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Saccharine story; great leads

As an adult with Down syndrome and no family, Zak (Zack Gottsagen, making his feature debut) is a man without a place. He’s too old for children’s homes and too vulnerable for rehab centers. He winds up in a state-run nursing home.
    He is popular with both staff and residents, but at 22 he doesn’t want to waste his life in a nursing home. He dreams of becoming a professional wrestler, like his hero The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). Where he wants to be is at wrestling school in North Carolina.
    With the help of some senior residents, he escapes the nursing home and finds himself alone on the rivers of North Carolina. Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a drifter with a mysterious past, agrees to take him to the wrestling school. Cut to a water chase by well-meaning state workers and angry fishermen.
    Can this motley duo reach their destination?
    This modernized take on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a sweet story of chasing your dreams and finding your family. Directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, in their feature debut, make a heartfelt and beautifully shot film, capturing the wild beauty of North Carolina’s seas and marshes. Each backwoods spot is populated with characters who could have stepped out of the pages of a Twain tale.
    If only they had taken equal care with the script.
    Sincerity is both the film’s greatest asset and its greatest weakness. Nilson and Schwartz take pains to give dimensional character to Zak, but not to the people he encounters. Antagonists can be cartoonish in their wickedness. An extraneous love subplot lands with the dull thud of a bird hitting a window. The message is so firmly hammered that it becomes tiresome.
    On the plus side, LaBeouf and Gottsagen give utterly wonderful central performances. The scenes where they’re goofing around in fields and on rafts are brimming with joy. Newcomer Gottsagen has a natural screen presence, and his performance anchors the film. His Zak is determined, kind and in love with discovering new things. He blossoms the moment he escapes the nursing home. LaBeouf has never been better, in a genuine likeable turn. His Tyler is damaged by life but still a deeply good soul.
    Their chemistry makes The Peanut Butter Falcon worth the ticket. It’s rare to capture a friendship so wonderfully on film.

Good Dramedy • PG-13 • 97 mins.


~~~ New this Week ~~~

It Chapter Two

    After seemingly defeating the evil Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), the members of The Losers Club dispersed. Then children go missing again in Derry, Maine, and Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) asks his friends to return. Pennywise is back, stronger than ever.
    Can the adult Losers Club find in each other the strength they had as children?
    This sequel to It has a more difficult task than its blockbuster original. The best bits of Stephen King’s novel all involve the Losers as children; the adult sections drag by comparison. So It Chapter Two has an uphill battle to be received as well as the first film.
    On the plus side, director Andy Muschietti is back, meaning gorgeous looks and plenty of chills. Muschietti also has a deft hand at editing, trimming down King’s novel into a streamlined story. Stars like Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader should help.
    If you were a fan of the first movie (or the book), this should be an excellent way to spend three hours. But don’t buy the big soda. With that running time and plenty of jump scares, your bladder doesn’t need any more stress.

Prospects: Bright • R • 169 mins.

Traveling Americans learn why you should first check Trip Advisor

Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) are not a happy couple. Despite years together, she worries he will leave her. He wants to, but he doesn’t want the bad guy rep.
    Before he can work up the nerve to go, tragedy strikes, leaving Dani in a deep depression. Stuck playing the doting boyfriend while complaining to his pals, he insincerely invites Dani along on his boys’ trip to Sweden. Nobody’s happy when she agrees.
    The destination is a rare Midsommar festival in remote northern Sweden, where graduate student friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) grew up. The festival holds a wealth of thesis material for anthropology student Christian and his friends.
    The Americans are welcomed to the isolated community by joyous people with open arms and hallucinogenic teas. Their gracious hosts and odd customs charm the students.
    But as customs become odder, the outsiders wonder what the purpose of this Midsommar festival is.
    Midsommar solidifies director Ari Aster (Hereditary) as one of the most fearless and fascinating filmmakers working today. He turns the horror genre on its ear. There is plenty of gore, tension and good acting but few surprises. The point isn’t the end. It’s the journey.
    Midsommar considers toxic relationships and our need to find community, even at the cost of compromising ourselves. Aster employs no jump scares, and he rarely relies on overly dramatic music. Still, there is plenty to keep you on the edge of your seat, as he takes us on a long, gruesomely disturbing march.
    Camera work makes this film a triumph. Aster employs sweeping wide shots and careful, subtle CGI to make the film a living thing. Blossoms seem to breathe, the hills ripple in unnatural ways and faces in the friendly crowd of villagers are slightly misshapen. This eerie effect makes everything unsettling.
    Also a cut above is Pugh’s astounding performance as Dani. Swinging from desperation to animalistic grief, she is a raw nerve of a woman who clings with her fingernails to signs of affection. She’s mesmerizing as she uncovers the secrets of the Midsommar festival.
    Despite my raptures, Midsommar is not for everyone. It’s unrelentingly brutal, subjecting viewers to well over two hours of pitch black humor. It’s a movie meant to evoke a response, and in my theater responses were pretty diverse. Midsommar is a movie for viewers who appreciate artistry over expediency — and don’t mind a few split skulls along the way.

Great Horror • R • 147 mins.

