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Apes more interesting than humans in film

August 14, 2014

I should preface my review for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” with my thoughts on its predecessor.
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” came as a pleasant surprise in 2011. It was a reboot/prequel that nobody asked for, but thankfully it made for a solid summer blockbuster. The best part of that film is the character of Caesar played by the incredible Andy Serkis. Motion capture technology has allowed computer-generated characters to be played by humans. An actor provides all the mannerisms of the character on set, and the performance is converted to CGI (computer-generated imagery) in postproduction. Serkis is a master of this craft having played a handful of iconic characters such as Gollum, King Kong and now Caesar.
Caesar (Serkis) is the main focus of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” The film opens with a close up of Caesar’s eyes. In his eyes you see assured dominance. Immediately he’s established as a commanding presence. As leader of the apes, Caesar, along with help from the others of his kind, has built a civilization. The intelligence of these beings is ever growing as they’ve found ways to build, hunt and communicate. Meanwhile on the human side of things, a plague caused by the apes has wiped out most of humanity. The humans in the film live in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco that’s running out of power. The only source of power that could be useful is a dam that the apes happen to live on. Our human protagonist, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), is tasked with talking the apes into letting the humans operate the dam. This creates conflict between the humans and the apes, which could escalate into something far worse.
“Dawn” is a very good sequel that improves upon many aspects of its predecessor. Director Matt Reeves, who didn’t direct “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” does a terrific job constructing plenty of memorable scenes through beautiful cinematography and edge of your seat tension. The action sequences, although they only come in the last 30 minutes or so of the film, are gripping.
Serkis gives arguably his best performance to date as Caesar. Now well respected, Caesar not only has the attention of the apes, but he also has the attention and respect of the audience. His outstanding screen presence is undeniable. This can all be attributed to the performance given by Serkis. I’d go as far as to say that Caesar is the best character in any film this year. This can also be said about the character of Koba (Toby Kebbell), a scarred and bitter ape that strongly dislikes humans (that’s putting it lightly). Who knew that computer-generated characters could be so layered?
The main issue with “Dawn” is that all of the other characters are bland and uninteresting. This is especially true when it comes to the human characters. Our human protagonist played by Clarke is given no layers whatsoever. I never once cared about his character or the other members of his family, a wife (Keri Russel) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Gary Oldman plays a man that believes the apes can’t be reasoned with. That’s about all you know about the character throughout the film. The screenplay tries to set up emotional arcs within the human storylines, but they just don’t work. I blame this on weak writing.
This film is filled with themes such as family, lack of coexistence, loyalty, burden of leadership, racism etc. These themes are very present throughout the film and they make for a very good emotional payoff surrounding Caesar and the rest of the apes. Overall, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a very good sequel with a great central character. The bland human characters bring this film down a notch, but it’s a film that does almost everything better than its predecessor.

Rating: 3/4

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An English lesson on 'like,' 'whatever'

August 14, 2014

If you spend any time observing how people use the English language, you certainly have noted that when people cannot think of what to say next, their response often is, “Whatever.”
My dictionary calls the word’s usual intent “dismissive and rude.” It defeats the goal of precise and accurate language.
There are many other expressions used to fill spaces, change subjects or cover ignorance.
Another such word is like. As an English teacher and sometime journalist I learned mishandling this word is serious business. You see, there are no other words that can perform the functions like can.
Only like can produce a direct comparison (She had cheeks like roses). Used carefully, like works as a preposition (Nothing succeeds like trying).
What many of us do is use the word as a defense while we think of what to say next.
“Like, like, I’m not sure.” Starting a sentence with like usually leads to embarrassing protracted hesitation and uncertainty.
One of my strongest student editors developed this like-before-everything habit.
It was so unbecoming I decided to to something teachers should never do.
In English class one day I called her on it, upfront, before her peers, as she was trying to make a comment.
She turned several shades of amber. I swore I would never do anything like that again.
Know what? She never began a sentence with like again. Some time later she thanked me for forcing the halt of a bad language habit.
Then how about those souls who cannot manage a sentence without inserting “you know” every few phrases.
I spend a healthy share of my professional life observing how others use language.
You may be thinking is that any way to spend one’s time? I think so.
There is no more important skill than mastering one’s native tongue. Yet we settle for the minimum, only what will get us by.
Yet anyone who speaks and writes clearly and accurately is in demand.
Some would say, “Obviously.” Oh, oh! Another word that undergoes overuse.
As my students sometimes suggested, “What are you trying to tell us, Mr. Johnson?” If that isn’t obvious, I don’t know what is.

