view counter

Articles by All

Dogs are always our best friends, even when we’re not theirs 

        When an epidemic of canine flu threatens the population of a Japanese town, the mayor (voiced by Kunichi Nomura: The Grand Budapest Hotel) decrees that all dogs be banished to the town’s offshore landfill, Trash Island. 
     People are upset. Scientists are ignored despite their claim to have cured the flu. Is there a conspiracy led by a cat-loving crime family? 
     The dogs, for their part, want to go home to their masters.
     The mayor’s ward (Koyu Rankin: Juken) hijacks a small plane and crash-lands on the island to look for his faithful bodyguard and best friend Spots (Liev Schreiber: Ray Donovan). Instead, the boy finds Chief (Bryan Cranston: Electric Dreams), a stray who hates the concept of masters, and his pack of former house pets. Chief wants nothing to do with the boy, but the pack out-votes him, deciding to help on his quest.
      Eventually, Chief wonders if there might not be some good in masters.
     Meticulously styled, emotionally resonate and utterly fetching, Isle of Dogs will have dog-lovers wagging. It is steeped in director Wes Anderson’s (The Grand Budapest Hotel) typical style. Each frame is filled with copious candy-colored details, with cuteness offset by a rather morbid sense of humor. This vaguely 1960s-mashed-with-fairy-tale style can take some getting used to. But in animated form, it’s easier to go with.
     Though Anderson has only done one other animated film, his aesthetic blends beautifully with the medium.
     Flaws are few and fall to humans. The storyline involving people is less interesting than anything the dogs do. A know-it-all exchange student (Greta Gerwig: 20th Century Women) adds irritation rather than heroism as an annoying foreigner.
      Anderson has not always treated pets well; their deaths are frequently the punchline in his films. But here he nails the emotional bond between human and dog. 
Good Animation • PG-13 • 101 mins.
 
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
 
Finding Your Feet
      When Sandra (Imelda Staunton) leaves her cheating husband, she is forced to move in with her sister Bif (Celia Imrie). Sandra thinks Bif is the black sheep of the family, while Bif finds Sandra insufferably stuffy.
      The sisters find common ground when Sandra joins Bif at her community dance class. Sandra opens up as she meets members of the class and rediscovers the joys of embracing life.
     This film is no groundbreaker. It’s a group of insanely talented British theater and film stars having fun in a silly romantic comedy. If you enjoyed The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, buy a ticket. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 111 mins.
 
The Miracle Season
     A volleyball team mourning its star player is inspired by a tough-talking coach (Helen Hunt) to dedicate their season to their lost teammate. Soon, the ladies are unstoppable, playing their way to championship.
      A feel-good sports movie based on a true story, The Miracle Season follows Hoosiers, Rudy and Miracle in winning audiences with underdog sports stories. This one adds an all-female team. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG • 101 mins. 
 
Rampage 
        Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) is a primatologist known for raising a silverback gorilla from birth. The gorilla, George, communicates via sign language. Their bond is tested when an experimental chemical finds its way into George’s cage. The gorilla is mutated into a giant ape with a rage problem. 
       It’s a good thing the government uncovers some other mutated animals for George to fight. 
       Sound silly? Of course it is.
       Based on a popular video game featuring giant mutant animals fighting each other, Rampage isn’t so much a movie as a loud distraction. Fans of Johnson and his wry performances should enjoy this mindless popcorn flick. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 107 mins. 
 
Truth or Dare
       Olivia (Lucy Hale) and her vacationing friends play a game of truth or dare with strangers. The game turns deadly.
        It could be fun for fans of mindless horror staged on stupid premises. I’m holding out for a horror version of Beer Pong. 
Prospects: Dare you to see it • PG-13 • 100 mins. 

Our heritage, our legacy

      Anne Arundel County’s celebration of Maryland Day, officially March 25, shifts to a hopefully sunnier, warmer weekend this year.
      April 6 thru 8, we celebrate our shared stake in the territory and body politic planted 384 years ago on March 25, 1634, when Lord Baltimore’s colonists made land on a tiny island in a big river in an unknown world: Maryland Day.
      Friday thru Sunday, honor the anniversary of our state by visiting historical and cultural sites in the Four Rivers Heritage Area and across Anne Arundel County. Many activities are free or only $1. 
 
Annapolis Drum and Bugle Corps 
at Susan Campbell Park
Start off Maryland Day with a spirit-lifting flag raising ceremony by the award-winning USNA League Cadets of the Training Ship Mercedes, with music by the Annapolis Drum and Bugle Corps.
Saturday, April 7, 10am, City Dock, Annapolis
 
Annapolis in 100 Memorials
Celebrate Maryland Day with a 2.1-mile walk thru the Historic District with lifelong Annapolitan and experienced Watermark guide Squire Richard. Today’s journey, highlighting 11 local monuments, was inspired by a 1997 conference that brought conservators of outdoor monuments to Annapolis. Tour follows flag ceremony.
Saturday, April 7, 10:30am, Susan Campbell Park, City Dock
 
Annapolis Maritime Museum
Many of the oysters we eat are Made in Maryland. Learn how oysters go from creek to plate with hands-on activities, crafts for kids and Chesapeake critters. 
April 6-8, 11am-3pm, 723 Second St.
 
Anne Arundel County Farmers Market
Anne Arundel County’s oldest farmers market is year round. Browse and buy products that local farmers and producers grow, make or produce: fruit, veggies, meats, cheese, eggs, plants, soap, honey, flowers, baked goods, jams, jelly, herbs, furniture, milk, yogurt, butter, ready-made food and more — all Made in Maryland. 
April 7-8, Sa 7am-noon, Su 10am-1pm, 275 Truman Pkwy., Annapolis
 
Banneker Douglass Museum
Learn how African Americans throughout Maryland from 1633 to the present made lasting changes for all in the exhibit Deep Roots, Rising Waters. Also new at the museum: artist Ulysses Marshall’s exhibit Bent But Not Broken: An Artistic Celebration of the Spirit and Legacy of Frederick Douglass.
April 6-8, 10am-4pm, 84 Franklin St., Annapolis
 
Brewer Hill Cemetery
Take guided tours and learn more about the people interred here, including city and county founders, casualties of the Revolutionary and Civil wars and members of the African-American community. Learn about research and preservation efforts. Descendants please bring photos, Bible records and oral histories for a memorial website.
Saturday, April 7, tours on the hour 11am-4pm, 802 West St., Annapolis
 
