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Arts and Culture (All)

Where’s there’s music and wine, there will be dancing

     “I woke up and said, I can do this,” Onyx Linthicum reports of the morning he conceived the Southern Maryland Wine, Jazz, Rhythm & Blues and Funk Festival.
     The D.C. native and self-help writer imagined a country event where folks could get their groove on while diverse local and national artists brought cool music to offset the August heat.
      Back in 2015, Linthicum was ambitious, he admits. Jazz, Rhythm & Blues and Funk covers a lot of musical ground. Could he pull in all that music? Would the fans come? Would the weather hold?
     Drawing in local vineyards and food purveyors added another challenge.
      But this was a labor of love. Linthicum grew up in the church, where the sounds of gospel music were his inspiration. In college, he promoted comedy and jazz shows while working as a technician for musicians making original recordings. He found inspiration, too, in the death of a close friend who wrote hip-hop they recorded together. Later he became associated with the Capitol Jazz event and worked on their events at Merriweather Post Pavilion. 
      Linthicum was right. He could. In its third year, the festival coming this weekend to the Calvert County Fairgrounds attracts 4,000 music lovers, up from 1,000 the first year. 
 
The Lineup 
      This year’s lineup features a lot of really good talent. I found myself listening to it over and over. My top two favorites are, like me, guitar players.
      Plus, who wouldn’t want to hear a guy named Chooky? Especially as he reminds me of the late Wayman Tisdale, a favorite of ours at home. 
     Chooky, aka GZAM recording artist Antone Caldwell, is a D.C. neighbor from a large and influential musical family who’s had a bass guitar in his hands since the age of five. A multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer, he has played with a Who’s Who of musicians from Snoop Dog to Mariah Carey. 
     Drew Davidsen is a virtuoso guitarist selected by Guitar Player Magazine as one of the 10 hot players to watch. His latest album, A Good Life, was released in May to critical acclaim; even George Benson has endorsed him. Davidsen donates part of his recording profits to support the Ghanaian Mothers Hope, a charity in Ghana, West Africa, that builds schools, playgrounds and medical clinics. 
      There are women in this mix, too. Framewerk is a dynamic six-piece fronted by lovely SonJa, who looks like she knows how to take care of business. Get ready to move your feet as they take the stage.
     Back in the day, I wore the grooves out of my Tower of Power’s records. Fans like me will love the Will Power Band, hailing from the soul music-Jersey side of Philly. With a plethora of funk and R&B, this 11-piece band will get your groove on in a hurry.
     With 15 acts, the list just keeps going. 
     Bassist Christian de Mesones brings his Big New York & the Smooth Jazz All-Stars, featuring multiple Billboard-charting artists heard all over the airwaves of XM radio. De Mesones is also known for fronting the Groove Skool Band.
     Writer, producer and bandleader Rick White fronts guiltypleasures, which, as you might imagine, adds sensual soul music to the festival. 
     Another D.C. Metro area band, eight-piece Jazzy Blu, combines funk, jazz, R&B and alternative, keeping up with Linthicum’s vision. “No matter who you are, where you come from or what you request, Jazzy Blu has something special in store for you,” they say.
     Coloradan Tony Exum Jr. is a saxophonist extraordinaire who’s played since the age of 11 when his uncle gave him his first sax. He’s played with War and The Four Tops.
     Trumpeter Willie Bradley has performed worldwide, sharing the stage with many notable artists as well as maintaining a solo career.
      As their name implies, Unit 3 Deep is comprised of three talented musicians, Patrick Cooper on keys, David Dyson on bass and Duane Thomas on drums.
     D.C.’s The X Factor brings an eclectic mix of funk, R&B, rock and jazz. From sultry ballads to funky dance tunes, their two vocalists front an all-star four-piece band that will keep you moving on your feet.
      Sax man Marcus Mitchell fronts a smooth jazz quartet with infectious grooves and mellow melodic temperaments. A native of Temple Hills, he is also a businessman whose company, 24th Music, promotes other musicians. 
     When you hear trumpeter Rob Zinn, with The Rob Zinn Group, you’ll hear the influences of the masters blended into his music. 
     Keyboardist Marcus Young played with D.C. Legend Chuck Brown, the father of go-go music. His Groove Jazz mixes swing, fusion and Latin jazz. Young has toured with the Armed Forces Entertainment in the Mideast as well as playing throughout the States. He still finds time to lead the music ministry at the Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton.
     Guitarist and bassist Kevin Jackson, who hails from Baltimore, weaves a sensual stream of sonic magic from his smooth voice and phrasings on his Paul Reed Smith Guitar.
     It will take you two days to hear all that music.
 
