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Arts and Culture (All)

Lack of communication is downfall and ­salvation in this tense flick

       Predatory aliens roam Earth, hunting humans by sound. Even whispers can lead to a brutal death. Evelyn (Emily Blunt: My Little Pony: The Movie) and Lee Abbott (John Krasinski: Detroit) are working hard to keep their family life quiet. 
Sand is spread on trails from the house to town. Wooden floors are painted so everyone knows where to step to avoid creaks. Shoes are banned from the house as are all items like plates or cutlery that could make telltale sounds. The family uses sign language and crafts light signals for emergencies.
       Despite their planning, tragedy strikes when their youngest picks up a noise-making toy and is killed before his parents can reach him.
        After his death, the family splinters. Oldest daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds: Wonderstruck) blames herself and fears her father does as well. Lee draws back, secluding himself in a basement bunker as he seeks a way to defeat the aliens. Pregnant Evelyn must think of a way to deliver her baby silently and keep it from crying. Son Marcus (Noah Jupe: Wonder) is terrified of his own shadow.
       When the Abbotts face another threat, can they pull together? 
      Tense, interesting and well acted, A Quiet Place is one of the rare horror movies that doesn’t need cheap parlor tricks to entertain. Krasinski, who also directs, focuses on a family in crisis, exploring relationships and coping.
        The movie’s silence heightens tension. By crafting a film where sound is deadly, Krasinski plays on audience reaction. Rows of viewers collectively gasp or hold their breath. 
       The cast is also phenomenal. Blunt offers a wonderful, nearly silent performance. Small tremors in her face and shifts of her eyes convey more than some actresses can with pages of dialogue. She also works well with Krasinski, establishing that deep connection among the Abbotts before the alien disaster.
         Simmonds, who is a deaf actress, makes a fierce Regan, who lashes out in hurt and guilt over her part in her brother’s death.
        See the movie, but forgo the popcorn and candy lest you be the loudest thing in the theater.
Great Horror • PG-13 • 90 mins.
 
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
 
Final Portrait
        Portrait artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) is legendary for capturing the essence of his subjects. 
        Writer James Lord (Armie Hammer) leaps at the invitation to sit for a Giacometti portrait. The artist promises to be quick. But in the studio, Lord discovers that an artist, and a portrait session, can’t be rushed.
        Director Stanley Tucci showcases actors and performances more than plot and nuance. A reflection on how torturous the artistic process can be, it’s a movie for anyone who’s ever struggled to complete a project. 
Prospects: Bright • R • 90 mins.
 
I Feel Pretty
        When deeply insecure Renee (Amy Schumer) hits her head, her world changes. She wakes up seeing herself as a physical ideal — and filled with a confidence she never dreamed of. 
        Will newly empowered Renee be able to conquer the world? Or will the patriarchy put her in her place? 
       This comedy about the difference self-assurance can make seems well meaning, the premise being that women allow themselves to be belittled by society and themselves, and when they shed those shackles, anything is possible. Is Schumer the one to execute it?
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 110 mins.
 
Super Troopers 2
       When a Canadian border town turns out to be located on our side of the border, the United States government asks the Vermont State Troopers to help secure the town during the power transition, leading to a culture war in a tranquil town. 
       Super Troopers 2 rehashes the crass original, which felt fresh and had some funny moments. It’s a sequel no one really needed. 
Prospects: Dim • R • 100 mins.
 
Traffik
       Brea (Paula Patton) and John (Omar Epps) are enjoying a romantic rural vacation when they run afoul of bikers. Trapped in the remote woods, they must rely on themselves to escape the violent, racist gang hunting them.
         Couple-in-peril plots are staples of the B-movie genre. Traffik has a chance to make a statement with its imperiled black couple hunted by a gang of violent whites.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 96 mins.
 
You Were Never Really Here
        Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) has a particular set of skills. A veteran with stress disorder problems, he works as hired muscle. On a mission to retrieve a senator’s missing daughter, he falls into a conspiracy that make him question the world and his own sanity. 
        Lynne Ramsay directs a dreamlike horror movie that will leave you questioning what you see. It played well at Cannes and has earned a few critical raves. But Ramsay likes to challenge her audiences. Expect ambiguous plots and unflinching depictions of depravity.
Prospects: Bright • R • 89 mins.

