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Perpetual disaster Bridget Jones grows up a bit in this comedy

Alone on her 40th birthday Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger: The Whole Truth) fears that her fate is to become the pitied spinster aunt.
    She makes a birthday vow to embrace spinsterhood rather than fear it, becoming an interesting older woman who cultivates an air of mystery and takes lovers when she chooses.
    Her first attempt leads her to Jack (Patrick Dempsey: Grey’s Anatomy), founder of an internet dating site that boasts making love matches. One night of passion is all Bridget plans.
    A week later, she runs into the love of her life, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth: Genius), who loved his job more than he loved her. After a few drinks and a lot of reminiscing, Bridget decides that ancient history could be a current event. When she wakes up in Mark’s bed, however, she decides that she can’t endure rejection again.
    Bridget’s pride in her new life as a sexually liberated woman of a certain age falters when she realizes she’s pregnant. Worse still, she’s not sure if the father is Jack or Mark.
    Goofy, heartfelt and genuinely funny, Bridget Jones’s Baby reinvigorates the flagging franchise. Co-written by Oscar-winning writer Emma Thompson (who also co-stars), the script adds wit, classic physical comedy and charm. Thompson focuses the film on Bridget, showing that the perpetual screw-up can also be competent. Awkward on dates, Bridget excels in her work as a TV producer.
    It also helps that original director Sharon Maguire (Incendiary) returns. Maguire’s excellent sense of comedic editing makes the most of every laugh. She’s also able to coax loose and charming performances from her three leads, especially Firth, who can seem stiff in comedies.
    As Bridget, Zellweger shines. A gifted physical comedian and mugger, she makes Bridget endearing in her messes. Though Zellweger famously gained over 30 pounds for her first two outings as Bridget, she remains svelte for this film.
    Another surprise: Both romantic options are charming.
    Still, it’s all a bit predictable. It takes only a basic understanding of romantic plots to figure who Bridget will pick. Thus the question that frames the movie is largely moot.
    Even ending with a foregone conclusion, this romantic comedy offers pluck and humor.

Good Romantic Comedy • R • 122 mins.

An old-school hero flick, but not for nervous fliers

You know the story: Catastrophic engine failure gives Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger only 208 seconds to recover U.S. Airways flight 1549 — and save or end the lives of 155 people.
    The question is how director Clint Eastwood (American Sniper) and Tom Hanks (A Hologram for the King) will tell the story.
    They don’t start at the beginning. You have to wait to see his daring water landing on the Hudson River, in the midst of densely populated New York City. Your eventual reward for the wait is seeing, in detail, both the harrowing recreation of the bird strike that killed the engines and the exacting decisions made by the pilots of the plunging plane.
    Eastwood gives you a second drama, as well: the National Transportation Safety Board inquiry, supported by data recovered from the plane, claiming that instead of a dangerous water landing, Sully could have safely returned and landed at LaGuardia.
    Though hailed as a hero by press and public, Sully begins to doubt himself. Is he the Hero of the Hudson? Or a reclkess pilot who risked the lives of his passengers?
    As a director, Eastwood is a classicist, focusing on tone, performance and character. At its best, these choices help the movie thrive.
    Hanks stays true to his role, portraying a seemingly steel-nerved man — a pilot for 42 years, including war experience — who would have gladly have lived out his days in anonymity. The scrutiny combines with post-traumatic stress to wear on Sully’s calm exterior. Hanks, who was born to play stalwart hero types, imbues Sully with quiet dignity — and emotional turmoil just behind his eyes.
    At worst, Eastwood overstates your point. Bits of dialog that overwork the theme are a bit hard to swallow even with Tom Hanks’ considerable charm. Flashbacks feel obligatory, and the family back home only confuses the issue.
    This old-school hero tale has lots to recommend it — unless you’re a nervous flier.

Good Drama • PG-13 • 96 mins.

