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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, April 20, 2014

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Helen Mirren as Alma Reville and Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock in "Hitchcock."
Helen Mirren as Alma Reville and Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock in "Hitchcock."

"Hitchcock" delves into the mind of the master of suspense

Movies about legendary historical figures almost always carry extra weight on their shoulders. They're subjected to inevitable scrutiny and comparison, and the question "Did they do justice?" constantly looms over the finished project.

Frankly, it sounds like hell. The only thing that could make it more intimidating would be making a movie about a legendary movie maker. But, the supposed masochists behind "Hitchcock" went there, and emerged relatively unscathed with a clever, if superficial, homage to the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.

Based on "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of 'Psycho,'" the non-fiction book by Stephen Rebello, "Hitchcock" chronicles the controversies behind what ultimately became the director's most memorable film. More importantly, it brings the audience into the complicated partnership between Hitch, as he's called, and his wife, Alma Reville.

The making of "Psycho" is the external shell that frames the story, but the inner workings are structured completely on the couple (played expertly by Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren) and their relationship. They're introduced as a stable partnership of equals, serving as each other's supportive but affectionate critics. As the story progresses – and as troubles with the controversial horror project deepen – it becomes clear that this intro was just the calm waters that precede the stormy demeanor Hitch habitually embroils himself in on set.

His well-documented moodiness manifests itself visually as hallucinations of Ed Gein, the man who inspired "Psycho" the novel. As troubles with the picture continue to surface, Hitch's imaginings become the devil on his shoulder, second-guessing not just his decisions but the motives of his wife, who has taken on a side project (or, in his mind, "side project") with fellow screenwriter Whit (Danny Huston).

The tactic is smart, but tame. Hitch's reliance on his "relationship" with his murderous subject inversely mirrors the gro…

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Brad Pitt in "Killing Them Softly," in theaters now.
Brad Pitt in "Killing Them Softly," in theaters now.

"Killing Them Softly" more of a drawn-out cinematic death

On the outside, "Killing Them Softly" has all of the components of a good, gritty crime thriller. A solid plot involving underground crime and armed robbery, a cast of genre alums and a big-name leading man carrying it all as a cynical professional hitman. Sounds like the perfect respite from all the glittering Oscar bait scrambling to hit theaters before the year's out, right?

Yeah, not so much. Those are the smoke and mirrors they use to pull you into this strangely placid drama, which occupies a dragging hour and a half with more talking, planning and fumbling societal commentary than good, dirty action.

"Killing" kicks off with, and is driven by, an armed robbery at a mob card game perpetrated by two loser cons (Ben Mendelsohn and "Argo"'s Scoot McNairy). It's supposedly foolproof, since the same thing was pulled off once before by the game's organizer, Markie (Ray Liotta), and the suspicion is already primed to fall on him again. It does – but not for long. In an attempt to restore order to the balance in the underground crime "economy," Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is brought in to hunt down the bumbling duo.

Again, it sounds like the basis for a legitimately good movie. What the succinct premise doesn't account for, however, is the seemingly endless bouts of aforementioned nothingness that completely gum up the works. For a bunch of "men of action," these supposedly uncivilized cons are a real bunch of chatty hens. If there's one upside to that aspect, though, it's that these kind of machismo crime movies are a last vestige of legitimately accepted inappropriateness, and it comes across loud and clear (and abundantly) in the dialogue.

"Killing" is inundated with anecdotes that aren't just a little blue, they're on the other end of the freakin' color wheel. Crazy hookups, stories from the inside, ridiculous past heists – it's all almost prerequisite for getting anywhere in this movie. It's the perfect complement to the give-no-f*ck a…

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The swag: Three pint glasses and three bottles of Black Friday.
The swag: Three pint glasses and three bottles of Black Friday.
The line at the brewery at about 7 a.m.
The line at the brewery at about 7 a.m.
It's so close I can almost taste it.
It's so close I can almost taste it.
"Not Available Tomorrow."
"Not Available Tomorrow."

