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Arts and Culture (All)

Deadpool

This Ferris Bueller of superheroes shows the Marvel squares how it’s done

Former Special Forces soldier Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds: Self/less) is a terrible hero, eking out a living as a mercenary. His main interests are having sex with his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin: Gotham), starting bar fights and cracking wise.
    Then Wade is diagnosed with terminal cancer. To buy time with Vanessa, he signs up for experimental treatments at a shady corporate facility. Unsurprisingly, Wade is subjected to terrible things.
    The experiments leave him disfigured but able to quickly heal and regenerate tissue. Vowing vengeance, Wade dons a red costume, grabs a gun and introduces himself as Deadpool.
    Director Tim Miller makes his feature debut with a clever take on a hackneyed story. Miller subverts your basic hero-origin story by exaggerating all of the familiar tropes. The film mocks everything from the X-Men to star Reynolds’ disastrous performance in The Green Lantern. The opening credits set the tone, mocking superhero actors, crew and concept.
    The only Marvel character aware that he’s in a comic book, Deadpool also knows he’s in a movie. He pauses the action to talk directly to the audience and joke about Marvel franchises. He is, in essence, the Ferris Bueller of superheroes. Reynolds runs with it, creating a hero who’s sarcastic, violent and oddly loveable. He and his character thrive on outrageousness, which works well in a film that revels in the ridiculous.
    The supporting cast, including cameos by a few X-Men, help make Deadpool light fun. An especially odd sequence featuring his adventures with a cab driver morphs in no time from silly to sick. Deadpool’s shocking humor works because the whole cast trades barbs as easily as they trade blows.
    Deadpool is not for the faint of heart or the easily offended. Action, comedy and vulgarity are the standards this film rises to, with plenty of naked people, curse words and exploding heads to keep the popcorn masses enthralled. But if you’re tired of the milquetoast brand of superheroes mass-marketed with every new Marvel release, Deadpool will energize you.

Great Action • R •108 mins.

Compass Rose shows why ­Tennessee Williams deserves his reputation

Reportedly Tennessee Williams’s favorite of his plays — which is saying something — and what many consider his best — which is also saying something when you consider his prolific output — Cat on a Hot Tin Roof premiered on Broadway in 1955 and won that year’s Pulitzer Prize for drama.
    Williams’s proclivity for tearing the facades off the American dream, particularly those of southern Americans whose culture used to seem so different from the rest of the country, still resonates today. At its core is the very use and meaning of the word mendacity: the inability of so many families to be honest with themselves and each other.
    The famous 1958 movie classic starring Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor is a diluted version of this powerful and at times jarring drama.
    At Compass Rose Theater, director Lucinda Merry-Browne has assembled the cast of strong actors the play demands. They immerse themselves in the mendacious undercurrents of Williams’s work while inviting the audience to understand the motivations that have led into each abyss of dishonesty. They do what is most critical in Williams’s familial works: relate to each other and keep the pace moving.
    These are icons of American drama. Big Daddy, the rich landowner, is protected by his family’s lies from the truth about his mortality. Brick, his youngest son, douses with alcohol the flames of a forbidden love. Maggie the Cat, Brick’s frustrated wife, escaped poverty to marry into a family rich only in material goods.
    Each is depicted here by solid actors who understand what their lines mean and how they relate to those of the other characters. It’s an accomplishment that can be subtle. Led by Browne and assistant director Steve Tobin, these talented actors bring to this well-known story realism that lends it freshness and an edge that cuts to the bone.
    As Brick and Maggie, Jacques Mitchell and Katrina Clark open with a long scene of exposition that reveals their depth of despair. Mitchell gives us a Brick who seems a touch laid back at first, as he figuratively shuts down in the face of Maggie’s pleading, cajoling and lecturing. But when he uncoils in anger or frustration or honesty, Mitchell’s Brick is bared, earning our sympathy and scaring us a little.
    Clark’s Maggie is in love with her husband yet can sink her claws into his psyche with the twist of a word or a memory. We are so sucked in that it’s a shock when they are suddenly interrupted by other characters.
    As Big Daddy, Gary Goodson’s physical command of the stage is matched by his vocal command, with modulations that can be funny or threatening. When Big Daddy and Brick have the protracted, emotional and probing conversation in which Brick, of all people, finally tells his father the truth, two fine actors allow themselves to be carried away by some of Williams’s finest writing.
    Hillary Mazer as Big Mama is as bombastic as the husband who loathes her. Chris Dwyer as Cooper, Brick’s older brother, and Samantha Merrick, his wife, do a fine job as a couple whose love is driven by mendacity.
    See it and be reminded of why Tennessee Williams is one of the best American playwrights ever to put to paper the pen of profundity.


