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Apes are as violent and stupid as humans in this sci-fi sequel

     It’s been a decade since chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis: The Hobbit) freed the apes of San Francisco to seek sanctuary in the redwood forests across the bridge. Thanks to the animal testing Caesar and his crew endured, these apes are hyper-intelligent. They have hunting parties, schools for their young and their own form of Hammurabi’s code carved into their simian city. Their society prospers under the leadership of Caesar and his lieutenant Koba (Toby Kebbell: The Counselor).
    But the Alzheimer’s treatment drug that empowered Caesar and his fellow apes was toxic to humans. As Caeser and his subjects build their civilization high in the redwoods, humanity is wracked by the simian flu. Those who don’t succumb to the virus die in the riots and looting that follow.
    It’s been two years since any ape has encountered a human, and the simians are content that their former captors have slaughtered each other into extinction. So the apes are surprised when they come across humans wandering in their forest in search of a hydroelectric plant.
    Not as surprised as the humans, who panic and shoot one of the apes.
    Koba, who was scarred and abused by laboratory scientists, wants to murder the people. Caesar, who was raised by a loving scientist, believes that humans and apes can co-exist. In a show of mercy, he tells the humans to leave and never return.
    Shocked by talking apes, the humans skedaddle. But back in their survivors’ colony, they tell tales of loquacious simians. Surviving humanity divides into two camps: those who see the apes as possible allies in their quest to survive and those who want to destroy the monsters they blame for the outbreak of the simian flu.
    This reboot of the iconic sci-fi films has cleverly focused on the apes’ perspective, but it can’t escape poor plotting and ridiculous dialog. Ninety percent of the conflict could be solved if the characters (both ape and human) spent five minutes talking.
    Apes are powerful creatures who should be fearsome predators if gifted with extra brainpower. Instead, director Matt Reeves (Let Me In) films the simian equivalent of a Rambo movie, with Koba charging the human colony on horseback while firing two machine guns as fire blazes in the background. Reeves is attempting to make an iconic image, but what he creates is so ridiculous that some viewers snicker during the grand battle for the fate of the planet.
    With the ending forgone, Reeves must rely on the strength of his actors to give his audience reason to care. The apes — all created from live-action performances covered with computer-generated images — are a testament to technology and the actors behind it.
    Humans, however, lack even basic character development. They are divided into two groups: the violent bad guys who won’t listen and the wide-eyed good guys who blindly trust the apes.
    Though it features groundbreaking CGI and amazing leaps in motion-capture effects, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a collection of missed opportunities. Without plot-driven tension or compelling performances from the homo sapiens, the film drags. With people like this, it’s hard not to root for the apes.

Fair Science Fiction • PG-13 • 130 mins.

