Finding the Human Drama Within the History

Detroit dramatizes 1960s riots, while Dunkirk fails to connect

Detroit

4 Stars

Director Kathryn Bigelow’s most recent films, Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, were both set during recent American-led military incursions (Afghanistan and Iraq). Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal effectively dramatized those conflicts by putting human faces and stories behind the familiar details from daily news reports.

She has done the same again with her newest film, Detroit, but the historical events that inspire this story can be found much closer to home: the racial conflicts that erupted into violence in many American cities in the late 1960s. Again, Bigelow masterfully humanizes a sad chapter in American history by giving us flesh-and-blood characters with whom to empathize.

Almost exactly 50 years ago, in July 1967, as tensions over racial injustice reached a boiling point in Michigan’s largest and largely racially-segregated city, a police raid on an illegal after-hours club resulted in several days of unrest known as The 12th Street Riot. Part of that riot was a controversial encounter between a group of mostly African-American young people and a rogue and demonstrably racist detail of city police and National Guardsmen at the Algiers Motel. When it was over, three black men were dead and the policemen involved were charged with murder, assault, and conspiracy. All those charged were eventually acquitted.

Bigelow brings that awful night to life in her gritty, powerful film. Like her earlier films, she captures the chaos of the rioting neighborhood. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and editor John Goldenberg heighten the agitation with jiggly hand-held camera work tightly focused on the terrified youth and their interaction with the on-edge police involved. The fear, and the stakes, are palpable.

The last act of Detroit, in which the incident is taken through a stultifying investigatory and legal process, feels flaccid and unfocused after the unrelenting tension of the film’s beginning.

The appealing cast is largely unknown but includes John Boyega (Star Wars The Force Awakens), Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Civil War), Samira Wiley (Orange Is the New Black), and Will Poulter (The Maze Runner).

On reflection, I’m not sure the film would be as emotionally effective in a second viewing. Much of its power derives from the immediacy and unfortunate familiarity of the story. Nevertheless, Bigelow has again demonstrated an uncanny gift for breathing life into a little-known American tragedy.

The film depicts the evacuation of thousands of English and Allied forces in 1940.Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
The film depicts the evacuation of thousands of English and Allied forces in 1940. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Dunkirk

2 Stars

Writer-director Christopher Nolan has made some of the most inventive and engaging films of the last dozen years, including the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, and a personal favorite, a wicked period piece called The Prestige. So it’s understandable that a critic’s curiosity would be piqued when Nolan decides his next feature would be a war picture that depicts the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation during World War II.

Sadly, Nolan’s formidable gifts as a cinematic storyteller seem ill-suited to this particular subject. Dunkirk is a crushing disappointment of a film that completely fails to find the human drama in history that Bigelow did in Detroit. The plight of the characters, an indistinguishable group of young British and French soldiers, is sympathetic to the audience but they serve merely as human props in a movie more fixated on bombs exploding and ships sinking.

Dunkirk is further marred by dialogue that is fuzzed out to the point of being unintelligible and a Hans Zimmer musical score that is tense mostly because it is so interminably grating.

The only narrative innovation is in Nolan’s decision to tell the story in three different time sequences: one on land taking a week, the second a day at sea, and the last an hour in the air. This quirky concept works better than it sounds, and the disparate times do eventually converge at the climax of the film. But I would have been more impressed if I had been more engaged in the story throughout.

The Beguiled: Befuddling

Remake of Southern Gothic thriller is star-powered yet disappointing

When Sofia Coppola, the daring writer-director behind The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, and Marie Antoinette, decided to remake the 1971 Southern Gothic thriller The Beguiled, one would reasonably assume that she had something fresh to say with the story. I am sad to report that, despite a rather star-powered cast that includes Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, this pointless remount wastes that talent, as well as that of Ms. Coppola, in a beautifully photographed yet empty movie.

Set in a rural Virginia girls’ school in the waning days of the Civil War, The Beguiled focuses on a group of lonely, isolated, and understandably frightened women scratching out an existence amid desolation and constant peril. Into this feverish environment comes John McBurney (Farrell, in a role originated by Clint Eastwood), a badly wounded Union soldier who has fled the front lines, which are just miles away. The women take him in and tend to his injuries, mindful of the potential threat he represents to their cloistered community.