Even More to Love
     You’ll have even more to love with 15 local vineyards — as many as bands — bringing wines from all over a state now garnering accolades. You’ll eat well, too, and you can even paint as you listen. Leave the kids at home for this adult festival.
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August 19 & 20, 10am-9pm with music nearly nonstop and DJ’s filling in the breaks. Calvert County Fairgrounds, Barstow, $30-$125 VIP: www.vendor-nation.com.

Atomic Blonde

Charlize Theron beats her way through Berlin in this fantastic spy thriller

Ten days before the Berlin Wall falls, the KGB kills MI-6’s best agent. The list he acquired of all the operatives working on both sides of the Iron Curtain is in the wind. The list also identifies Satchel, a notorious double agent who plagues the British government.
    MI-6 sends their best agent, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron: The Fate of the Furious), to straighten out the mess. Her contact is David Percival (James McAvoy: Split), an agent who’s found the sex, drugs and punk attitude of Berlin more appealing than conventional spy work.
    To save her fellow agents, Lorraine must fight her way back to London and expose Satchel. Along the way, she cuts a bloody swath across both sides of the Berlin Wall.
    A stylish spy thriller with marvelous action, Atomic Blonde is a blast from start to finish. Think of it as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold for the John Wick generation. Director David Leitch, a former stuntman making his feature directorial debut, creates a fast-paced thriller with visceral action. Leitch has a talent for capturing the flow of a fight, with sequences that are brutal but peppered with humor.
    Leitch embraces the pop-punk aesthetics of 1989 Berlin, using spray paint title cards and muted tones with bright pops of color. An 80s’ synth-pop soundtrack gives the plot and action a frenetic quality that intensifies as Lorraine becomes more frantic.
    Theron offers a brilliant performance as Lorraine, whose ferocious physicality paired with her cool, collected demeanor make her a formidable character. Adding authenticity, she does most of her own fighting and stunts.
    As a corrupt MI-6 agent who may or may not still be working for the crown, McAvoy is a delight. He is a snarling, posturing mess of a man, who is far shrewder than he lets on. His dynamic with the more restrained Theron is both hilarious and fascinating.
    Wildly entertaining, action-packed and utterly watchable, Atomic Blonde is the popcorn flick of the summer.

Great Action • R • 115 mins.

No scares, but plenty of philosophic pondering

Death comes calling on the ordinary life of M (Rooney Mara: The Discovery) and C (Casey Affleck: Manchester by the Sea). C dies in a car wreck, leaving M alone in the world.
    Only she isn’t alone.
    C has followed M home. Covered now in an autopsy sheet, C is witness to M’s mourning, grief and eventual acceptance. Clearly, he is seeking closure with his wife. Yet when M moves, C stays behind.
    Now alone in the house, C passes the time chatting with the ghost next door, who has been at it so long its human name is forgotten. As he waits, other people move into the house. C sometimes tries to interact with the families, other times ignores them. Decades sail by.
    Is C doomed to haunt a shell of a home until he can remember nothing of his own existence?
    Borrowing from director Terrence Malick, writer/director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon) creates spectacular visuals and an obscure, metaphoric story in which concept dominates performance and plot. Centering a movie on a man under a sheet is a bold cinematic choice.
    C is basically a silent observer, a witness to the passage of time and the lives of others. In spite of the title, this is not a typical ghost story. The dread that builds here is existential, as C learns how inconsequential his life was. Expansive vistas demonstrate the miniscule place humanity holds in the vastness of the universe.
    Lowery is committed to languid pace and tone, and his Ghost Story takes a while to get going, with long stretches of silence and scenes that seemingly go on forever. For the first 20 minutes, you sit in a soundless theater, watching Mara gorge on a pie or Affleck stare sullenly. Expect awkward laughter from some audience members and perhaps a few glances at your watch.
    But the film eventually finds its feet, and if you’re willing to put in some mental effort, you’ll be rewarded. A Ghost Story reflects on our place in the universe, our need to be remembered and the billion joys and tragedies that unfold over the years in the same space. Don’t expect anything simple, including answers.