~~~ New this Week ~~~

Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable
    Thirteen-year-old Bethany Hamilton’s arm was bitten by a tiger shark. Many people would have quit surfing; Bethany viewed it as a minor setback. She learned how to surf without an arm to balance her and became a pro.
    In this documentary, the surfer, mother and advocate for cleaning the oceans shares her secrets for a happy, productive life.
    It should be an inspiring flick. If you’ve got kids with big dreams, this might be the movie to convince them to follow them.
Prospects: Bright • PG • 98 mins.

    Haley (Kaya Scodelario) searches for her father as a hurricane floods her town. She finds him trapped and injured in their house. Fearing they’ll drown before help arrives, Haley seeks a way out.
    What she finds is a giant alligator.
    Fans of schlock horror and goofy CGI effects may find entertainment in one woman’s battle with an alligator.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 87 mins.

    Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) is an Uber driver hoping to earn quick cash and a five-star rating. He’s expecting rides to the mall or the movies when Vic (Dave Bautista) jumps in his car.
    A cop obsessed with catching a killer, Vic is a bit of a loose cannon, offering Stu a gun and trying to rope him into his investigation. What will Stu do to avoid a one-star rating?
    Both Nanjiani and Bautista have proven themselves excellent comic talents. They can make almost anything funny, which is lucky, as this script lacks that quality and many others.
Prospects: Dim • R • 105 mins.

How to ace summer’s BBQ competition


     Step outside on any warm Maryland evening, and there is a very good chance you will find the aroma of food cooking on a neighbor’s grill. We have a love affair with grilling and barbecuing. Almost six percent of us grill more than once a week.

    George Stephen Sr. of the Weber Brothers Metal Works created the first barbecue kettle grill in 1952. Today grill and barbecue sales total almost $1.5 billion per year, according to the Statista Research Department, and 75-percent of us own some kind of grill. U.S. Census statistics show 79 million of us cook outdoors at least once a year, with July Fourth the most popular holiday for barbecuing.

    We have all been to our share of bad barbecues, with dry, hockey-puck hamburgers that could break a window, and wrinkled, charred hot dogs that get harder to choke down the longer they sit on the plate. Maybe you were promised some fantastic smoked brisket or ribs, and you are still waiting to eat at 9pm. If you are going to stand at the grill to feed the crowd, there are some rules to keep in mind.

Grilling vs. Barbecuing

     There is a difference between grilling and barbecuing. “Grilling is mostly hot dogs and hamburgers, maybe some steaks and vegetables,” says Chris Keller, owner of Red, Hot and Blue restaurant in Annapolis. “Barbecue is a long process with proper temperatures, even heat and [cooking] over some kind of wood.”

    All the experts know that essential difference.

    “Grilling is a hot and fast method of cooking directly over the fire. Hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, chicken, steaks: Short cooking sears the outside of smaller portions of meat and vegetables,” says Pitmaster and Mid-Atlantic Barbecue Association Board Member Bob Trudnak.

     Traditional barbecue is a different process.

     “It is the method of slow-smoking large cuts of meat over lower heat and often indirect,” Trudnak says. “The slower process of cooking tough cuts of meat to break down the muscle fibers, results in juicy, tender cuts such as ribs, brisket and pork shoulder.”

The ABCs of Better BBQ

     All of the experts agree that the No. 1 mistake we make when barbecuing is cooking at a high temperature.

     “A lot of times, people overcook their barbecue. Too much heat, too quickly. The secret is slow and low,” says Ray Chick, co-owner of West River Pit BBQ. “The biggest mistake? Cooking at a higher temperature to get it done. Barbecue is intended to be a long, slow process. Never quick.”

     Trudnak suggests creating a timeline from grill to consumption. To avoid guests waiting for the food to be done, start backwards from the time you want to serve the food and allow plenty of rest time for your meats. 

A Little Knowledge Goes a Long Way

     Barbecuing is something everyone “thinks they can do,” Keller says. “But people who do it well have done the research.” The successful BBQ chef needs to know what internal temperatures are ideal for each cut of meat. For beef, medium-rare is about 130 degrees. Pork chops and tenderloin are at medium when they reach an internal temperature of about 150 degrees. For chicken, dark meat is ready at 170 degrees, while white meat is done at 160 degrees. Fish is ready to serve at 135 degrees.

     Use tongs to move food around on a grill, not a fork.

