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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014

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"The Adventures of Tintin" opens in theaters today.
"The Adventures of Tintin" opens in theaters today.

"The Adventures of Tintin" delivers an epic spectacle for all ages

Labors of love – when entrusted to capable admirers – can result in some pretty fantastic things, and that's exactly the case with "The Adventures of Tintin," the movie adaptation of the classic French comics. Directed by film legend Steven Spielberg and produced by Spielberg and "The Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson, Hergé's comic book illustrations gain new life in 3D digital animation.

A project that spent over two decades in the concept process, "Tintin" was originally on track to become a live action film. It was only after Spielberg brought Jackson on that he was convinced animation was the best way to bring the exciting escapades of the boy reporter and his faithful dog, Snowy, to the big screen.

The decision was a good one. Not only does it help the film's sequences transition more seamlessly from the source material, it helps make the idea that this boy and his dog are often in mortal danger more palatable to younger audiences.

Aside from a few darker moments, however, "Tintin" is every bit the quick, light-hearted adventure the previews promise. Kids will get a kick out of the antics of Snowy, Inspectors Thompson and Thomson and the bumbling (read: charmingly sloshed) Captain Haddock. Adults will enjoy the "over their heads" humor dished out in equally ample amounts – by a number of familiar names to boot. And both parties will have no difficulties becoming engrossed in the swashbuckling mystery of Sir Francis Haddock, pirate Red Rackham and the sunken treasure of the Unicorn.

At times it's easy to forget "Tintin" is animated; the technology to create these films has become so advanced that at certain angles it even manages to inch its way right up the other side of the uncanny valley. While these errant flashes of realism have the potential to stun a viewer out of the story for a split second, it nevertheless adds to the overall epic quality of the film – a quality that can only be expected from a partnership of two modern-day movie ti…

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Tom Cruise returns to the top of his game for "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol."
Tom Cruise returns to the top of his game for "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol."

A "Mission" worth seeing

You know those movies where you're pretty sure you can sneak in a quick bathroom break and still be back in time to catch up with the story?

Secret agent action flicks are not those movies, and "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" certainly isn't. So much so, in fact, that in as little as a blink you might find IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in an entirely different country.

Alright, that might be pushing it a bit. But watching this fast-paced, action-packed new "Mission" is not the time to let your mind wander. It follows the aforementioned Hunt and his team of agents on a race against time to take down Russian extremist Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist, of the European "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") before he initiates his plan for U.S.-Russian nuclear war.

The mission is complicated after the IMF is falsely blamed for an explosion at the Russian Kremlin, causing the secret U.S. organization to issue ghost protocol. Having disavowed itself, the IMF's actions force Hunt and his team to essentially go rogue, in the dark, to defeat Hendricks.

Even without their extensive tactical network, the team still manages to scrounge up a few convenient accessories. The fact that it's just enough to scrape together an initial mission is barely worth the willing suspension of disbelief, however, since the plot takes every opportunity to throw masterfully lobbed wrenches into the team's every plan.

As plans change and details unfold, "Mission" steadily ramps up the tension and action. The pacing is incredibly well done, alternating rapid-fire new information and dramatic action sequences with more subdued recon scenes and offhand comedy one-liners to keep audiences from falling behind or losing interest.

Surpassing prowess of the storyline, though, is the spectacular cinematography. It handles both sweeping aesthetic shots and intense action scenes with equal skill, and if you have a chance to catch it on the IMAX, do it for this alone. The execution is unbelievable, …

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Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary in "Young Adult."
Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary in "Young Adult."

"Young Adult" shows Diablo Cody can grow up on the big screen, too

After breaking onto the movie scene with the quirky, polarizing "Juno" and following it up two years later with the disappointing "Jennifer's Body," it seemed highly debatable that writer Diablo Cody would ever turn out something universally appealing.

Incidentally, this was accomplished in short order on the small screen with 2009's breakout "United States of Tara," and Cody's success continues with her latest feature film venture, "Young Adult."

"Young Adult" centers around Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a young adult fiction author still reeling from a divorce and the cancellation of her book series. On a whim, she decides to return to her small hometown to, of all things, win back her ex-boyfriend, who is now married with a newborn daughter.

Mavis, like the characters she writes, is entirely self-absorbed. Unlike her characters, however, she can drink, which she does profusely. Both of these tendencies drive her further into her disconnect with the real world as she works on her delusional mission.

Providing a welcome and entertaining dose of reality is former high school classmate Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt). Oswalt is perfect here, offering both biting and heartfelt comedic relief and a compassionate foil that can hold his own against Theron's jerk of a character.

The audience gets a deeper look into Mavis's past as the story progresses and she continues to rehash her past. This, coupled with the film's climax and subsequent recovery, serves to explain Mavis's faults, but does not justify them. Her behavior is, without a doubt, self-serving to the bone.

The flaws, however, are all intentional. The character of Mavis is written and performed with careful and deliberate attention, giving equal weight to both her quirky, selfish nature and stubbornly likeable moments.

While the movie's ending may not offer enough satisfaction for some viewers, "Young Adult" holds strong throughout, thanks to solid acting, a script ripe with parallels and fluid interplay b…

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If this is your house before Thanksgiving, I hate you.
If this is your house before Thanksgiving, I hate you.

Things that tick me off during the holidays

I was rooting around my Facebook page the other night, and somewhere between absentmindedly stalking some of the "friends" I hadn't seen in awhile and realizing how wildly out of date my listed interests are, I re-discovered my Notes.

Some are kind of stupid, a few are clever enough for me to question whether I actually wrote them, but the ones that amused me most were the short-lived series of "Things That Piss Me Off ...," in which I rage on topics ranging from jerk drivers to creeps at the gym. (This, actually, should be revisited.)

Anyway, since my tweets (@Eenergee, by the way - gratuitous plug) have become increasingly jaded re: the holidays, I figured I should get it all out of my system in one singular Scrooge-fest, rather than bah-humbugging up the works in small, persistent doses for the rest of the year.

This might still happen. But, here's my best attempt at clearing the air:

1. The constant "Happy Holidays"/"Merry Christmas"/"Season's Greetings"/etc. fiasco - Look, hippies, I know you want everyone to be happy and included. And traditionalists, I totally get your freedom of expression. But this is all too much. I realize even belaboring the point is adding to the ordeal, but speaking as someone who got snarked at more than once during my time cash jockeying in retail for a variety of the phrases mentioned, it really doesn't matter what you wish someone. As long as you're not parting ways with a festive "Satan be with you," no one should care this much.

I think of every one of these as an earnest attempt to give a nice, December-related goodbye. Personally, I wish people happy holidays, as in "Happy Chrismahanukwanzakah of your choosing," plus New Year's (for the plural). Please, people. Calm down before you hurt yourselves.

2. Obviously celebrating a specific holiday but still calling your celebration a "holiday" one - This is an exception to my first point. The only time I get peeved when people use the generic "Happy Holidays" is when they are v…

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