Good Drama • R • 92 mins.

Brilliant action in this new take on the storied retreat

In 1940, the outlook was bleak for the Allied Forces. The German army had driven British and French troops all the way to the beaches of France, trapping them against the sea. In Dunkirk, 400,000 soldiers waited for evacuation from France, scanning the seas for British destroyers as the Germans approached.
    German planes swoop over the massed troops, dropping bombs and spraying bullets. German U-boats sink vessels carrying troops from the slaughter on the beaches. England faces the reality that the war could be lost.
    To save at least a fraction of the army, England calls upon its people, conscripting small vessels to cross the English Channel to Dunkirk. Saving even 30,000 would arm the nation when the Germans inevitably invade.
    Amidst these calamitous circumstances, three men will meet their fates.
    Tommy (Fionn Whitehead: Him) is a private who will do anything to survive. When life or death are the choices, he understands that the drive for survival can make monsters of men.
    Farrier (Tom Hardy: Taboo) is one of three RAF pilots tasked with defending the ships and troops from German assault. In a skirmish with German fliers, his fuel gauge is damaged. He must decide whether his presence in the skies makes a difference in the face of overwhelming odds.
    Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance: The BFG) is determined to help the soldiers at Dunkirk. Setting out in his small boat with his son and another boy, he crosses waters littered with bodies and downed ships.
    Featuring nail-biting action and gorgeous cinematography, Dunkirk stuns with scope and beauty. A master of visual storytelling, writer/director Christopher Nolan (Interstellar) excels at staging and action. Dizzying camera work in the aerial battles captures the precariousness of the planes’ and crews’ existence.
    Nolan doesn’t depend on graphic violence to show the horrors of war. There’s plenty of violence, but he is more interested in psychological wounds. He shows the anonymity of war. Officers coolly calculate who, in essence, to spare and who to save. Soldiers swirl amid chaotic, random violence. Despondent men wade into the sea, swimming home to England their only chance at survival.
    In focusing on scope, Nolan sacrifices humanity. He spends little time mining for character moments in the middle of battle. As a result, we remain unconnected as these men go through hell.
    Heart aside, in both performance and production Dunkirk is one of the better war films of the past decade.

Good War Movie • PG-13 • 106 mins.

A love story so funny it has to be true

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani: Silicon Valley) is trying to live both American and Pakistani dreams. His parents want him to be a devout Muslim, choose an honorable profession like the law and agree to an arranged marriage with a nice Pakistani woman. Kumail pretends to buy into these goals, but his dream is making a living as a comedian.
    When Kumail meets Emily (Zoe Kazan: The Monster) at a club, he is smitten. They date, though Kumail knows that if his parents learn his secret, he’ll be disowned. Then Emily’s illness forces Kumail to reevaluate his double life.
    Heartfelt, hilarious and beautifully performed, The Big Sick is a near-perfect romantic comedy. Kazan and Nanjiani are both likeable performers, so even when they make terrible decisions, we want them to succeed. Director Michael Showalter (Grace and Frankie) blends the romantic storyline seamlessly with Kumail’s comic review of the conflicting messages of his upbringing. Standup darlings Bo Burnham and Aidy Bryant pop up with great supporting performances.
    It helps that the story is true.
    Najiani wrote the script with his wife, Emily V. Gordon, who really did fall into a coma while they were dating. Yes, this news gives away this story’s ending. But starry-eyed endings are not what this movie is about. See it to learn how a man comes to balance familial and romantic love as Kumail falls in love not only with Emily but also with her parents.
    Conflicts are handled deftly and without villains. Kumail’s parents want what they believe is best for him. Kumail loves them, even when he disappoints them.
    The Big Sick is both full of heart and uproariously funny.

