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Okra, for beauty and taste

Okra likes it hot.  Soon the cool-loving cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kohlrabi will have been harvested, leaving a large empty space in the garden. Lots of nutrients still in the garden can be used for growing a crop of okra.
    To get a jump, start young okra plants in three-inch pots.  After filling the pots with potting soil, place two okra seeds in each. I prefer Clemson Spineless, but there are many varieties available. The seeds will germinate in five to eight days, especially if the pots are outdoors in full sun. Keep them well watered. After the seedlings are about three inches tall, take a sharp knife or nail clippers and cut out the smallest.
    As soon as the area in the garden is cleared, transplant the young okra two feet apart in rows at least three feet apart. Or plant them in your flower bed. Purple varieties produce very attractive foliage. As they can grow to a height of four feet, they are best used as a background plant. But make certain they are accessible for harvesting the pods.
    Okra is a member of the hibiscus family. The plants will start producing beautiful pale yellow hibiscus flowers with purple or red centers within three to four weeks after transplant­ing. Within two to three days after the flowers have wilted, some of the pods will be ready to harvest.
    To assure quality and tenderness, okra pods should be harvested three to four times weekly, especially during hot muggy days when the plants are flowering daily and growing rapidly. Pods longer than five inches will be woody and not palatable. But with some imagination, they can be dried and used in floral arrangements or Christmas tree decorations. Pods can grow to eight to 10 inches long.
    Okra plants will continue to produce pods into mid to late September. However, the later pods tend to become warty looking and are generally not tender.
    Okra can be breaded and fried, brushed with olive oil and baked for about 15 to 20 minutes in a 400-degree oven and sprinkled with salt, used in making gumbo, pickled or added to a tomato, hamburger and onion sauce. When using okra in sauces, always add the cut okra just before serving to avoid the slimy texture that results from over-cooking.
    I have grown okra in my garden in Deale for the past 24 years without failure. I could never grow it when I gardened in New Hampshire because the summers were too short and cool.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Nine-year, three-billion-mile mission to study solar system’s outer limits

As the sky darkens, Venus and Jupiter appear low in the west. While the gap between the two planets is growing, they are both inching toward Regulus, with Venus two degrees below the star Monday and Tuesday.
    Dusk reveals Saturn above the southern horizon with the three stars marking the head of Scorpius beneath it and Antares, the heart of the scorpion, a dozen degrees below.
    Mercury makes an early morning appearance low in the east-northeast a half-hour before sunrise. Don’t confuse Mercury with the much-dimmer star Aldebaran, the red eye of Taurus the bull, high above to the planet’s right. Aldebaran is visited by the thin waning crescent moon before dawn Sunday.
    While you’d need a massive telescope to see it from your back yard, eyes will be on Pluto this week, as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, launched in 2006, comes its closest to the distant planetoid Tuesday after a three-billion-mile journey. Back then, Pluto was still the ninth planet. As I wrote at the time:
    Thursday, January 19, NASA launched the space-probe New Horizons on a nine-year mission to our solar system’s outermost planet, Pluto. Discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, Pluto is also the last planet not viewed by a passing earthen spacecraft.
    Two weather delays were not the only pressures weighing on the launch. The project sparked debate over the craft’s plutonium-powered engines and a possible lift-off explosion. But as New Horizons safely cleared earth orbit, it carried another payload, one closing the cosmic loop: a tiny canister bearing cremated remains of Clyde Tombaugh.
    Over the next five months, New Horizons will study Pluto and its moons, of which there are at least four detected by the Hubble Space Telescope. According to NASA, astronomers hope to determine “where Pluto and its moons fit in with the other objects in the solar system, such as the inner rocky planets (Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury) and the outer gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune).
    On the 14th, New Horizons will be within 7,800 miles of Pluto’s surface. But at almost three billion miles from earth, data sent from the probe, travelling at the speed of light, will take more than four hours to reach us.
    Thanks to the near-endless power of its plutonium engine, New Horizons will leave Pluto and delve farther still, into the heart of the Kuiper Belt, a region at the solar system’s outer limits made up of countless icy mini-worlds akin to Pluto.