Comedy, tragedy and undercurrents of love … just like every family

“You have to soar to fill your soul, but your family is what keeps you grounded,” writes first-time director Dave Carter in the playbill for The Cripple of Inishmaan. That’s the point of Colonial Players’ season opener, a well-crafted comic piece that dips into the reality of sadness and cruelty without turning maudlin.
    Martin McDonagh’s play debuted in 1996 in London and off Broadway in 1998. The wisp of a plot focuses on an American coming to Inishmore, near the island of Inishmaan, to make a film about the locals, who are abuzz.
    Bright performances abound in this dark comedy.
    Teenaged orphan Billy Claven (Jack Leitess), known as Cripple Billy, decides that his fate — and his escape from the cruelties of the island — lies in Hollywood, so he shoves off to join the movies. His two aunts (Mary MacLeod and Carol Cohen) worry about their charge, who spends much too much time reading books and staring at cows. Friend Bartley McCormick (Drew Sharpe) tries his best to understand, and Bartley’s egg-flinging, rough-edged sister Helen (Natasha Joyce) tries to be as cruel as possible.
    Babbybobby Bennett (Scott Nichols), the rough-hewn widower facing his own demons, manages the transit off the island. Tying things all together is the theatrical town gossip Johnnypateenmike (Edd Miller), whose thirst for attention is fed by his ability to barter news for goods. Lisa KB Rath as Johnny’s elderly sot of a mother and Danny Brooks as Doctor McSharry also shine in smaller supporting roles.
    The star of this production is not one particular character over another, but rather the vast undercurrents of love that ebb and flow through each and among them all together. Thence rises the heartfelt laughter, saving what could have been too dark a comedy. Cripple Billy’s friends and neighbors are his family, and Cripple Billy takes as good as he gets when it comes to understanding and coping with his disability. The directness with which his condition is treated gives us some very lovely, often laugh-out-loud, comic moments. From the aunts’ hand-wringing angst over Billy’s lack of prospects and Helen’s addiction to cursing and kissing, to Bartley’s denseness and Johnnypateenmike’s hilariously childlike need to be first to tell, this cast makes McDonagh’s characters come to life brightly, hilariously and sincerely.  
    It’s not a perfect show, to be sure. In several scenes the pacing needs to be picked up (opening night was two hours and 40 minutes, a bit long for a two-act non-musical). Several scenes are awkwardly staged so that too much of the audience in the round is blocked from the action. In a few spots, the actors’ volume must be turned up.
    On a more positive note, director Carter and his actors take care to ensure the Irish accents are of the less-is-more variety, consistent enough that we know we’re in the Aran Islands, but not so overdone that we lose what’s being said.
    What’s being said is beautiful, funny and often heart-wrenching. The Cripple of Inishmaan rides an undercurrent of love that draws us in, gives us good, hearty laughs and soars into our hearts.


Playing thru Oct. 1: Th-Sa8pm, Su 2pm, plus Sept. 18 7:30pm, Colonial Players Theatre, East St., Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373.

Stage manager: Ernie Morton. Costume designer: Christina McAlpine. Set designer: Terry Averill. Lighting designer: Shirley Panek. Sound designer: Michelle Bruno. Dialect coach: Nancy Krebs.

Phenomenal performances sell a story stretched thin

Homecoming after the Great War is wrenching for Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender: X-Men: Apocalypse). Seeking solitude, he signs on as keeper of the lighthouse on uninhabited Janus Island.
    On a tri-monthly visit to the mainland, he catches the eye of Isabel (Alicia Vikander: Jason Bourne). Their epistolary romance soon blossoms into marriage. On Janus, they are incandescently happy until Isabel becomes pregnant. Two miscarriages and two little wooden crosses leave her on the brink of a breakdown and Tom struggling to save the marriage.
    Salvation appears in a rowboat: a baby in the arms of a dead man. Tom wants to call the authorities, but Isabel convinces him to bury the dead man and pretend the baby is their child.
    Tom relents, and happiness returns to the island.
    But on the mainland, Tom learns that their daughter is the child of a woman who believes the baby and her husband were lost at sea.
    What is an honest man to do?
    Boasting great performances and gorgeous cinematography, The Light Between Oceans is a throwback to the Magnificent Obsession melodramas of Douglas Sirk in the 1950s. Scenery is lush, performances are heartfelt and the plot improbable. Director Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond the Pines) adapted the film from a bestselling novel, and cinematic time constraints may explain leaps in logic.
    Characters make life-altering decisions then recant minutes later; Coincidence strains credulity. This can be frustrating if you hope to understand the plot as it’s unfolding.
    Only Fassbender and Vikander save it from becoming dreck. Both give heart-wrenching performances within the limits of a form high on dramatic events but short on the emotional impact of these events on the characters.
    While the leads try their best, it’s hard to build characters in a film unspooling an increasingly ridiculous plot.

