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You’ll have to be as high as Mike to enjoy this stoner comedy

Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg: The End of the Tour) is a loser. Ambitionless, he works a dead-end job managing a convenience store and suffers from a plethora of phobias. The only bright spots in this life are Mike’s endlessly understanding girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart: Still Alice) and the mountains of marijuana he smokes each day.
    The action begins with words mumbled by a convenience store customer. Mike thinks the pot has addled his brain, but when two men attempt to kill him, he surprises himself by handily dispatching them with a spoon.
    Mike is in fact a newly activated and expertly trained CIA operative. As ruthless killers come to town town, he must remember his training, protect his girlfriend and save his skin. That’s a tall order for a man who can’t cook an omelet without a joint in his hand.
    Violent, poorly written and featuring unbelievable performances, American Ultra is so ridiculous it’s almost as funny as it wants to be. Obsessed with the slick and stylish, director Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) has made a movie as consequential as a car commercial. Action is frenetic, editing is choppy and stylized — and neither serves the story.
    Neither straightforward action film in Bourne style nor gonzo action comedy like Pineapple Express, American Ultra languishes in limbo. It is not innovative enough to be a gory action comedy and not restrained enough to be a classical shoot-’em-up. Like Mike, it has no ambition and nothing of interest to say.
    Characters are stereotypes, impersonal and uninteresting. As Mike, Eisenberg has the look and idiotic dialog of a stoner, and he acts the part. His attacks are slow, his strikes lack force and his hair hangs in his eyes.
    The relationship with Stewart’s Phoebe is only slightly less believable than this loser’s being able to find a spoon, let alone kill with it. Stewart and Eisenberg display no chemistry.
    The only person who escapes American Ultra unscathed is Walton Goggins (Justified), who plays Laugher, a psychotic soldier tasked with killing Mike. Goggins, who has decades of experience playing underwritten weirdoes, has learned how to make even the barest character interesting.

Poor Action Movie • R • 95 mins.

Plant a flower garden and extend your acquaintance

Lantana drew this common buckeye butterfly to Sandra Bell’s Port Republic garden. “Butterflies and hummingbirds love them!” she wrote of this bright, cluster-flowered species of verbena.
    They’re drawn to open, sunny areas with low vegetation and some bare ground. The six eyespots on the buckeye’s wings discourage predators that take if for something bigger. The warmth-loving species lays three broods in the deep South, and some of those progeny reach as far north as Canada.

Two writers edit their own narratives in this excellent drama drawn from life

After publishing Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel: Sex Tape) becomes the golden boy of the literary world. Glowing reviews claim the book is the greatest novel of its generation. Awards are showered on him. Instead of thriving, Wallace retreats from the limelight.
    Meanwhile, struggling novelist and Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg: Rio 2) seethes in jealousy. Even worse, Lipsky must admit that the praise is earned. Fascinated by the mind behind the brainy book, Lipsky pitches a story to his editor: Unearth the man behind the mythos.
    To do so, Lipsky travels to Illinois for the last five days of Wallace’ book tour. Instead of a brilliant intellect, Lipsky finds a quiet man more interested in his dogs than talking about writing.
    A bond forms, and Lipsky gets a glimpse of who’s beneath Wallace’s regular guy armor.
    Based on the true story of Lipsky’s never-published interviews, The End of the Tour is on surface a bit boring. No sex, no violence. Somehow, two guys talking about American culture, women and the stress of writing turns exciting.
    Wallace, who battled depression for years, is a writhing mass of insecurities. He has such strict derogatory ideas about the meaning of success that praise has made him paranoid. He fears being viewed as a fraud.
    Eager to learn from a genius, Lipsky treats the assignment more as enlightenment than investigation. He’s interested in Wallace but too in awe to ask hard questions. When he finally gets the nerve to scrutinize Wallace’s motives, the dynamic shifts.
    To make such a film work, actors have to be on top of their game. Both men inhabit their roles beautifully. Segel pulls off a mesmerizing performance as the troubled, soft-spoken genius whose vital eyes belie the bumpkin he plays for Lipsky. You can see him creating responses that seem both unassuming and smart.
    Eisenberg gives Lipsky natural tenacity that must be tamped down to draw Wallace out. Jealous, in awe and curious, he wants Wallace’s approval. But once he senses a ruse, he digs in, hoping to provoke honesty.
    To film this battle of wits, director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) keeps his camera unobtrusive, so we feel we’re eavesdropping on the conversation. It’s an effective trick that creates immediacy and tension.
    If you’re interested in Wallace or enjoy heady conversation, The End of the Tour should engage you. Otherwise, watching will be almost as tortuous as slogging through Wallace’s 1,079-page opus.