Who dunnit?

It wasn’t quite the mystery of whether aliens landed in Area 51, but around Casa Melamud everyone was perplexed and spending considerable brainpower trying to solve the case of the missing fish.
    It is my habit to go out every evening after dinner and cast my pole from my dock, trying to catch fish for our lunch or to bait my crab traps. I have been consistently getting a handful of medium-sized white perch. Unhooking the fish, I’d tossed them on the dock. But when I went to pick my catch, there were fewer fish than I remembered. This was happening evening after evening. I heard nothing and saw nothing. The fish were just disappearing.
    My wife was sure I was miscounting; she called the missing fish a “senior moment.” Maybe the first time, but not night after night. It’s easy to remember whether you caught two or three fish.
    My daughter thought a feral cat was stealing the fish. This sounded reasonable, except that in the almost four years we have lived in this house, I had never seen a cat outside, feral or otherwise.
    For a better explanation I went to the mother of all knowledge: Google. Search results made the answer clear.
    Aliens are no longer slaughtering and abducting cows. They are eating healthier as they are now abducting fish. I found some compelling arguments, but I reasoned that if I were an alien looking for fish, I would be after sushi-grade tuna, not white perch.
    Finally, I posed the question on the fishing bulletin board I participate in. About 15 other members chimed in with their thoughts on our mystery. Seven said all fishermen are liars, so none of this was happening. Seven told me I was using the wrong lure. If I used the one they recommended, I would catch enough fish to not care about a missing few. One supported the alien abduction theory.
    I was resigned to living with my mystery. But one of the keys to success is luck and timing. About a week after the mystery first posed itself, I happened to turn my head at the precisely right moment, and I saw my answer.
    Who’s got my missing fish?
    See for yourself.

If this is the best humanity has, it’s time to welcome our machine overlords

Skynet, an artificial intelligence software system, was created to make life easier. Instead of improving streaming speed, Skynet became self-aware and a powerful enemy of the human race. Hacking into every computer system in the world, Skynet built an army of infiltration androids (called Terminators), launched missiles and wiped out three billion people.
    By 2029, humanity has a savior. John Connor (Jason Clarke: Child 44) is a fierce warrior who seems to know exactly what Skynet will do before the machine does it. On the eve of losing the war to the humans, Skynet takes desperate action: It sends one of its Terminators (Arnold Schwarzenegger: Maggie) back in time to 1984, the year John’s mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke: Game of Thrones), gives birth to him.
    To stop the prenatal assassination, John sends back his most trusted soldier, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney: The Water Diviner). Kyle imagines Sarah to be a helpless woman terrorized by a killer machine. What he finds is a warrior who takes out Terminators in the blink of an eye and has more weapons training than a Navy SEAL.
    It turns out Kyle and the Terminator aren’t the only time travelers. After the 1984 attempt fails, Skynet sends a Terminator back to the 1970s to kill Sarah as a child. The attempt, which kills Sarah’s parents, is thwarted by a friendly Terminator (also Schwarzenegger) who then raises Sarah in preparation for her 1984 meeting with Kyle. Those two crazy kids share a night that creates John Connor.
    Now, the timeline has splintered. Kyle and Sarah must attempt to change the future using time travel, explosives and their rapidly aging Terminator.
    Sound confusing and convoluted? It is.
    Try not to think too hard about the multiple timelines; the writers clearly haven’t. From its misspelled title to its horrible plot, Terminator Genisys is an exercise in audience patience.
    Director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) hammers what should be the final nail into the coffin of the Terminator franchise with this stupid, messy film. He apes the style of James Cameron’s first film, but the callbacks to the original underscore just how awful this movie is. Action sequences are bloodless, loud and confusing cacophonies of sound and CGI animation. Explosions are big, but without any connection to plot they’re little more than an expensive distraction.
    Writers Late Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier do the bare minimum, relying on the audience’s memory of the previous films and lazy exposition on the nature of time travel to move the plot along. With never a reason for what happens, characters look as confused as the audience is.
    With a terrible script and a director with no vision, it’s easy to understand why the performances are so uniformly bad. Clarke and Courtney are set up to for an antagonistic romance, but they fail to find the right chemistry. Instead of sexual tension, we have two people who don’t seem to like each other very much. Clarke also has trouble being tough. She flinches when she fires guns, screams in a baby voice and pouts at both man and machine when things don’t go her way. Only Arnold, who was born to play the robotic character that made him famous, is having any fun. He still delivers one-liners with aplomb and manages to look deadly at an age that qualifies him for Social Security.
    Poorly written, badly acted and ­utterly confusing, Terminator Genisys is the reason sequels get such a bad rap.

