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Grandma, what crazy eyes you have.

Becca (Olivia DeJonge: Hiding) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould: Chevy) have never met their grandparents. The ­family has been estranged since their mother (Kathryn Hahn: Tomorrowland) ran off with her high school teacher.
    Fifteen years later, reconciliation is on the horizon. Mom schedules a weeklong visit for the kids, who are thrilled. Becca, an aspiring filmmaker, hopes documenting the trip will bring her family back together. Tyler, a rapper with ready sarcasm, wants to give his mom a weeklong break with her boyfriend.
    So over the river and through the woods to grandparents’ house they go. Nana (Deanna Dunagan: House of Cards) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie: Daredevil) live on a remote farm. There is no cell phone service, but there are fresh cookies and lots to explore.
    Nana seems like the dream grandmother. She bakes. She fondly tells stories. She skitters on all fours through the house wailing and naked. If that last one doesn’t quite remind you of your own grandmother, you’re not alone; Becca and Tyler have concerns, too. Pop Pop explains that she’s got a form of dementia. Every evening she sundowns, getting violent and disoriented. That’s why bedtime is 9:30pm.
    But Pop Pop isn’t exactly normal, either. He wanders the house in a daze and makes frequent trips to a mysterious locked shed.
    In turns hilarious, ridiculous and creepy, The Visit is a combination of brilliance and idiocy by writer-director M. Night Shyamalan (After Earth). He is a sucker for ludicrous twists and silly stories. On the other hand, Shyamalan is masterful at building tension and bringing in humor. A tense exploration of the crawl space under the house diffuses into humor instead of a jump scare. We ride an emotional rollercoaster, never knowing what will happen next.
    The Visit is not perfect, but it is the best Shyamalan movie in 15 years.

Good Comedy/Horror • PG-13 • 94 mins.

The refueling obviously failed because this sequel is running on empty

Frank Martin (Ed Skrein: Tiger House) is the man you call when you need a ride. Specializing in getaway driving and difficult car-related missions, Frank and his car can do anything — except obey the speed limit.
    A solitary sort, Frank now tries to reconnect with his pensioner father (Ray Stevenson: Insurgent), a former spy. He also takes on a new contract for Anna (Loan Chabanol: Third Person).
    When he discovers the job is helping three beautiful women bank robbers, Frank refuses to help — until they show him footage of his kidnapped father. But helping these thieves brings on the Ukrainian mob.
    A reboot of the Transporter series starring Jason Statham, The Transporter Refueled is an anemic action film with few thrills, ridiculous plot lines and no charm. Director Camille Delamarre (Brick Mansions) crafts slick action sequences with no substance. Characters fly through the air, dodge bullets and land punches with seemingly no effort.
    The lazy action is compounded by ridiculous storytelling. A subplot about the horrors of sex trafficking features countless shots of rhythmically gyrating panty-clad posteriors. The female bank robbers are, in essence, sexy Barbies used to reward our hero and his dad for acknowledging that forced prostitution is wrong. It would be insulting had the writers given these women character.
    Along with casual sexism and defiance of the laws of physics, the action formula demands a charismatic hero. Skrein looks good in a suit, but he lacks both the physicality and the charm to pull off the role made famous by Statham.
    Oddly, the only person in the film who shows flashes of charm is Frank’s father. Stevenson, who must need to make a mortgage payment to be working on such dreck, steals every scene. Watching, you wonder how such an engaging personality raised a son who is the cinematic equivalent of cold oatmeal.
    The Transporter Refueled is a rare film that fails on just about every conceivable level. From plot to acting to action to the cars, it’s a lemon.

Poor Action • PG-13 • 96 mins.