     “Don’t stab it!” Diane Pierpont, co-owner of West River Pit BBQ, says. “For a steak, six minutes on each side. Don’t flip it and flop it back and forth. Poking it with a fork will let all of the juices out, especially after you have a nice sear.”

     A good dry rub is a great thing when it comes to seasoning. The experts say it is best to experiment with a few different flavor combinations. Look at a few recipes and see what appeals to you.

     “We make our own,” says Chick. “But it’s really a matter of personal preference.” An even coating of coarse salt and freshly ground pepper helps your meat form a savory crust while it cooks. But hold off on the barbecue sauce or other ingredients, like garlic, that might burn.

     “Saucing meats prior to cooking them results in over-caramelized or burnt food,” Trudnak says.

     Pierpont adds, “The seasoning can burn and bake in there. All you’ll have is char.”

     In the external debate over whether propane or charcoal grilling is best, most of those who barbecue for a living opt for charcoal or wood.

     “Charcoal adds a flavor touch you can’t get cooking over propane,” Keller says.

     Of course, wood and charcoal make smoke and there is such a thing as too much smoke. “Treat smoke like any other ingredient,” says Trudnak, “Don’t overdo it.”

Let It Rest

     If you have watched enough cooking shows, you have heard about letting meat rest after it is cooked. There is actually science behind that. When meat hits heat, the muscle fibers contract and moisture starts to get pushed out toward the surface. Cut into it right away, and much of that moisture will pool out, leaving the meat on the dry side. Larger pieces of meat will continue cooking for a bit after they are off the heat. Resting your masterpiece for a minimum of 15 minutes gives all of those juices time to redistribute.

Grill Your Vegetables

     Meat might get most of the attention, but do not hesitate to grill your vegetables. You will find it intensifies a vegetable’s natural sweetness. Steven Raichlen, who has written dozens of books on grilling, suggests you grill tender, watery vegetables like bell peppers, squash, asparagus and onions directly over the coals. Dense or starchy vegetables like sliced potatoes and eggplant are best cooked over indirect heat, or as far away from the coals as possible.

     Smaller vegetables, like cherry tomatoes, green beans or vegetables cut to a smaller size for a salad, can be grilled in a grill pan. You have probably seen these pans, which consist of a metal sheet with a rim and holes all along the bottom. You can improvise by popping some holes in a foil pan. 

    If vegetarian fare is on the menu, tofu, or bean curd, is a great option. Tofu tends to stick to a grill, so be sure to oil or coat the rack with non-stick cooking spray. Use extra-firm tofu, and press it to remove a lot of the water it contains. Tofu can be marinated for at least 30 minutes in any type of marinade that suits your taste. If you are making your own, be sure to add a bit of sugar, rice wine vinegar or honey to help the tofu caramelize while it cooks. No need to worry about internal temperature, and you can expect your tofu to be done in about six minutes. 

Ready for the Big Show

     You have done your research. You have grilled and barbecued your favorite recipes to perfection, earning rave reviews. Is it time to try some competitive barbecuing?

     David Phelps is part of the competitive team Reynolds Racks, along with Mike and Debbie Reynolds. Debbie Reynolds, his mother, is a National Oyster Cook-off Champion, so competitive cooking runs in their blood.

     There is work to do before you get to the competitive circuit.

     “Your family and friends are going to tell you what you want to hear. You have the best ribs in the world. Your brisket is amazing,” Phelps says, “Until you get out there and actually start scientifically putting spices and rubs together, you are going to have a lot of lows. Be prepared for a lot of failure until you get it right.”

     Steep yourself in the culture of barbecue, pitmaster Trudnak says. “Go to a barbecue contest and ask questions. Take a judging class. Once you have the basic equipment, sign up for an amateur contest. Most of all, have fun.”

     On knowing what you’re up against, Phelps agrees. “Do your research. Make sure you know the panel of judges, their tastes.”

     He offers a tip on rubs and sauces you might not have thought of. “A lot of amateur judges like them sweet. Professional judges do not.”


Mexican Grilled Corn Elote

Corn-on-the-cob is a much-loved summer food. The bumper crops around Maryland make it plentiful for a season. Why not try something new? This preparation is a common street food in Mexico and many large cities in the U.S.

Husk the corn and toss it with some coarse salt and olive oil in a big bowl. Grill it for about 10 minutes over direct heat, making sure to turn it frequently so it does not burn. You want a nice char. After the corn has cooled a bit, roll it in mayonnaise (yes, mayonnaise). Grate some cotija cheese (available at Shopper’s) and sprinkle it on the corn. Feta cheese is a good substitute if you cannot find cotija. Top with a few shakes of paprika and chili powder to taste. Enjoy!