Charles Carroll House 
Explore this grand old home, an essentially intact 18th-century property in the historic district. Charles Carroll of Carrollton was the most famous of the many generations of Carrolls who resided here. The family played a major role in the framing of the governance of Maryland and the emerging United States. Charles was one of four Marylanders to sign the Declaration of Independence and was the only Roman Catholic signer. He and wife Mary ‘Molly’ Darnall were given ownership of the house as a wedding present. Charles lived to be 96, leaving the house to his daughter Mary Caton and four Caton granddaughters.
April 7-8, noon-4pm, 107 Duke of Gloucester St., Annapolis
 
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Tour the Phillip Merrill Environmental Center, the world’s first LEED Platinum building and home to state offices, an educational center and a popular event venue. 
Saturday, April 7, 11am, 6 Herndon Ave., Annapolis
 
Chesapeake Children’s Museum
Play all day in the museum and meet live animals, travel the seven seas on a 10-foot boat, dress up and perform on stage, shop at a Columbian street market or take a stroll on the creekside nature trail (10am-4pm). Saturday, hear the Fantasy Players, a group of young touring musicians playing covers of rock classics as well as original music (2-4pm). Sunday, bring a picnic for the outdoor setting of a retelling of the traditional west African tale of Leopard’s Drum (6pm); make a drum or shaker or bring your own to join the rhythm circle with the Performing Arts Center of African Cultures.
April 7-8, 10am-4pm, 25 Silopanna Rd., Annapolis, $1
 
Deale Area Historical Society
Get a glimpse into rural life in the late 1800s to early 1900s by visiting a two-room home, one-room schoolhouse, an African-American beneficial society building, an outhouse, a tobacco barn, a Russian Orthodox chapel and other smaller buildings essential to life in the country. Docents on hand to answer questions about the time period. 
Sunday, April 8, 1-4pm, 389 Deale Dr., Tracy’s Landing
 
Galesville Heritage Society
Over 350 years of history of colonists, slaves, mariners and merchants enrich this seaside village. John Murray Colhoun — a direct descendent of the village’s Puritan founders, 12th generation farmer and owner of Ivy Neck Farm — presents the Freeing of the Ivy Neck and Tulip Hill Slaves at Memorial Hall (2pm, 952 Main St). Learn about the court battle that followed Colhoun’s great-great-great-grandfather James Cheston Sr.’s will, in 1843,which freed 77 slaves upon his death. Light refreshments served at the Galesville Heritage Museum follow the presentation.
Sunday, April 8, 1-4pm, 988 Main St., Galesville
 
Greenstreet Gardens
Join a seminar on planting and growing Maryland Native Plants with special guest Tony Dove. Special discounts on native plants. 
Saturday, April 7, 11am, 391 Bay Front Rd., Lothian
 
Hammond-Harwood House
The 1774 house is a fine example of Anglo-Palladian architecture. The museum collection features paintings, furniture and decorative arts from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Social history of the time covers family life, the enslaved people who worked at the house and Annapolis traditions. 30-minute guided Mansion tours, 1pm, 2pm & 3pm, limited to 20 guests (first come, first served); gardens open for free.
Saturday, April 7, noon-4pm, 19 Maryland Ave., ­Annapolis, $1 tours
 
Historic Annapolis Museum
Explore the exhibit Freedom Bound: Runaways of the Chesapeake, an exhibit of videos, audios, historic artifacts, runaway advertisements from 1728 to 1864 and hands-on activities to convey the defeats and triumphs nine real men and women experienced in their struggle for freedom.
April 7-8, Sa 10am-4pm, Su noon-4pm, 999 Main St.
 
Historic Annapolis Hogshead 
Consider the working class life of 18th century Annapolis with historic interpreters and hands-on activities.
April 7-8, noon-4pm, 43 Pinkney St., Annapolis
 
Historic Annapolis William Paca House & Garden
Saturday, make and take Made in Maryland crafts. Sunday, celebrate the marriage of Julianna Jennings and James Brice in 1781 and meet living history interpreters.
April 7-8, Sa 10am-4pm, Su noon-4pm, 186 Prince George St., Annapolis, $1
 
Historic London Town & Gardens
Friday, enjoy a special Hard Cider talk and tasting with Faulkner Branch Cidery & Distilling Co. (7pm, $45 w/discounts). Saturday and Sunday, try your hand at chopping wood and making rope and talk old times with costumed interpreters, smell fresh hearth colonial-style cooking, buy handmade furniture from a master carpenter and explore the gardens; kids dress up in colonial-style clothes. 
April 6-8, 10ama-4:30pm, Edgewater, $1
 
Homestead Gardens
Learn the ins and outs of raising backyard chickens in Maryland, from space and time requirements to the needed supplies. Take a coop tour and watch the Me & My Chicken Photo contest prize presentation with the Anne Arundel County Poultry Princess Olivia Velthuis; kids play in the open corral.
Saturday, April 7, 10am-3pm, Davidsonville & Severna Park
 
Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts
The 9th annual ArtFest Open House brings creative fun to all ages with performances, art demonstrations, hands-on projects, community art and gallery events. Events include children’s drama and theater showcase, monoprinting, digital photo booth, pottery wheel demo, glass fusing demo, printmaking demos, drawing and painting demos, Ballet Theater of Maryland showcase, belly dancing showcase and workshops, woodturning demo, yoga and tai chi demos, hip hop/tap and ballroom dancing demos, food trucks and free ice cream, cow tails, caramel creams and popcorn.
Sunday, April 8, 1-4pm, 801 Chase St., Annapolis
 
Maryland State House
Tour the oldest state capitol in continuous legislative use, explore the history made here and see exhibits, including historical portraits and paintings by Charles Willson Peale. Maryland is the only statehouse ever to have served as the nation’s capitol. The General Assembly is in session Saturday; view the proceedings, space permitting.
April 6-8, 9am-5pm, 100 State Circle, Annapolis, (bring photo ID)
 
Scenic Rivers Land Trust
Take a 2.5- to 4-mile hike through the history-rich setting of the Bacon Ridge Natural Area to discover how humans and nature have interacted to create this landscape, while enjoying the beauty of a 900+ acre protected forest; unpaved wooded trail, leashed dogs welcome. 
Saturday, April 7, 12:30pm (rsvp: www.srlt.org), Hawkins Rd. trailhead (south of I-97 overpass), Crownsville
 
Visit Annapolis and Anne Arundel Co.
Get expert help and maps for your Maryland Day adventures.
April 6-8, 9am-5pm, 26 West St. and City Dock 
Information Booth, Annapolis
 
Shuttle ’round Annapolis, Free
April 6-8: The Annapolis Circulator bus runs every 20 minutes, making a loop on West St., Duke of Gloucester St., Compromise St., Main St. and Church Circle. Flag down the bus or look for designated stops along the route. This service stops at all city parking garages. 
Saturday April 7: Ride site to site on Towne Transport’s shuttle. From 10am to 5pm, the trolley makes an hour-long loop from Visit Annapolis at 26 West St. to the Maryland State House Lawyer’s Mall at College Ave., and back, stopping at nine sites along the way. 
https://marylandday.org/free-transportation-schedules

Steven Spielberg should hit restart on this ­disaster gamer movie

     In 2045, the real world is in tatters. People find their only satisfaction in the OASIS, a virtual reality simulation enabling you to be or do anything you want.