Th 7pm, FSa 8pm, SaSu 2pm thru Feb 28. 49 Spa Rd., Annapolis, $38 w/discounts: compassrosetheater.org.

Stage manager, Michelle Wood; Lighting designer, Ethan Vail; ­Costume designer, Cameron Ashbaugh; Props, Mike & Joann Gidos.

2nd Star Productions updates this classic with color-blind casting

Legendary acting gave The Philadelphia Story its fame. Philip Barry’s so-so comedic drama about high society marriage and divorce in the 1930s is synonymous with Katherine Hepburn, who debuted the show on Broadway and starred on screen opposite Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. That’s a hard legacy to live up to.
     Renowned for outstanding musicals, 2nd Star Productions tries to update this classic with color-blind casting. But this time the troupe aims higher than it can reach.
    The action covers a pivotal 24 hours in the life of golden girl Tracy Lord (Erica Miller), a privileged ice princess who finds her heart as she searches her soul to choose between three dissimilar men. The occasion is her impending wedding to establishment tycoon George Kittredge (Akili Brown). The society event summons attention from poet-cum-reporter Mike Connor (Erik Hatcher) and impish ex-husband, Dexter Haven (Joshua Hampton). George adores her as a goddess, Mike appreciates her surprising innocence and Dexter acknowledges both qualities — plus his culpability in souring their love.
     Subplots center on Tracy’s family: literary brother Sandy (Alex Hyder), meddling little sister Dinah (Miranda Newheart), philandering father Seth (Brian Binney) and long-suffering mother Margaret (Rosalie Daelemans), for whose sake they welcome the press in hopes of averting a public scandal. Uncle Willie (Gene Valendo) lends comic relief as resident philosopher and lecherous geezer smitten as he is with press photographer Liz Imbrie (Nina Y. Marti), who is in love with Mike. There is also the requisite black butler (Wendell Holland) and two domestics, May (Mary Retort-George) and Elsie (Lily George).
     This production stumbles on relevance and credibility. As the central characters bumble through a haze of champagne and sexist humor toward an incendiary misunderstanding, a relevant question is posed.
    “What place does a woman like Tracy have in the world today?”
    In our era of Kardashian socialites, that 80-year-old line describes an anachronism.
    Confounding credibility is the directorial concept of Tracy’s interracial engagement to George. For these characters, such a union would have been unthinkable. That scenario was the impetus for a different Hepburn blockbuster — Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner — 40 years later.
     Stepping in for another director, Christopher Overly, who starred as Father in 2nd Star’s musical Children of Eden, inherited a challenge. The principals deliver their own brand of Hepburn’s fiery ice, Grant’s suavity and Stewart’s guileless charm, but they cannot live up to the expectation set by that charmed trio. Despite yet another award-worthy set from company founder Jane B. Wingard, this show feels immature and, at two and a half hours with two intermissions, long.


FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, thru Feb. 20. Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park, Bowie; $22 w/discounts: 2ndstarproductions.com.