Dismal Action • PG-13 • 126 mins.

We found success in a pair of fat stripers at the Bay Bridge

Drifting next to the towering structure, I eased my bait over the side. With only a quarter-ounce weight, it took the chunk of soft crab a while to near the bottom. Thankful that the slow tidal current allowed us to work close on the massive piling, I lifted my rod to be sure that my rig wouldn’t get fouled on the old construction debris below. It was irritating to find that my bait was already solidly snagged.
    I pulled harder in hopes that the rig would break loose but with no effect. Easing my skiff up-current to try for a better angle, I realized that my line’s position in the water was changing faster than the boat was moving. I lifted the rod firmly to test my suspicion. That was when it really bent down. My reel’s drag sizzled as line poured out following something big and deep and now headed in the direction of Baltimore.

Our Last Choice
    The morning for once had started exactly as the weatherman predicted. Overcast skies, light winds and moderate temperatures made a perfect day for fishing the Bay. Armed with a fresh supply of menhaden direct from the netter and a frozen bucket of chum, we were as prepared as possible for a good day. But just for insurance, at the last minute I had also packed a half-dozen soft crabs.
    Arriving on-site with my partner Moe, we noted a friend had beaten us to the fishing. The location, at the mouth of a nearby river, had had a hot bite for the last few days, and we expected nothing less than that this morning. However, our friend did not, have good news. Though the conditions were still superb and he had been grinding chum over the side and set up with bait as fresh as ours, he had not had so much as a nibble.
    Cruising the surrounding waters with my eyes glued to the electronic finder, I confirmed his results. Baitfish galore lit up the screen, but we could mark no rockfish or anything that might have been a gamefish. We headed farther south with the assurance that our friend would call us if the fish showed.
    But there were no stripers at our next spot either, despite the presence of a scattered fleet of boats already anchored and fishing. Venturing even farther south and with similar results, we hadn’t so much as wet a line as the morning wore on.
    Off in the distance I saw the Bay Bridge was not yet clustered with boats, a surprise with the holiday weekend so near. The lack of boats meant that either the structure was still empty of fish or that an opportunity was finally upon us.

One Big Pair
    Our first two tries at drifting soft crab among the pilings were blanks, but our next was golden. After finally spotting some good marks on our screen and dropping our baits, Moe was soon fast to a 25-inch striper. Five minutes later at the same spot, my rod was bent to the corks as my own powerful fish headed away deep.
    It took quite a while to get the fish under control and to the boat. At the last minute, it even looked like our net was too small. But Moe managed the hefty striper in and over the side. After that we boated two or three more rockfish that, while over the minimum legal size of 20 inches, looked meager compared to the beauties we already had in the box. We foolishly released them, hoping for more of the big guys.
    That was when a school of white perch arrived and began gobbling up our supply of softies. With our 6/0 hooks intended for stripers we caught few perch, but within 15 short minutes we were out of crab.
    Though we subsequently attempted to fill out our rockfish limits using our fresh menhaden, it was not to be. The bite proved dead wherever we tried. But with a really nice pair of stripers in the cooler it was hard to be disappointed.