         At his death, the OASIS creator leaves a challenge to the millions of users worldwide: Find three keys hidden somewhere in the program and inherit control of his estate. It’s a billion dollar golden ticket, just waiting to be found.

         Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan: All Summers End) is a nobody living in the stacks, a park of trailers stacked several stories high. He has one friend, Aech (Lena Waithe: Master of None), and no money, limiting his options even in the OASIS. Playing under the tag Parzival, Wade finds the first key, becoming a celebrity in the virtual world.

         Everyone wants a piece of Parzival. His avatar is famous. His crush wants to talk to him. Tech Company IOI recruits him to find the other keys. With fame and fortune, however, come problems. As the battle for control of the OASIS becomes more intense, Wade wonders who he can trust and if he’ll survive this virtual Easter egg hunt.

         Filled with gaming and 1980s’ pop culture allusions, Ready Player One is beautiful, bombastic and hollow. Think of it as Willy Wonka with the candy replaced with smug video game references.

         The problems begin, unfortunately, with veteran director Steven Spielberg (The Post). The plot, derived from a bestselling dystopian novel, is a jumble of scenes strung together with the thinnest of logic. References have no purpose but to make the audience feel clever for recognizing them. Performances are abominable. Sheridan is out of his league whether delivering the overly sincere monologues that infatuate Spielberg or looking tearily at the girl he loves. Ready Player One ill serves fans of both the book and good movies.

         There are, however, two bright points. As Aech, Lena Waithe is a delight, bringing levity and charm to her scenes. A brilliant 10-minute sequence in the Overlook Hotel combines humor, thrills and references to The Shining.

Terrible Adventure • PG-13 • 140 mins.

 