Fair Drama • PG-13 • 133 mins.

Two brothers fight the law and the banks in this gorgeous Western

Toby (Chris Pine: Star Trek Beyond) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster: Warcraft) are days away from losing their family home. They’re the latest in a long line of landowners in Texas who’ve taken unfair mortgages from banks that leave them on the brink of homelessness. Signs for debt relief and bank buyouts populate their small town, which is slowly decaying because of the economic collapse.
    Toby has spent his life trying to preserve the family land. It’s his legacy and one he’d like to pass down to his children. Tanner is a jailbird who likes bar fights and women. The land has never meant anything to Tanner, but he’s loyal to his brother and wants to help Toby create a legacy.
    To keep their land, Toby comes up with an idea: rob branches of the bank that’s foreclosing on the Howard homestead, taking only enough money to pay the mortgage and back taxes. Toby figures it will take five banks, and if they do it right, no one will die. Tanner figures it’s his chance to play outlaw again and immediately leaps into the role of desperado, unnecessarily beating bank employees and waving guns. They’re the modern-day James brothers, raising hell on the plains of Texas.
    The heists attract the attention of Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges: The Little Prince), who’s on the brink of retirement. He decides that the Texas Midlands bank robbers will be his last big case, a chance to go out in a blaze of glory.
    Will Hamilton track down the men before they finish their crime wave?
    Filled with great acting, a tight script and gorgeous cinematography, Hell or High Water is a fantastic twist on the classic Western genre. Director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) makes West Texas one of the stars of the film, utilizing the flat expanses of land to isolate Tanner and Toby, making them seem both adrift and trapped by their surroundings. Dilapidated towns and deserted streets set the scenes and make it clear that economic downturns have sucked the life from these communities, sparing Mackenzie from long boring rants about the evils of banks.
    Mackenzie also works hard to make every speaking part in the movie memorable. Notable southern character actors like Dale Dickey and Margaret Bowman show up for scene-stealing cameos that help populate the film with intriguing characters. The culture of Texas, the pride and hubris that comes with Lone Star citizenship, is key to understanding the choices characters make. Being from Texas is not just a geographical fact but a state of mind. The people in these towns are armed and annoyed, which means that local citizens have no compunctions about starting a shootout during a bank robbery.
    Pine, Foster and Bridges all carry their roles. Bridges’ southern drawl and bravado masks deep feelings of dread and inadequacy; he faces retirement the way a man faces a firing squad. As the bank robber brothers, Pine and Foster manage to forge a believable bond with a real tenderness. These are men who love each other deeply but are more comfortable expressing that devotion through a shared beer or a bout of roughhousing. Foster especially steals his scenes as the Howard Family screw-up. Brash, violent and terrifyingly charming, Tanner is a liability from the start, and one that seems to know his story won’t have a happy ending.
    A love letter to Texas and a lamentation of the dying culture of the sprawling western lowlands, Hell or High Water is one of the best films of the year. Topical and timeless, this tale of two outlaw brothers sounds like a story that could be told over a campfire. But a legend featuring a villainous bank plays well even if you’re not at home on the range. If you’re a fan of western lore or just great storytelling, Hell or High Water is the movie to see this summer.

Great Western • R • 102 mins.