Apes are as violent and stupid as humans in this sci-fi sequel

     It’s been a decade since chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis: The Hobbit) freed the apes of San Francisco to seek sanctuary in the redwood forests across the bridge. Thanks to the animal testing Caesar and his crew endured, these apes are hyper-intelligent. They have hunting parties, schools for their young and their own form of Hammurabi’s code carved into their simian city. Their society prospers under the leadership of Caesar and his lieutenant Koba (Toby Kebbell: The Counselor).
    But the Alzheimer’s treatment drug that empowered Caesar and his fellow apes was toxic to humans. As Caeser and his subjects build their civilization high in the redwoods, humanity is wracked by the simian flu. Those who don’t succumb to the virus die in the riots and looting that follow.
    It’s been two years since any ape has encountered a human, and the simians are content that their former captors have slaughtered each other into extinction. So the apes are surprised when they come across humans wandering in their forest in search of a hydroelectric plant.
    Not as surprised as the humans, who panic and shoot one of the apes.
    Koba, who was scarred and abused by laboratory scientists, wants to murder the people. Caesar, who was raised by a loving scientist, believes that humans and apes can co-exist. In a show of mercy, he tells the humans to leave and never return.
    Shocked by talking apes, the humans skedaddle. But back in their survivors’ colony, they tell tales of loquacious simians. Surviving humanity divides into two camps: those who see the apes as possible allies in their quest to survive and those who want to destroy the monsters they blame for the outbreak of the simian flu.
    This reboot of the iconic sci-fi films has cleverly focused on the apes’ perspective, but it can’t escape poor plotting and ridiculous dialog. Ninety percent of the conflict could be solved if the characters (both ape and human) spent five minutes talking.
    Apes are powerful creatures who should be fearsome predators if gifted with extra brainpower. Instead, director Matt Reeves (Let Me In) films the simian equivalent of a Rambo movie, with Koba charging the human colony on horseback while firing two machine guns as fire blazes in the background. Reeves is attempting to make an iconic image, but what he creates is so ridiculous that some viewers snicker during the grand battle for the fate of the planet.
    With the ending forgone, Reeves must rely on the strength of his actors to give his audience reason to care. The apes — all created from live-action performances covered with computer-generated images — are a testament to technology and the actors behind it.
    Humans, however, lack even basic character development. They are divided into two groups: the violent bad guys who won’t listen and the wide-eyed good guys who blindly trust the apes.
    Though it features groundbreaking CGI and amazing leaps in motion-capture effects, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a collection of missed opportunities. Without plot-driven tension or compelling performances from the homo sapiens, the film drags. With people like this, it’s hard not to root for the apes.

Fair Science Fiction • PG-13 • 130 mins.

The formula for the chemistry of commitment

     I Do! I Do! has been done over and over in community theaters, repertory theaters, dinner theaters and church basements since it closed on Broadway in 1968. One reason is that its two-person cast and simple single set of a four-poster bed make it far easier and less expensive to mount than the typical big-cast-and-chorus musical, thus very attractive to those looking to bring in an audience at relatively little cost.
    That’s not the only reason. The material was lightweight even for the 1960s, and the score produced only one recognizable hit. Yet both bring so much humor and empathy that anyone who is, has been or will be married can identify with Agnes and Michael Snow. It is their union the show follows for some 50 years from the honeymoon night all the way through to the sale of the house they lived in, loved in, argued in, raised kids in and sang to each other in for all those decades. It was written to begin in 1895 and end in 1945.
    Infinity’s production, tightly directed by Tina Marie Casamento and starring Daniella Dalli and Craig Laurie, takes a more modern setting, starting in the late 1950s and ending in the current day. The story is timeless enough that the change is barely noticeable.
    On Broadway, I Do! I Do! was a hit because the personalities and chemistry of stars Mary Martin and Robert Preston raised the level of the material. Infinity’s production is likely to be very popular for the same reason. Both Dalli and Laurie have personality plus, and their vocal chemistry elevates a score that was never one of Broadway’s more popular. Together, they turn the show’s hit, “My Cup Runneth Over,” a pop smash for big-baritone-voiced Ed Ames, into a more real-life paean to growing old together.
    The chemistry between Dalli and Laurie doesn’t stop with their vocals. As wide-eyed young love dims with the passing of the years — and the giggling embarrassment of the honeymoon night gives way to the inevitable vocal sparring of two people wondering years later whether they are where and with whom they want to be — both of these New York actors display an empathy for their characters and each other that remains strong throughout the rises and falls of a long marriage. That arc — from love to frustration to anger to cheating to loneliness and back — is one we’ve all seen on stage and film time and time again. Still, these actors know how to deliver a vocal quip and a physical take in ways that make it all seem fresh. Through it all, they never lose sight of the depth of feeling that must anchor each of these moments, just as it anchors the ups and downs of any long-term relationship.
    Dalli takes Agnes through the decades with a charming and knowing subtlety, gradually aging in body and blooming in attitude but never varying from the personality that makes her the anchor of this production. Her beautiful, rich soprano is the perfect vehicle to carry the emotional ups and downs of Agnes’ songs.
    Laurie is more of a character actor than a leading man à la Robert Preston, so we get a Michael who is a bit broader than one might expect. Laurie pulls it off because of that chemistry with Dalli, because he connects with the audience in a way many actors can’t and because, through it all, he never loses touch with that aforementioned depth.
    Music director David Libby keeps it simple, with pianist Paul Campbell playing a single keyboard in accompaniment because, frankly, that’s all two people singing a nice, relatively simple score really need. A single live keyboard played well is almost always more emotionally satisfying and effective than a recorded and digitized orchestra.
    That simple set with the four-poster bed? Turns out it’s not so simple. Being a professional theater company, Infinity knows how to get the most out of a set, and does so with this one. What appears to be just a big headboard, for example, turns into everything from the altar of a church to a quilt of lights mimicking Agnes’ and Michael’s raised voices in the same ritual married couples everywhere have engaged in since time began: talking past each other from opposite sides of the house.
    It is this, and so much more of ourselves, our parents and our married friends, that we recognize in I Do! I Do! The play is a salute to the institution of marriage, and Infinity carries on the tradition delightfully.