Indeed, McBurney’s very presence soon has an unsettling effect on the household. For the younger girls in the school, he is simply a curiosity. But the stern headmistress, Miss Farnsworth (Kidman), sees McBurney as the enemy, while also being compelled to display her ingrained Southern hospitality. For Edwina (Durst), the spinsterish teacher, the soldier represents a possible escape from her stultifying life. And for sexually-hungry teen Alicia (Fanning), he is an object of conquest. Needless to say, there are a lot of warring emotions and motivations at play.

The problem, from a cinematic perspective, is that all of this feels disappointingly rote. The female characters have no real interior lives; they are types designed to create an atmosphere of rivalry and suspicion. Similarly, there are no convincing nor consistent motives for McBurney’s actions either. The result is a story that merely goes through the motions, which detracts from the tension we as viewers are supposed to feel.

Coppola, who also wrote the screenplay, does herself and her film no favors with the torpid direction. The tense situations within the plantation house are interspersed with languid exterior shots, dripping with Spanish moss and a wispy blanket of Southern mist. It’s beautiful the first few times, but it quickly becomes almost laughable.

The entire film has a feeling of paint-by-numbers: This is what a Civil War thriller is supposed to look like; this is how repressed women are supposed to behave; this is how a recovering soldier would act in such a situation. As such, it fails to connect the viewer to the characters or the material.
The Beguiled, ultimately, is both airless and joyless, and a crushing disappointment given the talent involved.

Calling All Film and Beer Buffs

Monthly Movies on Tap events offer brews and classic films. And best of all, 99 percent of ticket sales go to a nonprofit.

Like brewing beer, some ideas take time to come together.

Early last year Ryan Kennedy of Premier Wine & Spirits approached Penn Cinema and Out & About Magazine about partnering on a new concept. It was a special 21-and-older event series that soon became known as “Movies on Tap.”

Kennedy’s idea was to bring together a local brewery, brewers and moviegoers for a night of fundraising fun. Since then, each MOT brewery has been tasked with picking a cult or classic film, such as Ghostbusters, The Princess Bride and Pulp Fiction. Before the film starts, guests get to sample many of the featured brewery’s beers and chat with the makers of the beer. Movie costumes, props and movie trivia games are also part of the evening, and an unlimited supply of popcorn is always on hand.

More than one year later, the monthly event is still going strong. And the best part is, 99 percent of the evening’s ticket sales go to a charity or nonprofit of the brewery’s choosing.

As of last month, MOT had raised an impressive $28,270 for more than a dozen charities while attracting more than 1,700 paid attendees. Each event averages about 160. At its current rate, when the 2017 season ends, MOT will have raised a total of almost $50,000.

“When the series started, attendance was low, and we used one of our 100-seat theaters,” says Tom Potter, General Manager at Penn Cinema. “Now we use one of our larger 300-seat theaters. I think people really like the idea of bringing back classic films and drinking beer for a good cause. Ryan and his team really know how to put on an event.”

Fundraising events such as MOT play a crucial role in sustaining the life of nonprofit organizations. One of the organizations that has benefited most from MOT is the Food Bank of Delaware (FBD). So far, three Delaware-based Breweries (Mispillion River, Blue Earl and Dew Point) have chosen to donate ticket sales to the FBD. Together, they have raised more than $4,000.

Says Food Bank’s Larry Hass: “Nonprofits are always in search of creative fundraising events to engage their supporters and attract new friends while having a great time. Movies on Tap represents a partnership between multiple businesses to bring together a diverse group of people to the Riverfront in support of critical nonprofits.”

