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Michael Keaton wows in this darkly funny drama

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton: Need for Speed) was in style about the same time as acid-wash jeans. The superstar lead of the popular Birdman film series did not fare well as a real actor. His fall was fast from blockbuster action star to bad bit parts.
    Now nearly forgotten, soft in the middle and desperate to prove his relevance, Riggan has mortgaged his home and sunk his assets into bringing his favorite book to Broadway. He plans to adapt, direct and star in the production, reclaiming his legendary standing.
    The only problem? Birdman.
    As Riggan navigates a thousand little crises prepping for opening night, he hears the voice of Birdman. Forget the artsy-fartsy façade, Birdman advises. Go back to the big-budget action flicks that made you a star. With a vicious critic eager to eviscerate the play, a method actor (Edward Norton: The Grand Budapest Hotel) more interested in truth than finishing a performance and an acerbic daughter (Emma Stone: Magic in the Moonlight) fresh out of rehab, Riggan thinks better of Birdman’s suggestions.
    When he develops the ability to move things with his mind, his destiny seems to be his for the making. Is he really Birdman?
    A fascinating mishmash of fact and fiction, Birdman feels like the cinematic equivalent of improvisational jazz. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Biutiful) uses crafty camerawork to make the film look like one continuous shot. We feel like we’re inhabiting the same space as the characters rather than observing them. We drop in, follow them around and occasionally leave them behind in search of more interesting people. The practice gives the film a breathless quality, as if Iñárritu has us jogging behind the action.
    As the titular Birdman, Keaton is a revelation. He was Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), so his own story partially mirrors Riggan’s. Since the 1990s, Keaton has wasted his talents on thankless roles and bit parts. Birdman illustrates just what we’ve lost. In it Keaton gives two performances, one as Riggan, one as Birdman, who Keaton carves out as a distinct secondary antagonist, the devil tempting him back to easy cash and artistic drudgery.
    Keaton surges through the movie with a manic energy that is endearing as well as unsettling.
    Birdman is not a film for the popcorn crowd. It is not an unofficial Batman sequel. Iñárritu forces us to work out metaphors and contend with complex characters. If you’re up for an unconventional challenge, this movie will reward you with excellent acting, interesting scripting and breathless cinematography.
    Birdman proves that Keaton ranks with the best actors who ever protected Gotham City.

Great Drama • R • 119 mins.
 

Now’s the season, so do it right

Mistakes made when planting shade trees grow up to haunt you.

Mistake 1: Choosing the wrong tree for the wrong place.
    Research the nature and habits of the species you want to plant. Do those qualities match the place you want to plant it and the job you want it to do?

Mistake 2: Planting too close to buildings, driveways, sidewalks or driveways.
    Plant the tree where it will provide shade in areas desired and as a backdrop for the landscape. Avoid planting trees where branches will rub against structures or interfere with traffic. Avoid planting shallow-rooted trees next to sidewalks, roads and driveways. As the tree roots expand away from the tree trunk, shallow-rooted trees will damage walkways and road surfaces. This result is commonest in heavy silt or clay loam soils.

Mistake 3: Planting in heavily compacted soils.
    If you are not able to dig the planting hole with a shovel, the soil is most likely compacted. If you need a crowbar, pick or jackhammer to loosen the soil to dig the hole, it is a waste of time and money to plant the tree. To solve the problem, you need to sub-soil the area and incorporate four to six cubic yards of compost per 1,000 square feet. Roots cannot grow in soil with 85 percent or more compaction.  

Mistake 4: Mistreating roots of bagged and container-grown trees.
    Trees grown in containers develop circling roots. Unless they are disturbed or cut, they will continue to grow in circles. As the trunk of the tree increases in diameter, it eventually makes contact with the girdling root, which has also increased in diameter. To prevent girdling and choking, cut roots near the surface of the root ball. When you see dead and dying branches at the top of a tree — or a tree growing lopsided — the damage is most likely caused by girdling roots. By then it is often to late to salvage the tree.  
    When transplanting trees grown in root-controlled bags, remove the bag. Unless all the fabric is removed from the root ball, the tree will not be able to develop sufficient roots to keep it upright.
    This is also true for trees that are sold as bagged and burlapped (B&B). If the burlap lining the wire basket has a green tint, it means that it is treated with a rot inhibitor. The rot inhibitor will prevent the burlap from decomposing, and the roots within the root ball will not be able to grow in the new soil. The burlap should either be rolled down below to the bottom of the root ball or removed before filling the planting hole with soil.