Dogs are always our best friends, even when we’re not theirs 

        When an epidemic of canine flu threatens the population of a Japanese town, the mayor (voiced by Kunichi Nomura: The Grand Budapest Hotel) decrees that all dogs be banished to the town’s offshore landfill, Trash Island. 
     People are upset. Scientists are ignored despite their claim to have cured the flu. Is there a conspiracy led by a cat-loving crime family? 
     The dogs, for their part, want to go home to their masters.
     The mayor’s ward (Koyu Rankin: Juken) hijacks a small plane and crash-lands on the island to look for his faithful bodyguard and best friend Spots (Liev Schreiber: Ray Donovan). Instead, the boy finds Chief (Bryan Cranston: Electric Dreams), a stray who hates the concept of masters, and his pack of former house pets. Chief wants nothing to do with the boy, but the pack out-votes him, deciding to help on his quest.
      Eventually, Chief wonders if there might not be some good in masters.
     Meticulously styled, emotionally resonate and utterly fetching, Isle of Dogs will have dog-lovers wagging. It is steeped in director Wes Anderson’s (The Grand Budapest Hotel) typical style. Each frame is filled with copious candy-colored details, with cuteness offset by a rather morbid sense of humor. This vaguely 1960s-mashed-with-fairy-tale style can take some getting used to. But in animated form, it’s easier to go with.
     Though Anderson has only done one other animated film, his aesthetic blends beautifully with the medium.
     Flaws are few and fall to humans. The storyline involving people is less interesting than anything the dogs do. A know-it-all exchange student (Greta Gerwig: 20th Century Women) adds irritation rather than heroism as an annoying foreigner.
      Anderson has not always treated pets well; their deaths are frequently the punchline in his films. But here he nails the emotional bond between human and dog. 
Good Animation • PG-13 • 101 mins.
 
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
 
Finding Your Feet
      When Sandra (Imelda Staunton) leaves her cheating husband, she is forced to move in with her sister Bif (Celia Imrie). Sandra thinks Bif is the black sheep of the family, while Bif finds Sandra insufferably stuffy.
      The sisters find common ground when Sandra joins Bif at her community dance class. Sandra opens up as she meets members of the class and rediscovers the joys of embracing life.
     This film is no groundbreaker. It’s a group of insanely talented British theater and film stars having fun in a silly romantic comedy. If you enjoyed The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, buy a ticket. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 111 mins.
 
The Miracle Season
     A volleyball team mourning its star player is inspired by a tough-talking coach (Helen Hunt) to dedicate their season to their lost teammate. Soon, the ladies are unstoppable, playing their way to championship.
      A feel-good sports movie based on a true story, The Miracle Season follows Hoosiers, Rudy and Miracle in winning audiences with underdog sports stories. This one adds an all-female team. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG • 101 mins. 
 
Rampage 
        Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) is a primatologist known for raising a silverback gorilla from birth. The gorilla, George, communicates via sign language. Their bond is tested when an experimental chemical finds its way into George’s cage. The gorilla is mutated into a giant ape with a rage problem. 
       It’s a good thing the government uncovers some other mutated animals for George to fight. 
       Sound silly? Of course it is.
       Based on a popular video game featuring giant mutant animals fighting each other, Rampage isn’t so much a movie as a loud distraction. Fans of Johnson and his wry performances should enjoy this mindless popcorn flick. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 107 mins. 
 
Truth or Dare
       Olivia (Lucy Hale) and her vacationing friends play a game of truth or dare with strangers. The game turns deadly.
        It could be fun for fans of mindless horror staged on stupid premises. I’m holding out for a horror version of Beer Pong. 
Prospects: Dare you to see it • PG-13 • 100 mins. 

Steven Spielberg should hit restart on this ­disaster gamer movie

     In 2045, the real world is in tatters. People find their only satisfaction in the OASIS, a virtual reality simulation enabling you to be or do anything you want.

         At his death, the OASIS creator leaves a challenge to the millions of users worldwide: Find three keys hidden somewhere in the program and inherit control of his estate. It’s a billion dollar golden ticket, just waiting to be found.

         Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan: All Summers End) is a nobody living in the stacks, a park of trailers stacked several stories high. He has one friend, Aech (Lena Waithe: Master of None), and no money, limiting his options even in the OASIS. Playing under the tag Parzival, Wade finds the first key, becoming a celebrity in the virtual world.

         Everyone wants a piece of Parzival. His avatar is famous. His crush wants to talk to him. Tech Company IOI recruits him to find the other keys. With fame and fortune, however, come problems. As the battle for control of the OASIS becomes more intense, Wade wonders who he can trust and if he’ll survive this virtual Easter egg hunt.

         Filled with gaming and 1980s’ pop culture allusions, Ready Player One is beautiful, bombastic and hollow. Think of it as Willy Wonka with the candy replaced with smug video game references.

         The problems begin, unfortunately, with veteran director Steven Spielberg (The Post). The plot, derived from a bestselling dystopian novel, is a jumble of scenes strung together with the thinnest of logic. References have no purpose but to make the audience feel clever for recognizing them. Performances are abominable. Sheridan is out of his league whether delivering the overly sincere monologues that infatuate Spielberg or looking tearily at the girl he loves. Ready Player One ill serves fans of both the book and good movies.

