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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, July 25, 2014

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Snow White's the most recent character doing double duty in Hollywood.
Snow White's the most recent character doing double duty in Hollywood.

Seeing double: Five identical movie pairings

If you blinked between late March and now, you may have missed theaters swapping out one Snow White film, the kid-friendly "Mirror Mirror," for "Snow White and the Huntsman," the action-packed retelling of the story. Snow White isn't the first topic to get cloned by unimaginative Hollywood execs. Here are five other identical movie match-ups that came out within months of one another, proving that the sequel is not the most unoriginal thing coming out of Tinseltown.

"Deep Impact" vs. "Armageddon"

As the new millennium approached, as well as rumors of Y2K, Hollywood became infatuated with the end of humanity, mainly by means of meteor. "Deep Impact," starring Morgan Freeman and a young Elijah Wood, came first in May of 1998, followed less than two months later by Michael Bay's bombastic space epic "Armageddon" (co-written by then unknown J.J. Abrams).

Winner: Question: Which one of these two movies do you remember? I can't hear you through your computer, but I'm pretty sure you said "Armageddon." Despite its well-documented flaws, it's easily the more memorable disaster film. It's ironic that a movie about a meteor crashing into the ocean made such a small splash.

"The Illusionist" vs. "The Prestige"

Audiences have always been told about movie magic, but in 2006, the phrase became literal. "The Illusionist," starring a goateed Edward Norton as a mysterious Viennese magician, became a surprising indie hit in early September. A month and a half later, Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige" tried to cash in on on-screen magic with a dark, moody tale about dueling magicians.

Winner: "The Prestige" didn't catch on well with audiences and critics at the time, but years later, Nolan's film evolved into the more successful and memorable movie. Plus, "The Prestige" stars David Bowie, and any movie with Ziggy Stardust is a cinematic classic.

"The Haunting" vs. "House on Haunted Hill"

Horror isn't a genre built on originality. Put an assortment o…

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"Chernobyl Diaries" hits theaters today.
"Chernobyl Diaries" hits theaters today.

"Chernobyl Diaries" radiates stupidity

Early on in "Chernobyl Diaries," an ill-fated tour group talks about heading off to see the abandoned ruins of Pripyat – a town within spitting distance of the infamous nuclear reactor – with the same jittery glee that most kids would use for a trip to Six Flags. Yeah, families had to be evacuated, never to return, and many people tragically died of radiation-related cancers, but for these adventurers, that just adds to the excitement.

The notion of turning tragedy into tourism, combined with some suspense and a few solid scares, could have made for an above average horror thriller. Instead, we got "Chernobyl Diaries."

After spending a day taking photos in the ruined city, the seven explorers (including Jesse McCartney – yes, the former pop star) find their van sabotaged and themselves stuck in the not-so-abandoned town with vicious dogs and some shadowy figures with an apparent hatred for visitors. In case the murderous inhabitants weren't enough, there's also the lingering presence of radiation threatening to melt their faces off.

The concept, the brainchild of "Paranormal Activity" creator Oren Peli, has promise. The idea of an invisible and unavoidable substance slowly killing you from the inside has potential for suspense, and the location, a combination of "Hostel"'s fear of being in a foreign land and "The Hills Have Eyes"' nuclear wasteland trapped in time, seems ideal for creepy imagery.

As the protagonists descend further into the town, however, "Chernobyl Diaries" equally descends in quality. The characters turn into classic horror movie idiots midway through the film, choosing to go down every dark corridor and refusing to believe their friends are dead despite the blood smears on the ground. The often-wooden acting doesn't help disguise their dumb decision-making skills.

Even with the characters acting like they left their brain stems back in America, the biggest problems come from first-time director Brad Park…

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"Men in Black 3" isn't the only time-traveling flick worth your time this weekend.
"Men in Black 3" isn't the only time-traveling flick worth your time this weekend.

Five time travel movies definitely worth your time

Time travel is a very alluring prospect. There hasn't been some horribly grave moment in my past that I ache to redo, like H.G. Wells' time traveler, but I'm sure there are some little things I'd love to give a second chance. Maybe I could go back and un-see "Battlefield Earth."

Film writers appear to be just as enamored with the idea. This weekend, "Men in Black 3" sends America's favorite black-suited gentlemen (after "Mad Men," of course) back to the '60s. Before you check in with Agents J and K, however, here are five other time travel-based movies from the past that are definitely worth watching in the present.

"Terminator 2: Judgment Day"

Between making "Dances with Wolves" with blue people and wanting to see more 3D movies (seriously), it's easy to rip on James Cameron. Even with the polarizing director at the helm, however, it's almost impossible to find faults with "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." The action is epic, the time-traveling story has more depth than you would expect from a big-budget action movie and the special effects – especially Robert Patrick's liquid metal villain – still look incredible 20 years later. It's arguably one of the best action movies of all time, and if you haven't seen it yet, you should before Cameron inevitably ruins it with a 3D re-release.

"Back to the Future"

I'm sure H.G. Wells and several literature professors may take issue with this statement, but for me, "Back to the Future" is the definitive time travel story. Yes, Wells' classic 1895 novel may have invented the term "time machine," but in my head, a time machine will always be a silver 1981 DeLorean with a flux capacitor. The film is that iconic and deservedly so. Robert Zemeckis' classic movie overflows with memorably imaginative characters, performances and moments. Most importantly, though, "Back to the Future" is wildly entertaining, which is more than I can say for "Battleship."

"12 Monkeys"

Time travel, with its alternate t…

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Get your very own copy of the newly released DVD of "The Strange Case of Alice Cooper."
Get your very own copy of the newly released DVD of "The Strange Case of Alice Cooper."

You think you know Alice? Win an Alice Cooper "Strange Case" DVD

I'll be celebrating the Fourth of July here in Milwaukee along with a recent inductee into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame – America's favorite theatrical rocker, Alice Cooper – as he shares the Marcus Amphitheater stage with metal monsters Iron Maiden.

I've been a huge Alice Cooper fan since the day in 5th grade I wore an "Alice as Medusa" T-shirt to school that put the entire teaching staff into a tizzy (Hey, to my highly impressionable 11-year-old mind, any artist that can elicit that type of reaction just from a T-shirt was totally awesome.).

If you're an Alice fan and think you know Alice like I know Alice, you can celebrate your Coop knowledge by answering a few simple (well, not that simple) Alice Cooper questions and win a copy of "The Strange Case of Alice Cooper – Live 1979 – Madhouse Rock Tour" for your efforts.

Commercially unavailable (other than bootlegs of the original VHS release) for more than 30 years, "The Strange Case of Alice Cooper" was recorded live on April 9, 1979, in San Diego during a stop on the "Madhouse Rock" tour in support of Alice's classic "From The Inside" record.

"From The Inside" and the subsequent Madhouse Rock Tour were both inspired by Alice's alcoholism-induced stay in a New York sanitarium and the bizarre cast of characters he encountered there. (This was well before the existence of cushy rehab joints like The Betty Ford Clinic.)

Although he's remarkably thin and pale after drying out, the newly sober, focused, even more menacing Alice presents one his most engaging stage shows – featuring giant dancing bottles of alcohol, a 9-foot-tall Cyclops (from "Welcome to My Nightmare"), sadistic nurses and many more twisted antics. His band on this tour – the dual guitars of Steve Hunter and Davey Johnstone, Prakash John on bass, Whitey Glan on drums and Fred Mandel on keyboards – was tight and extremely talented.

I saw this show twice – in Milwaukee and in Madison – and if you've never seen it, it's definitely wo…

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