Mistake 5: Leaving tags on trees and shrubs.
    After planting, remove nametags and marking tapes from stems and branches. Allowing these to remain after the tree is established and growing rapidly will result in girdling and death to the stem or branch.

Mistake 6: Failing to stake.
    All trees 10 feet and taller should be anchored using either ground ties or stakes on either side of the trunk. Pad string or wire with tree ties or pieces of garden hose to protect stems and branches.

Mistake 7: Pruning just before or after planting.
    Plant hormones needed to generate new roots are produced in the buds that grow on the branches. Pruning away the branches at the time of planting will eliminate the source of plant hormones, thus delaying the development of new roots. Delay pruning away branches until after the tree is established. You can determine when a tree has become established by looking for a high proportion of normal sized leaves on each branch.

Mistake 8: Overwatering.
    Newly planted trees should be irrigated only once or twice a week. Irrigate thoroughly or use Gator bags that allow slow irrigation. When using Gator bags, irrigate the trees only once each week until the plants become established. Water established trees less frequently. Never water daily.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

Swine seek your Jack-o-lanterns

Maizie, Pumpkin and Scarlet love pumpkins. They devour them like pigs because, well, they are pigs. Now they want your leftover ­Halloween Jack-o-lanterns.
    Over 1.4 billion pounds of pumpkins are sold in the United States every year, 80 percent in October, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many are displayed at Halloween and at Thanksgiving, then tossed in the garbage. That’s a lot of rotting pumpkins. Pumpkins don’t decompose well in landfills, giving off methane gas as they break down, which plays a role in climate change, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
    So the trio of swine at Historic St. Mary’s City is doing its civic duty gobbling these big orange fruits.
    Historic St. Mary’s City is collecting pumpkins for the plantation pigs through mid-December. Deliver new or used squash to the bin outside the Visitor Center, 18751 Hogaboom Lane.
    Shriveled and carved retired Jack-o-lanterns are just fine by these swine. The carved grins and grimaces amuse the staff and satisfy the pig’s appetite, too. Either way, they’re full of vitamins.
    If you have large numbers to share, contact Aaron at 240-895-4978; aaronm@digshistory.org.

It takes good eyes to encompass a world of wonders

Could there be more out there than meets the eye?    
    It may be so, just like it was impossible to predict the forces that led to this week’s wave election.
    On faith or evidence, the world is full of believers in forces unseen, seldom seen and selectively seen.
    Believers in God and gods live in a universe populated by alternative species. Classified with military precision, their supernatural numbers range from the Supreme Being, or Beings, down to flitting sprites and cute little cherubim and putti. As with mortal armies, there are legions of both good guys and bad guys. Devils have their own hierarchy, and names, just as angels do.
    Divine beings above and below are recognized by faith, though lucky — or not so lucky — mortals among us may be selected for encounters. Who knows when the devil might appear with a bargain we had best refuse? Is he or she waiting in the wings for the presidential election two years hence?
    Far better to meet Mary mother of God updating her appearances at Guadalupe and Fatima.
    Other kinds of beings — who knows who or what — animate searchers of the sky to amplify their sight and hearing, even travel into space in hopes of alien encounters.
    Ghost hunters, as we wrote last week, are just as determined if not quite so technologically sophisticated as pollsters.
    Artists and writers give as much attention to these parallel universes — plus worlds of giants, dwarfs and leprechauns — as to our plain old ordinary one. Who knows what such fantasticists really see — and what we don’t see.
    Worlds out of sight are close at hand as well as distant in space and place. Ordinary Earth is layered with life beyond plain sight. Has every bird in the Amazon forest been seen and classified? Every life form in the deep, dark sea? Every bacteria and virus longing to infect us?
    There’s way more to the world of the small than meets the eye. As numerous as angels in the heavens or stars in the sky are life forms that we’d never see without wonder glasses that magnify our eyesight so we can peer into their secret minuscule worlds. Cells are multiplying, atoms spinning all around us.
    Even the leaves on the trees are shaking with surprises. Summer’s green fades, revealing yellow, orange, red and purple that were there, invisibly, all along.
    What else in plain sight are we missing?
    Election Day plus one holds other orders of revelation. Pollsters have devised multi-million-dollar methodologies in the political science of reading human preference. Yet how we vote remains a morning-after surprise.
    (Good thing, for how many would run if pollsters certified the winner on Day One?)
    The news of November 5 is that True Blue Maryland has a Republican governor. Throughout the state and Chesapeake Country, dark horses have won and favorites lost.
    In such a world of wonders, why shouldn’t there be more fish in the sea? In our great Chesapeake Bay, is Chessie impossible? I haven’t seen the creature that goes by that name, but many have. This week, when the impossible comes to be, we offer you four decades of testimony from Chessie sighters, brought up to date by Chris Gardner’s most recent sighting this August.
    In additional homage to what we may not see, our story is told by the ghost of Bill Burton.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