Stage manager, Joanne D. Wilson; Costumes, Linda Swann; Lights & sound, Garrett R. Hyde

This old west melodrama could do with more bullets and less monologues

When Jane Hammond’s (Natalie Portman: A Tale of Love and Darkness) husband returns to their remote homestead full of bullet holes, she knows that the Bishop Boys have found them at last. These outlaws have searched for years for the couple, vowing bloody vengeance. With her husband wounded and bleeding in their bed, Jane must leave to seek help.
    Taking her daughter to a friend’s home for safekeeping, she tracks down former fiancé Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton: Black Mass), a gunslinger whose talents earned him fame in the Civil War. Bitter that Jane married another man, Dan  tells her she’s on her own.
    Wasting its potential, this Western drama needs more grit and fewer flashbacks. Director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) fails to offer a strong point of view. He’s made a love story, a revenge story, a survival story and a Western. He overreaches. By including everything, there’s little to care about in a plot so thin.
    Jane’s character is especially undefined. She veers from delicate, traumatized flower to grim-jawed gunslinger. There’s no justification for her moods, and her reactions are often out of sync with her previous behavior. She has no problem shooting a man in one scene, then argues the sin of killing. Portman does what she can to keep Jane consistent, but it’s a losing battle.
    Most unforgivable is the grand showdown between Jane and the Bishops. O’Connor builds up to the gunfight admirably, but the confrontation gets perhaps 10 minutes of screen time.
    Neither effective melodrama nor thrilling Western, Jane is the type of film one might watch on a lazy Sunday when the remote is too far out of reach to bother flipping channels.

Fair Western • R • 98 mins.

Four Coast Guardsmen attempt an impossible rescue in this stirring drama

In an intense Nor’easter, The Pendleton cracks in half off the coast of Cape Cod. The men on the stern watch in horror as massive swells swallow half of their oil tanker. As they’re taking on water fast, engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck: Interstellar) knows that they have only hours afloat.
    But all the Coast Guard’s large boats are working to save another oil tanker.
    A small Massachusetts town sends out the only boat left, a 35-footer captained by Bernie Webber (Chris Pine: Z for Zachariah). Webber and his team of three volunteers know the mission may mean death. Even if they can pass the treacherous breaking waves at the mouth of the harbor, their tiny boat will be tossed like a bath toy by the 40-foot swells.
    With thrilling cinematography, stirring performances and lots of over-emphasized Massachusetts’ accents, The Finest Hours is a crowd-pleasing drama. Director Craig Gillespie (Million Dollar Arm) contrasts the human drama with the vast sea, its relentless power gorgeously shown in the initial breakup. Like the crew, we watch helplessly as water surges into the ship.
    Gillespie relies on archetypes to expedite the plot. Bernie is a quiet, almost timid man seeking to prove his mettle on this mission. Sybert is a stalwart engineer who refuses to give up. The performances of Pine and Affleck go a long way to humanizing these familiar types. Affleck in particular infuses Sybert with a crushing sense of reality. He holds little hope, but he also knows that panic will worsen their last hours.
    As Bernie, Pine plays surprisingly well against type. In a Jimmy Stewart-type role, he drops his usual confidence to offer a good take on an aww-shucks hero.
    Not high art or metaphor, The Finest Hours is a modern rarity: a good movie with mass appeal. Thrilling sea rescues, rolling waves and heroic performances offer a two-hour excuse to gobble popcorn and root for the good guys.

Good Drama • PG-13 • 117 mins.