Who gets to march in our parade?

Did you see America as your neighborhood’s Fourth of July parade marched, rolled and roared by?
    That’s what we’re looking for, don’t you think, as we watch and wave from sidewalk and roadside.
    The parades of Chesapeake Country were fresh in my mind the afternoon of this July Fourth when my son Nathaniel called from St. Louis to report on the parade in his community, Webster Groves.
    So I thought I was reading Nathaniel’s words when my husband passed this report to me on his iPhone the next morning.
    No, I realized, as the time frame sank in.
    These were the words and thoughts of my husband’s old colleague and later editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, William F. Woo. This parade passed  24 years ago, in 1991. Bill Woo died in 2006. Yet his words — shared on Facebook by his wife Martha Shirk — were timeless.
    As I’ve never read a better story about a Fourth of July parade, I share a slightly reduced version of Bill Woo’s with you.
    
    My family waited for the Webster Groves’ parade on  the shady southeast corner of Gore and Swon. We had
set the lawn chairs out early, and we bought small American flags for 50
cents apiece from a Boy Scout on roller blades.
    A few minutes after 10, the motorcycle police drove by with sirens
blasting, and shortly thereafter came the fire department aerial truck.
Now the parade began in earnest: The VFW and American Legion color
guards, the mayor and council members, the noisy string of old fire
engines, the finalists for Miss Webster, the children of the Webster
Groves Day Care Center.
    Then, in white, came a delegation from Right to Life, and after it the
Indian Guides, Miss Safe Boating of 1987, Camp Webegee, the high school
marching band, the neighborhood drill teams with umbrellas and lawn
chairs and the rest: all familiar, everything good natured, the whole
parade as exciting and satisfying as fried chicken, potato salad and
lemonade.
    Afterward, we went across the street for an after-parade buffet. The
comfortable old frame house was cool and the porch was crowded with
neighbors and the hosts’ friends. I stood on the lawn with a man I know
from the neighborhood, the two of us drinking cold beer and watching our
children splash down a water slide.
    Too bad about the Pro-Life group in the parade, he said. It was out of
place.
    No, I protested. I was glad they were there, and I was sorry the
pro-choice people were not. The Fourth of July belongs to all of us, and
it is good to see people in the parade who believe strongly in something.
    Pro-choice would have made it even worse, the man said. Controversial
issues create tension. They would ruin the parade.
    I persisted. America was raised on political controversy and exists
because of it. What better day to acknowledge this than the Fourth?
    He said: How would you like the Ku Klux Klan marching in the Webster parade?
    I had to think about that. Logically, my argument
required me to accept the representation of every political, social and
economic cause, no matter how unpopular; for all of them have an
inalienable right to publicly celebrate liberty. If one cannot march on
the Fourth of July, the parade is meaningless for the rest. Yet, did I
wish to sit with my family and listen to the jeers, feel the sullen
silences and watch angry, demanding people go by?
    The parade that we watched depicted an idealized America, showing only a
partial reality. Perhaps it was quite enough for the community to have
briefly taken innocent, untroubled pleasure in itself. Nonetheless, my
friend had disquieted me.
    A few years ago, when our son Bennett was at the day care center, I
marched in the parade myself, pulling him on a red plastic fire engine. The kids were an adorable lot — wonderful little faces of the future.
But what if instead of pulling a beautiful three-year-old on a riding
toy, I had been pushing my mother in a wheel chair? What if I and other
family members of old men and women with advanced Alzheimer’s disease
had marched with our relatives, all silent and crumpled, looking dimly
out from withered faces that may be yours and mine someday?
    What if the unemployed people of Webster had marched, white collars and
blue, reminding those of us with jobs that our brothers and sisters in
community lack economic opportunity? What if the gays and lesbians who
are our neighbors were there? What if the drop-outs and the illiterates
from the schools walked the parade route alongside the cheerleaders and
the marching band?
    We would still be Webster Groves; we would still be America. But it
would be a very different Fourth of July. It would be more honest, but
it would be disturbing, and I cannot honestly say that I would look
forward to it, year after year, as I do this celebration …
    As the fireworks blazed in the distance [that evening], I remembered a far grander
display I once witnessed as a reporter from the banks of the Neva River
in Leningrad, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Communism.
The huge crowd then was perfectly controlled, immaculately behaved. No
one was out of line or loud.
    Now the people of Leningrad have voted to restore the name of St.
Petersburg. Communism is dying and the Soviet Union is falling apart
with rot. I reflected on that as I watched the people around me, some of
them attentive and quiet, others rude and boisterous, all of them having
a good time. There was nothing artificial here.
    When we got home, the six-year-old was asleep and had to be carried to
bed. I put the three-year-old in pajamas and read him a book about a cow
and an elephant. Stay with me a little while, he said when it was
finished and I turned off the light.
    Some neighbors were setting off firecrackers. I thought again about the
parade and the question the man had raised. No good answer had come. I
thought about that well-mannered display in Leningrad and how much
better the Jeeps with noisy teen-agers were;  and
before I could think of anything more the boy and I were both asleep.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