         There are, however, two bright points. As Aech, Lena Waithe is a delight, bringing levity and charm to her scenes. A brilliant 10-minute sequence in the Overlook Hotel combines humor, thrills and references to The Shining.

Terrible Adventure • PG-13 • 140 mins.

 

 

~~~ New this Week ~~~

 

Blockers

         Realizing their daughters are planning to lose their virginity, three parents make a pact to keep them from having sex. As they chase the girls and their virtue through a barrage of parties and high school locales, they wonder whether their cause is worth the effort.

         You know what you’re in for from Seth Rogen: There will be gross jokes, probably about sex or going to the bathroom; there will be slapstick; and there will be a heartwarming message jammed in about 10 minutes before the end.

Prospects: Flickering • R • 102 mins.

 

Chappaquiddick

         An infamous event in Kennedy family history is recreated and examined in this docudrama.

         The story follows young Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) as he meets and subsequently causes the death of Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara).

         Kennedy fans may be uncomfortable with this fascinating story of how money and power can sort out almost any problem.

Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 101 mins.

 

Gemini

         Personal assistant Jill LeBeau (Lola Kirke) is devoted to starlet Heather Anderson (Zoë Kravitz). That devotion is tested when a crime threatens Jill’s freedom.

         This twisting tale of fame and betrayal is a modern noir with plenty of style. If you’re a fan of plot twists, diabolical character studies and intriguing mysteries, this should be well worth the ticket.

Prospects: Bright • R • 93 mins.

 

Isle of Dogs

         When a canine flu threatens the people of a Japanese city, dogs are exiled to an island used as a dump.

         A young boy flees to the island to find his banished dog. Instead he meets a group of ragtag mutts, led by feral stray Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston). As Chief and the boy grow closer, Chief reevaluates his opinions of masters.

         In Wes Anderson’s precise, gorgeous stop-motion animation film, a very particular sense of dark humor is masked in bright colors. If you’re looking for something family friendly, don’t be fooled by animated dogs — this is darker than Disney or Pixar.

Great Animation • PG-13 • 101 mins.

 

A Quiet Place

         A family of four lives in terror and silence, as even the slightest snap of a twig will bring invading monsters barreling down upon a target.

         But it’s hard to keep children quiet, and the monsters are getting closer to the family’s home.

         A tense tale, A Quiet Place is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. The cast is fantastic, the story seems solid and the concept is novel. As this film depends on near silence, don’t unwrap a candy covered in cellophane.

Prospects Bright • PG-13 • 90 mins.

Great popcorn cinema

      Humanity eventually defeated the interdimensional monsters known as kaiju with the help of giant robots called jaegers. Though the apocalypse was averted, the world was devastated. In the chaos of massive rebuilding, criminals raid scrap yards to get rich on the black market.
     One of the best scrap yard raiders is Jake Pentecost (John Boyega: Star Wars: The Last Jedi). Jake’s father Stacker Pentecost was a legendary jaeger pilot who gave his life in the kaiju. Expelled from jaeger school, Jake was an under-achiever until he took to the fringes.
       Eventually arrested, he’s offered an option: jail or jaeger training, in preparation for the return of a new and better version of the kaiju. 
      Jake arrives as a new threat rises from the ocean. 
      Dumb and fun, Pacific Rim Uprising is great popcorn cinema. It’s loud, lightly plotted and full of robots and monsters. 
       In director and co-writer Stephen S. DeKnight’s cacophonous blend of action and humor, not all the jokes land, but the action sequences are crisp and coherent. 
       Boyega’s magnetic screen presence helps him sell even the corniest of lines, and he is roguishly charming. 
        As the harried Dr. Newton Geiszler, Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) brings manic energy and comedy to the film that distract from gaping plot holes. 
       As movies like this always need a blandly handsome dude, Scott Eastwood (The Fate of the Furious) steps up. 
      I can’t in good conscience tell you that Pacific Rim Uprising is a good movie. I can, however, tell you that it’s the type of mindless fun that can be immensely satisfying. Think of it as high-quality junk food: fantastic as long as you don’t overindulge.
Enjoyably Mindless • PG-13 • 111 mins.
 
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
 
God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness
      When a fire destroys St. James Church, its congregation is about to be pushed off the college campus where it made its home. 
      So the parishioners must prove to the college and the world that places of worship are valuable to the community. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG • 120 mins. 
 
Tyler Perry’s Acrimony 
       Melinda (Taraji P. Henson) works hard to to be a good wife. She looks her best and remains devoted even when husband Robert (Lyriq Bent) does little to keep up his end of the marriage.
      But when she discovers his infidelity, she snaps. Now, she’ll show him just how terrifying a woman scorned can be.
      Henson is a charismatic leading lady, so this should give her a wonderful showcase — despite Perry’s tendency to overwrought dramatics.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 120 mins. 
 
