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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014

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The "Step Up" franchise returns with "Step Up Revolution," in theaters now.
The "Step Up" franchise returns with "Step Up Revolution," in theaters now.

Fourth "Step Up" is far from revolutionary

Despite being long past the stage where "straight to DVD" should have become standard protocol, the "Step Up" movie franchise has managed to release yet another sequel.

The fourth (yes, there are three others of these things) serves up the same tired fare as the previous installments: vapid romance, tedious conflict, against-all-odds happy ending.

Not content with simply being one more movie in the lineup, however, "Step Up Revolution" decided to really go for it, dumbing the premise down to its bare bones and throwing all complexities to the wind. The rebels.

This time around, "Step Up" has set its dancers against the colorful backdrop of Miami, where a hardworking dance crew of underdogs called The Mob have been using flash mob guerrilla marketing to earn fame and fortune in an online video contest. However, they're soon forced to refocus their work to help save their neighborhood from a group of big-business moguls intent on booting them out to make way for the latest development project.

"Step Up Revolution"'s action gets piloted along by a cast of largely no-name actors who emote with all the intensity of a Disney Channel feature. Their performances are bland at best, and laughably cliche at worst. Lead couple Sean and Emily (Ryan Guzman and Kathryn McCormick) carry on with all the chemistry of two paper plates as they're puppeted around by the movie's insipid storyline and bare-minimum character development. Everyone else is merely cheap confetti, scattered around the movie en masse to distract the audience into thinking there's actually some kind of depth in its plot.

The writers phoned this one in hardcore, but I'm guessing no one was searching too hard for Oscar-worthy material. "Step Up Revolution" is a dance movie -- the focus is on the moves. And everything about the dance scenes carried this movie in a big, big way.

Each one was a visual spectacle that combined scenery, dazzling effects and absolutely stunning choreography in a presentation so fla…

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Newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis stars in "Beasts in the Southern Wild," in theaters now.
Newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis stars in "Beasts in the Southern Wild," in theaters now. (Photo: Jess Pinkham)

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" a raw, bittersweet tale

Few movies with adult leads can convey the multifaceted and earnest performances good child actors can deliver. Even the best ones lack that je ne sais quoi a child brings to a role – it's some magic combination of precocious maturity and inherent innocence.

The people behind "Beasts of the Southern Wild" clearly know this, choosing to rest their story squarely on the shoulders of young newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis, who embodies her character and responsibilities with all of the masterful skill of any seasoned professional.

"Beasts" is a film based in abject squalor and made beautiful by the resiliency and simplicity of its characters. It takes place in a reclusive bayou community called The Bathtub, in which 6-year-old Hushpuppy (Wallis), her father Wink (Dwight Henry) and a small, close-knit population eke out a bare-bones living. It's all they know and it's all they want.

Hushpuppy is happy in her routine with her tough-love father, but with his declining health and a powerful storm that threatens to destroy all they know on the horizon, it becomes clear to Hushpuppy that she must take matters into her own hands to set things right.

Much of the story is told through Hushpuppy's perspective. She narrates nearly all of it, and does so in a plaintive way that is both endearing and heartbreaking. Some of the things she's exposed to and is forced to deal with are jarring enough for the average adult, and yet her matter-of-fact way of handling herself almost makes the situation seem ordinary.

And for her, it is; only when the viewer takes a second to pull away from the life "Beasts" has immersed them in does it dawn on them how much really is at stake, and how precarious Hushpuppy's place in her world really is.

Hushpuppy is a more extreme example of The Bathtub's makeshift lifestyle and intrepid do-it-yourself-ism because of her age. She's incredibly strong-willed, a trait that gets exacerbated by the tendency for children to be the centers of their own univers…

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Christian Bale finishes his three-movie turn as Batman in "The Dark Knight Rises," in theaters now.
Christian Bale finishes his three-movie turn as Batman in "The Dark Knight Rises," in theaters now.

"The Dark Knight Rises" rises to the occasion

If you're reading this, you already have an opinion about Christopher Nolan's highly anticipated end film to his Batman trilogy. Heck, you've probably already seen the movie at one of the myriad midnight screenings held overnight.

But, if you haven't, you should know two things: First, I won't include any spoilers here, because I'm feeling generous; second, "The Dark Knight Rises" was the final Batman film audiences both needed and deserved.

There's been much ado about the crucial final film of Nolan's third installment. It's been put on a pedestal ever since Nolan decided first to abandon creating a third, then relented and returned with a hyped script and even buzzier teasers. Plus, following the late Heath Ledger's deliciously maniacal (and Oscar-winning) turn as The Joker, fans were on the edges of their seats to see how new nemeses Bane and Selina Kyle/Catwoman stack up.

Naturally, expectations are riding high for "TDKR." And, yes, the movie lives up to them – to an extent.

The last of Nolan's Batman trilogy picks up eight years after "The Dark Knight." Batman is a Gotham pariah and a secret martyr for Harvey Dent's good name. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), the anonymous man behind the mask, has hidden himself away in the isolation of Wayne Manor. After Wayne discovers some unscrupulous dealings being carried out under the auspices of Wayne Enterprises and enforced by formidable mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy), he takes up the mask and cape yet again to protect Gotham's new-found peace. He does not, however, account for the full menace of Bane and his master plan.

Much like Nolan resurrected The Joker for "The Dark Knight," "TDKR" also sees the return of Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman. Batman's vixen of an anti-heroine, originally brought to the big screen by Michelle Pfeiffer, is embodied this time around by Anne Hathaway, who – as much as I wanted to give her a chance – is kind of a Catwoman Lite. While Nolan and company opted to pull The Joker completely off …

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Batman returns to the big screen this Friday in "The Dark Knight Rises," but you can see it first.
Batman returns to the big screen this Friday in "The Dark Knight Rises," but you can see it first.

See "The Dark Knight Rises" this Thursday - for free

Can't wait to see "The Dark Knight Rises" this Friday? Good news: you don't have to.

OnMilwaukee.com is giving away 50 tickets to a special Thursday night screening of the final chapter in director Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.

Click here to download your ticket to the screening, which takes place at 7 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre. Tickets are first come, first served, and up to two can be downloaded per person.

Enjoy! And remember, no spoilers.