Recent Community columnists
Residents’ thoughts on development
August 07, 2014

he Southeastern Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) has been having a busy year. A few months ago, I reported on a study released by that organization regarding the future of the economy and population of the seven county Southeastern Wisconsin region. That report actually figures into an even more ambitious planning effort being undertaken by SEWRPC that focuses on long-range land use and transportation issues called Vision 2050. The goal of Vision 2050 is to allow residents to influence the future of their communities by answering two main questions:
How do you want your community and the region to develop?
How do you want to be connected to the different places in your community and the region where you work, live and play?
As someone who has a hard time deciding what to pack in a suitcase for an overnight trip, I’ve always admired the thoroughness of SEWRPC’s planning process. Vision 2050 is no exception.
Planners have provided three opportunities for citizen input, including a random telephone survey, community workshops and an Internet survey. Each method was designed to solicit different information but all three yielded interesting results.
The community workshops, which required the investment of several hours of time by participants, likely captured the opinion of those most passionate about the issues. These are probably good folks to tap into for an in-depth discussion of the issues, but may not necessarily represent the views of the typical resident.
Likewise, the Internet survey presumed knowledge by respondents that the planning process was taking place and required them to take the affirmative step to seek out the survey webpage. As far as discerning the opinions of the average resident, the telephone survey probably hit closest to the mark.
Approximately 200 of the 1,500 people surveyed in the study resided in Walworth County. Although residents in all counties shared similar views on many issues, I was surprised that opinions varied in some important ways.
Walworth County residents tended to value the preservation of open space and farmland higher than inhabitants of other counties in the region. Preserving natural areas was rated as a high priority by 83.2 percent of Walworth County respondents, which was the highest rating among the seven counties; in contrast, only 69.5 percent of Waukesha County residents held the same opinion.

The preservation of agricultural land, likewise, garnered the highest rating in our county with 82.5 percent of those responding rating its preservation as a high priority as opposed to 66.3 percent of Waukesha County respondents.
Walworth County residents answered related statements by overwhelming margins, including the following:
New development should occur on agricultural or other open land; 87.9 percent disagreed.
New development should occur as redevelopment and infill in existing cities and villages; 90.1 percent agreed.
New business, retail and industrial parks should be allowed to be developed away from population centers; 70.2 percent disagreed. New jobs should be located in existing business and industrial parks and retail centers through their redevelopment or expansion; 92.2 percent agreed.
In addition to discerning the attitudes of residents toward future development, the survey also attempted to gauge respondents’ level of satisfaction with existing infrastructure and services. Walworth County residents gave the highest endorsement of all of the counties surveyed to the region’s larger parks. More than 30 percent of our residents rated hiking, camping, golfing and beach swimming opportunities as excellent. Nearly half of our residents rated the region’s state and interstate highways as above-average or excellent; that rating dropped to just over 37 percent when it came to county roads and local streets. Less than half of Walworth County respondents (47 percent) reported regularly commuting to work or school and 34 percent reported a commute time of between zero and ten minutes, which was by far the lowest in the region. In addition to the telephone survey, three different workshops or visioning sessions were held in each of the seven counties. At one workshop, participants were asked to identify their favorite places on maps of their county and the region. Top vote-getters in Walworth County included the Kettle Moraine State Forest and the White River State Trail. If you’re interested in making your views known on long-term land use and transportation issues, it’s not too late. The next visioning session in our county is set for September 9 at the Matheson public library in Elkhorn.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Walworth County Board of Supervisors.