Ready Player One
       Eccentric billionaire Halliday (Mark Rylance) has no heirs to his vast fortune and virtual reality company OASIS. So, Halliday conceives of a contest. He’s hidden Easter Eggs in the OASIS, and the user who finds them all will inherit the lot of his fortune and holdings. 
       Trailer-park kid Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) finds the first and races to find the rest against nefarious competition.
       A combination of Willy Wonka and a 1980s’ pop culture trivia night on nostalgia porn, Ready Player One looks to be a hit. Director Stephen Spielberg tends to lazy choices and over-obvious symbolism, but he’s filled it with big-budget cameos and references to make nerds and geeks cheer. 
If you loved Goonies or Back to the Future, you’re in for a treat.
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 140 mins.

A boy finds the courage to be himself in this moving romcom 

      Simon Spear (Nick Robinson: Krystal) fears people will learn he’s gay. On the surface, he has little to worry about. His parents are loving and open, his friends are accepting and his school is fairly liberal. But thousands of little things cripple him with fear. 
      His father jokes about “fruity” men on TV. The school’s only openly gay kid is ridiculed by two bullies. Simon believes it’s in his best interest to stay closeted until college and has only one more year to get through.
     But he discovers he isn’t alone when he sees a Tumblr page message about his school. A boy who uses the pseudonym Blue posts that he’s gay and terrified. Simon creates a fake Gmail account to reach this kindred spirit.
     Using the alias Jacques, Simon tells Blue he is not alone. Soon, the boys begin an epistolary romance, encouraging each other to their first tentative steps out of the closet. Writing Blue becomes the best part of Simon’s day.
     Things hit a snag when a classmate discovers Simon’s emails. Simon is threatened with exposure if he doesn’t help his unscrupulous classmate get a girl. Under even more pressure, Simon begins lying to keep his secret.
Heartfelt, charming and utterly enjoyable Love, Simon is a great romantic comedy. Director Greg Berlanti (Political Animals) crafts a John Hughes movie for the Instagram generation from the popular young adult novel.
     As the center, Robinson’s Simon is a wonder. Filled with self-conscious ticks and nervous energy, he is relatable and sweet, even when he’s making terrible choices. Robinson makes a sympathetic figure, swept up in the clandestine romance that gives him the courage to be himself.
      As Simon’s newest pal, Abby, (Alexandra Shipp: X-Men: Apocalypse) is a standout. The perfect breezy young teen, she is Simon’s only confidant beyond Blue. Sweet, but no pushover, she demands respect for herself and her friends. 
Engaging as it is, Love, Simon is not perfect. Simon’s troubles wrap up a little too easily, and his relationships with pals are shortchanged in the interest of time. But Robinson’s winning performance holds the movie together even when the plot gets a bit thin.
     Often, movies about gay teenagers are fraught with despair. Love, Simon isn’t. It’s a great movie to start a conversation with teens and may be a jumping-off point for families to talk about uncomfortable issues.
     Berlanti does an excellent job of balancing teen pathos, dramatics and humor to create a moving movie.
Good RomCom • PG-13 • 110 mins.
 
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
 
Midnight Sun
      Katie Price (Bella Thorne) is a beautiful senior in high school that loves music. She should be the most popular girl in school, but there’s a problem: Katie has a severe sensitivity to the sun. Instead of going to school, Katie must stay locked in her home during the day, behind special windows to keep her safe.
      At night, Katie can finally venture into the world. She spends the evenings wandering her small town, playing her guitar and dreaming of being like normal girls. 
       Things change for Katie when she finally meets her next-door neighbor Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger), who she’s had a crush on for years. Charlie falls hard for the mysterious girl with a guitar, wondering why he’s never seen her at school or in town during the day. 
     Can Katie come clean about her condition? Or will it push Charlie away?
      The latest in the weepy teen romance genre, Midnight Sun is a bit of a lackluster effort. It features pretty people, problems that are solvable and lots of weepy histrionics. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 91 mins. 
 
Pacific Rim Uprising
      After the death of his father, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) had turned to a life of crime. But when the Kaiju monsters his father helped banish return from the ocean depths, Jake must once again return to the military and take up the family legacy of saving the world. 
      Kaiju are so massive that only giant robots piloted by human teams can fight them. They battle in the streets for the survival of the planet. This new breed of Kaiju, however, seems impervious to the robot’s weapons. Can Jake and his team figure out a way to save humanity? 
     This is not a complicated movie. This movie is monsters battling robots in vast cityscapes. If you love old-school Godzilla movies, this should be a satisfying popcorn flick.
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 111 mins. 
 
Paul, Apostle of Christ
       After being captured by the emperor Nero, Jesus’ apostle Paul (John Faulkner) waits for death. He is visited by Luke (Jim Caviezel), who hopes to tell Paul’s story and inspire the Christians being persecuted in Rome. While Luke spoils for an uprising, Paul is more concerned with saving the souls of those who would fight.