This film franchise should go extinct

    The Jurassic World theme park was abandoned after a disastrous security breach left tourists maimed, eaten and heavily inconvenienced. The company went bankrupt, and the island of person-eating dinosaurs (some of which can fly) was ignored by the governments of the world.
    Five years later, the dinosaurs are set to lose their haven. Isla Nublar’s long-dormant volcano is active and about to erupt. When the volcano blows, dinosaurs will go extinct again. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard: Gold), the former manager of Jurassic World, leads a non-profit dedicated to preventing a second extinction.
    Claire is underfunded and fighting a losing battle, but there is hope. Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell: Marshall), John Hammond’s former partner and a founder of the technology that revitalized dinosaurs, has a plan. He wants Claire to help capture a few of every species and transfer them to safety on a new island he’s bought.
    There’s a hitch: The government has decided to allow the dinosaurs to die, making this rescue mission tech­nically off the books.
    To help save the creatures she considers to be a miracle of nature, Claire recruits ex-boyfriend Owen (Chris Pratt: Avengers: Infinity War). He overcomes his reluctance for the sake of rescuing Blue, a dinosaur that once saved his life.
    Will saving dinosaurs from a second extinction throw nature off balance? Is something nefarious lurking behind Lockwood’s plan? Will moviemakers ever stop tainting the memory of Jurassic Park with these terrible sequels?
    This summer blockbuster offers big-budget effects and so little else that it manages to make dinosaurs mundane.
    The one bright spot is the director, J.A. Bayona (A Monster Calls), who spices up rote scenes with innovative camera work. Bayona and cinematographer Óscar Faura (A Monster Calls) craft an opening sequence with great tension and pepper the story with original shots.
    But grand camera angles and sweeping pans do not a story make. Plot twists and turns are so telegraphed that they might as well be handed out on a pamphlet before the movie. When humans appear, the film grinds to a halt. Their dialogue is terrible, they fail to understand human interaction and, most troubling, they take precious time away from the dinos.
    Even seasoned performers like Howard, Pratt and Cromwell seem either bored or embarrassed. Pratt and Howard still have negative romantic chemistry, so every scene featuring their banter is painful as well as unnecessary.
    Even diehard Jurassic fans will be disappointed.
Poor Prehistoric Action • PG-13 • 128 mins.

Pixar’s hero-family series is still super

Bob and Helen Parr (voiced by Craig T. Nelson: Book Club; Holly Hunter: The Big Sick) embrace their super abilities as heroes. With superheroes banned by the government as menaces, Helen worries that their children will suffer. Bob rails at the injustice of being denied his abilities.

So Bob accepts the offer of billionaire telecommun­ications developer Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk: Better Call Saul) to help the Parrs turn public opinion in favor of the Super community. He’s dismayed, however, at Winston’s insistence that Helen, whose alter-ego Elastigirl is less damaged, be the face of the campaign. Helen, Winston argues, is the practical super solution. She’s approachable and able to keep collateral damages low.

Helen doesn’t like the idea of leaving the kids. Bob doesn’t like the idea of leaving the spotlight. Still, he accedes to staying home with the kids. 

Both Parrs face challenges. Helen enjoys being the center of attention, earning adulation as she does what she’s good at. She also feels guilt at leaving her children. Bob has a hard time coping with single parenthood, especially as baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile: The Incredibles) has started displaying a startling range of powers. 

Can Helen help make superheroes legal again? Can Bob keep Jack-Jack from incinerating himself and the household? What will happen when a new supervillain emerges to challenge them?

Hilarious, action-packed and full of heart, The Incredibles 2 is a worthy sequel to one of Pixar’s best films. Writer and director Brad Bird’s (Tomorrowland) comic timing and action staging have matured in the 14 years between the first and second installment of this super story. Action sequences are thrilling, and emotional moments are touching. It’s a fine return to form for Bird, who had stepped away from Pixar to direct live-action films.

The first Incredibles took a harder look at its themes, midlife crises and lack of communication in marriage. Themes here — gender roles, raising kids and obsession with commercialism and screens — get shallower treatment. Discovering the identity of the villain won’t be much of a challenge if you’re over the age of six, as the film follows typical Pixar storytelling formula.

Still, this movie has a lot to recommend with slick 1960s’ styling and Bond-movie sensibilities. There are lots of visual jokes for fans of kitschy spy movies. The voice cast returns as well, with Hunter the emotional standout and Nelson offering some great comic moments.

The real star of The Incredibles 2 is Jack-Jack. Precocious babies can become tiresome in films, but Jack-Jack is the perfect blend of delightful chaos and zany comedy. The baby is, at once, the best argument for and against having children. His fight with a raccoon is one of the funniest animated sequences ever created. He even plays well with Incredibles standout Edna Mode (voiced by Bird). 

With breezy action sequences, gorgeous visuals and a ton of heart, The Incredibles 2 is a great summer movie for the whole family. Come early to enjoy Bao, a wonderful short about the devotion, and obsession, in a mother’s love.