 

~~~ New this Week ~~~

 

Blockers

         Realizing their daughters are planning to lose their virginity, three parents make a pact to keep them from having sex. As they chase the girls and their virtue through a barrage of parties and high school locales, they wonder whether their cause is worth the effort.

         You know what you’re in for from Seth Rogen: There will be gross jokes, probably about sex or going to the bathroom; there will be slapstick; and there will be a heartwarming message jammed in about 10 minutes before the end.

Prospects: Flickering • R • 102 mins.

 

Chappaquiddick

         An infamous event in Kennedy family history is recreated and examined in this docudrama.

         The story follows young Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) as he meets and subsequently causes the death of Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara).

         Kennedy fans may be uncomfortable with this fascinating story of how money and power can sort out almost any problem.

Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 101 mins.

 

Gemini

         Personal assistant Jill LeBeau (Lola Kirke) is devoted to starlet Heather Anderson (Zoë Kravitz). That devotion is tested when a crime threatens Jill’s freedom.

         This twisting tale of fame and betrayal is a modern noir with plenty of style. If you’re a fan of plot twists, diabolical character studies and intriguing mysteries, this should be well worth the ticket.

Prospects: Bright • R • 93 mins.

 

Isle of Dogs

         When a canine flu threatens the people of a Japanese city, dogs are exiled to an island used as a dump.

         A young boy flees to the island to find his banished dog. Instead he meets a group of ragtag mutts, led by feral stray Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston). As Chief and the boy grow closer, Chief reevaluates his opinions of masters.

         In Wes Anderson’s precise, gorgeous stop-motion animation film, a very particular sense of dark humor is masked in bright colors. If you’re looking for something family friendly, don’t be fooled by animated dogs — this is darker than Disney or Pixar.

Great Animation • PG-13 • 101 mins.

 

A Quiet Place

         A family of four lives in terror and silence, as even the slightest snap of a twig will bring invading monsters barreling down upon a target.

         But it’s hard to keep children quiet, and the monsters are getting closer to the family’s home.

         A tense tale, A Quiet Place is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. The cast is fantastic, the story seems solid and the concept is novel. As this film depends on near silence, don’t unwrap a candy covered in cellophane.

Prospects Bright • PG-13 • 90 mins.

Great popcorn cinema

      Humanity eventually defeated the interdimensional monsters known as kaiju with the help of giant robots called jaegers. Though the apocalypse was averted, the world was devastated. In the chaos of massive rebuilding, criminals raid scrap yards to get rich on the black market.
     One of the best scrap yard raiders is Jake Pentecost (John Boyega: Star Wars: The Last Jedi). Jake’s father Stacker Pentecost was a legendary jaeger pilot who gave his life in the kaiju. Expelled from jaeger school, Jake was an under-achiever until he took to the fringes.
       Eventually arrested, he’s offered an option: jail or jaeger training, in preparation for the return of a new and better version of the kaiju. 
      Jake arrives as a new threat rises from the ocean. 
      Dumb and fun, Pacific Rim Uprising is great popcorn cinema. It’s loud, lightly plotted and full of robots and monsters. 
       In director and co-writer Stephen S. DeKnight’s cacophonous blend of action and humor, not all the jokes land, but the action sequences are crisp and coherent. 
       Boyega’s magnetic screen presence helps him sell even the corniest of lines, and he is roguishly charming. 
        As the harried Dr. Newton Geiszler, Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) brings manic energy and comedy to the film that distract from gaping plot holes. 
       As movies like this always need a blandly handsome dude, Scott Eastwood (The Fate of the Furious) steps up. 
      I can’t in good conscience tell you that Pacific Rim Uprising is a good movie. I can, however, tell you that it’s the type of mindless fun that can be immensely satisfying. Think of it as high-quality junk food: fantastic as long as you don’t overindulge.
Enjoyably Mindless • PG-13 • 111 mins.
 
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
 
God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness
      When a fire destroys St. James Church, its congregation is about to be pushed off the college campus where it made its home. 
      So the parishioners must prove to the college and the world that places of worship are valuable to the community. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG • 120 mins. 
 
Tyler Perry’s Acrimony 
       Melinda (Taraji P. Henson) works hard to to be a good wife. She looks her best and remains devoted even when husband Robert (Lyriq Bent) does little to keep up his end of the marriage.
      But when she discovers his infidelity, she snaps. Now, she’ll show him just how terrifying a woman scorned can be.
      Henson is a charismatic leading lady, so this should give her a wonderful showcase — despite Perry’s tendency to overwrought dramatics.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 120 mins. 
 
Ready Player One
       Eccentric billionaire Halliday (Mark Rylance) has no heirs to his vast fortune and virtual reality company OASIS. So, Halliday conceives of a contest. He’s hidden Easter Eggs in the OASIS, and the user who finds them all will inherit the lot of his fortune and holdings. 
       Trailer-park kid Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) finds the first and races to find the rest against nefarious competition.
       A combination of Willy Wonka and a 1980s’ pop culture trivia night on nostalgia porn, Ready Player One looks to be a hit. Director Stephen Spielberg tends to lazy choices and over-obvious symbolism, but he’s filled it with big-budget cameos and references to make nerds and geeks cheer. 
If you loved Goonies or Back to the Future, you’re in for a treat.
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 140 mins.

A boy finds the courage to be himself in this moving romcom 

      Simon Spear (Nick Robinson: Krystal) fears people will learn he’s gay. On the surface, he has little to worry about. His parents are loving and open, his friends are accepting and his school is fairly liberal. But thousands of little things cripple him with fear. 
      His father jokes about “fruity” men on TV. The school’s only openly gay kid is ridiculed by two bullies. Simon believes it’s in his best interest to stay closeted until college and has only one more year to get through.
     But he discovers he isn’t alone when he sees a Tumblr page message about his school. A boy who uses the pseudonym Blue posts that he’s gay and terrified. Simon creates a fake Gmail account to reach this kindred spirit.
     Using the alias Jacques, Simon tells Blue he is not alone. Soon, the boys begin an epistolary romance, encouraging each other to their first tentative steps out of the closet. Writing Blue becomes the best part of Simon’s day.
     Things hit a snag when a classmate discovers Simon’s emails. Simon is threatened with exposure if he doesn’t help his unscrupulous classmate get a girl. Under even more pressure, Simon begins lying to keep his secret.
Heartfelt, charming and utterly enjoyable Love, Simon is a great romantic comedy. Director Greg Berlanti (Political Animals) crafts a John Hughes movie for the Instagram generation from the popular young adult novel.
     As the center, Robinson’s Simon is a wonder. Filled with self-conscious ticks and nervous energy, he is relatable and sweet, even when he’s making terrible choices. Robinson makes a sympathetic figure, swept up in the clandestine romance that gives him the courage to be himself.
      As Simon’s newest pal, Abby, (Alexandra Shipp: X-Men: Apocalypse) is a standout. The perfect breezy young teen, she is Simon’s only confidant beyond Blue. Sweet, but no pushover, she demands respect for herself and her friends. 
Engaging as it is, Love, Simon is not perfect. Simon’s troubles wrap up a little too easily, and his relationships with pals are shortchanged in the interest of time. But Robinson’s winning performance holds the movie together even when the plot gets a bit thin.
     Often, movies about gay teenagers are fraught with despair. Love, Simon isn’t. It’s a great movie to start a conversation with teens and may be a jumping-off point for families to talk about uncomfortable issues.
     Berlanti does an excellent job of balancing teen pathos, dramatics and humor to create a moving movie.
Good RomCom • PG-13 • 110 mins.
 
