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A number-cruncher proves he can do more than balance the mob’s books

Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck: Suicide Squad), a math genius with poor social skills and the ability to fire a .50-caliber round through a melon from a mile away,  becomes the underworld’s top accountant. He works with cartels, the mafia, gunrunners and terrorists — whoever will pay his price. He comes in, looks at the books, finds any missing money and leaves.
    It’s a good system until one client is unhappy with what Christian discovers. Now the target of a psychotic hitman (Jon Bernthal: Daredevil), Christian has to avoiding treasury agents while determining which of his clients is trying to kill him.
    The Accountant is a character-driven thriller harkening back to the action movies of the late 1980s. Director Gavin O’Connor (Jane Got a Gun) crafts interesting circumstances for Wolff. Coincidences and obvious twists are okay so long as they engage the main character. Creative cinematography in the action sequences helps.
    Key to it all is Christian Wolff. Affleck is in top form as a high-functioning man with autism who is part nerd, part action hero. Misunderstandings are played for humor, but Affleck and O’Connor make no jokes at Christian’s expense.
    Backing up Affleck, veteran character actors Bernthal and J.K. Simmons (The Late Bloomer) help gloss over the plot holes and improbabilities.
    If you’re a fan of character-driven action, The Accountant is well worth the ticket. An unbelievable plot is balanced by believable character work and unique cinematography to make a film that’s pure popcorn fare at its best.

Good Action Thriller • R • 128 mins.

Twin Beach Players’ talented ensemble delivers a Vaudevillian ­circus of musical theater

“Musical comedies aren’t written, they are rewritten,” declares Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the music and lyrics to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
    Just so, writers Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart of movie and television fame readapted a collection of Greek-themed works already adapted by the Roman playwright Plautus around the turn of the second century, B.C.
    Something familiar, Sondheim writes in the show’s best-known song, “A Comedy Tonight.” But also Something peculiar, Something for everyone, A comedy tonight.
    Those catchy opening lyrics foreshadow what to expect as Twin Beach Players’ talented ensemble delivers a Vaudevillian circus of musical theater.
    The action takes place within and surrounding the neighboring houses of Erronius, Senex and Lycus. A scheming plot swiftly develops — only to unravel when a slave negotiating for his freedom agrees to play matchmaker to his youthful master smitten with a beautiful but unintelligent courtesan in the nearby Lycus house of ill repute. The antics that follow involve multiple cases of mistaken identity, athletic physical comedy, sight gags and jokes that echo beyond social class.
    The mature themes of this show are not appropriate for children.
    The first time the Players have brought a musical to the stage, it is a formidable undertaking. Actors play their parts through clever songs and dance as well as humorous dialogue. Taped musical accompaniment adequately fills the space at the Players’ Boys & Girls Club location, but at times it overpowers the performers’ singing. A chorus line adds a kick.
    Sid Curl, director and lighting designer, has assembled a cast of familiar and new actors who create unique characters while working together to deliver an enjoyable evening of theater. Reacting well to each other, all possess an effective balance of comic and musical timing. 
    Angela Sunstone (Prologus/Pseudolus) offers insight and intensity, serving in dual roles as storyteller to introduce the show and as slave. Andrew Brinegar, Annie Gorenflo and Tyler Vaughn (The Proteans) exhibit distinct identities while smoothly transitioning through multiple roles as a cohesive group. Rick Thompson (Prologus/Senex) plays lecherous Senex with effective comic physicality. Lindsay Haas (Domina) provides character-appropriate rigidity in her interactions. John Carter (Hero), whose singing is strong and full of emotion, is convincing as the love-smitten son to Senex and Domina. Aidan Davis (Hysterium) adds vocal variations to the role of Senex’s slave.
    Jeanne Louise fluidly commands the stage with a sparkling and energetic persona as Marcus Lucus. Arianne Dalton (Tintinabula), Brittney Collins (Panacea), Mikayla Ann Ford and Aaliyah Roach (The Geminae), Hayley Miller (Vibrata), and Jenny Liese (Gymnasia) shine as courtesans, each displaying sex appeal through character-appropriate, seductive dance movements.
    Katie Evans (Philia) is hysterical as Hero’s love interest, projecting a soprano singing voice that is strong and polished. Phil Cosman (Erronius) plays the nearly blind old man very convincingly, bringing comic talent to every scene he enters. Kevin McAndrews creates a dominating presence as Captain (Miles Gloriosus), with a booming spoken and singing voice that packs a powerful punch.
    Among the production staff helping to mount this ambitious production, Dawn Denison’s costume choices — including togas, flowing robes and military uniforms — add realism to the Roman time period, while chorographer Sherry Dennison gives the actors imaginative work to perform. Wendy Crawford’s set by Robert Snider and Katie Evans’ musical direction help transport us to another time and place.


Thru Oct. 30: FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, Twin Beach Players, Boys and Girls Club, North Beach, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: www.twinbeachplayers.com.