You can do a lot of terrible things, but don’t kill a man’s dog

John Wick (Keanu Reeves: 47 Ronin) is hanging on by a thread. Numbed by the death of his wife, he goes through his daily routine on autopilot. Anticipating her husband’s reaction to her demise, Wick’s wife planned a companion for his recovery: a beagle puppy named Daisy.
    As Wick warms to the pup, a trio of Russian gangsters warms to his tricked-out Mustang. They break into his house, beat him senseless, kill poor Daisy and abscond with the car.
    They picked on the wrong man.
    Before Wick was a hapless widower, he was a hit man for the Russian mob. Criminals called him the Boogeyman. John gave up his kill-crazy ways for marriage. With wife and dog gone, Wick has nothing holding him back. So what if his target is Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen: Game of Thrones), son of Viggo (Michael Nyqvist: My So-Called Father), the head of the Russian mob.
    Brutal, fasted-paced and funny, John Wick is an action film with brains and brawn. The directorial debut of two former stuntmen, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, the film specializes in a fluid action style that’s exciting and beautiful. There are no garbled clashes of steel and bullets; each fight, car chase and shootout is carefully choreographed.
    Stahelski and Leitch also take great pains to make their movie light. Sure, plenty of blood flies through the air as John slices his way through New York and New Jersey, but the film has a wry sense of humor. Everyone knows the legend of John Wick, from cops to hotel clerks to mobsters, and everyone acknowledges that John’s vengeance will be brutal and most likely unstoppable. Most stay out of his way. Those that don’t grimly acknowledge they’re cannon fodder before engaging him.
    As the eponymous Wick, Reeves embodies an eerie quiet rage. At 50, he still has the physicality and fighting skills of a much younger actor, making him a credible threat when he takes on a room full of baddies. His balance of cool detachment and cold calculation makes Wick likeable yet frightening. When his cool exterior cracks, it reveals an all-encompassing wrath.
    It’s never a question that he will get his revenge. The question is how many necks he’ll have to snap along the way. John Wick is a campy action flick that uses style to make up for substance. It isn’t going to revolutionize cinematic storytelling, but you won’t mind as you watch Reeves barrel through the mob crews of New York.

Good Action • R • 101 mins.