Area premier gives the popular film a song-and-dance twist

Catch Me If You Can: The Musical, an area debut, is a song-and-dance celebration of the lovable conman, Frank Abagnale Jr. (Ron Giddings), and the FBI agent who caught him, Carl Hanratty (Joshua Mooney). The fugitive traveled five million miles impersonating an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer and cashed $1.8 million in fraudulent checks — all before turning 21.
    The story is many things. It’s the sad tale of a broken marriage between big talker Frank Sr. (Tom Newbrough) and his opportunist war bride Paula (Alicia Sweeney). It’s a funny escapade about a jet-setting playboy who masters persuasion as a survival skill. It’s a mind-boggling lesson in counterfeiting and police procedures from the bumbling team of Hanratty and his cohorts: Branton (Fred Fletcher-Jackson), Cod (Jamie Austin Jacobs) and Dollar (Nick Carter). It’s the heartbreak of true love in the rearview mirror when the Feds track Frank to the home of his fiancée Brenda (Hayley Briner) and her conservative Southern parents, Carol (Sweeney) and Roger (Steve Ariesti). And it’s a glitzy chorus of hoofers in uniforms and hot-pants evoking the glamour of the early 1960s.
    The nonmusical Dreamworks film — starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Amy Adams and Christopher Walken — was so successful that the theater world couldn’t let it be, which is unfortunate. For even Marc Shaiman’s musical talent (Hairspray) couldn’t enrich such a rich story. It’s not that the musical’s bad; it received four Tony nominations. It’s just that the songs aren’t memorable, and the story is better told in prose. Still, to give credit where credit is due, this cast rocks the jazzy, campy, film noir score seasoned with riffs borrowed from Duke Ellington and Cat Stevens.
    Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre has assembled a powerhouse cast.
DiCaprio is a tough act to follow, but Giddings — a longtime veteran of local stages best remembered for his award-winning portrayal of Bat Boy — fills those shoes without a misstep. Charming and versatile, he is a song-and-dance tour-de-force, by turns brash and boyish, self-assured and scared, culminating in a poignant “Goodbye.”
    Mooney is equally impressive as Hanratty, looking every inch the hardened middle-aged cynic despite his youth. A theater student at Frostburg State, he played Lancelot in last summer’s Garden Theatre hit Spamalot. Together, the duo is perfect in their finale duet, “Stuck Together.”
    Briner, in her Summer Garden Theatre debut, brings both personal and vocal strength to the role of Brenda. Her tender “Fly, Fly Away” benediction is a highlight.
    Newbrough, a longtime trouper, conveys a multi-layered portrayal of the washed-up wannabe Frank Sr., creating a tortured role model who is equal parts inspiration (“Butter Out of Cream”) and desperation (“Little Boy Be a Man”).
    Sweeney, a veteran of six Summer Garden Theatre productions, charms in the elegant mother roles of the cosmopolitan danseuse Mrs. Abagnale and the conservative Southerner Mrs. Strong.
    With the exception of some amplification hiccups, this show is technically tight with smart staging and choreography. I recommend it for its astute depiction of the real people who lived this true story. Just don’t expect to leave this musical humming.