      The two men battle over what will help them spread the true word of the lord: Love or battle. 
      A lavish-looking take on the final days of Paul, this film suffers from a rather shoddy script. Messages are blared, dialog is forced and the beauty of the original Bible story is often lost in rather preachy overtones. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 108 mins. 
 
Sherlock Gnomes
      Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) move their extended family of garden accoutrements to London, where disaster strikes. When a garden gnome thief kidnaps their beloved family, the duo must turn to the greatest ceramic mind of their times — Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp).
      The sleuth leads Gnomeo and Juliet on a wild adventure through the streets of London, trying to retrieve all the stolen gnomes. 
      Kids might enjoy the weak puns, silly plot and occasional glimpse of gnome bum, but for anyone with a driver’s license, this is going to be a slog. If you must see this movie, stock up on snacks, and perhaps bring a flask. 
Prospects: Grim • PG • 86 mins. 
 
Unsane
     Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) seeks help dealing with the trauma of having a man stalk her. Though she thinks she’s getting therapy, she’s actually involuntarily committed into a mental institution. While she screams and demands to be released, she begins to see her stalker. 
      Has her commitment been an elaborate ruse by a man hoping to control her? Or is she actually slipping into delusion? 
      The latest twist-filled drama from Steven Soderbergh, Unsane is a movie about society ignoring women, even when they are screaming for help. This should be a gritty, terrifying look at how scary it can be to feel powerless and unheard in society.
Prospects: Bright • R • 97 mins. 

Two privileged teens get bloody bored in this twisted tale

     Amanda (Olivia Cooke: Vanity Fair) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy: Split) are used to the finer things. The children of wealthy parents, both girls run in the best circles, go to pricey schools and leave their messes for the maids in their mansions. 
       As the best friends grow up and apart, they become more specialized in their peculiarities. Amanda lacks feelings. She’s learned to fake them to fit in and make people comfortable, but she’s emotionally blank. When her show horse is injured, she chooses to put the horse down herself, using a knife. Now labeled a psycho, Amanda’s pretty sure she’s still a decent person, if a little off-putting.
       Lily has more successfully hidden her oddities from her social circles. On the outside, she is the perfect image of upper-class prep: Smart, impeccably styled, thin and well-mannered. She’s also wound so tightly that an unexpected touch will send her into a panic-induced flinch. She hates her stepfather, who finds her shallow and spoiled, and is convinced he’s ruining her life.
      Lily hesitates at resuming her friendship with Amanda, as she doesn’t want to be associated with the town nut job. But soon the two find a twisted kinship. Lily can tell Amanda anything, because Amanda won’t react emotionally. In turn, Lily finds ­Amanda oddly endearing.
      When Lily complains about her awful stepdad, Amanda suggests she kill him. At first dismissing the crazy notion from Amanda’s troubled brain, Lily begins to see its appeal. The two teens are soon plotting their perfect murder.
      Can they get away with it? Or should they stick to annoying the maids and borrowing their moms’ fancy cars?
      Much like the girls at the center of its story, Thoroughbreds is heavy on style but a bit light on substance. Think of it as Heathers for the Instagram generation.
      First-time writer-director Cory Finley has crafted a thriller with Hitchcockian tension. Each frame is crafted to ratchet up suspense. Score and sound design to make viewers feel tense and off balance. 
     On the other hand, the message is muddled. Finley wants to comment about how privileged environments make monsters of their inhabitants, but he never sinks his teeth into the satire.
     Cooke and Taylor-Joy are pitch perfect in contributing to this glossy confection. Cooke is up to the challenge of finding charm in Amanda’s emotionless void. She gives us a girl frank to a fault and hilariously unflappable.
     Taylor-Joy has the slightly showier role of the fragile Lily, who is so concerned with appearances that she can barely breathe without hyperventilating.
     Thoroughbreds is slick, darkly funny and immensely entertaining. 
Good Thriller • R • 92 mins.
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
 
Love, Simon
      Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) has a typical teen’s problems topped by coming out to friends and family. His respite from turmoil is his connection to Blue, an anonymous boy from his high school who is also gay and afraid to come out. 
      As the pair grow close over email, Simon falls for his epistolary partner. Can he discover Blue’s identity? Will the reveal be disappointing? 
      Robinson, a likeable lead with ­plenty of charisma, helps make Love, Simon a heartfelt coming-of-age story plenty of teens can relate to.
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 109 mins. 
 
Tomb Raider
        After the mysterious disappearance of her adventurer-father, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) drifts. Rich but without direction, she takes menial jobs while barely attending college. 