Great Animation • PG • 118 mins.

A group of women prove they can steal as well as the boys

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock: Our Brand is Crisis) has had five years to work on her speech to the parole board. She’s also had five years to plan the ultimate heist. For Debbie, pulling heists is not only a family tradi- tion but a matter of redemption — she needs to prove to her- self that the mistake that put her in jail will never happen again.

The job is to steal a legendary necklace worth $150 million in the middle of the Met Gala. The job requires that Debbie get past not only the tight security of the Metropolitan Museum of Art but all of the private security firms hired to specifically protect the jewels on loan to the attending gliteratti.

Debbie needs a team. She hooks up with her old partner Lou (Cate Blanchett: Thor: Ragnarok) and starts to look for a few good criminals. She insists on an all-female team, because women are so frequently ignored. Together, Lou and Debbie recruit jewel- er Amita (Mindy Kaling: Champions); fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson: The Post); pickpocket Constance (Awkwafi- na: Dude); hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets); and designer Rose Weil (Hele- na Bonham Carter: Sgt. Stubby).

Can Debbie’s team pull off the ulti- mate score? Or is robbery man’s work? Breezy, stylish and a whole lot of fun, Ocean’s 8 is a great summer diversion.

The chemistry between the women is wonderful, and when the ladies come together, the movie is fantastic. There is plenty of lickety-split dialogue and jokes to keep the tone enjoyable. Like all caper movies, if you spend more than 20 seconds thinking about the plot, everything falls apart. But the movie is able to effectively distract from the inherent ridiculousness well enough to mitigate any logic problems.

Though all the ladies work well together, they don’t work together enough. The Ocean’s franchise is built upon the fun of watching big-name celebrities riff off each other. In service of developing one too many plots, the characters are short-changed. Interest- ing teammates such as Rihanna and Paulson are given far too little to do in the name of allowing yet another wacky plot thread to form. There’s also entirely too much time spent on an underdevel- oped and uninteresting revenge subplot.

Blanchett and Bullock are effortlessly cool as the fast-talking center of the criminal whirlwind. But the standout in this cast is Anne Hathaway (Colossal). As the mark, a spoiled Hollywood star- let, Hathaway is a scenery-chewing delight. Her Daphne bounces between pouty brat, sex kitten and lonely neurot- ic. It’s a parody of every actress stereo- type, and it is masterfully executed.

Certainly full of flaws, Ocean’s 8 is still a pretty great way to spend a few hours. Arguably, it’s as entertaining as the George Clooney series and eons better than the Frank Sinatra origi- nal. It has enough laughs and winks at the audience to excuse the plot. This is a good popcorn flick for those who appreciate great fashion, fun heist sequences and loads of girl power.

Fun Caper Comedy • PG-13 • 110 mins.