Great Romantic Comedy • R • 120 mins.

After three tries, Marvel gets it right

Peter Parker (Tom Holland: The Lost City of Z) hoped his internship with Stark Industries would lead to more excitement than neighborhood watch duty. The high-schooler is recruited by Ironman Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.: Captain America: Civil War), to fight against Captain America, then sent back to school and allowed to use his new powers, and his neat Stark-industry suit, only to stop small crimes.
    After fighting superheroes, Parker gets no thrill from AP Chemistry.
    Strong enough to stop a car with his bare hands, smart enough to create a tensile web that can hold his weight or immobilize a bad guy, the teen chafes. He ditches class to hunt for big criminals.
    His mistake is choosing a weapons dealer who is combining alien technology with human artillery. The firepower is deadly, and so is the dealer,
Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton: The Founder).
    Should Parker have gotten his learner’s permit before taking on a supervillain?
    The latest addition to the Marvel comic pantheon features a likeable lead who plays a believable teen — plus action, humor and heart.
    At this point, you probably know that Parker was bitten by a spider. If you’ve read the comics or watched the movies, you’ve seen it happen. In a smart decision, director Jon Watts (Cop Car) spares you seeing it again.
    Casting is excellent. As Parker, Holland is the first Spider-Man in two decades who is both physically right for the role of a teenage boy with superpowers and actor enough to make the teen likeable. Holland communicates Peter’s decency and childish over-eagerness in ways that make his poor choices understandable, even endearing.
    As the foe Peter must face to become a real hero, Keaton turns in a great performance. Marvel villains tend to be one-dimensional, with only vague motivation for their misdeeds. Watts and Keaton craft a more complex adversary. Toomes begins as a decent man who out of desperation turns to crime. He is both charming and menacing as he spars with Holland.
    Spider-Man: Homecoming is the rare origin story that pleases both comic book novices and persnickety fans. It took Marvel three tries to hit on the perfect tone for Peter Parker.

Great Superhero Movie • PG-13 • 133 mins.

More than one long tease

Meet Hot Metal, an amateur stripper revue featuring six unemployed steelworkers desperate to make a buck in Buffalo. The Chippendales they ain’t — with average dance moves and less than average abs — but that’s just the thong, er thing. Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do to keep body, soul and family together.

            The Full Monty, playing for the next three weekends at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater, is based on the British film whose everyman cast was a breakout hit in 1997. It enjoyed a two-year run on Broadway in the early 2000s, then, ironically, closed before the economy tanked and the story gained a whole new level of plausibility.

            Jerry (Eric Hufford) is a loveable fu@!-up, separated from his wife Pam (Kaitlin Fish) and desperate to retain joint-custody of their teen, Nathan (Matthew Beagan). For that to happen he needs cash assets fast; only Walmart is hiring, and they don’t pay $hit. His buddy (Dean Allen Davis) Dave’s  marriage to Georgie (Cara Marie Pellegrino) is likewise limping along.

            In a flash of inspiration, they decide to emulate a local act the ladies adore, Keno, aka Buddy (Paul Pesnell) the buff boytoy.

            Their first recruit is Malcolm (Christian Gonzalez), sole support of his invalid mother Molly (Stephanie Bernholz), and in the midst of trying to commit suicide when they recruit him in the hilarious Big Ass Rock, a litany of the ways in which his newfound friends can help him accomplish the deed.