Good Drama • R • 106 mins.

We have the knowledge but not the will to fix the problem

In a recent fishing trip with residents of the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home, we could not help but notice how brown the water appeared even after several miles of boating into Herring Bay. One of the veterans asked why. I explained to him that what he was seeing was mostly clay in suspension.
    Where is it coming from?
    Clay comes from agricultural fields and home gardeners with exposed soils as well as from construction sites.
    “How can it come from construction sites,” he wanted to know, “as they are required to surround such sites with silt fences?”
    Silt fences remove only floating organic waste, sand and silt. They do not remove clay from water flowing through them or nutrients soluble in the water.
    Only two methods effectively remove nutrients and clay from waters penetrating silt fences. The water must be treated in a waste water treatment facility with tertiary water treatment or be passed through compost.
    Research has clearly demonstrated that water filtered through silt fences can be purified by passing the water through a berm of active compost. Because of the negative and positive charges in compost, clay particles are trapped along with nutrients. Growing winter rye in those berms of compost also helps in absorbing nutrients trapped in the compost.
    This information — common knowledge to us researchers — has been presented at many public meetings and published in trade magazines. One company manufactures Filtrex Sox, a mesh tube 12 to 18 inches in diameter and filled with compost. The tube has an apron that forces water to flow through it.
    This information has been presented to highway departments and at contractor meetings without much success. Rebuttals have been “we use bales of straw or mounds of wood-chips” to filter surface water. These methods do not solve the problem of trapping muddy water because neither has positive and negative changes attracting particles and nutrients.
    It’s an old familiar story: Research tells us what must be done, but great resistance rises against new and improved methods. Change comes slowly unless it is made mandatory.
    Enough said.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Sesame Peanut Butter Noodle Salad

Use kid-favorite peanut butter to upgrade packaged ramen to a cold noodle salad packed full of flavor and great grains, nuts and vegetables.

For the Sesame Peanut Butter Sauce

1 large clove garlic
2 tablespoons tasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons natural smooth peanut butter or almond butter
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (optional)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from about 3 limes)
2 tablespoons tamari
1½ teaspoons granulated sugar

 

For the Noodle Salad

4 ounces gluten-free soba noodles
½ teaspoon olive oil
1 red bell pepper
1 cucumber
1 carrot
4 green onions
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, optional
¼ cup shelled, unsalted peanuts
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

 

    In a food processor, combine garlic, sesame oil, peanut butter, ginger, lime juice, tamari, sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Process until well combined.
    Cook the soba noodles according to package instructions. Drain and rinse under cold water. In a large bowl, toss with olive oil to prevent sticking.
    Thinly slice or julienne bell pepper, carrot, cucumber, and green onion. Roughly chop the cilantro, if used, including its soft stems.
    Add bell pepper, cucumber, carrot, green onions, peanuts, cilantro, then peanut sauce to noodles and toss to combine.
    Divide into 4 servings. Individual portions can be frozen; defrost overnight.