Halloween falls right in between

The waxing moon reaches first-quarter Thursday, and as darkness falls on Halloween, it shines high in the south, with the bright star Fomalhaut almost straight below.
    As a holiday, Halloween stretches back thousands of years, but not as a day of costumes and trick-or-treating. It coincides with earth’s path around the sun, falling midway between autumnal equinox and winter solstice.
    The Celts of pre-Christan Britain called this cross-quarter day Samhain, celebrating both the end of the harvest and the end of the year. On this night, the veil between the world of the living and the realm of the dead was thought to be especially thin, so people lit bonfires and lanterns from hollowed-out gourds to ward off spirits.
    As Christianity spread, it merged its own holy days with the pagans’ cross-quarter holidays. Imbolc became Candlemas, now better known as Groundhog Day; Beltane gave way to May Day; Lugnasad became Lammas. And Samhain was absorbed into All Saints Day or Hallowmas, marked on November 1, with the night before Hallow’s Eve.
    Now the cross-quarter day coincides with another ritual, setting our clocks back an hour in the return to Standard Time at 2am the first Sunday of November.
    The first week of November provides the best view of Mercury before dawn. The innermost planet reaches greatest elongation November 1, its farthest west of the sun and its highest in our sky. An hour before sunrise, look for it not quite 10 degrees above the east-southeast horizon — roughly the size of your fist at arm’s length. At magnitude –0.6, Mercury is brighter than any nearby star (all but Sirius, in fact), but binoculars may help locate it in the glow of twilight. Don’t confuse the bright planet for Arcturus higher in the east-northeast.
    You shouldn’t have any trouble finding Jupiter. The gaseous giant rises around midnight, and as dawn approaches it is high in the southeast, bluish Regulus and the other stars of Leo the lion stretched out below it.
    Mars is the only planet visible in the evening, shining no brighter than your average star but still a distinct orange-red. Look for it low in the southwest as darkness settles, where it will remain the rest of the year.
    Early November marks the peak of the South Taurid meteor shower. The higher the constellation Taurus, the more meteors you’re likely to see, although the waxing moon will limit you. Still, the Taurids can deliver the occasional fireball.

Cast, staging and pace threaten to leave you breathless

There is nothing like the rat-a-tat of briskly delivered dialogue to transport an audience to a different time and place, and Colonial Players is currently doing the job atop the broad shoulders of Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men.
    If you think having seen the movie is enough, think again. First time director Jeff Sprague has hit the trifecta with this production: a believable cast, intelligent staging and a vocal pace that sometimes threatens to leave you breathless. It’s a completely different, and much more involving, experience made intimate by Colonial’s in-the-round space.
    First, the cast. From the lowest of the enlisted to the bigger-than-life commanding officer, Sprague has assembled a company so believable that they make you feel everything about what it’s like to be stationed at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, except perhaps the exhausting heat. Jamie Austin Jacobs is stellar as Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson, who along with his buddy Pfc. Louden Downey (Fred Fletcher-Jackson) is accused of murder after a “code red” — Marine lingo for a hazing of sorts — kills a fellow Marine who wasn’t measuring up. Every barked line evokes empathy for this dedicated warrior who was following orders, and the fraternal care he provides the less-aware Downey earns our sympathy. Dawson’s evolving admiration for Navy Lt. Daniel Kaffee, the smart-talking Harvard grad assigned to defend him, is well-crafted and a pleasure to witness.
    Kaffee’s fast-paced dialogue starts off with smart-assed one-liners the character uses to hide the fact that his propensity for plea-bargaining has kept him from seeing the inside of a courtroom. Paul Valleau (who will be replaced for the November 6, 7 and 8 shows by Jeff Mocho) admirably shows us a Kaffee whose passion for justice, and for his defendants, grows with each piece of evidence that they were ordered to perform the code red.
    Kaffee’s Navy legal team is rounded out by Erin Hill as Lt. Cdr. Joanne Galloway, who outranks Kaffee and initially resents his lack of interest, and Brandon Bentley as Lt. Sam Weinberg, the family man who believes the defendants picked on a weakling. Opposing them is Capt. Jack Ross, a savvy prosecutor played by Pat Reynolds. Throughout the production these four anchor the fast-paced drama with the occasional touch of comedy that is so mandatory to prevent the emotion on the stage from slipping into monotony.   
    Also outstanding are Ben Wolff as Jonathan Kendrick, the Bible-verse-spewing lieutenant who gives the order that leads to a fatal code red; and Bill Coffin as Matthew Markinson, the guilt-ridden captain whose unwillingness to stop the code red pushes him to a point of no return. Both Wolff and Coffin are so natural in these roles that you’d think they’d just stepped off the base and onto the stage.
     Of course, the bigger-than-life villain in the piece is Colonel Nathan Jessep, the commanding officer of Gitmo. After Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth” became the catchphrase of the early 1990s, you’d be forgiven for thinking the same character might appear on the stage. He does not. He does not have to because David Thompson has made Jessep his own, a character almost manic with power, whose complete belief in the rightness of any decision he makes is shrouded in the myopic vision that protecting his country comes at any cost. Thompson’s verbal attack of Kaffee after he admits to having ordered the code red is downright scary — yet eerily effective in forcing us to understand his motivation. He is wrong, yes, but he is convinced he is right, and Thompson’s passionate portrayal makes us think twice.
    Now, the staging. This is a complex play with a lot going on, and pacing is critical. Sprague meets the challenge by avoiding the usual director trap of cutting the lights, throwing on some music and changing the scene. Every setting is already on the stage, and the characters simply move from one to the other as the lights fall and rise, or as a quartet of Marines marches on and off doing various running cadences. This makes the rat-a-tat of the action match the rat-a-tat of the dialogue, and the audience as a result is captivated.
    Speaking of that dialogue: It is real and it gets graphic. It is so believably delivered by every character that it’s hard to discern the least experienced from the veterans. That believability has the audience looking at each as a real person, not a character. Kudos to Sprague, whose own military background undoubtedly contributed to the realism on display here, and kudos to each of the young actors who have so invested themselves in their characters, no matter how small.