Ryan Kennedy of Premier Wine & Sprits (far left) and John Hoffman, owner of Dew Point Brewing Company (far right), award a check for $3150 to Mack Wathen and Larry Haas of the Food Bank of Delaware (both center). (Photo Ryan Kennedy, Premier Wine & Spirits)
Ryan Kennedy of Premier Wine & Sprits (far left) and John Hoffman, owner of Dew
Point Brewing Company (far right), award a check for $3150 to Mack Wathen and Larry Haas of the Food Bank of Delaware (both center). (Photo Ryan Kennedy, Premier Wine & Spirits)

Big name breweries like Dogfish Head and Iron Hill have stepped up to show their support. Dogfish Head closed out the 2016 season in December with a premier of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The evening raised $6,300 for the Nature Society of Delaware.

In April, Iron Hill Brewery used its film of choice as a way to get people to ditch work or class and catch an afternoon showing of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Coupled with an evening showing, the event raised slightly less than $2,000 for Pink Boots Society—an organization that aims to educate and advance the careers of women in the beer industry.

“The best part of the campaign is following up with the charity, meeting them, and doing the check presentation, then telling that story to our attendees on a monthly basis,” says Kennedy. “The money raised goes to everything from hunger programs, education programs for inner-city youth, counseling, cancer research and beyond. It’s amazing what $20 can do for your community if everyone chips in. We are all in this together, so why not support the community we all live, work and play in —while having a little bit of fun?”

This month, Victory Brewing Company, one of the largest and most popular craft breweries in the area, will host the event on Thursday, July 20, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. The featured film will be the ‘80s comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Ninety-nine percent of the evening’s ticket sales will benefit the Ronald McDonald House Delaware.

So the next time you’re thinking about heading to the theater to watch the Incredible Hulk smash through a wall, or cry while Ryan Gosling confesses his undying love, why not check out what film is up next for MOT? It may be an old favorite and the charity of the evening may be one that does a lot more for your community than any super hero or heartthrob ever could.

Tickets are just $20 for a flight of beer, unlimited popcorn and, of course, the movie. For more information, check out the events page at facebook.com/PremierWineSpirits.

Cinema Six-Pack & A Shot

Six films that fool around with clocks and calendars

In celebration of the observance of Groundhog Day on Feb. 2, why not explore some cinematic time-traveling or time-twisting of your own? These movies will keep you preoccupied while we wait for spring.

Groundhog Day (1993)
This priceless romantic comedy is the perfect vehicle for the off-kilter persona of its star, Bill Murray. Murray plays Phil Connors, a jaded TV weatherman who gets mysteriously stuck in an ever-repeating day while covering the annual groundhog festivities in Punxsutawney, Pa. Phil (the guy, not the rodent) goes through a hilarious evolution of attitude and behavior toward the quaint townsfolk while also pursuing a liaison with his attractive but reserved producer (Andie McDowell).

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
You could almost characterize this military sci-fi thriller as Groundhog Day with warmongering aliens. Tom Cruise plays a glib public relations guy for the allied earth forces as they face a daunting off-planet enemy. He, too, gets stuck on the same repeating day as he tries to figure out how to be an actual soldier and perhaps even defeat this overwhelming alien force. Although Cruise is surprisingly effective in this role, the star of the film is a buff and battered Emily Blunt as our side’s genuine kick-ass hero.

About Time (2013)
From writer-director Richard Curtis, the feel-good tearjerker mind that brought us Love, Actually, comes this romantic dramedy. Domhnall Gleeson stars as a young man who discovers he has a genetic ability to travel in time, and he uses that skill to adjust some areas of his past that have been disappointments, specifically the lack of a girlfriend. But, in true movie fashion, time travel can have unintended consequences. Will all the mistakes get cleared up by the end credits? What do you think?

Midnight in Paris (2013)
Gil, a restless, nostalgic American writer (Owen Wilson), is discontented with the crass realities of modern life. While on vacation in Paris, he accidentally stumbles down a back street and into the city’s storied past. There, he meets such literary luminaries as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Scott Fitzgerald, and discovers, to his surprise, that his heroes are equally discontent with their era, which he has idealized. An amusing yet poignant critique of misplaced romanticism about eras gone by.

Back to the Future II (1989)
Although it lacks some of the genuine surprise of the first installment, this sequel is certainly more inventive in its mash-ups of 1985, 2015 and 1955. When the future changes the present, Marty must go back to the past again to try to fix things while avoiding running into his former time-traveling self (trust me, it works better than it sounds). The movie integrates the dual storylines in a clever fashion, especially when you consider that it is all done without the benefit of modern CGI technology.