     When she’s offered a clue to her father’s fate, she sets on a trans-global mission to find the truth. Along the way, she battles ancient boobytraps, evil treasure hunters and a global conspiracy. 
    The second adaptation of the wildly popular Tomb Raider video game series, this film sticks more closely to the game’s origin story. This means plenty of angst, lots of made-up ancient cultural trivia and plenty of shots of Vikander in tight clothes. A good actress, Vikander should be able to carry the film. But don’t expect much from the story. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 122 mins.

A team of women investigates an anomaly in this fascinating sci-fi drama

       A team of women investigates an anomaly in this fascinating sci-fi drama
After going missing for a year, her soldier-husband returns to biologist Lena (Natalie Portman: Song to Song). But he is acting so strangely that she worries he has been traumatized. Soon he’s coughing up blood, and a SWAT team whisks the couple to a black site. 
       Imprisoned and seeking to help her dying husband, Lena learns where his last mission sent him — an anomaly in the swamplands. A dozen teams have been sent into The Shimmer. None has returned.
       Lena volunteers for the next mission. She joins cagey team leader Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh: Twin Peaks), physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson: Thor: Ragnarok), EMT Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez: Ferdinand) and Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny: Borg McEnroe). 
       At first, all seems idyllic, and they marvel at the odd flora and fauna. Soon, though, the women begin losing time. The flora and fauna are mutations in progress. They race to discover the secrets of The Shimmer before the anomaly changes them, too. 
      Smart, engaging and breathtakingly beautiful, Annihilation is the type of sci-fi movie that rewards viewers who pay attention. Writer/director Alex Garland (Ex-Machina) crafts a visually engrossing film. It is both striking and unsettling. Creatures and plants are familiar, yet altered, like objects seen through warped glass. Garland also plays with visuals, framing shots through water and experimenting with perceptions.
       The investigative team works well together. Each has a reason for taking a mission no one has returned from, and each has to question whether she should trust the others. Portman masterfully balances wonder with guilt as she seeks answers. Leigh excels as an odd psychologist with ulterior motives. 
       Annihilation is complex, intriguing and atmospheric. Its meticulously detailed frames offer lots of clues as to the bigger mystery. Go with a group so you can discuss the clues and the ending. 
Great Sci-Fi • R • 115 mins. 
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
 
Gringo
      Mild-mannered Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) is sent to Mexico to secure the formula for a medical marijuana pill. Though the job is supposed to be easy, he is kidnapped and chased by a mercenary and cartel lords while his indifferent colleagues haggle over the worth of his life.
       A zany comedy with an all-star cast, Gringo has potential. Oyelowo is joined by Charlize Theron, Sharlto Copley and Joel Edgerton. With a deft hand behind the camera, it can dance between farce and satire. If you’re a fan of comedies where increasingly ridiculous events compile, this should be a film for you. 
Prospects: Flickering • R • 110 mins. 
 
The Hurricane Heist
       A group of criminals plans the perfect heist. They’re going to rob a U.S. mint as a Category 5 hurricane bears down. But they’ll have to get past a plucky Treasury agent (Maggie Grace), a meteorologist (Toby Kebbell) and his gun-nut brother (Ryan Kwanten). 
Prospects: Bleak • PG-13 • 103 mins. 
 
The Strangers: Prey at Night
      A road-tripping family stays overnight in a deserted mobile home park. It’s not the ideal situation, and it gets worse when three masked strangers turn up. The trio of menacing toughs tortures the family with the promise of painful death. 
         The sequel to the sleeper hit The Strangers, this movie may lack the breathless tension of the first. Since the stakes, and the ending, are fairly clear, there isn’t much to worry about. 
Prospects: Flickering • R • 85 mins. 
 
A Wrinkle in Time
       Since her father’s disappearance, Meg Murry (Storm Reid) has struggled in school. She feels she doesn’t belong in her brilliant family of two physicist parents and a parcel of prodigy siblings. 
       Though Meg doesn’t know her worth, the universe does. Three celestial guides tell her she is the only hope to save the universe — and find her father. She learns how to wrinkle time to travel vast distances.
      Based on the beloved book, A Wrinkle in Time is a hotly anticipated family film. Brilliant director Ava DuVernay and a diverse female-driven cast give this film potential for greatness. 
Prospects: Bright • PG • 109 mins. 
A competitive couple tries to beat criminals in this hilarious comedy
      Annie (Rachel McAdams: Doctor Strange) and Max (Jason Bateman: Ozark) are avid competitors. They met as opposing team captains at a bar’s trivia night and have been dominating their couples’ game nights ever since. Each week they bring friends together to eat chips and suffer merciless beatings in party game play.
        The couple’s only problem is conceiving a child. The doctor informs them Max’s stress level is the culprit and advises avoiding unnecessary stress for the next few months.
       That’s just as Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler: Bloodline) has come back to town. Brooks is older, more successful, more charming and more than happy to undermine Max. Brooks moves in on Max and Annie’s beloved Game Night, promising a night of outrageous entertainment.