Childhood memories of Central-Denison
August 07, 2014

Walking by Lake Geneva’s Central-Denison School on Wisconsin Street to the north of Maple Park, memories cannot help but bubble to the surface. This writer’s experience, no doubt, must be similar in many respects to that of thousands of others who attended Central School between 1901 and 2014. Accordingly, this column will be, in essence, a “slice-of-life” recollection of a particular period in Lake Geneva’s history as seen through the eyes of a young student at Central School, refracted through the prism of six to seven intervening decades.
Perhaps the most notable external feature of Central School (it was not called Central-Denison School during the years following the end of World War II-the name change in honor of longtime school superintendant E.B. Denison came much later) is the semi-circular room where this writer attended kindergarten as did his parents, aunt and uncle in 1922, 1915, 1913 and 1912 respectively.
It was a day or two after Labor Day in September 1947 that this writer’s grandmother walked with her five-year-old grandson to Central School, a few blocks from their home on Maxwell Street across from the Pioneer Cemetery. The young boy clutched a pencil and pad of paper in his hand. His grandmother was going to enroll him in kindergarten at Central School, much as she had enrolled her three children in kindergarten some three decades earlier. When the two of them reached the kindergarten room (it was the afternoon kindergarten-kindergarten was a half-day class and the morning kindergarten was at the Third War School, today the American Legion Hall on Henry Street) they encountered the kindergarten teacher, Miss Ruth O’Brien, standing in the doorway greeting the mothers who were enrolling their children. Miss O’Brien reached down and took the pencil and pad of paper from the young boy’s hand.
“We don’t do that here,” she said. Crushed, the young boy sensed tears welling up in his eyes. He had learned how to read when he was three years old by reading the Chicago Herald American newspaper on the floor of his living room and was very much looking forward to learning how to write.
He had thought that was what school was all about. His grandmother handed him a small rug that all new students were required to bring, admonished him to look both ways as he crossed streets on his way home from school, bid him goodbye and was gone. The young boy looked around the room. Of the 23 other students, he saw quite a few that he already knew ­— his neighbors the Smith twins, Timmy and Terry, Mary Lynn Schryver and Sally Gray; Carol Hanny, Nancy Hess, Richie Kahn, and Bruce Peck, whom he knew from the First Congregational Church, and John Brandley, whose Dad ran the Schultz Brothers “Dime Store” on Main Street, and two of his cousin Bill Malsch’s cousins, Tommy and Helen Malsch. He walked up to John Brandley and began talking to him. Miss O’Brien suddenly clapped her hands and told the students that it was time to take a nap and that they should unroll the rugs that they had brought with them, lay them on the floor and lie down on them. When class was over at 3 p.m. (a bell in the school rang, signaling that the school day was over), the young boy walked home, making sure to look both ways as he crossed streets) still upset that Miss O’Brien had taken his pencil and pad of paper away. For the ensuing nine years, he would attend Central School from September to May each school year.
The young boy had seen his Kindergarten teacher, Miss Ruth O’Brien, many times before. During the summers she worked in the small wooden Chamber of Commerce building in Library Park at the southwest corner of Main and Cook Streets, dispensing information to tourists.
Only after he grew older did he learn that she was a native of Lake Geneva and had been 51 years old when he entered Kindergarten.
A few years later she would marry Edward J. Nusssbaum, who lodged in the same house that she did in the 400 block of Center Street.
It is astonishing that the smells and sights of Central School have been retained in one’s mind for almost seven decades. A particularly remembered smell is that of the pink powder that the school janitors used to clean the smoothly worn floors.

Every day they pushed the pink substance down the halls with their large brooms, rendering the floors spotlessly clean. And the drinking fountains in the school are also remembered. At heights low enough to accommodate the younger students, they were called “bubblers” and cool water bubbled up in them. Ralph Warham was the principal of Central School in 1947. The next school year, 1948-1949, began with the young boy in Miss Margaret Maslowke’s first grade. She was from Wisconsin Rapids and had graduated from Stevens Point State Teacher’s College. But by the beginning of January, it was apparent that Miss Maslowke’s class was overcrowded as was Mrs. Karl (Maxine) Thorsell’s first grade class at Third Ward School. Mrs. Thorsell was from Duluth, Minn., and had attended the Duluth State Teacher’s College and graduated from the University of Minnesota. So half of Miss Maslowke’s students, including the young boy, and half of Mrs. Thorsell’s students were combined in a new first grade whose room was not in Central School, but in the “old” Lake Geneva High school (long since torn down and replaced by the modern middle component of Central-Denison School complex). The new first grade teacher was Miss Marilyn Breke from Milwaukee, who had never taught before. On the first day of class in January 1948, Miss Breke paired each student from Central School with a student from Third Ward School and made each of them promise to be friends with each other for life. The young boy from Central School was paired with Charles “Buzz” Wheeler from Third Ward School. They did indeed become the closest of friends for life, attending Whitewater State College and the University of Wisconsin together. “Buzz” became a well-known attorney in Green Bay until his death a number of years ago.
The following school year, 1949-1950, the young boy was back in Central School again. His second grade teacher was Miss Erna Tandrup. His “job” during the school year was to go into the school’s basement at mid-morning and bring up a metal container with 26 half pints of milk in glass bottles for the class. The young boy enjoyed the job because he could watch the school’s two janitors, Leroy Johnson and Arnold Ackley, shovel coal into the roaring fires in the large furnaces on the east side of the school’s basement. He also loved the morning and afternoon recesses which, weather permitting, were in Maple Park.
In 1950-1951, the young boy’s third grade teacher was Mrs. Clarence Vener, whose sister was married to Al Gove, the letter carrier who delivered mail on City Route #3.
During the 1951-1952 school year, the young boy again moved to the old high school building. For fourth grade he was in a combination fourth-fifth grade class taught by Miss Hazel Artz. Miss Artz’s boy friend was an English teacher at Lake Geneva High School, Kerwin Mathews (1926-2007), who later became a well-known movie actor in Hollywood and a TV actor. He appeared in 23 movies (mostly “B” movies, the most notable of which was “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad”), and 14 television programs. The young boy remained in the “old” high school building for the 1952-53 school year. He began fifth grade as a student in Miss Ethel McBroom’s class. Miss McBroom, a graduate of Northwestern University, was from Woodstock, Ill. At midyear, however, the young boy was transferred to Mrs. Holzmitler’s fifth grade class, also in the “old” high school building, because Eastview School had opened and Third Ward School was closed, requiring Miss McBroom to transfer to Eastview. For the 1953-54 school year, the boy was back in Central School again, but this time on the second floor. His sixth grade teacher was Miss Lorraine Meyerhofer, a native of Bloomfield Township, who lived on Park Row.
During the 1954-55 school year, the boy’s seventh grade teacher was Allen Cramer from Sauk City. Mr. Cramer turned out to be the boy’s favorite teacher. After Mr. Cramer retired from teaching, he was a Walmart “greeter.”During his final year at Central School, 1955-1956, his eighth grade teacher was Dale Wolff. As of this writing, Dale Wolff is the only teacher this writer had at Central School who is still alive. Another teacher merits mention, Al Heling, the gym teacher. The school nurse was Margaret Walter. The school’s principal was Theodore J. Kitze. The Superintendant of Schools was Vernon Pollock. The years 1947-1956 were a magical time to have been educated in the Lake Geneva public schools.