Nurseries want to sell, and planting time is right

Many garden centers and nurseries have fall sales to reduce their inventory. What doesn’t sell, they have to spend money protecting in winter or suffer losses.
    These sales are timed right for you, too, because early fall is a great time for planting trees, shrubs and perennials, as the plants have time to establish roots in their new soils before winter sets in.
    Plants produce new roots faster when their tops are going dormant. In preparation for winter, most woody plants stop growing leaves and new shoots starting in mid-August when daylight hours grow shorter and evenings become cooler. Thus, all of the sugars being produced by the foliage are directed toward growing new roots. New roots this fall means more top growth next spring.
    Container-grown plants you buy now have been growing in that container all summer. Therefore, it is likely that the outer edge of the root balls are encircled by roots, a good indication that the plants are root-bound.  If you transplant such plants without disturbing the roots, it is unlikely that they will survive the winter because new roots cannot break through the mat into the surrounding soil.  
    When removing plants from their containers, examine the root balls carefully. If the roots have filled the container, pull them loose or slash them with a sharp knife.  I prefer slashing the outer edge of the root ball from the top to the bottom approximately one inch deep at three- or four-inch intervals. By slashing the outer roots, you will be forcing the fine roots to branch and form new roots in the new soil.  
    An alternative method is to crush the root ball until you see the roots loosen, and use your fingers to pull the loosened roots away from the ball. This method requires more time but achieves similar results.
    Never dig the transplant hole any deeper than the depth of the root ball. Ninety percent of the roots of trees and shrubs are in the upper six inches of soil. Plant with 10 percent of the root ball above grade. Back-fill with a mixture of one-third by volume compost blended with two-thirds by volume existing soil.
    The compost will provide not only the essential nutrients for good root growth but also a transition zone for roots that have been growing in a soilless mixture. If you are transplanting azaleas, blueberries and related species, blend one to two tablespoons of gypsum into the soil before backfilling. Acid soils are nearly always deficient in calcium, which is essential for good root growth.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

Milkweed nurtures monarch caterpillars

Plant milkweed, we’re told, and monarch butterflies will come. It’s true. My milkweed is crawling with caterpillars.
    Only one or two of the orange-winged monarchs alighted on this little grove of milkweed when I was watching. I saw no egg-laying or tiny eggs on the undersides of the spearhead-shaped leaves. Only when I noticed the sorry state of the patch did I see caterpillars. Clippers in hand, I had cut a branch when a horned head poked out at me.
    A half-dozen yellow-white-and-black-striped caterpillars were devouring the milkweed, reducing it to stems.
    A week later, the population had risen to a dozen and a half two-plus-inch-long hungry caterpillars.
    Clearly, a lot was going on when I wasn’t looking.
    Any day now, big change is coming. After a couple weeks of voracious eating, the monarch caterpillar hooks itself to a leaf and shimmies into its homemade silk chrysalis. Inside, the caterpillar metamorphoses, emerging in about 10 days as a gorgeously winged monarch.
    Those butterflies will drink the nectar of other plants in my butterfly garden — Joe Pye weed, ironweed, boneset, black-eyed Susans, purple coneflower and more — before heading south and west in the later stages of a journey whose map they inherit.
    The annual pre-winter migration from Canada to Mexico takes four generations, each lasting roughly six weeks.
    This generation of monarchs must be rising all over Chesapeake Country, as my butterfly garden was part of a widespread campaign to bolster the species. Two dozen neighbors planted their own gardens, and our Fairhaven effort joined many more throughout the region and the nation, all part of the Monarch Watch Waystation Program.
    Keep your eyes open! On the wing, new life should soon be invigorating this threatened, far-traveling species.