Interstellar (2014)
Set in a plausibly dystopian future, astronauts on a barren, decimated Earth must travel through a wormhole to seek other planets capable of sustaining human life. The time-bending aspect of this dense sci-fi film doesn’t emerge until late, but it adds a metaphysical frisson to what could otherwise have been a rather straightforward space saga. Interstellar has a lot, maybe even too much, on its mind, but in the deft hands of director-co-writer Christopher Nolan, the movie is more thought-provoking than it is pretentious.

And a shot…coming to Theatre N in February.

Sing Street (2016) Screening Feb. 24-26
Conor, a sensitive, lovelorn teenager in 1980s Dublin, decides the best way to capture the attention and, better yet, the heart of a mysterious girl is to start a band. Writer-director John Carney has demonstrated an affinity for stories of aspiring musicians; his previous features include Begin Again and Once. In this outing, he has the immeasurable help of his appealing young lead, Ferdia Walso-Peelo, supported by Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy and a smashing ‘80s soundtrack featuring The Cure, Duran Duran, A-Ha and Spandau Ballet. For a full Theatre N schedule and more information, go to theatren.com.

Sips – Jan. 2017

Here’s what’s pouring

2SP Brewing Releases Third Canned Beer

In December, 2SP Brewing Company released Bellcracker Double IPA in cans. This is the Aston, Pa., brewery’s third canned beer, following the successful Delco Lager and ASAP IPA.

According to director of sales and marketing Mike Contreras, Bellcracker is one of the company’s biggest beers.

“We love it at the brewery, but we have to be careful with it, because, well, it’s dangerously smooth and easy to drink at 8.7 percent,” says Contreras.

The feedback on the beer has been excellent, he says, and retailers—like Branmar Liquors, Kreston and Peco’s— have already put in re-stock orders.

“For those who haven’t tried it, this double IPA has Amarillo hops that give it a big tropical hop flavor. The beer is balanced by a solid malt bill, so it won’t wreck your pallet with hops, and there is no burn from the high alcohol,” says Contreras.

Visit 2spbrewing.com for more.

Delaware Art Museum Happy Hour

On Thursday, Jan. 19, join Delaware Art Museum’s Executive Director and CEO Sam Sweet for casual conversation and free drinks in the museum’s on-site Thronson Café.

Sweet, who is new to the Delaware community, will hear guests’ thoughts about the museum while also getting tips on local events, restaurants, and hidden Delaware treasures. Beer, wine and light snacks will be provided. The event is set for 5-7 p.m.

Olde School Barleywine Is Back

This month, Dogfish Head is bringing back one of the brewery’s most requested beers of 2016—the Olde School Barleywine. Currently scoring a 98 percent rating on RateBeer.com and an 88 on Beer Advocate, the brew, fermented with dates and figs, is sweet and fruity. Brewery founder Sam Calagione came up with the beer’s concept in 2002 after discovering an old cellerman’s manual.

At about 15 percent ABV, this beer is a great candidate for aging. Over time, it dries out, the pit fruit flavors come forward and the hops recede. Pairing it with blue cheese and honey is recommended.
For brew availability, check dogfish.com.

Movies On Tap Keeps On Going — and Giving

Since last April, the monthly Movies On Tap series at Penn Cinema, in partnership with Premier Wine & Spirits, has raised $12,720 for local charities, including Food Bank of Delaware, Delaware KIDS Fund, Read Aloud Delaware, Meals on Wheels, Food Bank of Delaware (twice), Preston’s Playground, Good Old Boy Foundation and Delaware Nature Society.

The event is one of the most interactive beer tasting experiences around. Each month, a different local brewery sends its brewers to talk with guests, who sample beers and catch a cult-classic flick on the big screen. Ticket sales go to charities like those mentioned above.

Next up is Bellefonte Brewing Company and The Princess Bride on Friday, Jan. 27, at 6:30 p.m. The charity of choice is TBA.