Scenic designer Paul Tate DePoo III; Sound designer Wes Shippee; Stage manager Geoffrey Weiss; Costume designer Tristan Raines; Lighting designer Jimmy Lawlor.

About 2 hours and 15 minutes including intermission. Runs through August 3: Thursdays at 2pm and 7pm; Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 2pm; added performances on Wednesday, July 23 at 7pm and Friday, August 1 at 8pm. Advance tickets $35, $40 at the door (seniors $34/$29): call 877-501-8499 or visit www.infinitytheatrecompany.com

Lesson 1: From the ground up

     Organic gardening is a science based on being able to supply nutrient needs and ideal growing conditions that will produce healthy plants that can resist diseases and pests. Fruit and vegetables free of pesticides are considered healthier because they are untouched by man-made chemicals with the potential to cause health problems.
    Success in growing plants organically begins with selecting land that can generate ideal growing conditions. Site and soil are of utmost importance. Establishing an organic garden on a slight slope facing south gives you soil that warms more rapidly in the spring and stays warmer in the fall than soil on a northern slope. A warmer soil will release nutrients from organic soil matter faster. Sandy soil will warm faster than silt or clay soil because there is less water present and the soil is denser. However, during drought, sandy soils will need supplemental irrigation and/or mulch to satisfy the water needs of the plants.
    Full sun also helps warm the soil, enabling the release of nutrients from organic matter and maximizing ­photosynthesis.
    Well-drained soils are essential to promote deep rooting of plants and early warming of soils. Avoid poorly drained soils. Good air drainage is essential for the rapid drying of foliage to minimize disease problems.
    Since the organic content of the soil is the primary source of nutrients for plants, the pH measurement of soil acidity should be monitored by regular soil testing at three-to-five-year intervals. Soil testing is also a guide to maintaining optimum levels of nutrients such as calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) and to prevent phosphorus (P) and manganese (Mn) from accumulating in excessive amounts.
    The organic garden thrives on organic matter. To be successful, you need to increase the organic matter of the soil to five percent and above. For every percent of organic matter present in soils, 10 pounds of nitrogen (N) is generated per acre per year through a biological process known as mineralization. To obtain optimum yield, you must maintain the organic matter content of the soil at between five and 10 percent. Maintaining levels of organic matter concentration above five percent requires yearly applications of organic matter. Good sources include compost, animal manure and organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion, cotton seed meal, bone meal and compost tea.
    In choosing seeds, the organic gardener seeks varieties with vigorous growth characteristics and disease resistance. In planting, avoid over-crowding, which increases competition among plants for sunlight and moisture. Crowded plants are more susceptible to diseases because they tend to be weak and their foliage is likely to remain wet for prolonged periods of time.
    Healthy plants are more resistant to diseases than weak plants. However, healthy plants are equally susceptible to insect damage, though they are better able to tolerate limited plant damage before significantly reducing yields.