        At Brooks’ palatial home, he reveals the plan: Someone at the party will be kidnapped. The first person to find the victim wins Brooks’ Corvette Stingray.
Brooks has hired an acting troupe to help stage the kidnapping. But actual kidnappers beat the actors to the party, violently abducting Brooks as guests applaud the realism of the performance.
       Finally, Annie and Max realize the truth. Can the Game Night crew find Brooks and get him back unharmed? Or should they stick to charades?
       Funny, violent and completely off the wall, Game Night is a smart comedy for people with slightly sick senses of humor. The team who brought the world the Horrible Bosses series, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, have refined their style and their comic timing. The film is set up like pieces on a board game, with lots of clever game references.
        The writing is also sharp and full of surprises. Writer Mark Perez (Back Nine) makes the comedy biting and the jokes non-stop. Many comedies fail because they lack the courage of their convictions; Game Night goes for broke. The jokes are relentless, outrageous, often violent — and extremely funny.
        The impressive cast makes sure the jokes land. McAdams and Bateman are excellent comedians with great timing. But the standout is Jesse Plemons (No Activity). Playing a humorless cop desperate to be included in game night, he steals every scene. Dead-eyed, holding tight to a perky little Westie named Bastian and generally terrifying, Plemons is a treat.
        Despite extreme funniness, Game Night is not the film for all moviegoers. Its humor goes for the throat, using murders as a joke and not worrying about making characters likeable. If you’re in the mood for a no-holds-barred R-rated comedy, Game Night is a winner. 
Good Comedy • R • 100 mins. 
 
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
 
Death Wish
       As a surgeon, Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is used to broken bodies. He spends his work life with victims of city violence, but crime has never touched him personally. That changes when his wife and daughter are brutally attacked by robbers. With the cops overworked and underpaid, Kersey listens in horror to the news that the assailants will probably get away with their crime.
       He takes to the streets to bring his own brand of justice to the world. As he cuts a bloody swath through the urban landscape, police and citizens divide over whether he’s a hero or a criminal. 
       A remake of the Charles Bronson carnage classic, this reissue may be the wrong movie for our time. We may be seeing enough of enraged men with guns without paying to watch Bruce Willis mow down people in poor neighborhoods for daring to attack the rich. 
Prospects: Dim • R • 107 mins.
 
Red Sparrow
       Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is a sparrow, a Russian intelligence officer, trained in the arts of violence and seduction. Assigned to seduce the CIA’s Russia expert, she may not be fully committed to her task. Egorova was forced to join Russian intelligence as a child and wants out. 
       Can Egorova free herself? Or will she end up indentured to the American government?
       This is, in essence, the Marvel Black Widow movie Disney doesn’t want to make. Its hackneyed storyline, ridiculous spectrum of Russian accents and silly costuming make it a good target for sarcasm — but not at the price you’d pay for a ticket.
Prospects: Dim • R • 139 mins.

A woman tries to pick up the pieces of her life in this wonderful drama

      Marina (Daniela Vega: The Guest) is enjoying her birthday until boyfriend Orlando (Francisco Reyes: Neruda) has an aneurysm. She rushes him to the hospital, where he dies.
        And her nightmare begins.
        Because she’s a transgender woman, a doctor suspects her of harm and calls the police. They assume she’s a sex worker and Orlando a client she has injured, perhaps out of self-defense. Humiliating questions follow.
        Orlando’s family’s reaction is worse. They see Marina as a pervert who dragged Orlando into a life of sin and debauchery. She’s banned from his funeral and forced out of their apartment. She even loses her dog. 
       Marina tries to put her life back together, contending with how others perceive her. 
       A Fantastic Woman is a fantastic movie. Director Sebastián Lelio (Gloria) uses colorful, metaphoric framing and quiet acting to craft a beautiful film. His boxed-in framing shows how trapped she is by external perception. As Marina chases Orlando’s memory through Santiago, Lelio crafts scenes and images reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
        In this visual feast, Lelio keeps us focused on the people behind the story. Vega’s brilliant performance gives the movie its heart. Lelio initially hired her as a consultant, then cast her in the role. Her performance is a marvel, imbuing Marina with kindness, poise and dignity under pressure. But as Marina submits to scrutiny and scorn, we are reminded how easy it is to give into cruelty.
        You’ll have to travel to D.C. or Baltimore to see A Fantastic Woman, but this strong contender for the best foreign language Oscar is well worth the trip. 
Great Drama • R • 104 mins. 
 
 
New this Week
Black Panther
       King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his native Wakanda to rule the reclusive but technologically amazing nation. Yet when Wakanda and the world are threatened, T’Challa must return to his alter ego, the superhero Black Panther.