So long, osprey, and thanks for all the lessons

On utility poles, street and sports field lights and channel markers, the nests are empty. Momma, poppa and babies — all but the stragglers have abandoned the Chesapeake.
    Our birds are now flying south in migrations one, two, three or even four thousand miles long. Some travel no farther than Cuba; others go all the way to Argentina, though most nest along the curving northern rim of South America. That’s twice a year, spring and fall, along very much the same path once a bird establishes its route.
    Speed is as awe-inspiring as distance. One northern Chesapeake osprey migrated 2,576 miles last spring in 10 days, flying nonstop from South America to the Florida Keys in only 57 hours. Another Chesapeake bird migrated 4,238 miles last spring, covering the distance in 22 days while stopping over for five.
    We know this and more because of scientist Rob Bierregaard’s 45 years of climbing into nests to fit osprey with transmitters. Track the migration of osprey, including seven Chesapeake and mid-Atlantic birds, at
    Miraculous as those feats of flying are, they’re achieved by birds that have lived to learn the drill. More wonderful still, especially to all of us amateur osprey-watchers, are the flights of babies. Hatched in early June and fed abundantly by good-providing parents, chicks grow in leaps and bounds. Fuzzy heads popping over the edge of stick-built nests shortly feather out. By August, three or four apparently full-grown osprey stand proudly on their nests’ rims.
    By migration time, the once-so-watchful parents have flown ahead, leaving their fledglings to fish and fly on their own. As migrators, osprey are individualists, each creating its own route and following its own time table. So the babies have no parents or flock to follow. How do they make their way? However they begin, they get better with experience, if they live to gain it.
    Ospreys’ are not the only empty nests of this season. Five- and six-year-old humans have fledged to kindergarten, 10- and 11-year-olds to middle school, 14- and 15-year-olds to high school, 18-year-olds to college. No matter the transition, we onlooking parents and grandparents, guardians and well-wishers cannot believe they’ve grown up so fast. How will they survive this huge step, we wonder, though compared to the flight of the osprey each human flight beyond the nest is pretty small.
    Should we choose to learn from a bird about this nesting and nest-emptying business, we could pick far worse teachers than the osprey.
    Lesson one: Put everything you’ve got into the job at hand.
    Lesson two: Teach by example.
    Lesson three: Believe in freedom.
    Lesson four: When the time comes, let the young go.
    Lesson five: Fly your own way for well-deserved R&R, so you’ll have plenty of energy for the next cycle — whatever that may be.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher;

Only a very good friend shares a perch honey hole

My small spin rod was bent down deeply, and the delicate six-pound mono sizzled through the water as a small but mighty fish cut hard away, my spinner bait sparkling at the corner of its mouth.
    The sound of the lightly set drag feeding line was a sweet melody to my ears, reassuring me that its measured resistance would be unlikely to tear the hook from the perch’s delicate mouth. I intended to let that rascal run until it tired; then I would invite it to dinner, that very evening if things worked out.
    Behind my skiff’s console seat sat a small cooler designed for a six-pack of canned beverages but in this case perfect for another purpose. Half-full of crushed ice, it already nestled four 10- to 12-inch white perch that I had scored that morning. It had taken me over two dozen releases of smaller fish to garner these heftier prizes.
    I wanted these fish for a fry-up, and I knew from experience that the thicker fillets from perch that size would retain just the perfect amount of interior moisture and flavor yet yield a nicely crisp panko-coated exterior for a crunchy-on-the-outside-savory-in-the-middle dining experience. The thought of golden-brown fillets bubbling in hot peanut oil and the willingness of the numerous perch in residence to continually smash my small lures was turning my morning into a fine day.
    Recent problems with the rockfish bite in the mid-Bay had me baffled. Three straight six-hour outings with only undersized or barely keeper stripers to show for my efforts made me reconsider my strategies. Then I remembered an old axiom: If at first you don’t succeed, the heck with it. Try something else.
    The something else in this case was switching to white perch. The fact that I’ve also been having trouble consistently finding decent-sized perch did give me pause. The past season I had already had to write off extensive areas that had produced some great fishing over the past several years. The fish there had simply disappeared. Whether it was from over fishing or some environmental change, I was unsure, but there were no longer perch in residence. As tributary white perch are generally territorial and don’t move far from their home waters, I guessed it might take quite a long time for these locations to recover.
    My only option was to begin searching out new territory.
    The first attempts produced little success until a friend took pity on me. Fatigued by the unrelenting tales of my recent angling frustrations, he offered to show me the nearby location of his better perch successes. Of course he swore me to secrecy.
    I held out little hope that the area would live up to the hype. But having no better options at the time, I spent a morning with him testing the area.
    The shoreline we visited turned out to be one long honey hole. We were into good fish for more than three hours. The best white perch that day was a 13½-inch beauty boated by my friend. I easily iced down enough thick and heavy white perch for the dinner I had in mind.
    By then it was just 11am. Though overcast skies and a flood tide were extending the perfect conditions almost indefinitely, we quit the area for the day. It’s always wise to limit the harvest on a good fishing hole, saving the bulk of the population for later trips.
    Now I’ve got to redouble my efforts at discovering new perch fishing territory. One good spot is not enough to rely on for anywhere near the rest of the season. Besides, I’ve a favor to return.