             Next is Ethan (Justin Thomas Ritchie), a naive optimist bent on replicating Donald O’Connor’s unconventional wall-walking from Singing in the Rain.

            They find their choreographer in a ballroom dance class. Harold (Brandon Deitrick), a former boss who is polishing his Latin moves for a Puerto Rican vacation with wife Vickie (Caitlyn Ruth McClellan), who is unaware he’s been laid off.

            Noah, aka Horse (Willie Baker), is an oldster who dazzles with some smooth moves from his youth in the terrific ensemble number Big Black Man.

            Jeanette (Adam Timko) is their tough-as-nail-polish accompanist and mentor, an old trouper who, in this production, is depicted as a cross-dresser with an unabashedly male voice and demeanor.

            Billed as “more than one long tease — a story full of heart, hope and surprising sincerity,” this show’s best moments are its most tender: You Rule My World featuring Davis and Deitrick, whose characters have marriage troubles … the reprise sung by Pellegrino and McClellan, as their wives … the duet You Walk with Me, sung by downcast Gonzalez and optimistic Ritchie … and sweet-guy-who-can’t-grow-up Hufford’s contemplative Breeze Off the River.

            The best fast-paced number is the Act I finale, Michael Jordan’s Ball. Entertaining with athletic-inspired dance moves, it leads the audience to expect more from the less-than-inspired climax, when the dancers finally Let It Go to a chorus of audience catcalls.

            Act II is draggy and plagued by dialog problems.

            Additionally, there is the issue of body-specific dialogue often spouted by the wrong physical-type, when other directorial choices could have made for a more believable production.

            Contrary to rumors and despite the opening night’s sell-out crowd, tickets are still available. Be warned, however, that this production is rated R for nudity, language and content, and there is a specific advisory against bringing children.

 

The Full Monty by Terrence McNally and David Yazbek. Director: Mason Catharini. Music director: Emily L. Sergo. Choreographer: Andrew Gordon. Production manager: Matthew Walter. Stage manager: Atticus Cooper Boidy. Set: Ryan Ronan. Costumes: Madeline Hogue. Lights: Matthew Tillett. Sound: Bill Reinhardt. Musicians: Ken Kimble, Rich Estrin, Randy Neilson, Dean Pesnell, Allyson Wesley, Reid Bowman and Declan Hughes. With Kevin Cleaver, Angel Duque, Wendell Holland, Leigh K. Rawls, Chris Timko and Heidi Tolson.

 

Playing Thurs.-Sun. thru July 22, plus Wed. July 19, at 8:30 pm @ Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $25, rsvp: 410-268-9212;  www.summergarden.com. 

Sam Elliott shows what an old cowboy can do ­without his spurs and hat

Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott: The Ranch) has made a career of being That Guy. The actor with the smooth baritone is a commercial success, but he’s proud of only one of the many movies he’s made, The Hero, an old-school Western.
    Once the image of America’s cowboy, the ultimate specimen of masculinity, the 71-year-old actor is reduced to doing voiceovers in hokey commercials. Divorced and at odds with his daughter, he has only one friend, his drug dealer.
    It’s not a great life, but at least he’s got weed money.
    Two events throw Hayden’s life into turmoil. He wins a lifetime achievement award, and he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
    Faced with the likely end of his life, he takes stock and makes amends. But his first steps — accepting the award and reconnecting with his daughter — trip him up.
    Well-acted but predictable, The Hero is a fair movie built on a great performance. From the cowboy image to voiceover work, actor Sam Elliott is a lot like the role he plays. But Elliott has something Hayden doesn’t: more than one great credit to his name. The long underrated actor shines in this film.
    Director Brett Haley (I’ll See You In My Dreams) allows Elliott’s performance to dominate, but his plot could be any movie of the week. Helping Elliott freshen clichés is Laura Prepon (Orange is the New Black), who infuses the role of younger love interest with charm and interest. Her Charlotte helps Lee mature, even though he’s the senior citizen in the relationship.
    At 72, Elliott is at the top of his game. It’s worth a ticket to see what this old cowboy can do without spurs and hat.

