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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

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Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling in "Gangster Squad," in theaters now.
Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling in "Gangster Squad," in theaters now.

"Gangster Squad" takes sensationalized aim at gangland nostalgia

Classic gangsters loved a good embarrassment of riches. Nice cars, fancy suits, expensive arm candy – the sky was the limit on how they could show off their wealth and power.

For a movie like "Gangster Squad" – which takes place amidst the glitz and glamour (and dirty world of organized crime) of late '40s Los Angeles – showing off is fine. In fact, it's pretty much a prerequisite. But, when the swanky style of the era meets the stylized swank of the movie's own excesses, things get out of hand.

"Gangster Squad" is the semi-true story of a group of LAPD officers tasked with taking down the city's most notorious crime boss, Mickey Cohen (played with smarmy zeal by Sean Penn). The secret band of righteous outlaws, led by Sergeant John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) and backed by a diversely skilled ensemble (played by Ryan Gosling, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie and Michael Pena), lay a promising foundation for the film despite its rote crime drama set-up. Unfortunately, their promise is smothered by their one-dimensional characters and unembellished screentime that only sets them up as a band of cliched white knights.

Nearly everything else about "Gangster Squad" is awash in what can best be described as "gangster camp." Everything about Cohen's high-class living is gratuitously ostentatious, from his fortified mansion and posh nightlife to his ludicrously mismatched partnership with etiquette coach Grace Faraday (Emma Stone). Conversely, the down-and-dirty aspects of his ill-gotten lifestyle – the clandestine business meetings set in deviously noir locales, the cadre of goons armed with tommy guns tooling around L.A. in slick dark cars – wholly embrace the devil-may-care arrogance of a cartoonishly repugnant kingpin soaring too close to the sun.

The only thing more eyeroll-inducing than these prototypical ploys is "Gangster Squad"'s score. Its pensive, deep monotones don't flesh out until the near-climax, leaving it to plaintively drone over the…

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Internet security is one thing, but griping about invasions of privacy on Facebook is a little much.
Internet security is one thing, but griping about invasions of privacy on Facebook is a little much.

Go on, track me

It feels like not a week goes by without someone posting something about how Facebook's invading everyone's privacy, spying on your browser history, etc., ad nauseum. (These posts are usually made on Facebook, by the way.)

I understand the generic concern over the Orwellian slippery slope, but it doesn't take me too long to re-assess and arrive back at my old conclusion: Who cares?

Facebook tracks you. BFD. Plenty of other websites have cookies and sneaky tricks that do the same thing. Ninety-five percent of it is for advertising; the other five percent is so the government knows where you are in case aliens demand access to the Fort Knox DNA blood reserve where everyone's clones are kept in jars ... or so I've been told.

Point is, I don't care if some crazy ad wants to tell me Wisconsin residents get cheap insurance and free Viagra if I click on a GIF of a dancing granny. I just ignore it. And unless you're a CIA mega-hacker, you've already been tracked, so doing something about it now isn't going to do squat.

I'm still vigilant with my Facebook privacy settings. There are weird people out there, and they're far more likely to have ulterior motives against me. Is worrying over "The Man" or a super computer in Langley worth my time? Not really.

In fact, they can track me all they want – I'm sure my Netflix history and reposted memes are fascinating.