If it’s entertainment you’re after, seeing this one is elementary

Fancy a spot of mystery to sharpen the old mind after summer’s idyll? Then you must check out Sherlock’s Last Case by Charles Marowitz, showing at Colonial Players through September 26. While I am forbidden by Colonial and Scotland Yard to divulge the particulars of this brilliant whodunit, trust me when I say Annapolis’ grand dame of amateur theater has produced another winner with this escapist spoof, rich in one-liners and plot twists.
    Here we have Sherlock Holmes (Jim Gallagher), sleuth extraordinaire, at his best: an aficionado of violin, fencing, handwriting analysis, history, chemistry, psychology, yoga and Jiu Jitsu, with a peerless intellect and ego to match. So what if Marowitz’s Sherlock is a touch more pompous than we remember? He has earned that privilege, especially since he dispatched his evil nemesis, Dr. Moriarty.
    Enjoying retirement at his cozy Baker Street home, Holmes is ensconced in silk settees and smoking jackets, listening to chamber music and bantering with his loyal associate Dr. Watson (Nick Beschen), that jolly good fellow. Blessed is the man who can count on such an indulgent friend. There’s also efficient housekeeper Mrs. Hudson (Lisa KB Rath), upon whom they both rely for sustenance and the civilizing touch of a woman. She also comes in handy for amusement, as Holmes loves to joke about her parsimonious Scottish nature. Other than such entertainment and the newspaper, however, life is so boring that Holmes has taken to the opium pipe with renewed gusto.
    Then a letter arrives from Moriarty’s outraged son, Damion, followed by a visit from his daughter, Liza (Erin Leigh Hill). A delicate auburn-haired beauty who catches Holmes’ attention with her fair looks and temperament, Liza understands her late father’s faults all too well and has come to arrange a truce between Holmes and her brother, who resides in (shudder) America. No sooner has she left, however, than a mysterious assailant hogties Watson in the closet and threatens Holmes with death. Enter the venerable Inspector Lestrade (Morey Norkin), and by scene three the thriller is off and running.
    Marowitz’s script, winner of the Louis B. Mayer Award, challenges the audience to solve the perfect crime by thinking beyond the evidence and taking nothing for granted. It also entertains with such a rich repertoire of parodies and puns that you will find yourself stifling laughter so as not to miss the next zinger.
    This production, directed by Beth Terranova, is brilliantly cast with Gallagher delivering a spot-on Sherlock. Beschen, though a touch soft-spoken, brings lovable new dimension to the typically circumscribed Watson. The Victorian costumes — by Carrie Brady with Regina Todd — are stunning, and the accents — coached by BettyAnn Leesberg-Lane — melodious. The only hole in this show is the lighting: so dark during the two key suspense scenes as to be soporific, and so bright with black light effect at curtain as to be blinding.
    This is a don’t-miss, even for those who, like yours truly, don’t ordinarily go in for mysteries. If it’s entertainment you’re after, it’s elementary.
    Two and a half hours with intermission. Includes simulated smoke, gunfire and blood.