Love them or hate them, school buses weave through the fabric of our experience

One way or another, school buses take us all back to school.
    As well as ever-safer and more standardized transport, they’re vehicles of cultural passage. Via the school bus, the freedom of childhood passes to the regimented life of schedules and hurry, bells and detentions. Mother lets go your hand and the motorized door opens to the wide world.
    Little wonder school buses also travel our cultural byways as icons of rebellion.
    In the fermenting 1960s, counter-cultural pioneer and novelist Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion) gave a Day-Glo paint job to a 1939 International Harvester school bus. Christened Further, it transported Kesey’s Merry Band of Pranksters cross-country and into the psychedelic age.
    In the adaptive 1970s, the wholesome Partridge Family joined the revolution, driving a 1957 Chevrolet school bus purchased by the Orange County (Calif.) School District to television stardom. For their staged rebellion, ABC painted the bus in color blocks in the style of the abstract Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.
    In the irreverent 1990s, The Simpsons featured school bus driver Otto Mann, an aging delinquent who aided and abetted kids’ efforts to tip the bus as it rounded corners.
    That, of course, is against the rules. Real-life school bus drivers are careful citizens who go through double licensing before they can get behind the wheel of a bus full of Maryland kids. As well as commercial driving licenses, school bus drivers have commercial drivers have two endorsements: P for any vehicle carrying over 15 passengers plus S for school buses.
    Kids are supposed to sit tight in their compartmentalized seats and not torment the driver, the bus or each other.
    We who share the road with school buses have responsibilities, too.
    According to Maryland Transportation Article, Section 21-706, If a school vehicle is stopping or has stopped, and is operating the alternately flashing warning lights, the driver of any other vehicle meeting or overtaking the school vehicle shall stop at least 20 feet from the rear of the school vehicle (if approaching the school vehicle from the rear), or 20 feet from the front of the school vehicle (if approaching the school vehicle from the front), and may not proceed until the school vehicle resumes motion or deactivates the alternately flashing warning lights.
    “More children are injured outside a school bus than inside,” says Annapolis school bus dealer Steve Leonard. “Motorists think they can zoom through before the bus lights change from yellow to red. But they’re not thinking of the darting child, who isn’t thinking of them.”
    Read this week’s feature story, The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round, and you’ll you’ll never look at a school bus the same way.

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

This silly send-up of 1960s’ spy films is F.U.N.

Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill: Man of Steel) is a CIA spy with style. Dressed to the nines and armed with charm, he can seduce women with a wink and talk his way into or out of any situation. His unflappable confidence is second only to his intelligence.
    So when he’s assigned to extract Gaby (Alicia Vikander: Ex Machina) from East Germany, Solo assumes the mission will be simple. But only after a harrowing chase from a hulking tail do Gaby and Solo make it safely across The Wall. Then they find their mission has just begun.
    Gaby’s father, a former Nazi scientist who has discovered an easy way to enrich uranium, is kidnapped by terrorists planning to make and sell atomic bombs. Neither the U.S.S.R. nor the U.S. wants atomic bombs on the open market, so they team up (temporarily) to foil the bomb makers. Thus, Solo and Gaby are partnered with a Russian agent who turns out to be Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer: Entourage), the brute who chased them through East Berlin.
    Based on the popular TV show, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a swinging tribute to the 1960s spy genre, with plenty of suave guys, stunning women and sexual innuendos. Director Guy Ritchie creates a light romp with plenty of style plus frenetic editing and framing.
    Ritchie also has a wicked sense of humor, with many violent acts played for laughs in the background of scenes. Solo watches as Illya engages in an aquatic gun battle. He could help, but he’s not quite finished with his drink. This mix of brutality and jocularity works well in the spy spoof tone.
    As the duo who must learn to work together, Cavill and Hammer have excellent chemistry. Cavill, an almost surreally handsome leading man, is perfect as the slightly empty seducer. His Solo is all style and detachment, ala vintage James Bond. Hammer uses his considerable height and a comically ridiculous accent to make Illya a brute with a soul and surprising humor. As the glue holding the men together, Vikander isn’t required to do much. Her beauty and natural charm carry her through a slightly underwritten role.
    Ritchie crafts a breezy film, but he isn’t quite as slick as the spies he puts on screen. By rehashing scenes we’ve just watched, he over-explains his fairly straightforward plot and makes the film seem overlong. Fifteen minutes could be razed without damage to plot or pace.

Good Action • PG-13 • 116 mins.

