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A clever premise and charming leads make the year’s best Halloween scare
      Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe: Tater Tot & Patton) has a terrible birthday. She wakes in a geek’s room after a night of drinking. She’s late to class. A glass of chocolate milk is spilled on her head. Then she’s brutally murdered. 
     Good thing she gets to wake up to try the day over. And over, as she dies each new day. Finally, she decides to stop her serial killer dead.
     As Tree investigates the many people who might want to kill her, she starts learning. She develops fighting skills; plans ways to turn the table on her killer; and tries not to act like a garbage person. 
     Can Tree change for the better? Or is she doomed to be murdered for all eternity? 
     Clever, funny and entertaining, Happy Death Day is a tasty piece of Halloween candy for horror fans. Director Christopher Landon (Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to this slasher version of Groundhog Day, focusing on comedy rather than terror. 
     There are jump scares galore, but nothing about Happy Death Day is truly terrifying. Even Tree rolls her eyes each time her killer — wearing the worst baby mask ever — tracks her down. 
     Snappy writing and two fantastic performances make the movie work. 
     Rothe is charismatic enough to pull off bad behavior without making the audience hate Tree. Nor does Rothe push the redemption arc too hard, allowing Tree to fix her more egregious behavior while retaining the sass that makes her fun. Her transition from terrified victim to daring heroine is deeply satisfying.
     As the nerd who helps her figure out the rules of her repeating day, Israel Broussard (Say You Will) is both charming and earnest. Unlike Tree, Broussard’s Carter doesn’t retain memories when the day resets. It’s hilarious to watch Tree recruit Carter to her cause in increasingly odd ways. 
     Entertaining as it is, Happy Death Day is far from perfect. Beyond the clever gimmick, the plot is standard. You’ll also figure out the identity of the murderer long before Tree and Carter do. Still, it’s easy to join the cast and crew in sheer fun. 
Good Slasher/Comedy • PG-13 • 96 mins. 
 
New this Week
 
The Florida Project
     Six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) lives in a motel next to Disney World. Left on her own day after day by her well-meaning but neglectful mother, Moonee has only the harried motel manager (Willem Dafoe) to look after her. 
     Director Sean Baker is known for capturing slice-of-life stories in unexpected places. His filming style, which has included shooting on iPhones, makes his stories seem more like documentaries than works of fiction. 
     See it for Baker’s style, Prince and Dafoe’s rave performances and a story of how the innocence of childhood can make even the direst circumstances an adventure.
Prospects: Bright • R • 115 mins.
 
Geostorm
     In the near future, a network of satellites controls the weather and forestalls natural disasters. When the system goes down, all hell breaks loose.
     Tornadoes swarm across the plains. Tidal waves surge into major cities. Hail the size of small cars batters the population.
     A climatologist, a secret service agent and a nerd team up to stop these disasters by kidnapping the president.
     After a horrific hurricane season, Geostorm might seem relevant. It is not. This is a big-budget shlock fest that embarrasses its actors. Plus, effects look reused from the equally loathsome disaster flick 2012. 
Prospects: Disastrous • PG-13 • 109 mins.
 
Only the Brave
     As the Granite Mountain Hotshots battle the flames on Yarnell Mountain, the men think about the reasons they risk their lives to protect others. 
     Based on the true and tragic tale and featuring A-list talent including Jennifer Connelly, Josh Brolin, Jeff Daniels and Miles Teller, this movie should be both tearjerker and excellent drama. 
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 133 mins.
 
The Snowman
     When snow blankets a small town, there’s more to fear than frigid temperatures. A serial killer known as the Snowman emerges from hibernation to dismember women. 
     Detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) teams up with a promising young recruit to finally trap the Snowman.
     This Scandinavian noir has all the components of a great thriller: bleak landscapes, isolation and good actors. Will the script go beyond a moody aesthetic and grotesque murders to make us care about the characters? 
Prospects: Flickering • R • 119 mins.
 
Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea ­Halloween
     The newest entry in Perry’s wildly popular franchise has Madea (Tyler Perry) and her friends venturing into a haunted campground on Halloween. As ghosts and ghouls attack, the crew must fight or flee. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 101 mins.

