planes" travels up from the highways of "Cars" to a highway to the danger zone (yes, there is a "Top Gun" reference in the form of Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer voicing a pair of fighter jets) to tell the story of Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook). Dusty dreams of becoming a famous aerial racer, but as you might guess from his name, he’s a lowly crop duster.

Despite the odds, Dusty manages to qualify for a massive race across the globe with some help from his hometown automotive friends (Brad Garrett and Teri Hatcher) and a grumpy but wise loner named Skipper (Stacy Keach). There, he faces off against a talented fleet of racers, representing broad stereotypes from across the globe.

There’s a friendly Spanish plane dressed as a luchador, an alluring French-Canadian plane, a tea-drinking proper Brit plane and a jerk hotshot named Ripslinger who must win at all costs. Okay, that last one isn’t a racial cliché, but he is a boring cliché of a sports movie villain, complete with a duo of dim-witted cronies.

Dusty flies from scenic race checkpoint to scenic race checkpoint, making friends with his competitors (except for the egomaniacal showboat Ripslinger) and battling his own personal fear: heights. That’s right, folks; the plane is afraid of heights. Oh, the kooky, snooze-worthy irony.

Despite all of the references to "Cars" on the posters and in the trailers, "Planes" is by no means a Pixar product (Pixar czar John Lasseter is given a story credit). It’s actually a DisneyToon production, the studio behind direct-to-DVD stuff like "Cinderella III: A Twist in Time" and "Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch." "Planes" was orig…

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