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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

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Learn the presidents with the Animaniacs!
Learn the presidents with the Animaniacs!

When did Saturday morning cartoons get so intense?

Yesterday in the editorial office a few of us got to talking about the trippy stuff that passes for today's children's TV shows. Not that I'm in much of a position to wax geriatric about "kids these days," but I find myself regularly stunned into a mildly disturbed silence by the programming out there meant to educate our impressionable, sponge-minded little future.

A lot of what passes for entertainment these days has taken a downslide, having about all of the collective beneficial worth of a "Jersey Shore" marathon, but kids' shows have really embraced the shock and awe.

As I usually end up doing for most things in life, I blame the Teletubbies for this.

It's because of the creepy babbling alien babies that we now have things like the giant warty orange thumb creature on "Yo Gabba Gabba" and whatever the blue hell "Boohbahs" are.

Yes, I know there are still some perfectly reasonable alternatives, and kids probably turn out just fine (hopefully) thanks to good old-fashioned parenting hours logged far away from the Boohbah tube. Even "Yo Gabba Gabba" teaches things like social skills in between freaky hallucination sequences.

As much as I'd love to see the 'toons to take it down a notch, I'm not really one to talk. If I had my way, our country's future would grow up on a steady diet of subversive cartoons like "Animaniacs" and "Looney Tunes." Today's youth needs more direction on how to properly mouth off.

Kidding. But only a little. If it makes you feel better, I'm not opposed to throwing in a "Magic School Bus" to science things up a bit.

Carla Gugino and Emily Browning star in Zack Snyder's action fantasy "Sucker Punch."
Carla Gugino and Emily Browning star in Zack Snyder's action fantasy "Sucker Punch."

Friday Flick: Sucker Punch

One word came to mind when I saw the trailer for "Sucker Punch," and that word was "epic." Of course, it's also being talked up as "Alice in Wonderland with machine guns" by director and co-writer Zack Snyder. 

As his first original screenwriting effort (his screenplay for "300" being adapted from the graphic novel by Frank Miller), it has all the same straight-off-the-comic-pages imagery he's known for bringing to the big screen in his directorial work. I especially like the stylish-but-gritty film noir vibe.

My only (tentative) hang-up is with the fantasy elements. "Sucker Punch" packs everything from samurai to dragons in action sequences based in the mind of the main character, Baby Doll (played by Emily Browning). They're meant to be her coping mechanism to make it through being forced into a mental institution by her step-father, so I can see how they fit in in terms of contrasting imagination with the sterile, suffocating confines of a hospital.

What will make or break this movie: The ending. As much as I like Zack Snyder's work, I'm still not totally sold on the whole story. Because the movie is already set up unconventionally, there's a chance things could get too over the top at the climax. On the other hand, Snyder could pull the "it was all in their heads" card (it takes place in a mental institution, after all). It would be predictable to cap it off with a jolt of reality, but not necessarily cliché -- if done right. 

Chances I'll spend theater money to see it: I'm already in line at the ticket counter.

Here's the overview: "Sucker Punch" is an epic action fantasy that takes us into the vivid imagination of a young girl whose dream world provides the ultimate escape from her darker reality. Unrestrained by the boundaries of time and place, she is free to go where her mind takes her, and her incredible adventures blur the lines between what's real and what is imaginary. When she is locked away against her will, she urges four other young girls t…

Title alien Paul hits the road in this new Pegg/Frost comedy.
Title alien Paul hits the road in this new Pegg/Frost comedy.

Friday Flick: Paul

I loved "Shaun of the Dead" but couldn't get into "Hot Fuzz," so I have mixed expectations about the newest Simon Pegg/Nick Frost comedy, "Paul." What made "Shaun of the Dead" so much funnier for me was the absence of overly forced character archetypes, something that "Hot Fuzz," with its uptight cop/bumbling sidekick duo, relied on.

"Paul" takes Pegg and Frost and casts them both as stereotypical sci-fi nerds. There's a plus here in not having to deal with the "clashing personality" comedy set-ups, but the opportunity to cash in on geek jokes is more than available. It's playing to kind of a niche audience, but the foundation for a decent comedy is there based on their previous movie successes and the addition of the more recognizable genre regular Seth Rogen. If a nerdy premise is the only card they have to play, though, the schtick will get old really fast.

What will make or break this movie: Seth Rogen as Paul. He's good at playing a wise ass, but can he pull it off when he's only indirectly on screen? What gives his performance more credibility is the fact that he enlisted help from experienced CGI actor Andy Serkis, who did motion capture work as part of his role as Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. It's not a guaranteed save, but hopefully Serkis was able to impart some insider wisdom to help Rogen better personalize his CG alien with the comedic nuances he's developed in live action work.

Here's the overview: For the past 60 years, an alien named Paul has been hanging out at a top-secret military base. For reasons unknown, the space-traveling smart ass decides to escape the compound and hop on the first vehicle out of town -- a rented RV containing Earthlings Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings. Chased by federal agents and the fanatical father of a young woman that they accidentally kidnap, Graeme and Clive hatch a fumbling escape plan to return Paul to his mother ship. And, as two nerds struggle to help, one little green man migh…

Irish breakfast. Very good; not very vegetarian-friendly.
Irish breakfast. Very good; not very vegetarian-friendly.
Strongbow's "perfection" comes in plastic cups at O'Connor's Perfect Pint on St. Patrick's Day.
Strongbow's "perfection" comes in plastic cups at O'Connor's Perfect Pint on St. Patrick's Day.

The other end of St. Patrick's Day

I've never gotten too excited about St. Patrick's Day.

The reason is twofold. First, my various schedules never really allowed time for much green-clad shenanigan-ing; when it did, it was nearly always at night. Second, I have no interest in hitting the town during prime-time reveling hours. I've been out to bars before where I've literally been shoulder to shoulder with my fellow patrons, and the experience tends to suck.

So, my curiosity was piqued when the opportunity presented itself to check out a few West Side Irish pubs on this side of the noon hour.

I decided to stop off at Mo's Irish Pub in Wauwatosa to investigate the whole Irish breakfast thing. The crowd was decent, but more in the traditional pub way you'd expect at 8 a.m. The tents were set up for the long alcohol-fueled night to come, but for now the people kept it low-key with their breakfasts and a few drinks.

I wish I hadn't read up on the traditional Irish breakfast before I went in for it. I gave both black and white pudding the old college try, but only because I know it's silly of me to be weirded out by food that has what are probably fewer off-putting ingredients than your average hot dog. I won't go into detail, but if you're interested, you can find the Wiki articles for black and white pudding here and here.

All in all, it was very good, though it's pretty hard to screw up eggs, sausage and toast. I was kind of jealous of the kid at the next table over who ordered the Lucky Charms, though. I caught myself before I could indulge in any breakfast marshmallows and headed over to O'Connor's Perfect Pint on Greenfield Avenue for a drink.

My second and last stop had the typical bar atmosphere in spades (clovers?). They, too, had the tents prepped and ready for the green beer-soaked night ahead, but at 9 a.m. there were only a few outdoorsy folks. A comfortable crowd had taken up in the main bar area -- just enough to be busy but not so bad that I didn't have an easy time of getting my Stro…