A young woman aspires to rhyme her way out of her dying town

      Patti Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald: The Rachels) spends her waking hours serving drunks in a dim bar in the bowels of New Jersey. When she’s not being harassed by customers, Patti must wrangle her mother, a hopeless alcoholic who uses the karaoke nights at Patti’s bar to relive her dreams of singing professionally. In her free time, Patti is the primary caregiver for her grandmother, who has accrued enough medical bills to keep Patti and her mother in debt for life.
     Though things look bleak, Patti has a dream: She wants to be a rapper. She spends her free time writing rhymes and practicing her flow. She shows promise, but Patti struggles to find support from fellow rappers, who dismiss her as a pathetic, fat white girl. 
     The game changes when Patti meets a mysterious man who plays subversive Goth death metal. Patti forms a ragtag crew that includes her grandmother, and the group cobbles together a few tracks for a CD, hoping to find fame and fortune. 
     Director Geremy Jasper makes his feature debut with a film that doesn’t push many cinematic barriers. The plot is predictable, you’ll know exactly where it’s going almost the moment the film begins. Jasper does manage to make the small Jersey town its own character, its tagged edifices and grimy interiors offering insight into Patti’s desperate need to get out. 
     Jasper stretches a little bit during Patti’s fantasy sequences, toying with light and effects to display the vivid interior of Patti’s mind. It’s a great contrast to the drab exterior world that she’s stuck in. 
     Patti Cake$ surpasses a hackneyed story thanks to the strength of its leads. As Patti, Macdonald is a revelation. She manages to make Patti’s dogged quest for recognition both relatable and sweet. She spits rhymes well and offers enough quiet desperation that the audience really roots for her to find her dream.
     As Patti’s alcoholic mother Barb, Bridget Everett (Saving a Legend) is brilliant. She is a sad shell of a woman, who bounces from bad choice to bad choice. She’s content to let Patti take care of her and her mother, but viciously lashes out whenever Patti tries to curb her destructive behavior. Still, when she performs, there are glimpses of the woman she was. Her powerful voice and magnetic performing style help explain why Patti loves a woman who clearly wasn’t a nurturing force in her life. 
     Patti Cake$ has a ton of heart and a cast that offers wonderful performances. If you’ve ever felt stuck in your life, or have a love for quirky tales of underdogs, this movie will be well worth the trip. 
Good Dramedy • R • 108 mins.
 
New this Week
 
Tulip Fever
     In the 17th century, Eurpoe was enthralled by a flower. The tulip had taken the world by storm, and Amsterdam built a lucrative industry around the culturing of the bulbs and blooms. 
     Merchant Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz) has made his fortune on the tulip trade and uses his prosperity to buy a pretty, young orphan bride. Sophia (Alicia Vikander) is little more than a bauble to her much older spouse and is prepared to live a life of opulent misery. That all changes when Cornelis hires a painter to capture his prized possessions — his wife and his tulips. 
      Sophia and the painter begin a torrid affair. He promises to steal her away, but Sophia knows her husband will spend all his money to track her down. Can the lovers come up with a plan to evade Cornelis?
     Based on the bestselling book, Tulip Fever is an historical romance with a pedigree. Legendary playwright Tom Stoppard penned the screenplay, which means the dialogue and character work should be beautifully detailed.
Prospects: Bright • R • 107 mins. 
 
Unlocked
      CIA interrogator Alice Racine (Noomi Rapace) is the only thing standing between the city of London and a biological terror attack. She can’t trust anyone as she attempts to neutralize the threat, including her own government. Her only hope is an unorthodox MI:6 agent (Orlando Bloom) who may be the key to stopping the attack. 
      Think of this film as a season of 24 condensed into two hours. Rapace is an excellent actress, but there’s only so much she can do to make such unoriginal plot points interesting. It is nice to see a woman fitted into the typical male savior role, but without anything new or interesting to say, this film feels like a rehash. 
Prospects: Dim • R • 98 mins. 

The Brothers Osborne on Nashville, Merle Haggard and growing up in South County

     Once upon a time, when the Brothers Osborne were just kids in Deale playing with their dad, you didn’t have to go farther than your local watering hole to hear them. Now they’re big time, chronicled in Rolling Stone and celebrated as Country Music Association’s Vocal Duo of the Year. Last year’s Dirt Rich tour sold out across America and Canada. 
     But their roots remain deep in Chesapeake Country. Their breakout hit, Mix It with Rum, was filmed with a local crowd at Happy Harbor and Skippers Pier in Deale. Their fans love them for their hometown pride.
     This summer, the brothers come home, playing Friday, August 25 at Calvert Marine Museum. Bay Weekly staffers and South County residents Audrey Broomfield and Kathy Knotts had hoped for a true interview with the country duo, but due to a tight touring schedule they had to settle for a phone call. This is an edited text of that conversation.
 