It’s rewarding all around

There is nothing in the world like the feeling you get when you adopt a homeless animal.
    They say the animal you rescue will know that you saved them, and I have experienced that first hand.
    Our current pack is as diverse as they come, with all of these amazing animals rescued from the SPCA of Anne Arundel County. Fred, a Lab-great Dane mix who loves everyone and everything, was rescued in 2007, Tank, the St. Bernard, joined the family in 2010; yes, shelters have purebred animals. Mabel was 12 when we adopted her, yet she has more energy than all of us combined; senior animals need homes too. To round out the pack, we are fostering Casper, who is a dog in a cat suit. With some special medical needs, Casper is thriving in our home. I am now a cat person. My husband and I feel like we are the lucky ones. Please consider the benefits of adopting or fostering with a local shelter.

–Lisa Gyory is with SPCA of Anne Arundel County

Your inner child will want to see it again and again — even without Cousin Itt

“America has loved the Addams Family for 80 years, and now we have a rerun marathon of your favorite creepy and kooky characters in the flesh and blood. They’re all back (minus Cousin Itt) in a surprisingly sanguine musical that celebrates family values through the generations. Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s production will keep you smiling from the moment Thing cues the overture until the inspirational finale, Move Toward the Darkness.
    Gomez (Vince Musgrave) and Morticia (Alicia Sweeney) are a matched couple. He a devoted family man and she a macabre lovely, they share a passion for life and death. Gomez revels in his whacky Spanish ancestry in the opening tango, When You’re an Addams, while Morticia celebrates their complete candor in her cha-cha, Secrets. But when daughter Wednesday (Lucy Bobbin) confides a secret love affair to her father, Gomez has two problems: Morticia’s possible reaction and his sorrow that, as he sings, Wednesday’s Growing Up. Love is also a problem for little brother Pugsley (Drew Sharpe/Matthew Beagan) with whom Wednesday shares a sadomasochistic sibling rivalry. Cue the waltz What If She Never Tortures Me Anymore?
    Wednesday’s boyfriend, Lukas Beineke (Daniel Starnes), is a conservative Midwestern tourist she met while crossbow hunting on the Addams property in Central Park. A disastrous dinner with his parents, Mal (Jim Reiter) and Alice (Andrea Ostrowski Wildason), ensues, despite Wednesday’s pleas for One Normal Night. When Mrs. Beineke accidentally imbibes one of Grandma’s (Ginny White) herbal truth serums while playing Full Disclosure, a game “loosely based on the Inquisition,” she lambastes her control-freak husband in the grave Lament. Uncle Fester (Eric Meadows) comes to the rescue by summoning the dead Addams ancestors to keep the Beinekes hostage until all can resolve happily ever after. For despite his upbringing, the suitor who aspires to be a coroner is an Addams at heart.
    This cast shines brighter than a blue moon. Musgrave draws on his Cuban heritage to create the quintessential Spaniard with a versatile voice of gold: tortured in the tango, Not Today, urgent in the habanera, Trapped, introspective in Happy Sad and haunting in Morticia (“the screams she saves for you, the hell she puts you through!”).
    Sweeny, every curvaceous inch Morticia with the mincing step and withering deadpan, is most compelling in her cheery softshoe, Death Is Just Around the Corner. As Wednesday, Bobbin is as cold as ice and hot as flames with a voice and moves to wake the dead in her pulsing solo, Pulled. As her suitor,  Starnes is charming and lovable in his salsa-infused rock anthem, Crazier Than You. Sharpe is a vulnerable, hollow-eyed Pugsley. As Uncle Fester, Meadows is sweet strumming a ukulele and crooning love songs to the moon. Reiter is too convincing as the unfeeling square, while Wildason is maddening with her Pollyanna-style rhyming couplets. And Steve Streetman is uncanny as the Frankensteinean butler Lurch. As for the chorus, they are the most spirited the company has ever gathered.
    With a dilapidated Victorian set complete with spider-patterned wallpaper, a torture chamber and sound effects featuring ghostly moans and the thumping of Poe’s Tell Tale Heart, you’ll feel right at home. Spotlights broadcast the silhouette of the creepy tree in the yard with a full moon projected onto the roof of a neighboring building, where Fester serenades from the parapet. The music features clever lyrics reminiscent of Weird Al and dance moves from the zombie to rigor mortis. Costumes are scary good with ghostly details like tire tracks across the back and nooses. There are a few awkward scene changes and special effects, but nothing to detract from an otherwise spooktacular show.
    As Director Debbie Barber-Eaton writes in her program notes, this is a show about the “family to which we all secretly wish to belong.” Your inner child will want to see it again and again — even without Cousin Itt. Buy your tickets now, before they all vanish.