A technophobe gets one heck of a system update in this entertaining thriller

       Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green: Damnation) is married to a bigwig in the tech industry, with a self-driving car and an automated house. Grey doesn’t like automation. He prefers to drive vintage cars and restore them for rich ­buyers.
       The mismatched couple is stranded on the wrong side of the tracks after an accident in the self-driving car. Attacked by a band of high-tech muggers with genetic enhancements, Grey is paralyzed and his wife is murdered.
       A billionaire former client visits Grey in the hospital with an intriguing proposal: Be a guinea pig for a new microchip that might cure paralysis. The system, called STEM, will take over the severed nerve connections and control his body using brain signals. 
       The installation is a success but with one quirk: STEM not only controls Grey, it can also think and talk. STEM thinks it can help Grey solve his wife’s murder, and the two team up to take down the bad guys.
       In the process, Grey learns something else about STEM. During times of stress, it can take over his body and turn him into a killing machine. That’s useful because the baddies are all bioengineered killing machines.
       Upgrade is a throwback to the ultra-bloody 1980s action thrillers that didn’t take themselves too seriously. It is loud, ludicrous and endlessly entertaining. 
      Director Leigh Whannell (Insidious: Chapter 3) keeps the action fast and the story moving. There’s little time for reflection, and that’s a good thing, as films like this fall apart when you think about the plot.
       The movie looks and feels gritty, but with a fun futuristic twist. It’s essentially a dystopia where the rich live in what look like Apple stores while the poor are reduced to shanty towns. Those who can afford it wear gas masks to keep their lungs clean while others cough in the streets. Its inventive reimagining of the future suits the tone of the story.
      Another throwback is the level of violence. This is a movie in the vein of Robocop and Commando; expect to see limbs severed, heads blown off and buckets of blood. Showing the actual consequences of violence has a visceral effect on the audience.
      At the film’s center is Marshall-Green, who is hilarious and poignant as a technophobe become reliant upon a computer system. Grey isn’t hard-wired to be a killer, so when STEM takes over he’s more than a little horrified at the carnage he’s causing. But he comes to rely upon STEM to help him achieve his vengeance.
      Take your friends who can’t live without their phones and show them what a real upgrade can do. 
Good Action • R • 95 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
      Annie (Toni Collette) has trouble handling the death of her mother. As she tries to cope with the loss of the domineering woman, dark secrets from the past come to life. 
      First-time director Ari Aster offers an avant-garde take on the typical thriller, incorporating fascinating sound design and interesting framing. Plus, Heredity’s story makes it a horror movie that hits close to home.
Prospects: Bright • R • 127 mins.
Hotel Artemis
       For 20 years, the Artemis Hotel has offered medical services to injured criminals. The Nurse (Jodie Foster) runs the underground hospital under a strict code. Guests can’t murder other guests, the gates don’t open to strangers and the medical professionals can never be disrespected. 
      Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and his brother challenge the rules. The men accidentally stole a valuable container from The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum). When the international crime lord comes to collect, the Artemis and its staff fall under siege.
      Featuring a stellar cast and a fun concept, Hotel Artemis should be a zippy thriller full of fun lines and fast-paced action.
Prospects: Bright • R • 97 mins.
Ocean’s 8
      Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has inherited a flair for the family business. Like her brother Danny, she is a thief. Released from prison, she plans her next big heist. Assembling a new crew, she explains the target: They’re going to rob the MET Gala. 
      This all-female sequel to the Ocean’s franchise is a breezy heist comedy. As with most of the Ocean’s movies it’s a safe bet that this is going to be a shallow but enjoyable flick, filled with cool outfits, funny lines and a plot that makes little sense. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 110 mins.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
      How did a man in a cardigan with homemade puppets become one of the most beloved children’s show hosts? It was a combination of luck and an infectious worldview that taught kindness to parents and children alike. 
      This documentary about the rise of Mr. Rogers and his legacy is filled with interviews on his impact on children and the Civil Rights Movement. 
      If you watched Mr. Rogers as a child, or if you want to feel the impact of a compassionate worldview, watching a movie on the power of kindness may be a relief from our increasingly pugnacious times.
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 94 mins.