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
 
Midnight Sun
      Katie Price (Bella Thorne) is a beautiful senior in high school that loves music. She should be the most popular girl in school, but there’s a problem: Katie has a severe sensitivity to the sun. Instead of going to school, Katie must stay locked in her home during the day, behind special windows to keep her safe.
      At night, Katie can finally venture into the world. She spends the evenings wandering her small town, playing her guitar and dreaming of being like normal girls. 
       Things change for Katie when she finally meets her next-door neighbor Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger), who she’s had a crush on for years. Charlie falls hard for the mysterious girl with a guitar, wondering why he’s never seen her at school or in town during the day. 
     Can Katie come clean about her condition? Or will it push Charlie away?
      The latest in the weepy teen romance genre, Midnight Sun is a bit of a lackluster effort. It features pretty people, problems that are solvable and lots of weepy histrionics. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 91 mins. 
 
Pacific Rim Uprising
      After the death of his father, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) had turned to a life of crime. But when the Kaiju monsters his father helped banish return from the ocean depths, Jake must once again return to the military and take up the family legacy of saving the world. 
      Kaiju are so massive that only giant robots piloted by human teams can fight them. They battle in the streets for the survival of the planet. This new breed of Kaiju, however, seems impervious to the robot’s weapons. Can Jake and his team figure out a way to save humanity? 
     This is not a complicated movie. This movie is monsters battling robots in vast cityscapes. If you love old-school Godzilla movies, this should be a satisfying popcorn flick.
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 111 mins. 
 
Paul, Apostle of Christ
       After being captured by the emperor Nero, Jesus’ apostle Paul (John Faulkner) waits for death. He is visited by Luke (Jim Caviezel), who hopes to tell Paul’s story and inspire the Christians being persecuted in Rome. While Luke spoils for an uprising, Paul is more concerned with saving the souls of those who would fight.
      The two men battle over what will help them spread the true word of the lord: Love or battle. 
      A lavish-looking take on the final days of Paul, this film suffers from a rather shoddy script. Messages are blared, dialog is forced and the beauty of the original Bible story is often lost in rather preachy overtones. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 108 mins. 
 
Sherlock Gnomes
      Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) move their extended family of garden accoutrements to London, where disaster strikes. When a garden gnome thief kidnaps their beloved family, the duo must turn to the greatest ceramic mind of their times — Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp).
      The sleuth leads Gnomeo and Juliet on a wild adventure through the streets of London, trying to retrieve all the stolen gnomes. 
      Kids might enjoy the weak puns, silly plot and occasional glimpse of gnome bum, but for anyone with a driver’s license, this is going to be a slog. If you must see this movie, stock up on snacks, and perhaps bring a flask. 
Prospects: Grim • PG • 86 mins. 
 
Unsane
     Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) seeks help dealing with the trauma of having a man stalk her. Though she thinks she’s getting therapy, she’s actually involuntarily committed into a mental institution. While she screams and demands to be released, she begins to see her stalker. 
      Has her commitment been an elaborate ruse by a man hoping to control her? Or is she actually slipping into delusion? 
      The latest twist-filled drama from Steven Soderbergh, Unsane is a movie about society ignoring women, even when they are screaming for help. This should be a gritty, terrifying look at how scary it can be to feel powerless and unheard in society.
Prospects: Bright • R • 97 mins. 

Local students are stepping up, speaking out and marching for a safe education

       Right here in Annapolis, students are assembling behind their colleagues in Parkland to speak up for their right to a safe education. 
      Mackenzie Boughey, a sophomore at the Severn School in Severna Park, watched with rising unease as the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, overwhelmed television and social media. First she felt horror. Then inspiration. 
       Seeing people her own age and younger standing up for the friends they lost, Boughey decided enough was enough. If a lone gunman could end and change so many lives in a small, safe town like Parkland, was any place safe?
      That was a question worth talking about. Every place. 
      The determined 17-year-old athlete, bagpipe player and leader stepped up to help organize the March for Our Lives rally in Annapolis March 24 to encourage gun control and a safe future for students. Boughey sought to create a space where students, teachers and parents could safely express their outrage, ask for change — and be taken seriously.
      Severn School students Maya Rogalski, Alexandra Szynal, Maddi Meyers and Lauren Carlson joined the first planning committee meeting on February 24, two weeks after the shooting.
 
Preparation or Prevention 
      All schools prepare for fires. Some schools practice for tornadoes or hurricanes. In the 1950s, students hid under their desks during bomb threat drills. In the early 2000s, sniper attacks had Chesapeake regional schools on high alert as students took shelter indoors.
      In 2018, students are practicing active shooter drills to be ready for a rogue gunman on campus. There is a history of preparing kids for danger in school. In this case, the danger could be preventable.
      Boughey’s Severn School is working hard on emergency preparedness and had an active shooter drill scheduled before the massacre in Parkland. She appreciates her school’s dedication to safety.
     “It’s nice to know the school was thinking about preparing us before, but it shouldn’t be necessary,” Boughey says. “Our main goal is to fix it now before anything else happens.” 
 
Something Else Happens
     To that goal Boughey and fellow organizers are in support of changes that are radical in term of political achievability: improving background checks, raising the purchasing age to 21, limiting semi-automatic weapons and banning assault rifles altogether.
      Representatives for the National Rifle Association have been outspoken about adding firearms to the equation instead of restricting them. From the County Council to the White House, many elected officials agree with that stand.
      On March 1, President Trump met with NRA Lobbyist Chris Cox. After their meeting, Cox tweeted: “POTUS supports the Second Amendment, supports strong due process and doesn’t want gun control.”
      Arming teachers makes guns the solution, not the problem, Boughey says. 
      “Teaching is a hard enough job without adding guns,” Boughey says, reflecting on her father’s work as a public school teacher. He is not interested in carrying a weapon in school, nor does he have the time for the training required.
       Opinions like these — all sorts of opinions — are what Boughey hopes will be shared at the Annapolis March from Lawyers Mall to Susan Campbell Park.     “This is about the students. We will be heard,” she says. 
       “The aim of the march,” she says, “is not about politics.” The conversation has turned political and angry on too many occasions. Organizers want to make sure the march does not go that way. Positive thinking and forward movement is their intention.
      Opinions like Boughey’s are not safely expressed in some places. Movements like this march open themselves to criticism and intimidation.
        On March 24, Boughey hopes Lawyers Mall will be a safe space for area students to think and wish and pray out loud. 
 
Turning the Tide
       The kids have their supporters. 
       Students left school by the thousands on Wednesday March 14, one month after the massacre in Parkland. Demonstrations lasted 17 minutes to honor each victim killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. As school administrators considered how to react, many principals, parents and teachers were supportive. 
       Parents are uniting behind their children to say enough is enough. On March 13, 7,000 shoes were laid on the lawn of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., to honor victims lost to gun violence. Calling on Congress to take action, protesting parents held signs that read #NotOneMore.