Take the bus instead of riding with this comedy

Rookie cop Ben (Kevin Hart: Get Hard) is still hoping to prove himself to his future brother-in-law James (Ice Cube: The Book of Life), one of Atlanta’s toughest cops. Ben’s urgency to insert himself in James’ cases typically ends in gunfire.
    When a mission ends in disaster, James has one chance to salvage his drug case: travel to Miami to apprehend a hacker who knows who’s supplying Atlanta’s dealers. James prefers to work alone, but he acquiesces to his sister’s pleas and takes Ben along.
    Will he kill Ben on the way?
    Bland, unoriginal and offering barely a laugh, Ride Along 2 is so perfunctory that it’s a wonder the actors don’t have scripts in their hands. The film rehashes the plot of the first film, losing the chemistry Ice Cube and Hart built.
    Director Tim Story (Think Like a Man Too) doesn’t bother with pace, plot or scene, though he does lovingly pan over wet bikini bodies every few minutes to make sure people are paying attention.
    Hart, who has made a career of being the shortest, loudest person in the room, continues his shtick. He screams, flails, bugs his eyes out and falls over. Though the physical gesticulations are eye-catching, Hart seems oddly flat. As he mumbles his way through the dialog, you can almost see him calculating the residual checks he’ll earn from this heartless sequel.
    Story seems to have an odd effect on funny men, sapping their timing. Hart isn’t the only struggling comedian. Neither can Ken Jeong (Dr. Ken) find a consistent tone. Sometimes sleazy, sometimes hysterical, his hacker is unfunny and perplexing.
    Oddly, straight man Ice Cube is the best comedian, as he growls at Jeong and snarls insults with just enough venom to get laughs.
    Ride Along 2 is typical of the mid-January junk studios dump on unsuspecting viewers.

Poor Comedy • PG-13 • 102 mins.

One man battles nature and the human ­condition in his quest for revenge

In the 1820s, the part of the Louisiana Purchase that became the Dakota territories was a dangerous place. White men seeking furs risked running afoul of native tribes, vicious animals and inhospitable weather. Scout Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio: The Wolf of Wall Street) knows the perils, for he and his half-Pawnee son have spent their lives leading white men in and out of the wilderness to find fortune.
    When a trapping party runs afoul of the Arikara tribe, the men scramble into the mountains. Glass is mauled by a bear. Ribs exposed, bones broken and bleeding profusely, he is unlikely to survive the night.
    Daunted at the prospect of hauling the injured man over the mountains, the trappers appoint two men as a burial party to wait with Glass and his son.
    The funeral doesn’t go as planned, when the remaining trappers kill Glass’s son and toss them both into a shallow grave. Overcome with rage and grief, Glass drags himself from the frigid ground and begins a 200-mile journey toward vengeance.
    Filled with gore, cruelty and lots of ratty facial hair, The Revenant is a revenge Western for the modern age. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman) contrasts the cruelty of man with the cruelty of nature in this epic tale. We also see the plight of native peoples in 1800s America, robbed of their lands, animals and basic rights, resorting to violence against white invaders. Iñárritu carefully contrasts the plight of the Arikara with Glass, both on quests to reclaim stolen dignity.
    Essentially the story of one man’s revenge against nature and man, The Revenant is a showcase for DiCaprio. He carries the story well, but his acting style of shouting his way through emotional scenes gets distracting. In his rare quiet moments, he is more effective. These glimpses do more to make him human and relatable than his unending parade of broken bones and oozing wounds. As the principal antagonist, Tom Hardy (Legend) does what he can with a role so evil he should have horns sprouting from his scalp.
    The real star of The Revenant, however, is the staggering cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman). His sweeping landscapes and gorgeously composed frames make all 156 minutes a treat. The cold gray land that envelops Glass becomes a character unto itself, harsh and unforgiving as he struggles to overcome it.
    Filled with stunning images and interesting plotlines, The Revenant is a must-see for those with a strong stomach.

Good Drama • R • 156 mins.