The dedication of a new county park
July 31, 2014

I was about four minutes into my latest speech when I realized I had started on page two of my script, rather than the first, confusing my audience and cutting a good four minutes off of my presentation.
The purpose of my speech was to dedicate the county’s newest park, White River County Park in the Town of Lyons.
The reason for my gaffe was that I intended to introduce county board members in attendance at the event. I learned a long time ago not to entrust that task to my memory. Forgetting to introduce one of your bosses is not only inconsiderate, but a poor career move.
I circulated through the crowd of nearly 200 attendees, dutifully writing down the name of every supervisor that I saw at the point in the speech when I intended to introduce them, which happened to be the second page of my script.
Neglecting to return my papers to their correct order, I made my way to the podium and began my remarks on page two. I eventually discovered my error but decided not to back up and cover the omitted material.
The crowd was fighting this year’s bumper crop of mosquitoes and was far more interested in exploring the new park than listening to speeches; and besides, I figured the speech wouldn’t go to waste because I could use it as this week’s column.
What I would have told the crowd, had I started on the correct page of my speech, is that it has been awhile since we dedicated a park. The last dedication that I attended was the Price Park Conservancy in 1996. (A separate grand opening was conducted in 2002.)
At the time, Price Park was just the second county park; Natureland Park in the town of Richmond was our first. In 2002, the courthouse square in Elkhorn was permanently designated Veteran’s Park. White River Park is our fourth.
Although it is not, strictly speaking, a park, in 2003 the County took on the responsibility for maintenance of the White River State Trail, a twelve-mile multi-use trail that runs between Elkhorn and Burlington.
Acquiring land for parks was, historically at least, not a universal goal of the county. In fact, until recent years, the mention of parks was often “fighting words” among supervisors. It is an understatement to say that the county board has proceeded cautiously in the area of park acquisition.
Past arguments against acquiring and developing parks have included the fact that sufficient state-owned recreational areas exist in the county and that tourists, rather than local residents, would be the beneficiaries of an expanded park system.
Critics also argued that acquisition costs reflect only part of the expense associated with park ownership. Ongoing maintenance costs must also be considered.
Park supporters have been active in recent years, urging a more aggressive program of park acquisition and development before rising prices push the cost of land beyond the means of county government to afford it.
Supporters cite statistics that place Walworth County far below surrounding counties in terms of public land ownership. A modest investment now, it is argued, will preserve open spaces and recreational amenities for future generations.
Some may argue that the conservative approach taken by earlier boards was premised on a lack of vision, but I am not one of them. There are only so many tax dollars, and the county supports a number of high-cost programs, including a special needs school and nursing home not found in many counties that run extensive park systems. It would be very difficult for the county (and its taxpayers) to maintain a large park system in addition to these other important programs.
The reluctance of earlier boards to fund a large park system was, to a certain extent, a matter of priorities. On the other hand, parks need not be an all-or-nothing issue. While we have significantly expanded our park holdings over the past two decades, that expansion has been done conservatively.
Until our purchase of the White River Park, you would have to go back to 1970 to find the last time the county paid money to buy park land.