Th-Sa 8pm, Su 2pm, plus 7:30pm Sept. 13 (Sept. 13 only, students free with available seats at curtain time); thru Sept. 26. 108 East St, Annapolis, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: 410­-268-­7373.

Move crowded azaleas this month

Perhaps you planted young azaleas close together to achieve instant effects. Within a few years, those young azaleas will be crowding each other. Unless you remove some of them, they will grow tall and spindly.
    September is the best time of the year to dig and transplant azaleas, rhododendrons, andromeda, mountain laurel, blueberry and related species. By early September, the plants have stopped growing and are setting flower buds. When plants stop producing stems and leaves, they start producing roots. Thus, transplanting in September gives the plants time to establish themselves and be ready to resume normal growth in the spring when they begin to flower.
    When transplanted in the spring, the plants will flower, but new growth will be limited because the plants have to grow new stems, leaves and roots at the same time.  
     Azaleas and related species are very particular about where they grow. Unless irrigated during drought, they are best grown in light shade. On the other hand, the more direct sun plants receive, the more flowers they produce. Under dense shade, they will produce good dark foliage but few flowers.
    It is always best to grow these  plants in deep organic-rich soils that are acid in nature so they can absorb nitrogen in the ammonium form. Ammonium nitrogen is more readily available in acid soils than in neutral soils such as those good for growing annual flowers and vegetable gardens.
    To avoid problems, have your soil tested before planting. A good soil test will provide the pH of the existing soil, the amount of calcium and magnesium present as well as other essential nutrients essential for good plant growth. Never fertilize these species with lawn fertilizers; they contain nitrogen in the nitrate form, which will cause stunting.
    Acid soils tend to lack calcium, which is essential for good growth. Calcium is as important in plants as it is in humans. Thus, to supply calcium without making the soil neutral or alkaline, blend a few tablespoons of gypsum (calcium sulfate), into the soil before planting. If the soil is low in magnesium, add a tablespoon of Epsom salts, which is magnesium sulfate.
    Successful transplanting also depends on careful watering. A newly transplanted shrub or tree should be watered thoroughly at three-day intervals. Light daily watering does more harm than good.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

Two friends battle aging and the elements in this fun hike

It’s been years since acclaimed author Bill Bryson (Robert Redford: Captain America: The Winter Soldier) has written anything more substantial than the foreword to another writer’s book. Getting older hasn’t agreed with him, and he bristles at his social schedule, which is filled with funerals and staid gatherings.
    To shake things up, he decides to do something amazing: Hike the Appalachian Trail. He’s convinced he can amble over 2,000 miles of American wilderness on his own, with just his pup tent and a canteen. His wife (Emma Thompson: Effie Gray) is less sure of his skills, begging him not to go and printing out horror stories of people who have died on the trail.
    Finally, a compromise is reached. Bryson can go if he finds a hiking partner. He picks up the phone, but all his friends are too busy, too old or totally uninterested. The dream is starting to die when Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte: Run All Night) calls him. An estranged pal from his youth, Katz asks to tag along the trail. Desperate, Bryson agrees.
    When Katz arrives, Bryson is surprised to find his old hell-raising friend has grown old, fat and lame. Katz wheezes, turns purple at the slightest exertion, and is a general mess. He’s the last person who should walk the trail, but he’s the only person who volunteered.
    Together, Bryson and Katz take on one of the most challenging hikes in North America. As the miles roll on, the two old friends talk, gripe and laugh their way through the wilderness. Can two men past their prime trek from Georgia to Maine? Or will they kill each other before they can make camp?
    Based on Bryson’s novel, A Walk in the Woods is a journey film about two men who need to find themselves in the wilderness. Fans of the book will note that the characters are significantly older than those in the book, and the plot is a fast and loose adaptation. Still, the film manages to address the subjects of aging, finding yourself and friendship with humor and some insights.
    Director Ken Kwapis (Happyish) keeps the story simple. It’s essentially a two-man show, with Bryson and Katz trundling through the wilderness as the main attraction. Kwapis focuses on the comedy of the pairing and the majesty of the mountains and forests they traverse. John Bailey’s cinematography will convince you to visit the trail yourself to see the gorgeous vistas captured in the film.
    The core of the film is the relationship between Bryson and Katz. Redford is charming, infusing Bryson with intelligence and determination. He is a man missing something, and he convinces himself a few months of walking and eating camp rations will help him find it.
    The real star, however, is Nolte. It helps that his life has somewhat mirrored Katz’s life, as the years of hard living play plainly across the actor’s face. Nolte crashes into every scene, growling in his smoke-cracked baritone and saying the exact wrong thing 90 percent of the time. Katz’s oblivious crass nature hides a wounded man desperate to find some meaning in his life. Nolte manages to be both an exemplary buffoon and a tragic lost soul.
    A Walk in the Woods isn’t a perfect film. The production is a little too slick, and the film would rather go for shallow laughs than delve into what frayed Bryson and Katz’ relationship. In spite of its flaws, it is a funny, sweet story about finding yourself and an old friend in the woods.