Bay Weekly Your long and successful music career started when you were kids backing up your father in a band that played local restaurants and taverns. When did you begin to see your music as a career?
John Osborne You have to commit to something like that at a very young age and just be really stubborn and strong-headed about doing it. It takes years and years of sacrifice and questioning whether you are on the right path or not. There really isn’t one specific moment but more like hundreds of small moments that remind you that that’s where you want to be.
 
Bay Weekly Where do you see yourself more at home, Deale or Nashville?
John Osborne Nashville now. It’s amazing in Nashville. I love it and call myself a Nashvillian. I feel like I’m such a part of the city. I’ve watched it grow over the last 10 years to blossom into an amazing town. The people are so warm and welcoming. It’s the best of living in a big city but with a small-town vibe.
TJ Osborne I love it here [Nashville]. I moved right after high school. All I had known was little ol’ Deale. I was used to waving at everyone and knowing everyone in school and growing up with them. Moving to a city: Nashville might as well have been NYC at the time. But now it feels smaller to me, and I know so many people here now. 
 
Bay Weekly Do people recognize you when you’re out and about?
John Osborne I see it more at home; it definitely happens, it’s hard for me to hide from people. I have long hair, a big beard and I’m six-foot-four. So I can’t really hide from anyone recognizing me. But I don’t mind if people want to come up and say hi and take a picture with me. It definitely happens a lot in town and more in Maryland. If you’re from Deale everybody already knows who you are anyway. I like it. I don’t mind the attention.
 
Bay Weekly Who or what was the biggest influence on your musical career?
John Osborne Our parents were our biggest influences. They both went to Nashville when we were younger. They write songs and record. They paved the way for us to become musicians. They are our biggest inspiration.
TJ Osborne Good songwriting really inspires me. I’ve always liked the crafting of a song. It was always something that stuck with me and gave me drive. Eventually alongside my brother, that turned into a career. Ultimately, you’ve got to have good songs. It just comes down to that. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have catchy lyrics you won’t be successful. Taylor Swift is a prime example. She is not really known for being this great singer, but her songs are what got her to what she is now.
 
Bay Weekly Out of all the venues you have played, do you have a favorite?
John Osborne My favorite venue is the Ryman Auditorium (in Nashville) where we recently played with Little Big Town. It was so much fun. There was great energy in that room.
TJ Osborne Ryman Auditorium in Nashville is a hard room to beat. It’s magical there. There’s history. The acoustics are second to none. You have this theater that feels so intimate. It’s a special experience every time.
 
Bay Weekly Since making it, you’ve played with quite a few big names. Who is your favorite star to play with?
TJ Osborne Little Big Town has been the most fun and supportive. They’re people who I am definitely proud to call my friends, and that has more to do with how cool and great they are as people and not just the success they’ve achieved. They are really, really talented on top of that. Sharing a stage with them is great. Some people’s lives are more crazy; some artists you don’t get to hang with as much. They’ve all been really great, good experiences.
John Osborne Little Big Town is one of our favorite groups, not only as a band but also as people. We’ve been very lucky to play with some really cool artists, from Chris Stapleton to Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley, Darius Rucker, Eric Church. We are big fans of all the people we get to play with.
 
Bay Weekly What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
John Osborne The best piece of advice I’ve ever heard is to work hard and be nice to people. Those two things can go a long, long way. You have to have some ability and talent, but if you don’t work hard and you’re not nice to people, your talent will go nowhere.
TJ Osborne Treat people with respect, be nice to people. If you have talent and you work hard and you’re nice to people and make friends, life will be good for you. From our parents we learned a strong work ethic, which kept us going. 
 
Bay Weekly How about memorable experiences with crazy fans?
John Osborne One girl, we signed her arm and she went and got it ­tattooed. 
 
Bay Weekly What is your favorite song to perform on stage?
John Osborne It Ain’t My Fault, our current single. It’s a fun, rocking tune and everyone sings along, and there’s a big guitar solo in the middle that I get to play. I love stretching it out and doing my own thing.
 