    Two and a half hours, including intermission. Mild profanity and adult situations. With Hannah Thornhille as Cheryl Ann, Colin Hood as Dr. Wannamaker and Gabrielle Amaro, Madeleine Bohrer, Lucy Bobbin, ­Amanda S. Cimaglia, Debra Kidwell, Caitlyn Ruth McClellan, Rebecca Gift Walter, Brandon Deitrick and David Ossman.
    Director and costumer: Mark Briner. Musical director: Julie Ann Hawk. Choreographer: Becca Vourvoulas. Set: Matt Mitchell. Lights: Matt Tillett. Sound: Lindsea Sharple and Dan Snyder. Stage manager: John Nunemaker. Musicians: Ken Kimble, Rich Estrin, Randy Martell, Randy Neilson, Tony Settineri, Kevin Hawk, Tod Wildason, Jeff Eckert, Reid Bowman, Zach Konick and Bill Georg.
    Th-Su 8pm thru July 25 plus W July 22: 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $22; rsvp: 410-268-9212; ­summergarden.com.

 

Help these fruit trees recover from two bad winters

The winter of 2013-’14 killed the stems of most of the figs in southern Maryland. However the roots were still very much alive and generated an abundance of new stems from the ground. The robust roots produced stems that were able to produce a few figs. But most stems produced no fruit. They would have this year, except for another killing winter this past year.
    At the northernmost range for growing figs, we have to face the fact that extremely cold winters can mean no fruit.
    Don’t expect to harvest any figs this summer. If the winter of 2015-’16 is equally severe, it is unlikely that roots will be able to generate new growth.
    If your fig plants were killed back again overwinter, by now you should see an abundance of new sprouts originating from the roots. Help your fig recover by pruning out dead stems as close to the ground as possible. To encourage the development of strong sturdy stems, break off all weak, thin stems growing from the roots. It’s better to break off the stem than to prune it. If you cut away the stem with pruners, chances are a vegetative bud will develop in the axis of the stump of the stem and the root, resulting in the growth of a new stem. Allow at least ___ feet between the best-growing stems.
    To break a stem from the roots, I use a four-inch-wide board that’s three to four feet long. I place the end of the board near the weak stem and kick it. This causes the weak stem to shear from the roots, making it highly unlikely that another stem will grow in the same area. Do this while the young stems are green. The roots will be pushing up new stems, so you’ll have to repeat at least twice monthly to remove the previous weeks’ spindly stems.
    Once the stems have started to grow, they will benefit from an application of fertilizer at the rate of approximately one pound per 100 square feet. I generally do not recommend fertilizing figs because it makes them grow too tall, producing less harvestable fruit.
    Plant fig trees on a slope facing south or against the south wall of a building to provide maximum winter protection. I have all of my figs growing again the south wall of a brick house. This exposure provides more warmth from reflective heat from the building and early warming of the soil, especially when the ground is not covered with snow. The soil in a slope facing south always warms sooner than the soil on a slope facing any other direction.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