Good Dramedy • R • 104 mins.

Hot weather is hard on anglers and hard on the fish, too

The first big fish came rather promptly, though in the end it proved a questionable blessing. I had flipped the half soft crab out to one of the bridge pilings and fed line under my thumb. The tide was crawling along, just slow enough to allow my quarter-ounce lead to sink the bait into the sweet zone.
    The sweet zone that day was at about 15 feet, halfway to the bottom. That’s where the fish arcs had shown on the sonar with our first exploratory drift past the bridge support. On our next pass we had dropped the baits.
    I felt a tap-tap, then a steady pull. Having been plagued by undersized rockfish the last few sorties, I did not want to deep-hook a fish that had to be released. So as soon as I had any indication that my quarry had the bait, I put the reel in gear and struck.
    My rod bent down, line feeding out against the firmly set drag, as the fish headed directly for the nearest concrete piling. Thumbing the spool a bit to slow that tactic convinced the clever devil to double back toward us … then to cross under the boat. The only thing to do in such circumstances is to plunge the rod tip deep into the water and hope the line doesn’t contact the hull. Fishing line rarely survives contact with a boat’s propeller or any of the other sharp metal edges down there.
    I struggled with the powerful rascal until the tidal current and wind twisted our skiff away from the structure. Then I put the helm hard over and shifted into reverse to clear the line from under the bottom. With the edge now in my favor, the bass began its surrender. When it flashed a few yards off of the gunnel, my partner readied the net.
    No need to measure this one, I thought. The fish was definitely in the 25- to 26-inch range, heavy and well proportioned. Then as it rolled into the folds of the net, I saw the ugly red sore on its shoulder. Without bringing the afflicted fish aboard, I removed the hook and turned it loose.
    The rockfish looked healthy enough otherwise, and I hoped that the coming colder water would kill the bacteria causing the infection so the fish could regain its health.
    The next few rockfish were undersized releases; then we got lucky with a fat 22-incher and put him on ice. But after that, no matter which bridge pier we drifted to (and there were many), the shorter rockfish plus some sizeable perch showed up to consume the rest of our supply of soft crabs.
    Heading back to the ramp tired and with just one fish in the box, we were happy to be nearing the end of summer. The latter part of August had not been kind to our efforts. Foul hot weather, temperamental fish (too many of them bearing sores) and the arrival of large numbers of undersized schoolies had jinxed us.
    September and the coming of autumn hold the promise of better things. Colder weather and cooler water seem to improve the vitality and size of the Bay’s rockfish. Plus, from recent reports and the count of boats launching in late afternoon, there is every evidence that the shallow water bite may come early this year.
    Fishing has often been described as the most optimistic of sports, a triumph of hope over experience. With the changing seasons, that pretty much describes my attitude.