A boy learns the power of a good story in this exceptional animated film

If you must blink, do it now.     
     So begins the story of young Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson: Game of Thrones), a troubadour in ancient Japan. Each day in the square he tells fantastical tales of the Moon King and the brave warrior Hanzo who fights him. As he weaves his tale, Kubo plays his shamisen as origami to come to life to act out his story. Villagers gather to watch and shower Kubo with coins.
    The most fantastical thing about Kubo’s stories is that they are true.
    Kubo is the son of Hanzo the samurai. Kubo’s mother, a daughter of the Moon King, betrayed her father for Hanzo’s sake. The Moon King vanquished Hanzo, ripped out one of Kubo’s eyes and exiled his daughter.
    Kubo’s distraught mother arms him with three pieces of advice: Never take off his father’s robe, never go anywhere without his monkey charm and never stay out after sunset, when the Moon King can see.
    When Kubo breaks the rules, the Moon King and his loyal daughters descend on the village to find him and take his other eye. Only his father’s legendary armor can save him.
    In Kubo and the Two Strings, LAIKA studios has made a beautiful film about the power of stories and the strength we draw from family. The combination of CGI and stop-motion animation creates a unique and highly stylized look. Paired with visual effect is an innovative story that examines the role storytelling has in our lives, from the stories we tell about our families to the stories that record our history.
    LAIKA has quietly become one of the best animation studios around, posing a credible challenge to Pixar and Disney in both technology and storytelling. Director Travis Knight, LAIKA’s lead animator for years, makes his debut behind the camera with this finely detailed and ­beautifully rendered story of a boy’s quest for his origin story.
    A talented voice cast enhances the powerful visuals and intricate story. Charlize Theron (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) vocalizes a scene-stealing monkey, growling and threatening to keep Kubo safe. Matthew McConaughey (Free State of Jones) offers comic relief as the cursed samurai Beetle, who is filled with warmth and kindness though a ­little rattled.
    Wonderful as it is, Kubo and the Two Strings may not enthrall little ones. The story is complicated and has scary bits. Ages nine and up should be enchanted.
    LAIKA Studios has yet to have a feature-film misfire, with Kubo and the Two Strings a masterwork proving that animation is a medium powerful for more than amusing children.

Great Animation • PG • 101 mins.

This stunning Disney remake features a ­charming dragon and a good moral

Forest Ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard: Jurassic World) has found many strange things in the wood. The oddest of all might be Pete (Oakes Fegley: Person of Interest), a bedraggled 10-year-old who’s lived for five years in the forest after his parents’ death.
    Pete had help surviving the wolves and cold. He credits his friend Elliot, who he describes as a giant green dragon.
    Perhaps Pete’s story is the product of a traumatized imagination. But Grace has heard dragon tales from her father (Robert Redford: Truth). As she investigates, lumberjack Gavin (Karl Urban: Star Trek Beyond) discovers Elliot in all his emerald glory.
    Can Grace and Pete save Elliot before hunters find him?
    Pete’s Dragon is a charming family film, with lots of heart about conservation, family and the power of magic. A remake of the 1977 Disney flick of the same name, this version takes some of the silliness out by setting it as a story about land encroachment: Elliot is running out of forest, imperiled by humanity.
    Director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) makes the human world dangerous. Back in civilization, Pete is overwhelmed by noise and smog. Little wonder he wants to return to the forest with Elliot, where landscapes are lush and life is simple. It’s an effective ploy, one that even smaller viewers will understand, and a clever way for Lowery to emphasize the beauty of nature and the danger of the unchecked development of natural resources.
    To promote his parable, Lowery has employed an exceptionally charming dragon. Elliot has the rectangular head of a Chinese dragon, the massive body of a dinosaur and a covering of thick green fur. He likes to romp, fly and make mischief in the woods. In essence, he’s a humongous dog, filled with guileless enthusiasm and curiosity that make him the clear star of the film.
    As Pete, Fegley acquits himself well. He looks more at home in the woods than in Grace’s home. He and fellow child actor Oona Laurence (Bad Moms) walk the line between innocence and wisdom, never pushing too far in either direction. It’s rare to find one qualified child actor in a film; to find two almost seems as magical as finding a dragon in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.
    Though visually stunning, Pete’s Dragon may not hold the attention of small viewers. The plot and many of the themes are meant for children a bit older, so don’t be surprised if your five-year-old seems bored whenever Elliot is not on screen. There’s also a very dramatic attempt to capture Elliot that may be upsetting to young viewers. Consider the sensitivity level of your child before buying tickets.
    An excellent option for ages seven and up as well as a wonderful reminder to adults that magic lives in the beauty of nature.