Reconsider what you think you know about relationships, sex and power

“Colonial Players might just want to bring playwright David Ives on as a resident artist. Last year, Ives’ witty version of the 17th century French farce The Liar won the company the coveted Ruby Griffith Award from the British Embassy for best all-around production by a Washington-area community theater. Now, Venus in Fur — Ives’ take on a stage version of Venus in Furs, the 1870 novel by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch — is equally entertaining and a perfect fit for Colonial’s intimate theater-in-the-round.
    Yes, Sacher-Masoch is the man who, unwittingly, gave us the term masochism, and as this play within a play progresses, it’s not easy for us as an audience to discern the difference between masochism and sadism. And that’s the way Ives intends it.
    Venus in Fur starts with thunder and lightning that portends the battle of the sexes we’re about to see, as playwright/director Thomas Novacek, cranky and spent after a day auditioning actresses without any classical training or “a particle of brain in their skulls,” is lamenting his plight on the phone with his fiancée. In walks young Vanda Jordan, profane, brash, beautiful and all wrong for the part. But she convinces Thomas to read her for the role, acting the male part himself, and we are off on a trip that is sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing, but always riveting.
    Is it a coincidence that her name, Vanda, is the same as the character’s (well, she admits, her name is Wanda but her parents always called her Vanda)? Is it just solid preparation that she comes with a big bag seemingly with a closetful of costumes, both his and hers, that are perfect for the roles? Is it coincidence that, after telling Thomas she quickly scanned the script’s pages on the train ride over, she actually has it memorized?
    As Thomas and Vanda, Jeff Mocho and Natalie Nankervis are a fine match. He is the slightly nerdy, khaki-clad writer trying to bring to life a book he finds as deep and full of meaning as the cultists who read it in 1879. She is the firestorm that rips through his smugness by calling the book soft-core porn.
    Both actors do a fine job moving quickly from their characters into the characters in Thomas’s play, with Nankervis especially effective switching off present-day Vanda’s excitable vocal staccato and sliding right into what can best be called a seducing dominatrix — with her subject more than willing to be the submissive. Both are able to give us a laugh-out-loud line (and there are plenty) one minute, while the next draw us into the emotions and motivations of the modern and 1870 characters they are portraying. It’s truly fine acting.  
    Set designer Ricardo Seijo has turned Colonial’s stage into a very realistic yet generic New York rehearsal hall, complete with fluorescent lights and fire sprinkler pipes along the ceiling and a brick wall along one side with realistic sealed windows that hint at the color outside while simultaneously reminding us that we are captives to … what? The theatrical process? The director-actor dynamic? The degradation bestowed by a dominatrix?
    Eric Lund’s stark at one moment and ethereal the next; lighting and Ben Cornwell’s sound add to the mystique that carries us from present day into 1870 and back. Kaelynn Miller’s costumes for Vanda, meanwhile, might make even the most jaded of theatergoers feel just a touch voyeuristic … which is exactly what Vanda would want, of course.
    If all this sounds like you’re in for an evening of whips and chains, fear not. This is a finely crafted script, nominated for a Tony Award in 2012, brilliantly brought to life on Colonial’s in-the-round stage by director Jim Gallagher and his stellar cast. Gallagher’s deft directorial hand and the complete believability of Mocho and Nankervis carry us on a visual and emotional journey that has us questioning what we think we know about relationships, sex and power.


About 90 minutes with no intermission. ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm (and 7:30pm Jan. 17) thru Jan. 23. Colonial Players Theatre, Annapolis, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: 410-268-7373.
 
Director: Jim Gallagher. Producer: Jason Vaughn. Stage manager: Shirley Panek; Set designer: Ricardo Seijo. Lighting designer: Eric Lund. Sound Designer: Ben Cornwell. Costume Designer: Kaelynn Miller.