This mystery never leaves the station

Rachel (Emily Blunt: The Huntsman: Winter’s War) rides the train to Manhattan every day. Sitting in the same spot, drinking clear alcohol from a water bottle, she stares at the passing houses. Two homes interest her particularly. One she shared with her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux: The Leftovers), whose new family now lives there. The other is home to Megan (Haley Bennett: The Magnificent Seven) and Scott (Luke Evans: Message from the King), a sexually adventurous couple idealized by Rachel.
    Megan goes missing, and Rachel may know something. She saw a man, whom she took to be a lover, with Megan on the day of her disappearance. The police, however, think Rachel is stalking her ex.
    The movie fails to capture the narrative urgency of the bestselling novel. Director Tate Taylor (Get On Up) copies the style of another bestseller-made-movie, David Fincher’s far superior Gone Girl, again with little success. With plot twists prioritized over character-building suspense, the female heroines are a particular disappointment. All are miserable women victimized by men.
    Blunt is muted and sad as Rachel, who slurs, stumbles and mopes her way through life. As Megan, Bennett is every femme fatale cliché in movie history, from the tragic secret to the insatiable desire. The men in their lives have all the power, and they use these women’s bodies and minds as they see fit.
    Taylor thinks he’s being clever, but you could figure out his reveal from the previews. It’s all dark and depressing, brooding and boring.
Poor Thriller • R • 112 mins.

A stork and orphan connive to deliver a baby in this animated comedy

Storks have long had the job of delivering babies. But now they’ve left the strenuous and emotionally taxing baby business for box-store delivery. Partnering with CornerStore.com, storks now specialize in same-day deliveries. They’re cogs in the corporate machine.
    Except for Tulip (voiced by Katie Crown: Clarence), an orphan who hangs around the stork factory trying to help. Her heart is in the right place, but her head isn’t. Most of her inventions end as explosions. Junior (Andy Samberg: Brooklyn Nine-Nine) is assigned to fire her.
    Junior doesn’t have the heart, so he assigns Tulip to the abandoned Baby Orders room, where the higher-ups won’t notice the lonely orphan. The plan works until Tulip finds a letter from the Gardner family, requesting a baby. She dusts off the baby machine and creates an adorable tot to deliver to the Gardners.
    Junior is horrified. If management sees the baby, he and Tulip will get the boot. He resolves on a secret delivery. But office busybody Pigeon Toady (Stephen Kramer Glickman: The Night Time Show with Stephen Kramer Glickman) has discovered the baby and plans to expose Junior and steal his big promotion.
    Can Tulip and Junior work together to get Baby Gardner home? How hard could it be to deliver one baby?
    For this week’s review, four-and-a-half-year-old Grace Kearns assisted The Moviegoer. Grace reports that Storks was funny. She liked Tulip’s curly hair and the silly wolf pack.
    The wolf pack was indeed the best part of the film. Voiced by comedians extraordinaire Key & Peele, the scene-stealing wolves played a goofy version of charades.
    The rest of the film, however, is a bit of a drag for those of us who’ve graduated preschool. Grace watched quietly, while your regular reviewer squirmed and checked her watch. The plot was overly complex, jokes often fell flat and characters seemed inconsistent. Worst of all in a movie written for younger audiences, there were no lessons to be learned or engaging songs.
    A few days later, Grace’s fondest and only memory remained the wolf pack.
    Buying a ticket may earn you a quiet child for 90 minutes, but don’t expect a lasting impression from this shallow, underwritten comedy.

Fair Animation • PG • 87 mins.

Can a rag-tag bunch of ne'er-do-wells defeat an army of villains?

To rid himself of the Rose Creek townspeople impeding his mining operation, land baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard: Black Mass) offers an ultimatum: take the paltry sum offered — or die. To prove he’s serious, he burns the church and shoots a few men, women and children, leaving the survivors to pick up their bodies.
    Thus begins the latest take on two great movies, Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai, and John Sturges’s subsequent western classic The Magnificent Seven.
    Newly widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett: Hardcore Henry) won’t be intimidated and seeks to buy a champion to bring justice to Rose Creek.
    Her knight in shining armor is a man in black. Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington: The Equalizer) is a bounty hunter who had to be fast with his guns because of the color of his skin. He is touched by Emma’s tale, impressed by her spunk and independently invested in destroying Bogue.
    But to go up against hundreds of well-armed men, Chisolm needs his own army.
    Chisolm signs on six recruits: a gambler (Chris Pratt: Jem and the Holograms); a former Confederate sniper (Ethan Hawke: Maudie); an Asian brawler (Byung-hun Lee: Misconduct); a wanted murderer (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo: Term Life), a former Indian hunter (Vincent D’Onofrio: Daredevil); and a Comanche (Martin Sensmeier: Lilin’s Blood).
    Can seven men turn a town of farmers into an armed militia?
    Director Antoine Fuqua’s (The Equalizer) remake takes strength from this diverse cast. By casting minority actors, and acknowledging their racial status in the post-Civil War West, Fuqua adds depth to the familiar story. Washington’s Chisolm, a man used to prejudice, has managed to thrive in this hostile environment, fueled by adversity.
    It takes team chemistry for underdogs to succeed in felling a greater power. This cast supplies it. Washington is in fine form as the stoic leader. Pratt, the gambler, adds comic relief, while the others fill in requisite western roles, from the drunken coward to the oddball mountain man. The cast clearly enjoyed working together, and their natural camaraderie draws you in.
    Fuqua’s only misstep is Sarsgaard, who as Bogue fails to be either physically or mentally intimidating.
    In spite of the poor villain, The Magnificent Seven is an enjoyable western with a modern, diverse twist.

Good Western • PG-13 • 133 mins.

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.