Good kid’s fantasy • PG • 103 mins.

The bad guys get a bad script

What do you do when a superman breaks bad?
    That’s the worry of intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis: Custody). Her solution is a squad of the worst villains America has ever known.
    Her villainous team includes:
    • Enchantress (Cara Delevingne: Pan), a millennia-old deity possessing the body of an archeologist;
    • Deadshot (Will Smith: Concussion), a mercenary named for his aim;
    • Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie: The Legend of Tarzan), a violent psychotic and girlfriend of …
    • The Joker (Jared Leto: Dallas Buyers Club);
    • Boomerang (Jai Courtney: Man Down), a violent thief;
    • Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: Concussion) an amphibious mutant;
    • Diablo (Jay Hernandez: Bad Moms) a flame-shooting gangster.
    Waller believes she can keep them under her control with the help of military man Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman: House of Cards) — who is a bit compromised as he’s secretly in love with the woman inhabited by Enchantress.
    The plan does not go well. Waller loses control of Enchantress, who creates a super weapon to destroy the earth.
    An incoherent blend of weak performances, an awful story and poor editing, Suicide Squad is almost impressive in its total failure. The script is challenged by logical fallacies. Production was plagued by studio meddling, meaning that director David Ayer (Fury) might bear the whole blame. Tone is off balance between dark drama and goofy comedy. Repetitive flashbacks have nothing to do with the story and offer no new information.
    Smith and Robbie work hard to charm their way out of the mire, creating characters that might hope to return in interesting solo films. On the other hand, Leto’s Joker is a bizarre mishmash of villainy, and Delevingne’s Enchantress is distinguished only by jerky belly dancing and intense staring.
    It could have been great. Instead, it’s a disaster.

Terrible Action • PG-13 • 123 mins.

Mel Brooks’ mocking masterpiece

To end its 50th season, Annapolis Summer Garden Theater has challenged itself with one of the biggest and most popular musicals ever to hit Broadway: Mel Brooks’ The Producers. Winner of a record 12 Tony Awards in 2001 and running for more than 2,500 performances, the show sought to hilariously offend everyone — Jews, producers, actors, homosexuals, Nazis … the list goes on. Brooks’ blockbuster set the stage for the kind of hard-to-get ticket that is being matched only by the current hit, Hamilton.
    It’s a big musical, with choreography, music and acting that have to be over the top to work; have you ever seen subtlety in any Mel Brooks movie? Annapolis Summer Garden Theater smartly turned the reins over to local directing veteran Jerry Vess, who strikes a nice balance between the bigness of Broadway and the limits of community theater. A tight, seven-piece band led by Ken Kimble sounds bigger, the original choreography is nicely adapted by Emily Frank, and Anita O’Connor’s music direction helps a talented cast confidently deliver on such songs as It’s Bad Luck to Say Good Luck on Opening Night.
    Costumer Jocelyn Odell brings Brooks’ wacky German vision — think pretzel heads and beer-stein jewelry — brilliantly to the stage. The costumes emulate those that helped make the original so memorable.
    The plot is simple: Down and out Broadway producer Max Bialystock (B. Thomas Rinaldi) ropes in straitlaced and timid accountant Leo Bloom (Nathan Bowen) to stage a purposely horrible musical, Springtime for Hitler, and abscond to Rio with the money they raised when it closes after one night. The wrinkle, of course, is that it becomes a smash hit.
    Rinaldi hits all the right notes as Max, and his body type, voice and attitude are perfect for the role — though opening weekend tentativeness zapped some of the zing from Brooks’ zingers. Late in the second act, when he reviews all that’s happened while sitting in a jail cell, he makes Betrayed masterful: funny, even a touch emotional. 
    Rinaldi and Bowen work well together, evoking a Laurel and Hardy dynamic. Bowen’s baritone lends itself well to I Want to Be a Producer. As actor, he allows Leo’s uptightness to be comical but not unbounded — for that would mean competing with so many unbound characters that Brooks has in store for us. Characters including —
    • Franz Leibkind, the Springtime for Hitler playwright who, on his rooftop with his Nazi pigeons, reminisces about his past (In Old Bavaria), forces Max and Leo to sing along to Adolf’s favorite song (Der Gutten Tag Hop-Clop) and has them swear to never dishonor Adolf Elizabeth Hitler. Josh Mooney, complete with liederhosen and Nazi helmet, is hilarious as Franz, his bright smile and energy surpassed only by his sidesplitting seriousness when tending to the fuhrer’s honor.
    • Roger DeBris, the flamboyant “worst director in New York,” whom Max attempts to sign to ensure the show flops, and his “common-law assistant” Carmen Ghia. Pete Thompson as Roger and Kevin James Logan as Carmen are brilliant together and apart, and bring one of the most popular numbers of the show, Keep it Gay, to hilarious life. Logan’s flaccid fluidity is so beautifully comical that the audience has no choice but to laugh. Playing Hitler during the show-within-a-show, Thompson’s Roger romps mischievously and riotously as he sings Heil myself!
    • Ulla Inga Hansen etc. etc. (a long long name, pure Brooks), the tall, beautiful Swedish blonde who auditions for Max’s next show and becomes his “Secretary-slash-receptionist.”
    Max lusts, Leo longs and Ulla titillates in a complete 180 from Max’s older women benefactors. As the always smiling statuesque Ulla, Erica Miller gives us a syllable-chewing faux Swedish accent that works to perfection in When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It, which gives her body, Max’s libido and Leo’s heart quite the workout.
    • The Usherettes, Ashley Gladden and Amanda Cimaglia, musically narrate, and a fine ensemble provides wonderful voices, dancing and characters, none more uproariously than almost the entire cast in Along Came Bialy, better known in theater circles as the little old lady walker song.
    While there was that tentativeness on the second night, accompanied by some screechy microphone levels, little details like that always work out as a run progresses. Here’s the important thing:
    Annapolis Summer Garden Theater has gone all out for its 50th birthday. With Jerry Vess’ perfectly paced adaptation and a cast that’s having a blast, the company fits Mel Brooks’ comic genius and this big Broadway show onto a local stage. It’s the audience that gets to celebrate.
    Act quickly … several dates are already sold out.