 
 
Bay Weekly What do you miss most about Deale and Maryland?
John Osborne Besides our family, I miss the people and the Bay. Deale has some of the most real people on the planet — straight shooters and hard workers — and I miss that the most. But equally I miss the Bay — and damn good crab cakes. We always eat crab cakes when we go home. People try to offer us crab cakes everywhere we go because we are from Maryland, and we just turn them down.
TJ Osborne Growing up in Deale was an immense influence. A lot of people don’t realize how country and rural Maryland really is. They can’t believe a country artist came out of there. 
I think as far as our music, I knew that if I ever sold out, everyone in my hometown would kick my ass. So I had to stay true to my roots.
The camaraderie you have with your friends and neighbors in a small community, that’s hard to get somewhere else.
I really miss being able to just go home and go fishing and walk out my door and do that.
 
 
Bay Weekly If you could play with any one person dead or alive who would it be?
John Osborne I would love to play with the Allman Brothers. Unfortunately Gregg Allman passed away recently, but I’d love to go back in time and play with the young Allman Brothers.
TJ Osborne I would love to play with Hank [Williams] Sr. No, Merle Haggard, that’s who. Hank Sr. was before my time, as were a lot of Merle’s songs, but I got to see Merle play live, he was just one of those guys.
 
 
Catch the Brothers Osborne on stage at Calvert Marine Museum, Friday, August 25. Tickets are still available, but hurry: www.calvertmarinemuseum.com.

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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.

Bringing the Book of Matthew to Life

Godspell was originally a college project by the show’s author, John-Michael Tebalak, then a student at Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh. Another student, Steven Schwartz, was brought in later to add a score, which of course includes such musical staples as Day By Day and Light of the World. Debuting off-Broadway in 1971, Godspell was a smash. It still is all these years later because of its simple staging, relatively uncomplicated music and the universal and timeless message of the Book of Matthew.

Given its youthful heritage, it might be a bit surprising to see that some of the cast members in Pasadena Theater Company’s lively production are almost twice the age Jesus was when he died. However, Godspell is a play about community as much as anything else, and community is ageless, as are the parables from the Book of Matthew with which Jesus teaches his charges. The 10 people assembled by director Chuck Dick are indeed a community, and this cast’s energy and commitment make us in the audience feel a part of that community as well.

Comedy is at the core of the first act. A more sober undertone of betrayal and resurrection shadows the second. Both work well because of the talented cast, a tight band and that simple staging.

Every Godspell needs an effective Jesus, one around whom the crazies can orbit, and John Andrew Rose provides just the right amount of wisdom and calm to anchor this production. He delivers his lessons with obvious love, sings his numbers with a strong, clear voice and is as adept at laughing along with his small community of followers as he is making us feel the searing pain of his crucifixion.

As John the Baptist, and later Judas, Frank Antonio is a strong presence, especially animated when he is forced to betray Jesus after accepting 30 pieces of silver to do so. Antonio’s bit of mime as Judas feels trapped in the box he has built for himself is particularly touching.

The rest of the cast each have their individual moments, from Joe Rose’s emotional and soaring All Good Gifts, to Lindsey Miller’s crystalline soprano on the rocking Bless the Lord, to Christy Stouffer’s faithful rendition of the hit Day By Day.

When Jesus and John the Baptist join together in the soft-shoe number All for the Best, we can tell we’re hearing something special, even though the band often overwhelms the two, especially Antonio’s double time diatribe about the rich as it patters alongside Jesus’ straight time. In such an intimate setting, one would hope that these issues can be ironed out, because too many words of too many songs get drowned out. The people who wrote these words, whether in biblical times or in the early ’70s, chose them carefully in this play to make a point. That point shouldn’t be blunted by unbalanced sound.

The occasional use of a microphone helps in some spots, but occasional use probably needs to be upped to almost regular use in the case of some soloists, especially when members of the band sing the beautiful and haunting In the Willows. The microphone is right there, on a stand, ready and waiting to be used. Might as well use it because it’s a song whose lyrics are as beautiful as the music.

Sound technicalities aside, this is a talented group who work together seamlessly, truly representing what Tebalak had in mind when he wrote the play: community. That’s something we need more of these days, and the timelessness of Jesus’ teachings is brought to life beautifully here, and will touch you regardless of your religious, philosophical or political leanings.


About 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission. Costumes: Christy Stouffer and cast. Music director: Tom Jackson. Choreographer: Jason Kimmell.

Thru July 23: FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, Pasadena Theatre Company, Humanities Recital Hall, AACC, Arnold, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: www.PTCShows.com.

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.