Blue crabs at quarter-century low

     The 2013 Chesapeake Bay blue crab harvest was the lowest in 25 years. The 2014 numbers look to be at least as bad, perhaps worse.
    How could this happen?
    Maryland Department of Natural Resources has had some of its best scientists and managers working to conserve this keystone species, one of the most revered (and consumed) in Maryland.
    Despite this concentration of talent and effort, the female blue crab population has decreased by 80 percent within the last decade. Thus, the overall population of blue crabs has fallen to the edge of collapse once again.
    Officially the crisis has been blamed on unforeseen environmental factors such as severe cold, natural predators, parasites, unusual weather and unpredictable ocean currents. Those forces do inevitably impact the overall population of our blue crab.
    But there is one reliable and utterly controllable tool available to resource managers that can ultimately protect the population levels: varying female crab harvests and, in particular, the commercial female crab harvest, as the recreational harvest of females is already prohibited.
    Almost 20 years ago, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation began a vigorous campaign to reduce the female blue crab harvest, arguing that females were critical to the health of the species. The immediate results were death threats to some of the staff and the burning of a Foundation education center.
    When decisions have to be made that can affect the commercial fishing industry and the livelihoods of individuals, emotions can run high. Nothing came of the campaign to protect the female crabs. The harvest continued unabated.
    The blue crab population subsequently collapsed to a declared federal crisis level by 2008. DNR finally had to acknowledge that the female crab harvest levels were based on flawed science: Female Chesapeake blue crabs do not spawn just once in their lifetimes; many spawn multiple times.
    The ecological emergency had one positive effect: Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia began cooperating to rebuild the depleted species. Unprecedented protection for the females was put in place by all. The result was an extraordinary and rapid resurgence in blue crab numbers. Within two or three years, the population rebounded to pre-crisis levels.
    Unfortunately, so then did the resumption of the commercial female crab harvest — with predictable results.
    We are in crisis again. This recurring situation is a strong clue that officials charged with the management of the blue crab have failed to account for unanticipated and uncontrollable mortality events that inevitably happen in a large, open ecosystem like the Chesapeake. We have continued to harvest too many crabs, especially females.
    Recently, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued a 2014 Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Advisory Report urging minimizing risks to crab populations by immediately protecting juvenile female blue crabs while state agencies consider future changes to regulations to rebuild the population.
    The Foundation also called for creating sanctuaries in different parts of the Bay to further protect females; improving on the accountability and reporting of both commercial and recreational harvests; and moving agency management review cycles to better (and more promptly) respond to natural population fluctuations.
    Part of the problem remains unaddressed: How to rebuild blue crab numbers and maintain the population of both males and females at a healthy level without hurting the incomes of the many hard-working watermen that bring them to market.
    Assuming Maryland intends to continue the unofficial policy of providing stability to the commercial crabbing industry, some mechanism other than the exploitation of the blue crab had better be devised.

Not your game if you’re a Bay Weekly reader

     Monopoly, Sorry! and Chutes and Ladders: The games we play are the similes writer Tom Hall uses to explain how the nation’s biggest energy debate is playing out in Chesapeake Country.
    Monopoly, Hall says, is what the game seems like when an energy giant like Dominion Resources plays out its next move in your back yard.
    For the third time in 14 years, the sleeping giant on the Chesapeake at Cove Point in Calvert County is stirring. The first tremors were reopening, as a series of energy companies sought and gained permission to put the Liquefied Natural Gas depot back in business. Next, from 2004 to 2008, came expansion as Dominion Resources doubled the old plant’s capacity to receive natural gas from around the world. Now, in an energy economy turned upside-down, Dominion Cove Point is seeking to switch its impressive machinery to exporting some of America’s suddenly abundant natural gas to India and Japan.
    Such big business makes many citizens of Calvert — and climate change opponents throughout the state — fear they’ll be playing the game of Sorry!
    But, says Hall, a story with so many forces at play may be better explained as the maze of Chutes and Ladders.
    For all 14 years, Bay Weekly has reported this story to keep us from playing another game: Blind Man’s Bluff. We’ve explained the stakes, introduced the players, walked pipeline right of ways through citizens’ yards, watched environmental impact studies and refreshed memories with updated chronologies.
    This chapter of the story — with export approval seeming around the corner — is told by Tom Hall. Hall has the standing, experience and balance it takes to explain a local story with national import. A Navy patrol plane mission commander turned journalist, he’s reported on business for the Pensacola News Journal, San Jose Business Journal and Washington Business Journal and worked as an editor at USA Today, Gannett News Service and McClatchy-Tribune News Service.
    How did we get so lucky to add Hall to our contributors? Wouldn’t you know he loves the water!
 