About two hours 50 minutes with one intermission.

Thru Sept. 4: Th-Su 8pm, $22, rsvp: ­www.summergarden.com.

Old-school effects and good storytelling make a cool chiller

Something is scratching at Martin’s (Gabriel Bateman: American Gothic) bedroom door. While he shivers in terror, his mother chats with an invisible friend, Diana.
    There is something lurking in the dark, ready to attack when the bedside lamp goes out. Martin watches in vigil night after night as the thing in the dark tries to come closer.
    When it gets Martin’s father, he turns to his estranged stepsister, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer: Triple 9), who has had her own troubles with a creature that lived in bedroom nooks.
    Can Rebecca save her brother from a menace no one can see? What is the hold Diana has over their mother? Why hasn’t everyone in this movie run to Eddie Bauer to buy camping lanterns?
    This movie about primal fears both thrills and entertains. For his feature directorial debut, David F. Sandberg expanded a short by the same name (available on YouTube) into a thoughtful, interesting, old-fashioned horror movie that focuses on creating a sense of dread. He plays smartly on the idea that Diana can come from any dark space, be it an empty room or an archway in an old house. He then fills the frame with shadows, making us unsure of where the threat will come from. This sense of uncertainty builds tension and keeps visual interest.
    Sandberg also chose to use mostly practical effects. This means that when someone is thrown across a room or a shadow disappears behind a door, it’s not a trick of a computer but an actual event captured on film. This gives the events weight and realism often lost in a world of CGI.
    The other strength of Lights Out is its cast. Bateman is the rare child actor who isn’t cloying and who can carry a scene. Palmer is also a rarity for a horror lead as she neither gets unnecessarily naked nor acts like an idiot when problems arise. The bond between the two is believable and sweet.
    Lights Out gives us storytelling rather than quick jump scares. If you want bloody monsters popping out from every corner, you may be disappointed. Check out the short version on YouTube to get a sense of the movie’s tone before you plunk down your cash. But if you’re looking for a thrilling reason to run up your light bill, Lights Out is worth the ticket.

Good Horror • PG-13 • 81 mins.