Stage manager: Ernie Morton. Assistant director: Theresa Riffle. Set and floor designr: Terry Averill. Lighting designer: Shirley Panek. Sound designer: Theresa Riffle. Costume coordinator: Beth Terranova.
Playing thru Nov. 8: ThFSa 8pm; Su 2pm: Colonial Players, Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.

Straw-Bale Gardening Works

Re: www.bayweekly.com/node/23750

Siberian kale grows happily on bales of straw.
    This summer, I experimented with soilless gardening in bales of straw. The trick is priming the bales with fertilizer. I used 21⁄2 cups per bale of high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer minus all herbicides, testing both organic and inorganic.
    I prepared the bales in mid-August, inserting a long-shank thermometer and irrigating two to three times weekly. Priming initiates the composting process. The thermometer monitors temperature, which rises during active composting. When inner temperature again matched that of ambient air, in mid-September, I scattered seeds of Siberian kale over the bales.
    The seedlings grew equally vigorously on bales treated with the organic and inorganic fertilizers.


Save Gita Bean Seeds for Next Year

Re: www.bayweekly.com/node/13348

If you grew Gita beans this summer, by now some of the pods may be three feet long. Harvest those long brown pods and extract the seeds. For the past two years, I have tested saving seeds of Gita and comparing them to seeds purchased every spring for planting. Thus far I have found that the seeds saved are of equal quality to those purchased.
    After harvesting the seedpods, I lay them on a shelf and allow them to dry. When the pods are dry, they split easily and the beans are easily extracted. I then store the seeds in a small plastic, zipper-lock bag in the refrigerator along with the rest of my leftover seeds.
    Gita bean seeds are some of the more expensive you can buy, so saving them from year to year can result in a substantial savings. Last fall I failed to harvest all the bean pods. Gita bean seeds that fell to the ground germinated and grew. Clearly these seeds are quite cold hardy.


White Pines Don’t Like Wet Feet

Q    I live in a townhouse community. The trees in the community are 20 to 25 years old. This last year I have noticed that many pine trees are turning yellow and dying. Any idea of the cause and if we can prevent their deaths?
      –Greg Welker, Bowie

A    I strongly suspect poor soil drainage. We had a very wet growing season, and the soil in Bowie is mostly clay. White pines cannot tolerate poorly drained soils.
    The yellowing symptoms are also due to poor soil drainage. Yellowing of old needles is common, but this season’s yellowing is a symptom of root loss due to excess water.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