Two women run from society in this stirring drama

Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara: Pan) has the life she’s supposed to want. A sales clerk at a fancy department store, she has a devoted boyfriend with marriage and kids on the horizon. She wants none of it.
    When Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett: Cinderella) wanders into Therese’s store, the clerk’s world shifts. The beautiful and mysterious Carol flirts with Therese, and the young shop worker longs for a different life. Carol is everything Therese desires: beautiful, composed and a member of the New York elite.
    But Carol’s veneer of cool confidence and glamour hide a tumultuous life. After years of repression, she is ready to divorce her wealthy husband and embrace life as a lesbian. In the 1950s, lesbians were viewed as deranged deviants. She must choose between years of misery with a man she doesn’t love or social exile.
    Desperate to escape Harge and the prying eyes of New York society, Carol flees across the country while her daughter enjoys Christmas vacation with her in-laws. She asks Therese to come along.
    Can the potential lovers find a place that accepts them? Or are they doomed to travel the highway forever?
    An atmospheric character study, Carol is a slow-burn drama that rewards audiences with meticulous sets, in-depth character development and excellent acting. That is a nice way of warning you that not much happens in Carol. Billed as a thriller, this film by director Todd Haynes (Mildred Pierce) is more a period piece than a whodunit. He is more concerned with creating a tone and a specific look than refining pacing.
    His detailed recreations of the people and places of the 1950s are fascinating, and his relaxed style allows the performances to shine. But he’s a bit too languid with the story, allowing it to drag.
    As the title character, Blanchett holds the screen. Carol projects a veneer of breezy style and wit. But just below the surface is a woman fighting her confines.
    Mara is excellent as the repressed Therese, who never knew there was a life outside of heterosexual marriage. Her awakening is more joyful than Carol’s. Mara makes the most of Therese’s innocence and wonder.
    Gorgeous, well-acted and slow-moving, Carol isn’t for everyone. But if you’re an aficionado of nuanced acting, elaborate costume design and emotional depth, this film won’t disappoint.

Good Drama • R • 118 mins.

Quentin Tarantino’s Western has the good, the bad and the bloody

A blizzard traps eight strangers in Minnie’s Haberdashery just outside Red Rock, Wyoming. A cowpuncher, an English hangman, a Mexican cook and a Confederate general huddle in the drafty lodge, waiting for the storm to break.
    Last to arrive are bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell: Furious 7), his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh: Anomalisa). The price on Domergue’s head is high, and allies have sworn to free her.
    Ruth analyzes the threat each stranger poses. Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson: Chi-Raq), a Buffalo Soldier turned bounty hunter, seems unlikely to aid vitriolic racist Domergue. Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins: Justified) is a different story. The son of a Confederate raider who hates blacks and northerners alike, he’s likely to be dangeously sympathetic to Domergue.
    As the blizzard builds, so does the tension, and as bodies drop, Domergue is confident her escape is eminent.
    Violent, crass and oddly beguiling, The Hateful Eight invites extreme reactions. Writer/director Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained) — who has a penchant for brutal, unlikeable characters — has stacked the deck with some of the vilest characters he’s yet conjured. Racists, women beaters, rapists, murderers are all here. Hateful Eight beguiles the audience with America’s worst.
    Sergio Leone’s great spaghetti westerns inspire this film. Longtime Leone collaborator Ennio Morricone provides the soundtrack. Leone can also be felt in the sweeping landscape cinematography that makes the film look desolate but beautiful. Tarantino shot the film in 70 millimeter, an extreme wide angle that offers sweeping scale and excellent picture quality. Choose a 70mm screen, and set aside a large chunk of time, as this epic is three hours long, including overture and intermission.
    The weakest part of The Hateful Eight is the script. Tarantino revels in the grotesque, and his grindhouse sensibilities are beloved by fans. But Hateful Eight is too much of a good thing. Tarantino tries so hard to shock that disgust becomes annoying after the second hour. Always a fan of racial epithets, his script uses his favorite pejorative so often that, instead of marking his characters as racists, it makes Tarantino seem a snotty adolescent getting away with saying taboo words. Violence and sexual assault are so common that the horror of the acts is largely lost.
    Saving The Hateful Eight from parody are some excellent performances. As Domergue, Leigh manages to be funny, intimidating and sympathetic. Leigh’s feral performance relies on physical traits, but she never lets you forget that this murderess is fierce and smart. You can see her plotting at every moment. Goggins, who has made quite a career playing evil southerners, shines as a racist dolt who learns some harsh lessons about the ways of the world. He makes even the most ridiculous lines work through sheer force of will. Jackson is also in fine form, offering his usual brand of brash pontificating.
    Too bloody for general audiences, too crass for highbrows, Hateful Eight is pure Tarantino. But if you’re a fan, this movie is pretty bloody good.

Good Western • R • 168 mins.