Still Puzzling
    Sudoku is here to stay. We wouldn’t dare omit it. Voices sounding like The Godfather crammed our answering machine after last week’s accidental interruption of the five-year flow of number puzzles in Bay Weekly’s pages.
    It won’t happen again.
    Word puzzles are not provoking such passion. Not since the retirement of Ben Tausig, which moved Bay Weekly puzzle-solver Katie Sabella to her definitive assessment of the value of crosswords in “any periodical worth its salt.”
    Crosswords bring people great happiness. For me, they are a little daily treat that allow me to escape and keep my mind sharp. Supposedly doing them staves off neurological diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. … It’s a guilty pleasure, a little slice of bliss, but it’s important to me. I suspect many of your readers feel the same. Why not keep that element of joy as a part of Bay Weekly?
    Kris Kross is “okay,” according to puzzlers like Evelyn Newman and Bill Vance. Others hate it. I kind of like it, though it doesn’t give me the same thrill as wading through clues and puns to a good crossword’s multidirectional solution.
    Anagrams drive me crazy. I ought to be able to rearrange the letters — I claim to be a wordsmith — but I’m stuck in the rut of reading from left to right.
    With repeating letters, cryptograms are easier but not so rewarding if the revealed message is stale. The themed crosswords we’ve been running are frustratingly easy, making me miss my weekly struggles with the demonically minded Ben Tausig.
    What’s your say? Email me at editor@bayweekly.com

Fish recipes from the Chesapeake

Catching a fish from the Chesapeake leads to a seafood dinner beyond the reach of most mortals. The fish has come directly from your own hand. It is fresher than anything available to those not thus connected to the water. Freshness is really the defining quality, the gold standard, of seafood cuisine: same-day catch to table. Buying fish from even the best seafood markets will net a catch that is at its freshest three days old: a day from catch to the dock; another day from wholesaler to retailer, then a day (at the least) to the purchaser and to home. As to later than three days, keep in mind the old Benjamin Franklin dictum: “After three days, a fish and a house guest begin to smell.” Rockfish, the most treasured fish of the Bay, is not at all difficult to prepare. It is a dense, white-fleshed creature that responds exceptionally to herbs and spices, assuming they are not overdone. The distinctly fine flavor of striped bass can be easily overwhelmed, which is why my favorite recipe is simplicity itself. Starting with a boneless, skinless fillet, dry it with paper towels, slather with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place it in a hot cast-iron skillet until it is well browned on one side. Then turn the fillet over and slide the skillet into a 350-degree preheated oven for 15 minutes. Test with a fork to be sure it’s done all the way through and serve. A simple lemon butter sauce with fresh-chopped dill or fennel is enough to lend rockfish all the sophistication that a fine palate could demand. My favorite accompaniments are Eastern Shore Silver Queen sweet corn and some thickly sliced fresh tomato from the same locale, dressed with olive oil, salt, ground pepper and fresh basil. A bottle of chilled champagne would not be gilding the lily. White perch is another seafood treasure from the Bay. Seldom encountered in area markets, white perch caught commercially in Maryland are mostly sent out of state. Apparently the Maryland markets are skewed toward rockfish. However, if you are even a modest angler you can secure yourself some of the finest frying fish in existence. The perch are small; a 10-incher is a big one. However, they are found in great numbers in the Bay and tributaries and, allowing for three fish per person, the average angler usually can secure a fine dinner in no time at all. Carefully fillet and skin the fish, cutting each fillet into two equal-sized portions. Blot the fish pieces dry with paper towels and dip in a mixture of two beaten eggs, two tablespoons flour, salt, pepper and a bit of beer (enough to create a syrupy mixture). Then roll the coated pieces in a shallow dish heaped with Japanese panko crumbs. Accumulate the prepared fish pieces on a large plate. Then heat a heavy skillet — again I prefer cast-iron — with about an inch of peanut oil (corn oil works almost as well) to about 350 to 400 degrees. With tongs settle the pieces of fish in the hot oil, turning them when they are golden brown. Hold the completed fish in a warm oven while you make a simple tartar sauce from chopped cornichons (about eight or nine), olive oil mayo (I like Hellman’s) and the juice of one-quarter lemon. You can also provide some dipping sauces. Texas Pete Buffalo Wing Sauce is a good one if you like it spicy, lemony vinaigrette if you’re of a gentler palate. I prefer an India pale ale to accompany the meal, but ice tea or a good, chilled white wine will go well. Provide plenty of napkins as this feast invites hands-on dining.