7 million Books for International Goodwill

B.I.G. stands for Books for International Goodwill. Taken at face value, the word tells another truth. Books for International Goodwill is big. This week, the 18-year-old Parole Rotary Club project packs its seven millionth book in its 300th shipping container.
    Those milestone figures tell only part of this big story. Books come in at the rate of 1,500 a day. Local readers make many of the contributions, dropping off loads of books 24/7 at the B.I.G. Annapolis warehouse at 2000 Capital Drive. Overprints from publishers add volume.
    Dealing with 547,500 books a year takes 600 volunteer hours, 95 percent contributed outside Rotary by citizens motivated by the B.I.G. mission.
    That would be supporting schools, libraries and literacy projects in countries where books are a dreamed-of luxury. Most are former British colonies as most B.I.G. books are in English. Uganda was the first. B.I.G. began as an effort to send books to three schools when a bookless principal there asked friend and now-deceased Parole Rotarian and B.I.G. founder Leonard Blackshear for help.
    In 18 years, books have been sent to over 30 countries in tractor-trailer loads of 20,000. Eight hundred box-by-box shipments have gone to Peace Corps volunteers and 1,000 to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Seven million books would fill Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to a depth of eight feet.
    The shipments are funded by donations and monthly book sales.
    “B.I.G. is a win-win-win operation,” says Rotary organizer Steve Frantzich. “Those donating books realize they will go to a good home. From an environmental perspective, B.I.G. has saved the county over 6,000 cubic feet of landfill space from once-discarded school and library books alone. Finally, recipients receive the tools they need for empowerment through literacy.”
    Browse 70,000 well-organized books and buy at bargain prices — 50¢ to $1.50 or $30 a bagful — to fund Books for International Goodwill this Saturday, Nov. 1 from 8am to 2pm at 2000 Capital Dr., Annapolis: 410-293-6865; www.big-books.org. Next sale, Saturday, Dec. 13.

While the wind blows, I’m ­getting a handle on things

The Beaufort Wind Force Scale puts the threshold for a half-gale at 20 miles per hour. These stiff Bay winds are projected to be with us intermittently into November.
    Winds like these cheer the hearts of sailboat skippers after the doldrums of summer. But anglers on the Chesapeake suffer at being blown off the water as the season winds down.
    To calm the turmoil that gens up in my angler’s innards when I realize another Maryland winter is fast approaching, I clean my gear.
    Most in need of TLC are the cork handles of my favorite rods.
    Cork is extremely lightweight, odorless, compressible, long lasting and eco-friendly compared to synthetic materials used for the same purposes. It is warm and comfortable to the touch and has a non-slip quality, even when wet, which is why I prefer it to all other materials for my light-tackle outfits.
    This splendid material is increasingly expensive and ever more difficult to find at any price in the better grades used in quality fishing rods. Portugal and Spain produce 80 percent of the cork for world markets, the lion’s share consumed by the wine industry.
    Production is a complex, long-term affair. The material is derived from the bark of the cork oak, which must be at least 25 years old before it can stand harvest without harm. Subsequent extractions can be made every nine years. Luckily, however, the cork oak has a lifespan of 200 years.
    If well maintained, a cork-grip fishing rod will last indefinitely, at least the lifetime of the owner. Proper maintenance is not difficult. Start out by giving the handle a gentle but thorough scrubbing with a sponge and common kitchen scouring cleanser.
    After scrubbing, rinse the handle and put it aside to dry. Inspect for any gaps or flaws in the cork. These should be corrected with good-quality wood filler.
    I like Elmer’s Interior/Exterior Wood Filler in Golden Oak. It is easy to use and closely matches the hue of most cork. Fill the voids and scars on the handle with a small knife or similar instrument. After the filler has completely dried, use 220-grit sandpaper to smooth and blend all surfaces. Then let the filler set up for an extra day or two before proceeding with the final step.
    All cork rod handles should be dressed after cleaning and drying with a generous application of Pure Neatsfoot Oil. This will insure that the cork does not dry out and will protect it from weathering and restore its flexibility and fine tactile qualities.
    If our windy weather finally breaks, cork maintenance is not in vain. A clean, well-oiled handle will not soil easily, and a few extra, late season uses will do hardly anything but give you an extra appreciation for your efforts. You will, after all, have already gotten a good handle on things.