       This highly anticipated film is an important addition to the Marvel universe. It is the first major budget superhero film starring a predominantly black cast. Director Ryan Coogler’s sense of character development and story should bring Wakandan politics and culture to life
       Order tickets ahead as Black Panther is poised to break box office records. 
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 134 mins. 
 
Early Man
       At the dawn of the Bronze Age, cavemen are under siege by more modern humans. Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) is a caveman unwilling to be chased into obscurity. He challenges the Bronze Age cities to a contest of wills. 
       Dug and his people can’t beat the Bronze Agers at war, but he has another plan: a challenge game of soccer.
       With great claymation and hilarious storytelling, Aardman Studios is a reliable source of great family films. This should be fun for young to old, with lots of great jokes for all ages. 
Prospects: Bright • PG • 89 mins. 
 
Samson
       The Biblical tale of the strongest man in the world is retold in this by-the-numbers film.
      Samson was blessed with superhuman strength in return for obedience to God. A king threatened by his fighting prowess sends a temptress to learn his weaknesses. He is brought low, but turns to God for vengeance on the Philistines.
       An epic tale told with shoddy CGI and worse acting, this Samson is not worth box office premium pricing. 
Prospects: Dim • PG-13 • 110 mins.  

Dr. Joan Gaither’s quilts document lives and history

      Mention quilts, and people often share memories of grandmothers or great aunts working with needle and thread, joining pieces of fabric with precise stitching.
      Dr. Joan Gaither, who documents history with cloth and thread, describes herself as “a quilter who breaks all the rules.” Her quilts are covered with images, words and objects: buttons, ribbons, pieces of jewelry, shells — anything that can be sewn to fabric and symbolizes an aspect of the story she tells.
       She stitched her first quilt after the death of an aunt whose story and family history she wanted to memorialize. As she added text and photos to represent the lives and careers of seven generations of her family, the quilt grew to an impressive 10-by-12 feet. It includes the colorful and imaginative embellishments that now characterize her work and features brilliant Maryland state flag colors representing her family’s ties to Baltimore.
       That experience 18 years ago launched the Maryland Institute College of Art professor into fiber arts and three-dimensional collage. Gaither has since made over 200 quilts, telling her stories and those of black Americans. Many have themes of identity, racism and social justice. Others honor the lives of individuals who have influenced national politics, education and the arts.
       Through this month, you can see her quilts in Baltimore in the exhibit Freedom: Emancipation Quilted & Stitched at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, which celebrates the contributions and legacies of people of color in Maryland.
       Each image, object, fabric and color, she explains, has symbolism. Most quilts are edged in African mud cloth. A strip of blue stands for the ocean passage. Red, white and blue fabric represents America. Pieces with railroad tracks are the Underground Railway and the flight to freedom. 
      “The strips are often held together by safety pins, some still open,” she explains, “to symbolize the pain of slavery, oppression and injustice.”
       The topics of the quilts on exhibit range from Gaither’s personal history to broad topics of national interest. Laid out in a pattern like the Maryland flag, her Sesquicentennial 1864 Slave Emancipation Quilt has blocks that represent all of the counties in the state, plus Baltimore City. Each block focuses on events and people associated with emancipation. More than 400 people across the state helped in creating this quilt, which will continue its travels throughout Maryland when the exhibit closes at month’s end.
        Collaboration is a hallmark of Gaither’s work. She brings together local communities, school children and church groups to create and construct quilts. One of her largest quilts (10 by 14 feet) depicts the entire Chesapeake Bay and celebrates the lives of its black watermen. That inspiration was, she says, “my discovery that there was very little record of the contributions of African Americans to Bay-oriented industries.” Individuals from towns all around the Bay contributed information, family photographs and objects to make the history come alive.
       No experience required is the message at Gaither’s quilt-making workshops. People come with words, photographs and mementos. She brings ink jet printers, scissors, markers, boxes of embellishments and inspires her quilters to capture memories and stories on fabric. Sewing is done with large needles and simple stitches.
        A group of young children who swarmed into her exhibit the day she and I visited were drawn to details on the quilts, calling out to one another as they noticed yet another fascinating or unusual embellishment: strings of beads, a political button, a plastic crab. She answered some questions, then encouraged the kids to talk with their families and elders: “Ask them questions about their lives,” she said, “about what they remember from when they were young.” 
        “Memory aids, instruction manuals and moral compasses” are our stories, author and journalist Aleks Krotoski says. Gaither’s quilts are just that, capturing history, documenting and honoring lives, describing their lessons about the past and their calls for justice and equality.
       Follow Gaither on Facebook: www.facebook.com/JoanMEGaither.