Two hours and 45 minutes with intermission. By Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice and Andrew Lippa. Director: Debbie Barber-Eaton. Musical director: David Merrill. Choreographer: Jamie Miller. Costumer: Nikki Gerbasi. Set: Matt Mitchell. Lights: Matt Tillett. Sound: Dan Caughran. Musicians: Ken Kimble, Rich Estrin, Randy Martell, Trent Goldsmith, Reid Bowman, Zach Konick, Randy Neilson and Paul Pesnell.

With the chorus of Addams ancestors: Katie Gardner (bride), Kevin Cleaver (caveman), Michael Ruttum (conquistador), Ashley Gladden (courtesan), Karah Parks (flapper), Mariel White (flight attendant), Christian Gonzalez (gambler), Kristi Dixon (Native American), Nathan Bowen (Puritan) and Brian Mellen (sailor).

Th-Su thru July 25, W July 22, 8:30pm, Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St.. $22; rsvp: 410-268-9212.

Husband Bill has his say on our shared dogs

I’ve given away most of my space in this week’s Letter.    
     “I’ve had my say on the dogs you and I have shared,” I said to my husband, Bay Weekly co-founder Bill Lambrecht. “Now it’s your turn.”
    Bill took the assignment, but his storytelling reflects his day job: 30 years of reporting on D.C. capitol doings.
    Read on and you’ll see why he titled his story Capitol Leaks.

    I suspected growing up that your dog reads your mind. Now that more dogs have entered (and, alas, exited) my life, I know it’s true.
    Back in Illinois, there was Slip Mahoney, the roving German beagle, apprehended and jailed seven times (once at a Kroger meat ­counter.) Mornings, Sandra, editor of this paper, would head off in her silver Gremlin to her newspaper job in downtown Springfield.
    My consuming thought: How to secure the house to prevent canine escape.
    Slip, of course, would have caught that brain wave, exited through an unlatched door (or right through the screen), and begun weaving his way through traffic on a Gremlin-sniffing mission.
    In Maryland, there was Max the yellow Lab, formerly employed as Bay Weekly Office Greeter. On his days off, we’d go fishing in the old Sundancer, in Borg-perfect sync. He’d get excited as me spotting a bluefish feeding frenzy. One day, after a tip about “acres and acres of huge breaking rockfish,” he shared my nagging sense I’d forgotten something.
    He whined nervously as we raced to the slip. Then he stayed in the car, forlornly, while I discovered on the boat I’d left the rods on the patio. (I’m hangdog myself at this moment recalling that today is the anniversary of Max’s death.)
    Then came Moe the yellow Lab, who held down at least three jobs. At Bay Weekly, he was sidekick to Nipper the Notorious (a Jack Russell who owns the Maryland state record for biting humans).
    On Capitol Hill, Moe was my security detail. (I’m speaking here about protection from members of Congress.)
    There too, Moe was ambassador-at-large. Around our condo, he’d buddy up to senators’ poodles and wrestle in Stanton Park with young female aides who’d kick off their heels. All the while, he’d stay plugged into my thinking, like that morning during the October 2013 government shutdown when we walked along the south side of the Capitol building.
    I can’t believe those zealots in there would shut down the United States government, I’m thinking.
    Moe, leash-less but usually well behaved, big-nosed his way through azaleas and lifted his leg on the limestone of the U.S. Capitol.
    He plowed back through the bushes, looked up at me smiling and communicated a question: Whaddaya think of that?
    I petted him, wrote Bill.

    Empathy. That’s the emotional partnership shared by the man who, whenever he needed a friend, got a dog.
    Turn the page for more stories and news of the four-legged friends who love us unconditionally — in their own complex ways.

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