Beer me, Black Friday

I'm not a Black Friday shopper. Years of retail have served as a cautionary tale against becoming one of the door-busting deal junkies, and I still feel a lingering moral solidarity with the poor cash jockeys. That, and I just plain hate getting up early.

Tempt my lushy proclivities, however, and you've got a whole different ball game on your hands. I'll brave wee morning hours, arctic wasteland temps and even – shudder – the shopping public if you offer me booze.

That's just what was on the itinerary this morning when, in an unprecedented show of initiative, I and two of my friends ventured out into the frozen hell that was 4 a.m. on a quest for fame, glory and Lakefront beer.

The prize: limited-edition 22-ounce bottles of Black Friday imperial India-style black ale, sold only at the brewery and only on Black Friday. It was the first time they'd done something so exclusive, and we wanted it.

So, we caffeine'd up and hit the road not-so-bright and early. We got there at quarter to 5, and it was dead.

We sat in the car for about an hour and a half and watched as the first intrepid beer monkey took his place at the double doors, followed by a handful of other brave souls – including a few who had been holed up in their cars since before we arrived – who chose to start lining up down the ramp.

I have no idea why. Call it a paranoid chain reaction on account of the 300 special-edition pint glasses up for grabs, but there were maybe 20 people, tops, freezing their hops off waiting outside for no reason.

Eventually we caved and subjected ourselves to the windy death tundra, but in the end we only waited about 45 minutes before the lovely Lakefront folks decided enough was enough and let us all in early (but not before taking a couple pictures of the scene from the warm side of the waiting room window, the teases).

We gratefully defrosted, grabbed our prize and were on our way by 8. I'm glad we got there early since the line was well down Commerce Street by…

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Sandman, Bunny, North, Tooth and Jack Frost are the heroes of "Rise of the Guardians," in theaters now.
Sandman, Bunny, North, Tooth and Jack Frost are the heroes of "Rise of the Guardians," in theaters now.

"Rise of the Guardians" continues the string of solid kid flicks

It's been a great year for kids movies. From "Brave" and "Wreck-It Ralph" to the more tween-geared "ParaNorman" and "Frankenweenie," Hollywood's been pulling out all the stops catering to the kiddos.

This week adds "Rise of the Guardians" to that list – a whimsical fantasy about children's most famous fabled icons and their secret allegiance to protect the collective innocence of childhood.

These aren't just your average fairytale characters, however. This squadron of imaginary elite includes North, a bad-ass tatted-up Santa Claus voiced by Alec Baldwin; Bunny, a boomerang-wielding, 6-foot-tall Easter Bunny voiced by Hugh Jackman; Tooth, a chipper rendition of the Tooth Fairy, voiced by Isla Fisher, who commands an army of hummingbird-like tooth collectors; and the silent-but-deadly Sandman (Because why would someone whose job is putting people to sleep want anything to do with the ruckus that is talking? Really now...)

And at the heart of the story is Jack Frost, voiced by Chris Pine. Jack's a solitary player, a bit of a rogue, and, unlike his illustrious counterparts, he's invisible. Believing is seeing in their universe, and since people write Jack Frost off as a force of nature or a mere turn of a phrase, his interactions with them go uncredited. He finds entertainment in playing silently with kids on snow days and mucking things up for Bunny by frosting the occasional Easter egg hunt, but for the most part, he's alone – without a past and without real purpose.

As it turns out, that's exactly the same problem plaguing the nefarious Pitch Black (voiced by Jude Law). Fear incarnate, Pitch is fed up with being explained away as a simple shadow seen out of the corner of people's eyes and has resurfaced to inflict a new Dark Age on the world's children. The Guardians assemble and recruit Jack, who joins their ranks after discovering that helping them just might help him uncover the truth about his forgotten past.

"Guardians" exhibits…

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