       “I’m so glad to see students standing up for what they believe. People are quick to dismiss them because they’re students and they’re young. But I think they’re underestimating them,” says Mackenzie’s mother. Heather Boughey. “I’m so impressed with the students from Parkland. They’re well spoken, well researched and are fighting for a change that is desperately needed.”
        There’s a long path ahead for any gun-control legislation to pass federally. But the steps already taken by the state of Florida show that on a smaller scale, changes can be made. The new Florida gun bill raises the minimum age for purchase to 21, bans bump stocks and creates a longer waiting period during the background check process.
      It doesn’t, however, ban assault rifles, and it allows the arming of school personnel.
       Legislation has a long way to go. But as far as it goes, change has come largely because of student activists like Boughey.
       In Maryland, Congressman Anthony Brown welcomed the planning committee, as well as representatives from Moms Demanding Action, for an open discussion about school safety and gun control. 
       On February 27, Brown and Pennsylvania colleague Brian Fitzpatrick introduced a bipartisan bill to tighten gun safety by raising the purchasing age for assault rifles.
      “This common-sense bipartisan bill is a critical first step that closes a dangerous loophole in our gun laws,” Brown said. 
      Both congressmen say they will do what they can to gather support for the bill from their colleagues. Their goal is to prevent Parkland from ever happening again.
 
The March
       On March 24, students will have their safe space. From 11am to 1pm, the March For Our Lives gathers in downtown Annapolis, beginning at Lawyers Mall.
        For the first hour, ideas will be in the air as speakers share their thoughts on gun control. 
      Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley will be there, saying a few words in support of the march.
      There’ll representatives from Moms Demanding Action, a powerful grassroots organization founded in response to the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. Speakers from Moms Demanding Action will explain common-sense solutions, including legislative solutions, to gun violence. 
     The father of a Virginia Tech survivor has been invited. Students, teachers and school administrators will be there, and, organizers hope, elected officials who have the power of action.
      After the speeches, the marchers make their way down to Susan Campbell Park at City Dock to sign a banner petition for gun-blocking legislation. There’ll be voter registration for students who’ll be 18 by Maryland’s primary election in June and the general election in November. 
      In the midst of the nationwide debate, Boughey and her peers stand resolute: “Whether we fix this or not,” she says, “we’ll still be here fighting.”

Pysanky, the jewel-like Ukrainian eggs, keep the world in balance

     As an American of Ukrainian heritage, Coreen Weilminster cherishes the Easter traditions with which she was raised. Especially when it comes to the ancient art of pysanky, eggs decorated using a wax-resist method similar to batik. In design, in legend and in Christian tradition, these eggs have kept alive a gentle folk art reflecting the Ukrainian nation.
     “I grew up in the anthracite region of northeastern Pennsylvania, in a one-horse town called Nesquehoning,” explains Weilminster, 47, of her legacy. “Immigrants flocked to the area just before World War I to work the mines, among them my grandmother’s family.” With them came pysanky.
       The term pysanka (in its plural form, pysanky) is derived from the Ukrainian words pysaty, meaning to write, and kraska, meaning color. The process is delicate, the product dazzling. A special tool called a kitska — basically, a funnel attached to a stick — is first heated over a candle flame and then filled with beeswax, which quickly melts. Using the molten wax as ink, one writes (as Ukrainians say) a design on a raw egg, then dips the egg in dye. The dying can be repeated in darker colors, each round of wax sealing a different color on the shell. In the final stage, the wax is removed to reveal the finished pysanka.
      Weilminster’s grandmother came from a family of 13 children. During the Lenten weeks prior to Easter, three of her sisters (Weilminster’s great-aunts) spent evenings in the kitchen crafting jewel-like pysanky. It was a magical time. From watching these women, Weilminster learned the process. At the age of 16, she was ready. She picked up a kitska and created her first egg. 
      A pysanky artist was born.
 
The Power of the Egg
       Since pagan times, the tradition of decorating eggs with beeswax and dyes was widespread in Europe, especially among Slavic peoples. Archaeologists have unearthed ceramic decorated eggs in Ukraine dating back to 1,300bce. Many pysanky made today feature motifs adapted from the pottery designs of an ancient tribe of people, the Trypillians, who lived in Eastern Europe from roughly 5,200 to 3,500bce. References to pysanky abound in their art, poetry, music and folklore.
      Trypillians led peaceful lives as farmers and artisans. Like most early humans, they worshipped the sun as the source of all life. In the land that is now Ukraine, eggs decorated with symbols from nature became central to spring rituals and sun-worship ceremonies. The logic was simple. The yolk of an egg symbolized the sun and its white the moon. In winter, the landscape appears lifeless, as does an egg. As an egg hatches a living thing, so the sun awakens dormant fields in spring. Thus the egg was considered a benevolent talisman with magical powers, able to protect and bring good fortune. 
      Legend says the first pysanky came from the sky. A bitter winter had swept across the land before migrating birds were able to fly southward. They began to fall to the ground and were in danger of freezing. The peasants gathered the birds, brought them into their homes and nurtured them throughout the winter. Come spring, the peasants set the birds free. The birds returned bearing pysanky as gifts for the humans who saved their lives.
     In early Ukraine, a veil of superstition enshrouded pysanky. They protected from fire, lightning, illness and the evil eye. To ensure a good crop, a farmer coated an egg in green oats and buried it in his field. For a good harvest of honey, he placed eggs beneath his beehives. For a plentiful fruit harvest, he hung blown eggs in his orchards and in trees surrounding his home. When building a new home, he marked its corners with eggs, then buried them in the ground as a form of protection. 
     “An early legend said the fate of the world hinged upon pysanky,” Weilminster says. “Evil, in the guise of a monster was kept chained to a cliff. Each year in the spring, the foul creature sent his minions to encircle the globe and tally up the number of pysanky made. If the count was low, the creature’s bonds would be loosened, unleashing all manner of evils.”
 
Writing in Symbols
       At the root of all pysanky is symbolism. Every color, every symbol has meaning, many echoing pagan respect for nature and life. Late in the 10th century ce, however, their interpretation changed as Christianity gained acceptance in Ukraine. Ancient pagan motifs and Christian elements blended. Pysanky lost their connection to sun worship. Once tied to the sun god Dazhboh, motifs featuring the sun, star, cross and horse came to represent the Christian God. Grapes, a harvest motif, came to represent the growing Church and the wine of communion. The fish, formerly a mystical action figure, came to symbolize Christ. Triangles that signified the trinities of air, fire and water or the heavens, earth and air now honor the Holy Trinity. 
        Still, lurking behind the Christian symbolism are traces of magical thinking. Take, as an example, the 19th and 20th century burial customs observed in Christian families when a child died during the Easter season. For food to eat and a toy to play with, the child was buried with pysanky. Even today, lines written on pysanky should remain unbroken so as to not break the thread of life. 
 
Keeping the Tradition Alive
       As the most important religious holiday in Ukraine is Easter, pysanky has become linked with its observance. With the arrival of the Lenten season, the women in traditional Russian Orthodox families often get down to waxing. 
      As a wife, mother, professional and pysanky artist, Coreen Weilminster has come a distance from her Pennsylvania roots. Living in Arnold, she enjoys the Chesapeake life with husband Eric and their two teenage daughters, Brooke and Braelyn. On weekdays, she works in Annapolis, coordinating educational programs for the Chesapeake Bay National Research Reserve in Maryland. Somehow, though, on evenings and weekends, she finds time for pysanky. Now with 31 years of pysanky experience, she happily shares her love of the craft with others, teaching workshops in her home and at the Jug Bay Center Wetlands Sanctuary in Lothian.