Summer’s darlings, winter’s pests

Three seasons of the year bugs are pesky. But summer has fun bugs as well as pests.
    I have a strong dislike of bugs, especially stinkbugs, verging on fear. Those little stinkers freak me out with their buzzing around hitting anything in their path. They and their evil eight-legged or beetle-y friends rule my house, and many other peoples’ too, when they come in from the cold.
    In the summer, however, bugs are like everything else: alive, green and refreshing. I’ve seen a bright green praying mantis scaling the wall at Bay Weekly, a blue and purple dragonfly buzzing around my grandparents’ pond and colorful butterflies fluttering.
    Dragonflies have inhabited earth since the dinosaurs roamed and continue to thrive in our developed world. Their grace, power and magic bring even more joy to a beautiful summer day.
    These vibrant bugs don’t scurry from the cold along with us into our houses, or sneak in through the slightest crack. Summertime greeters are pretty, colorful and born every spring, unlike their bothersome, freeloading cousins that board with you when the weather gets chilly.
    I have always been a fan of summer bugs. When I was younger, I played outside with bugs, capturing caterpillars by day and chasing fireflies by night. I never squirmed away from worms while baiting a fishing hook. Summer bugs I like.
    Come winter when bugs break and enter into my home, we might have issues. For now I enjoy them in their habitat. They were here before us.

Theater and puzzles take us back to the ­kingdom of imagination


     Continuing Bay Weekly’s celebration of summer, this week we focus on child’s play.
    Nobody plays as wholeheartedly as a child. Do you remember your dedication when you were a child at play? How putting your hands on the simplest thing opened the universe of your imagination?
    I had three favorite talismans for entering the world of make believe: my dollhouse, paper dolls and my collection of horse statues. For my sons, the transporter was racing Hot Wheels and slot cars. For my grandson, it’s Minecraft. “Nothing else comes close,” says Jack’s father Alex. “Not even eating or sleeping.”
    The kids featured in this week’s paper take pretend beyond the realm of the imagination onto the stage.
    Every Saturday through August 2, Infinity Theater plays The Emperor’s New Clothes, which Jim Reiter writes in this week’s review, “gives young audiences as well as adults a taste of professional theater.” Adults — from company principals Anna Roberts Ostroff and Alan Ostroff to director/choregrapher Erin Gorski to the ones who bring the kids — make it happen. But upfront this is theater for kids and by kids, with four young Infinity interns dividing many roles.
    The Talent Machine’s talented pre-teens and teens are putting their shows on the boards this month and next. Bay Weekly intern Madeline Hughes, herself a teen, introduces you to the kids performing Peter Pan July 11 to 20. For them, putting on plays is make believe with real world dividends. “As actors,” she writes, “they learn to manage their time, to carry on when things don’t go according to plan and to work with different people. Most of all, they learn to believe in themselves, gaining confidence.”
    The Peter Pan cast are kids seven to 14. Next month, August 8 to 17, high schoolers take the stage in The Wedding Singer.
    Both of these productions are performed in local colleges: Anne Arundel Community College for The ­Emperor’s New Clothes; St. John’s College for Peter Pan.
    In Calvert County, Twin Beach Players’ Youth Troupe has just staged Harvey. “The teen actors playing grown-ups are mature in roles and dramatic skills. No one missed a beat — or a line,” wrote Bay Weekly reviewer Michelle Steel of their work.
    Now, more kids are preparing for their turn on stage. Twenty-five aspiring playwrights from elementary to high school created plays for Twin Beach Players’ annual Kids Playwriting Festival. Six winning playwrights are now preparing works for production — by kids — August 1 to 10.
    With so much talent, we recruited some for our pages. This week, you’ll read a one-act play by two young local playwrights — Anna Gorenflo and Jeffrey Thompson — who’ve had six plays produced in earlier Festivals. This play — Holmes and Watson Make the Best Summer Ever.
    Read on and see if that brilliant best friend of childhood still returns to you.