The boys are back; their clothes are not

Magic Mike (Channing Tatum: Jupiter Ascending) retired his thong with his bump-and-grind act three years ago. Now a furniture builder, the former stripper is dedicated to growing his burgeoning business. Business is good but burdensome. His workers want health care, he wants retail space and he’s tired of hauling showpieces on and off a truck as he sells his work to Tampa stores.
    When former co-workers call him as they pass through town, Mike reminisces about the great old times. While he has been struggling for growth, Big [redacted] Richie (Joe Manganiello: True Blood), Ken (Matt Bomer: The Normal Heart), Tito (Adam Rodriguez: The Night Shift) and Tarzan (Kevin Nash: John Wick) have been partying. They persuade Mike to join them for one final hoorah: the Stripper Convention in Myrtle Beach.
    He throws caution and clothes to the wind, joining his buddies for a week of drugs, bonding and semi-nude dancing.
    How many shirts can one man tear off in a single movie?
    The original Magic Mike, a character study of men in the adult entertainment industry, featured nuanced looks at the problems of the business, including drugs. With the sequel, Magic Mike XXL, filmmaker Gregory Jacobs (Wind Chill) gives the audience what they’re clamoring for: lots of nearly naked men grinding to R&B hits.
    Story and characters take a back seat to oiled chests and teeny strips of fabric. Dance sequences are long and impressive, as Jacobs shows off the special talent of each performer. Tatum and his pals also have camaraderie that translates onto camera. It’s believable that these goofy guys would spend time together perfecting hip rolls, talking about women and drinking.
    The biggest disappointment in Magic Mike XXL is the women. Though marketed to females, the movie is uninterested in them. As Mike’s love interest Zoe, (Amber Heard: 3 Days to Kill) pouts prettily while Tatum dances circles around her. The only woman who displays personality is Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith: Gotham), a sexy MC who has a secret past with Mike. Pinkett Smith commands every scene she’s in, impressively drawing focus from a horde of handsome, gyrating men.
    Go with friends. Half the fun of this silly movie is listening to people hoot and holler as if Magic Mike could twerk right off the screen.

Revealing Dramedy • R • 115 mins.

No need for fireworks here

While you’re waiting for fireworks in the gathering darkness, impress your friends and family with a quick orientation of the celestial lights popping into view.
    First to emerge in twilight’s glare is Venus, low in the west, so bright you might confuse its twinkling with a jet high overhead. With a little more darkness, Jupiter pops into view a little to the right of Venus. To the upper left of the two planets is Regulus, the heart of Leo the lion. The three provide a good contrast in brightness, with Venus blazing at –4.6 magnitude, Jupiter outshining any star at –1.8 magnitude, and Regulus still quite prominent at 1.6 magnitude.
    The month began with Venus and Jupiter less than one degree apart, and on July 4th they are still within two degrees of one another. But they are parting ways, with Venus moving closer to Regulus and Jupiter inching to the northwest and the wake of the setting sun.
    By 9pm, Arcturus, the brightest star of summer is directly overhead. Shining at magnitude –0.1, it is the lead star in the constellation Boötes the herdsman, who tends the bears Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, which contain the Big and Little Dipper respectively.
    To the east of Boötes is the Hercules, most notable for its trapezoid-shaped keystone. Look for the minor constellation Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, between Boötes and Hercules.
    To the east of Hercules are the three constellations that host the Summer Triangle. The smallest constellation, Lyra, hosts the brightest star, zero-magnitude Vega. From there look for first-magnitude Deneb at the head of the Northern Cross, Cygnus the swan. The final point in the triangle is Altair, the eye of the eagle Aquilla, shining at magnitude 0.8.
    Low in the south-southeast at sunset is golden Saturn at the head of Scorpius. The heart of the scorpion, Antares, shines a dozen degrees to Saturn’s lower left of Saturn twinkles fiery orange Antares, not quite as bright.
    Early risers can spot Mercury above the east-northeast horizon about 40 minutes before sunrise. Binoculars will help pick it out of the growing glow of dawn. Don’t confuse it for Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus the bull, much higher overhead.