Good Drama • R • 93 mins.

Women fight a rabbi and their ­husbands’ prejudices

A close-knit Orthodox community in Jerusalem has gathered to celebrate a bar mitzvah. As the boy steps up to read the Torah, the congregation literally collapses around him. The women’s balcony falls.
    Among the injured is the rabbi’s wife.
    Faced with this tragedy, he suffers a psychotic breakdown and is incapable of visiting his wife in the hospital, let alone guiding his flock.
    Seeking a spiritual leader, the men find Rabbi David (Avraham Aviv Alush: The Shack) a charming young leader who is building a devout following.
    At first, all seems well. Rabbi David offers to take over reconstruction plans for the synagogue. But his ultra-Orthodox beliefs don’t sit well throughout a community that has found ways around their religion’s most stringent rules. Forbidden to touch electrical devices during Shabbat, they leave their lights and appliances on all weekend so they are not technically violating a rule while enjoying modern conveniences. If they need a switch turned, they enlist the gentile friend down the hall.
    When Rabbi David blames these accommodations for the congregation’s misfortune, a schism results.
    The women don’t appreciate the rabbi’s insistence on headscarves. They bristle at his denunciation of their immodesty as the cause of the collapse of the balcony. He re-opens their beloved synagogue without their balcony, telling the women that they need to learn their place, which is apparently a dingy back room with a barred window’s view of the service.
    Ettie (Evelin Hagoel: Yeled Tov Yerushalyim) organizes the women of the congregation for a fight.
    In this carefully constructed tale of religious and marital strife, director Emil Ben-Shimon (Wild Horses) has made a funny, winning movie about the power of communities. He takes us inside a usually closed culture and explores how a woman can be devout without being repressed.
    The plot is predictable; you’ll know exactly where the movie is going and how it will resolve. While that could create a boring film, strong performances from Hagoel, Alush and Igal Naor (False Flag) keep the audience invested.
    This delightful Israeli film about the importance of family, freedom and faith is a welcome change from the strife of the modern world. It’s worth a trip to Baltimore or D.C. to see it.

Good Dramedy • NR • 96 mins.

Fear is the monster in this clever ­psychological horror film

Disease is sweeping the country. How it started or can be prevented, these are mysteries. The only thing anyone knows for sure is that once you catch it, you’re dead.
    Paul (Joel Edgerton: Loving) is the patriarch of a family trying to survive this modern plague. He sequesters his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo: Alien: Covenant) and son in a cabin in the woods, banking on isolation to protect them from the disease that has nearly destroyed humanity. The family spends quiet days foraging for food, purifying water and keeping the house secure.
    When a man breaks in, Paul votes to kill him. Sarah offers another plan: sharing resources. Will (Christopher Abbott: Sweet Virginia) claims his family has livestock but no drinkable water.
    Relenting, Paul establishes rules for security protocols, social interaction and water purification. At first, Will and his family seem like godsends, breaking up the monotony of the days and contributing to the shared household.
    But soon, Paul grows suspicious. Is he imagining the little lies and provocations? Or is a sinister plan afoot?
    Director Trey Edward Shults (Krisha) continues his exploration of inner turmoil bubbling into chaos. Rather than monsters lurking in the woods or a slasher picking off teenagers, this terrifying movie deals with the poor decisions of people panicked by fear and paranoia.
    Like The Witch before it, this film trades on atmosphere. Something is slightly off about everyone and everything, and discomfort builds as oddities pile up. Foreboding cinematography ramps up the tension and performances contribute to the unease. Edgerton in particular gives a wonderful performance of quiet, weary-eyed Paul unsettled by suspicion and evolving to violence.
    People are the only hope and the biggest threat to the continuation of humanity in It Comes at Night.

Good Horror • R • 91 mins.