Playing at Puzzles
    For adults, puzzles are like Peter Pan, helping us return to the elusive, meditative and creative land of childhood. Among the 21 Reasons People Play Puzzles (www.conceptispuzzles.com): calming and challenging their minds. Like the kids of Talent Machine, we learn more than meets the eye from working puzzles: Puzzles teach us not to give up, help us form habits of behavior and reward us with repeated moments of accomplishment. Millions of Americans can’t start their day without taking on the crossword, Steve Kroft reported in a 2003 60 Minutes story.
    Throughout July, we’ll keep bringing you new and different puzzles. We depend on you to work them and to report your results and satisfaction: editor@bayweekly.com.
 

Extinction is the right ending

After the altruistic Autobots defeated the evil Decepticons in the Battle of Chicago, the American government had enough of alien warfare. The military ended its alliance with the Autobots, and both Autobots and Decepticons were declared illegal immigrants.
    So you can bet that the junked semi-truck found by broke robotics inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg: Lone Survivor) is more than it seems. In repair, he discovers that the wrecker is actually Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots. Yeager plans to fix up the Transformer to sell to the government.
    The CIA, led by the nefarious Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer: Think Like a Man Too), is running a black op, hunting down Autobots and Decepticons. Military units rend the Transformers into scrap sold to tech company KIS. Led by CEO Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci: Muppets Most Wanted), KIS is attempting to reverse-engineer the Transformers into a fully automated American army.
    Key to the plan is the recovery of Optimus Prime. So Yeager’s discovery brings in blazing guns. As death threatens, Yeager realizes the government might not be on the right side of the law and helps Prime escape. Now fugitives, Yeager and his family help Prime rebuild the Autobots and fight a new alien threat.
    Can Yeager and his family survive? Will Americans ever learn that robots that look like cars are our friends? How many IQ points are you willing to waste on this flick?
    Tortuously long and completely incomprehensible, Transformers: Age of Extinction is an exercise in endurance. Director Michael Bay (Pain and Gain) has set the cinematic bar so low you’ll need a deep-sea probe to find it.
    Avoiding plot at every turn, Bay fills the film with explosions; confusing action sequences; low-angle shots; esteemed actors belittling their craft and career for a paycheck; and female characters with no agency and even fewer clothes. Impressively, Bay has managed to include a half-naked woman, product placement or an American flag in just about every sequence of this two-and-a-half-hour car commercial.
    To make bad worse, Bay has taken time out of the movie’s busy explosions schedule for the dullest family drama ever committed to film. Yeager doesn’t want his sexy daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz: Bates Motel) to date because he feels he owns her body. When Tessa reveals a secret boyfriend, Yeager and the boy fight bitterly about who gets to tell her what to do.
    Mark Wahlberg has made a lucrative career vacillating between terrible and inoffensive performances. He seems at the mercy of his costars, who either elevate or expose him. When his costars are CGI hunks of metal and equally vapid humans, Wahlberg is lost. His skill extends to flexing his biceps and grimacing while shooting a gun.
    Veteran actors Tucci and Grammer add little. In campy performances that prove once and for all that acting is a job first, art form second, these actors debase themelves for paychecks.
    Transformers: Age of Extinction is the cinematic equivalent of a concussion: It’s difficult to stay awake, painful and you’ll feel slightly duller for a few hours if you survive the brain trauma.

Painful Action • PG-13 • 165 mins.