Solo so-so 

       Growing up under the Dickensian thumb of an evil crime boss, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich: The Yellow Birds) knows how to run a scam and talk himself out of a scrape. He has dreams of getting off the planet of Corellia with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke: Game of Thrones). When his escape go awry, Han must flee the planet — say it with me — Solo. 
      Determined to return to Corellia with enough coin to buy Qi’ra’s freedom, Han joins the Empire’s army. Kicked out of flight school for his arrogance and mouth, Han is slogging through battlefields trying not to die when he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri), a crook who ekes out a living stealing hyperfuel from the Empire and selling it to fringe organizations. 
       Han signs up for a life of crime and quick cash, convincing his newfound friend Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo: Star Wars: The Last Jedi) to come along as muscle.
      If you’ve never seen a Star Wars movie, this is not the one to start with. Solo: A Star Wars Story is entertaining enough, but production and scripting woes show. Hired after another team’s firing, director Ron Howard (Inferno) cobbled together what he could from already-shot and reshot footage. No surprise that the overall story is rushed and disjointed. 
      Many plot points are told through clunky dialogue rather than shown. The central love story is poorly written, and its actors have zero chemistry. Most relationships are vaguely sketched. Some chase scenes, particularly one involving the Millennium Falcon and a space anomaly, are visually boring in badly rendered graphics. 
       The biggest failure is Emilia Clarke, who pulls outlandish faces and becomes a distraction in every appearance. She and Ehrenreich are very pretty, but together they have the appeal of cold oatmeal. 
        This is a shame as the love story wastes so much time, and the other parts are pretty darn entertaining. Harrelson and Ehrenreich have chemistry, and the heist scenes are fun. Suotamo’s Chewie also has great rapport with the cast and entertaining reactions to Han’s stupid plans and antics. 
         The best part of the movie, however, may be Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover: Atlanta) and his droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge: Goodbye Christopher Robin). Glover fully captures the slick charm of Lando, who disguises his worries beneath his cavalier veneer. His odd relationship with L3-37, who believes in droid rebellion from human rule, is one of the strongest in the film.
       Flawed, yes, but Solo is still fun. Grab a bucket of popcorn and sit down to laugh your way though this breezy origin tale. If you’re a diehard Chewie fan, like this reviewer, it’s more than worth the ticket to finally see just what happens when you make a Wookie mad.
Fair Action Adventure • PG-13 • 135 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Action Point
        D.C. (Johnny Knoxville) is the proprietor of an off-brand theme park filled with rickety rides and apathetic employees. When his daughter Boogie visits, D.C. wonders if he shouldn’t upgrade. Then a big corporate park opens nearby. 
       This is your typical Johnny Knoxville comedy, which means he’ll be hit, run over and thrown through the air. There will be crude humor, lots of silly jokes and barely any plot. 
Prospects: Dim • R • 85 mins.
       When her boyfriend Richard (Sam Claflin) invites her to sail across the Pacific, Tami (Shailene Woodley) thinks romance. The lovebirds hit a snag when they sale into a hurricane. With the boat and Richard nearly destroyed, Tami must draw on determination to save boat and boyfriend. 
       Based on a true story, Adrift should be a stirring tale of survival. 
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 120 mins.
       Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green) watches four muggers kill his wife after paralyzing him. Filled with rage, he gets an offer he can’t refuse: A billionaire wants to use him as a guinea pig for an implant under development. STEM would rewire Grey’s brain and allow him to walk.
        It works, and the now-mobile Grey goes after the men who killed his wife. He finds an odd ally in the STEM system, which is able to take over his body and give him super-powered strength and abilities.
       Is the STEM implant a godsend? Or is there a downside to allowing AI to move your body like a puppet? 
      This type of action movie could go either way, to bonkers action or slogging high-concept. If it leans into the craziness inherent in the plot, it could be a gonzo good time.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 95 mins.
The mercenary with the mouth is back in a fouler, funnier sequel
     Superhero Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds: The Hitman’s Bodyguard) is a regenerating mercenary who specializes in eliminating the worst of the worst: drug dealers, human traffickers and gang leaders. It’s a bloody business, but he’s having fun doing it. 
      The party stops when Wade encounters Cable (Josh Brolin: Avengers: Infinity War), a time-traveling soldier back from the future to kill 14-year-old Russell (Julian Dennison: Chronesthesia) because the world will be a better place without a kid abandoned and abused in a mutant orphanage run by a sadistic Bible-quoting headmaster who tortures children for their genetic differences. Wade isn’t so sure killing a kid is a superhero move. 
       Faced with a kid who may be beyond help and Cable’s nearly unstoppable determination, Wade assembles a team of super-powered people — plus one normal who saw the ad and signed up.
      Can Wade and his X-Force prevail?
      Vulgar, violent and wholly inappropriate for, well, anyone, Deadpool 2 is nonetheless great fun. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde) is a former stunt man who knows how to stage and shoot thrilling action scenes. He keeps the tone light and the fight scenes bloody, which is a perfect balance for a film that gleefully violates the basic rules of filmmaking and decency. 
      The real reason this film works is Reynolds. Seemingly born to play a smart-alecky mercenary who rattles off pop culture jokes, Reynolds is charming in all his profane glory. He manages to make murder for hire rather delightful. He gives Wade emotional depth paired with gonzo physical humor. Anytime the movie takes a writing shortcut or leans on cliché, Wade is there to call it out and remind the audience it’s just a movie.
      A host of fantastic supporting characters help Reynolds keep the tone light and breezy. The best is Domino (Zazie Beetz: Atlanta), a mercenary who has the amazing super power of luck. She can, without ill effect, tumble out of planes, take on armed men and rush into burning buildings. She also seems as attuned as Wade to the absurdity of the film they’re making. Brolin, on the other hand, is surprisingly flat as Cable. 
       Among other flaws, some elements rehash the first film, and a few of the scenes drag. Still, Leitch and Reynolds keep a pace too swift to complain for long. There’s always a new fight or joke just around the corner. 
        This is not a Marvel movie for young children, and you might think twice about taking your parents, though this reviewer’s mother loved it. There is orgiastic violence, disturbing male genitalia and enough foul-mouthed quips to fill a swear jar. For fans of the first Deadpool film or of wisecracking violence in your movies, this flick is well worth the ticket. 
Good Action-Comedy • R • 119 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Solo: A Star Wars Story
      Long ago in a galaxy far far away … Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) was a kid growing up under the thumb of an evil mob boss. Forced to steal and beg for food, Han dreamed of fleeing his planet with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and becoming a great pilot. 
      When Han does get free, he ends up a grunt in the Imperial Army, dreaming of the day he’ll be able to return to Qi’ra. To earn enough money for her rescue, he falls in with thieves who need one big score to get out of their life of crime.
       Will Han reunite with the love of his life? Or will he live a life of crime?
       We all know that the real love of Han’s life was Chewbacca. So it’s a good thing the Wookie is introduced fairly quickly in this film. With production problems, a director switcheroo and scripting woes, Solo: A Star Wars Story carries a lot of baggage.
       The good news is that new director Ron Howard has cobbled together a watchable popcorn flick, perfect for summer. Sure, there are plot and acting problems. Clarke, in particular, is poorly cast. But overall, following the origins of Han, Chewbacca and Lando (Donald Glover) is a breezy adventure through the galaxy. 
Good Action Adventure • PG-13 • 135 mins.