       At this year’s Jug Bay workshop in late February, Weilminster spoke with nostalgia about her family’s mystical late-night egg decorating sessions.
     “In the weeks before Easter, my great-aunts Helen, Irene and Elizabeth began making pysanky by the dozen,” she said. 
     Attention was paid to color, rhythm, symbolism, harmony and the unwritten rules of technique. 
     By Ukrainian tradition, making pysanky is a holy ritual for the women of the family. No one else is supposed to peek. After the children are put to bed in the evening, the fun begins. 
     “In pagan days, the pysanka was considered a vessel. It held life,” said Weilminster. “Even today, the purpose of making pysanky is to transfer goodness from one’s household into the designs. You’re to put an intention into your eggs and then give them away as gifts. We gave them to celebrate births, weddings, funerals and religious holidays. Especially on Easter Sunday.” 
      As members of a Russian Orthodox congregation, Weilminster’s family observed all the old Easter traditions. 
      “On Easter morning, we brought the food for our Easter feast to the church for the Blessing of the Baskets,” Weilminster recalls. “We’d line a basket with hand-stitched towels. In went pysanky, ham, horseradish, butter molded into the shape of a lamb and a loaf of Paska bread, a yeast bread enriched with eggs and melted butter. Pussy willows might be tossed in for effect.” 
      Back stood the parishioners as the priest and altar boys made a joyous procession. The priest sprinkled holy water and blessed the baskets.
     “It was impressive. But all I wanted was the ham in that basket,” sighs Weilminster.
 
The Moment of Truth
     When the class got down to business, Weilminster instructed on waxing and using the aniline dyes she had mixed — all while reminding her students to be forgiving of themselves. 
      “Keep in mind that this takes time and practice. Your egg will look like it’s your first egg,” she said. “It is. Still, when the wax is removed, I promise you, you’ll love it.”
     At first, students worked in silent focus. Gradually, confidence grew. At the end of the waxing and dyeing process, Weilminster helped each student blow the egg out of its shell. Then came wax removal.
     “Traditionally, wax was removed by holding the egg over a candle flame,” Weilminster said. “Me, I believe in modern hacks. I use the microwave.”
     Loud squeals emanated from the kitchen as one anxious student after another wiped the softened wax off their pysanky. All he or she wanted to do was make one more, and another after that. 
     That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Two privileged teens get bloody bored in this twisted tale

     Amanda (Olivia Cooke: Vanity Fair) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy: Split) are used to the finer things. The children of wealthy parents, both girls run in the best circles, go to pricey schools and leave their messes for the maids in their mansions. 
       As the best friends grow up and apart, they become more specialized in their peculiarities. Amanda lacks feelings. She’s learned to fake them to fit in and make people comfortable, but she’s emotionally blank. When her show horse is injured, she chooses to put the horse down herself, using a knife. Now labeled a psycho, Amanda’s pretty sure she’s still a decent person, if a little off-putting.
       Lily has more successfully hidden her oddities from her social circles. On the outside, she is the perfect image of upper-class prep: Smart, impeccably styled, thin and well-mannered. She’s also wound so tightly that an unexpected touch will send her into a panic-induced flinch. She hates her stepfather, who finds her shallow and spoiled, and is convinced he’s ruining her life.
      Lily hesitates at resuming her friendship with Amanda, as she doesn’t want to be associated with the town nut job. But soon the two find a twisted kinship. Lily can tell Amanda anything, because Amanda won’t react emotionally. In turn, Lily finds ­Amanda oddly endearing.
      When Lily complains about her awful stepdad, Amanda suggests she kill him. At first dismissing the crazy notion from Amanda’s troubled brain, Lily begins to see its appeal. The two teens are soon plotting their perfect murder.
      Can they get away with it? Or should they stick to annoying the maids and borrowing their moms’ fancy cars?
      Much like the girls at the center of its story, Thoroughbreds is heavy on style but a bit light on substance. Think of it as Heathers for the Instagram generation.
      First-time writer-director Cory Finley has crafted a thriller with Hitchcockian tension. Each frame is crafted to ratchet up suspense. Score and sound design to make viewers feel tense and off balance. 
     On the other hand, the message is muddled. Finley wants to comment about how privileged environments make monsters of their inhabitants, but he never sinks his teeth into the satire.
     Cooke and Taylor-Joy are pitch perfect in contributing to this glossy confection. Cooke is up to the challenge of finding charm in Amanda’s emotionless void. She gives us a girl frank to a fault and hilariously unflappable.
     Taylor-Joy has the slightly showier role of the fragile Lily, who is so concerned with appearances that she can barely breathe without hyperventilating.
     Thoroughbreds is slick, darkly funny and immensely entertaining. 
Good Thriller • R • 92 mins.
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
 
Love, Simon
      Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) has a typical teen’s problems topped by coming out to friends and family. His respite from turmoil is his connection to Blue, an anonymous boy from his high school who is also gay and afraid to come out. 
      As the pair grow close over email, Simon falls for his epistolary partner. Can he discover Blue’s identity? Will the reveal be disappointing? 
      Robinson, a likeable lead with ­plenty of charisma, helps make Love, Simon a heartfelt coming-of-age story plenty of teens can relate to.
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 109 mins. 
 
Tomb Raider
        After the mysterious disappearance of her adventurer-father, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) drifts. Rich but without direction, she takes menial jobs while barely attending college. 
     When she’s offered a clue to her father’s fate, she sets on a trans-global mission to find the truth. Along the way, she battles ancient boobytraps, evil treasure hunters and a global conspiracy. 
    The second adaptation of the wildly popular Tomb Raider video game series, this film sticks more closely to the game’s origin story. This means plenty of angst, lots of made-up ancient cultural trivia and plenty of shots of Vikander in tight clothes. A good actress, Vikander should be able to carry the film. But don’t expect much from the story. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 122 mins.

A Bay Weekly conversation with writer, birder and ­educator Katie Fallon

       Ewww, vultures! How can you stand them?
      Katie Fallon, who finds lots to love about those bare-headed carrion-eaters that so many find fearsome and disgusting, has heard it all before. Fallon is a vulture advocate and in the business of changing minds. So she hopes her March 21 audience at Quiet Waters Park will leave with a new appreciation for the birds and the role these fabulous flyers play in our ecosystem.
       Writer, birder, educator and parent, Fallon gives the first John W. ‘Bud’ Taylor Wildlife Lecture, hosted by the Anne Arundel Bird Club to honor the beloved naturalist and artist, who died last year.
       Fallon’s love of vultures goes deep. She cofounded the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, which annually treats more than 300 injured birds, including turkey vultures and black vultures. Now she’s written the definitive book — Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird — on vulture life, love and parenthood, with the latest science on these common but misunderstood creatures. 
       Here’s a preview of what to expect at her lecture.
 
Bay Weekly Your first book, Cerulean Blues, was about a tiny, beautiful, elusive and threatened bird, the cerulean warbler. Your new book is about a large, ubiquitous bird that few could find handsome. Your new book’s title calls them “unloved.” Why? 
Katie Fallon I, of course, love them, and a lot of people do. But if someone calls you a vulture, it’s not a compliment. Vultures in cartoons are always the bad guys, and if someone is greedy or underhanded, they’re often called a vulture. People find their eating habits disgusting, but that doesn’t make sense to me; it’s not as if humans eat live prey. I wanted to write something that showed their “disgusting” habits in a un-disgusting way. 