It should also be noted that half of the $1.91 million purchase price of our most recent acquisition was funded by a Stewardship Grant from the Department of Natural Resources ($955,100).
The county has also opted to promote passive uses of our parks, such as hiking, and in the case of the White River Park, kayaking.
Unlike running a pool or golf course, this keeps operating costs low.
Before you venture off to a county park or trail, check out our public works department’s website at www.co.walworth.wi.us. Complete directions on how to get to each park are available as well as hours of operation and rules.
Maps and trail guides can be downloaded and printed to make your visit more enjoyable. I noticed that the website needs a little updating in light of our latest park acquisition.
Until that happens, you can find the county’s newest park at the intersection of Short and Sheridan Springs roads in the Town of Lyons.
We’re not done celebrating county parks this summer. On Aug. 7 at 6 p.m., we will dedicate a fenced-in dog park at the Price Park Conservancy.
I will start writing my speech now. To prevent any confusion, I will limit it to a single page.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Walworth County Board of Supervisors.

Opening doors to higher education
July 31, 2014

The benefits of education after high school are numerous. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, increased educational achievement is directly correlated to higher earnings and a lower likelihood of unemployment.
I have supported several initiatives undertaken during the most recent legislative session to help make the cost of higher education more flexible, accessible, and affordable.
Earlier this month, the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Technical College System signed the Universal Transfer Agreement which allows students to transfer up to 48 core general education credits between the two systems starting on July 1, 2014.
This historic agreement will allow students to continue on their degree path instead of being forced to retake classes that did not transfer between the institutions. It also lowers costs by allowing students to start at a technical college, where tuition costs are lower, and finish their bachelor’s degree at a four-year university.
The UW Flex Option is a new, innovative program through the UW-System and UW-Extension. It allows for a more personalized and convenient way for adults and non-traditional students to earn a degree while balancing other aspects of a busy life. The Flex Option focuses on what a person knows, not the time they spent learning. This unique focus allows progress to be made on a degree by using what is already known from work experience, military training, previous coursework and other training experiences.
In this program, participants draw on their knowledge to pass assessments at a pace based on what works best for them.
Additionally, for the first time in the history of the UW-System, a two year tuition freeze was enacted. This was accomplished during the 2013-2015 state budget and it is very likely that another tuition freeze will be considered in the 2015-2017 state budget. Tuition freezes provide needed predictability and affordability for students and their families.
I will continue to support initiatives that increase the flexibility, accessibility, and affordability of higher education in Wisconsin.
More information about the Universal Transfer Agreement can be found at: www.tis.uwsa.edu. More information about the UW Flex Option can be found at www.flex.wisconsin.edu.
To view the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics graphic on Earnings and Unemployment Rate by Educational Attainment go to: http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm.

Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton) represents eastern Rock and western Walworth counties in the Wisconsin State Assembly. She can be reached at rep.loudenbeck@legis.wi.gov and (608) 266-9967.

22 Jump Street: A successful, self-aware comedy sequel
July 31, 2014

“The Koreans bought the church back, so we had to move across the street…to 22 Jump Street.”

An economic house of cards
July 31, 2014

The country I grew up in was owned and operated by Americans. Paul Samuelson, the author of my college economics text, introduced us to the study of his chosen discipline by pointing out that General Motors’ gross profits in 1965 were more than the GNP of all but four of the world’s other nations. That is the same corporation that went bankrupt in 2008, when it became “Government Motors” and the U.S. taxpayer bought the controlling interest in this once proud company.

‘How To Train Your Dragon 2’ – a worthy sequel
July 24, 2014

“This is Berk. Life here is amazing. Dragons used to be a bit of a problem, but now they’ve all moved in.”

Ebert's hard life makes for touching film
July 17, 2014

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

‘Edge of Tomorrow’ is better than the previews
July 10, 2014

Editor’s note: William Lorenz is a 16-year-old junior at Badger High School and an aspiring film critic. Here’s what he said in his introduction to us: “I would like to be considered for a summer internship as Lake Geneva’s first high school movie critic. I’ve always been passionate about film and have been writing unpublished reviews for the past two years. “My dream is that you would consider me for this position for your popular newspaper that my family reads weekly.” We could hardly say ‘no.’

Thoughts on aging
July 03, 2014

Aging. It’s something that can no more be avoided than trying to outrun your shadow. It is always there and it never goes away, ever.
To make the occasion even more poignant, we “celebrate” the arrival of a “new year” while the old one slips into the past. For the young this is hardly noticed. For them, it is only a momentary interruption in some aimless revelry or other.

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