Passion or obligation: That’s the choice

      Ronit (Rachel Weisz: My Cousin Rachel) returns to her Orthodox community to mourn her father, a revered rabbi. She has lived in New York by choice and in exile since the revelation of her teenage fling with another woman, Esti (Rachel McAdams: Game Night).
       Returning home as a successful photographer, Ronit learns that even in mourning she is shunned. In neither her father’s obituary nor his will is she acknowledged as his only child. She is welcomed only by Esti and by her husband Dovid (Alessandro Nivola: You Were Never Really Here), Ronit’s childhood friend.
      Having accepted her rabbi’s order to take a husband, Esti is at once a pillar of the community and a closeted lesbian living a life of quiet desperation. In Ronit’s return, she hopes to grasp a little bit of happiness. 
      As the women reunite, gossip swells.
     Beautifully shot and acted, Disobedience is a thoughtful film about closed communities. Director Sebastián Lelio, who just won an Oscar for the outstanding A Fantastic Woman, delves into the nuances of the Orthodox London community, showing the good and the bad. On the one hand, the community serves and helps its own. On the other, it’s run by rules that are unkind to those who don’t follow them. 
       Lelio takes pains to show the isolation of a person shunned. From the stores to school, the community turns hostile. 
      Helping underscore the theme is the brilliant acting trifecta of Weisz, McAdams and Nivola. Weisz’s Ronit is tortured as her hopes for reconciliation are smashed. 
      As Esti, McAdams offers a disturbing portrait of repression in religious communities. Unhappy as she is, she can’t bring herself to chance life alone. She knows that rekindling her romance with Ronit is the way to ruin, but she’s helpless to stop her attraction. 
        The surprise of the film is Nivola’s Dovid. His performance elevates a character who could have been a villain to a figure of sympathy. Dovid is devoted to his community and religion and is torn attempting to do the right thing. 
      Fascinating, well crafted and wonderfully performed, Disobedience is well worth the ticket. 
Great Drama • R • 114 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Book Club
       Four friends are feeling in a rut. Diane (Diane Keaton) is a widow figuring out sudden solitude. Sharon (Candice Bergen) is a judge stinging from a contentious divorce. Carol (Mary Steenburgen) longs to revive her stale marriage. Vivian (Jane Fonda) enjoys an active single life.
       Forming a book club, the quartet finds their world changed by the titillating Fifty Shades of Grey. The book inspires some to embrace their sex lives and others to seek out lasting commitment.
       Book Club is a typical finding-a-new-lease-on-life comedy. If you’ve seen one of its kind, you can guess the plot. It’s more about the charisma of the actors than the strength of the plot. This isn’t a movie to stretch these actresses, but it will play to each of their strengths. Expect Keaton to shriek and flail, Bergen to offer a sardonic wit, Steenburgen to smile beatifically and Fonda to offer a sultry wink. 
      If you’re a fan of these lionesses of the screen, it should be fun to watch them vamp for laughs. Still, it’s distressing that these women are enamored with one of the poorest written books in history. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 104 mins. 
Deadpool 2
      Super-powered Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) has developed a reputation in the superhero community as the unkillable Deadpool. 
      Time-travelling, bioengineered super-soldier Cable (Josh Brolin) arrives in Wade’s era to give the hero a choice. He must kill a child to protect the future. Wade instead assembles a super team to stop Cable.
       Deadpool was the surprise super hit of the Marvel universe. Foul-mouthed, uber-violent and hyped to the ridiculousness of the super-genre, this is not the Marvel movie you take your kids to. Reynolds is charming and wry as this superhero who breaks the fourth wall to address the audience. Reynolds and the producers seem to have found a delicate balance between parody and gimmick. But leave the kids at home. This one will earn its R-rating.
Prospects: Bright • R • 119 mins. 
Pope Francis: A Man of His Word
       Legendary director Wim Wenders was offered unprecedented access to the Pope as he spread his message of hope, charity and kindness. 
      The documentary examines what Francis hopes to achieve as head of one of the most powerful religious groups in the world and how he deviates from the pontifical norm. 
      Don’t expect a film questioning Catholicism or criticizing the church. This movie is about hope and the positive effect religion can have on the world. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG • 96 mins. 
Show Dogs
       Frank (Will Arnett) and Max (Chris Bridges) are ill-adapted mixed-species partners who go undercover at an exclusive Las Vegas dog show to bust a smuggling ring and find a stolen baby panda. 
      Frank pretends to be a pretentious dog owner and Max his pampered pet. 
      Think of this as Miss Congeniality with a cast of talking dogs. Expect tons of bodily humor and slapstick comedy in this kiddie movie.
Prospects: Flickering • PG • 92 mins.