         Vultures do a really important job of cleaning up all of our dead stuff, and they’re super efficient. They can very quickly remove dangerous pathogens from our ecosystem. Between the acid in their stomachs — which has a pH approaching battery acid — and the powerful bacteria in their guts, their digestive systems destroy anthrax, botulism toxins and cholera. They completely neutralize anything dangerous in an animal carcass.
 
Bay Weekly Two species of vultures are common in the U.S. Why did your book focus on turkey vultures? 
Katie Fallon I like black vultures, but when I started writing about vultures around 15 years ago, I didn’t see many black vultures in West Virginia. Turkey vultures were all over the place and came into rehab much more often, so I was more familiar with them. Black vultures have been moving north and are now more common. A non-releasable black vulture named Maverick lives at the rehab center, and he’s very outgoing. My kids, 3 and 5, are able to feed him by hand. He never bites. He has a neat personality that’s totally different from the turkey vultures. Turkey vultures are, in general, more timid. 
 
Bay Weekly Why do black and turkey vultures hang out together? 
Katie Fallon They’re both social, and they both like to be where there’s a reliable source of carrion: near roads. They both seek good winds so they don’t have to spend valuable energy flapping. Black vultures will often follow turkey vultures to food because they don’t have the excellent sense of smell that turkey vultures use to find carrion. 
 
Bay Weekly Why have black vulture numbers increased? 
Katie Fallon I think climate change is definitely a reason. Both turkey and black vultures probably originated in the tropics. As the world gets warmer, it keeps road-killed animals from freezing. We have more cars and roads than we used to, so more animals are killed. Black vultures tend to roost in urban areas, where the pavement creates heat islands. Ranchers used to blame vultures for spreading diseases among cattle, and the birds were killed in huge numbers. Now we know that the opposite is true. And now vultures are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. 
 
Bay Weekly What are other misconceptions about vultures?
Katie Fallon Turkey vultures are often accused of killing pets and livestock. While black vultures occasionally kill weak and dying animals by pecking, turkey vultures do not. Both vultures have big, flat chicken feet incapable of grasping. People will say, I saw a turkey vulture carrying off my neighbor’s cat. That’s biologically impossible. But they get blamed for that kind of stuff a lot. 
 
Bay Weekly When people want to repel vultures — could you talk about that?
Katie Fallon Some people want to get rid of their vultures. I can’t understand why (laughs). Vultures like to roost on communication and water towers, and the droppings are pretty acidic and can damage equipment. To get them to move somewhere else, sometimes hanging balloons will work. A town in Virginia hung an inflatable killer whale on their water tower, which apparently deterred their vultures. Vultures don’t like sprinklers. Flare guns and fireworks sometimes work to make them relocate. But often if you scare away one group, another may come in to that same good spot. In the fall and winter, vultures roost together, but it’s not a permanent settlement. In the spring and summer they’re busy raising young. 
 
Bay Weekly You write that our turkey and black vultures are doing well, but vultures in other parts of the world are in trouble. 
Katie Fallon Yes. Asia and Africa have many vulture species adapted to eating the large animals there. In Africa, herdsmen will poison the carcasses of cattle, with the intention to kill predators that might threaten the living livestock. Vultures will die as unintended targets. Also, people who poach elephants or rhinos will often poison the carcass after they leave it, so that when vultures land and eat they die instead of congregating in the sky and alerting authorities to the poached animal. There are cases of 70 vultures dying on one poisoned carcass. 
 
Bay Weekly How can we help ­vultures?
Katie Fallon Don’t buy ivory. Notice vultures, learn about them and appreciate them. Don’t hate them! Vultures are a good introduction to birdwatching. They’re big, easy to identify and they group up in impressive numbers. Go to a vulture festival and spend money there. There are several vulture festivals across the country.
 
 
Wednesday, March 21, 7-9pm, Quiet Waters Park Blue Heron Center, Annapolis, refreshments served: 410-222-1777: $5 suggested donation w/books available for purchase and signing.

A team of women investigates an anomaly in this fascinating sci-fi drama

       A team of women investigates an anomaly in this fascinating sci-fi drama
After going missing for a year, her soldier-husband returns to biologist Lena (Natalie Portman: Song to Song). But he is acting so strangely that she worries he has been traumatized. Soon he’s coughing up blood, and a SWAT team whisks the couple to a black site. 
       Imprisoned and seeking to help her dying husband, Lena learns where his last mission sent him — an anomaly in the swamplands. A dozen teams have been sent into The Shimmer. None has returned.
       Lena volunteers for the next mission. She joins cagey team leader Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh: Twin Peaks), physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson: Thor: Ragnarok), EMT Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez: Ferdinand) and Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny: Borg McEnroe). 
       At first, all seems idyllic, and they marvel at the odd flora and fauna. Soon, though, the women begin losing time. The flora and fauna are mutations in progress. They race to discover the secrets of The Shimmer before the anomaly changes them, too. 
      Smart, engaging and breathtakingly beautiful, Annihilation is the type of sci-fi movie that rewards viewers who pay attention. Writer/director Alex Garland (Ex-Machina) crafts a visually engrossing film. It is both striking and unsettling. Creatures and plants are familiar, yet altered, like objects seen through warped glass. Garland also plays with visuals, framing shots through water and experimenting with perceptions.
       The investigative team works well together. Each has a reason for taking a mission no one has returned from, and each has to question whether she should trust the others. Portman masterfully balances wonder with guilt as she seeks answers. Leigh excels as an odd psychologist with ulterior motives. 
       Annihilation is complex, intriguing and atmospheric. Its meticulously detailed frames offer lots of clues as to the bigger mystery. Go with a group so you can discuss the clues and the ending. 
Great Sci-Fi • R • 115 mins. 
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
 
Gringo
      Mild-mannered Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) is sent to Mexico to secure the formula for a medical marijuana pill. Though the job is supposed to be easy, he is kidnapped and chased by a mercenary and cartel lords while his indifferent colleagues haggle over the worth of his life.
       A zany comedy with an all-star cast, Gringo has potential. Oyelowo is joined by Charlize Theron, Sharlto Copley and Joel Edgerton. With a deft hand behind the camera, it can dance between farce and satire. If you’re a fan of comedies where increasingly ridiculous events compile, this should be a film for you. 
Prospects: Flickering • R • 110 mins. 
 
The Hurricane Heist
       A group of criminals plans the perfect heist. They’re going to rob a U.S. mint as a Category 5 hurricane bears down. But they’ll have to get past a plucky Treasury agent (Maggie Grace), a meteorologist (Toby Kebbell) and his gun-nut brother (Ryan Kwanten). 
Prospects: Bleak • PG-13 • 103 mins. 
 
The Strangers: Prey at Night
      A road-tripping family stays overnight in a deserted mobile home park. It’s not the ideal situation, and it gets worse when three masked strangers turn up. The trio of menacing toughs tortures the family with the promise of painful death. 
         The sequel to the sleeper hit The Strangers, this movie may lack the breathless tension of the first. Since the stakes, and the ending, are fairly clear, there isn’t much to worry about. 
Prospects: Flickering • R • 85 mins. 
 
A Wrinkle in Time
       Since her father’s disappearance, Meg Murry (Storm Reid) has struggled in school. She feels she doesn’t belong in her brilliant family of two physicist parents and a parcel of prodigy siblings. 
       Though Meg doesn’t know her worth, the universe does. Three celestial guides tell her she is the only hope to save the universe — and find her father. She learns how to wrinkle time to travel vast distances.
      Based on the beloved book, A Wrinkle in Time is a hotly anticipated family film. Brilliant director Ava DuVernay and a diverse female-driven cast give this film potential for greatness. 
Prospects: Bright • PG • 109 mins.