A full event schedule will be announced in February.

Says Premier director of marketing Ryan Kennedy: “The best part of this series is that it supports our local community. Bringing beer and movie fans together to support the community we live, work and play in is the main reason we do this, but knowing 99 percent of ticket sales go to a worthy cause is the icing on the cake for us. It’s been a great experience and 2017 is going to be packed with incredible breweries and movies.”

Visit premierwinespirits.com for more information.

Cinema Six-pack & A Shot – Jan. 2017

These six exceptional films will be the ones that I remember the most from 2016.

Arrival
Amy Adams is an expert linguist charged with translating the strange visual language of aliens who have set up camp in strategic spots around the world. The film is about trust and communication (and also about the nature of time), but director Denis Villeneuve is just as interested in how we earthlings interact, or don’t, with one another. The thoughtful screenplay by Eric Heisserer is given further luster by Villeneuve’s deliberate pace and Bradford Young’s muted but effective cinematography.

Deadpool
This foul-mouthed superhero comedy seems out of place with the more somber fare on this list, but Deadpool manages to re-charge the often-tiresome Marvel canon by simultaneously embracing the excesses of the genre while also mocking them. Ryan Reynolds finally discovers a vehicle for his off-kilter sensibility, and is ably assisted by Morena Baccharin, T.J. Miller, and a terrific effects team. The self-referential and hilarious credits and the obligatory Marvel “Easter egg” might be worth the rental fee by themselves.

The Handmaiden
This Korean mind-game of a movie quite consciously evokes the mysterious narrative of Kurosawa’s classic Rashomon with its labyrinthine plot. But it also defies its audience’s expectations of stately Asian cinema with a story of intrigue, trickery, romance, and a bit of steamy sex. A young girl is sent to become a servant of a sheltered, perhaps unstable noblewoman. Whenever you think you have this story figured out though, it shifts…slyly, delightfully.

Hell or High Water
Chris Pine and Ben Foster play hapless brothers who resort to crime to save their debt-ridden family ranch. Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham are the wily Texas Rangers tracking them down. As the brothers’ circumstances become known, their crimes become more understandable, and viewers find themselves torn between the sympathetic criminals and the relentless arm of the law. British director David Mackenzie intuitively captures the laconic, even fatalistic tone of this West Texas thriller.

La La Land
Writer-director Damien Chazelle, who stunned the film world in 2014 with his debut feature, Whiplash, has re-imagined the movie musical with this winsome story about two young idealistic artists (he a jazz pianist, she an actress) trying to make it in Hollywood. Utterly charming and unabashedly romantic, La La Land is a candy-colored love song to dreamers of all types, featuring winning performances by its stars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Even the most cynical viewers would find them, and this film, hard to resist.

Manchester by the Sea
The movies would have you believe that every crisis in life can be overcome, usually with a profound emotional speech accompanied by a rousing swell of strings on the soundtrack. Kenneth Lonergan’s quietly powerful Manchester by the Sea, by contrast, maintains that once some people are broken by life, they stay broken. Casey Affleck, in the performance of his career, plays Lee, a man debilitated by past tragedy who must face those demons when he is left to be the guardian of his teenage nephew after his brother’s untimely death. A heartachingly sad and indelibly human film.

Honorable mention: Moonlight, Zootopia, Love & Friendship, Moana and The Lobster.

And a shot…coming to Theatre N in December.

Denial Screening Jan. 20-22
Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall star in this film based on a true story. Scholar and professor Deborah Lipstadt (Weisz) characterizes amateur British historian David Irving as a Holocaust denier in a well-regarded essay. When he sues her for libel in 1996 under English law, she and her legal team must prove the truth of Nazi atrocities against the Jews. Interestingly, much of the film’s dialogue was taken directly from court transcripts. Fairly subdued and straightforward as a narrative, the film is still a powerful reminder of the depravities of which humans are capable, as well as of their ability to conveniently forget past ugliness. For a full Theatre N schedule and more information, go to theatren.com.

All Things Worth Trying

Welcome to our seventh annual Worth Trying Issue. Though we feature Worth Trying suggestions monthly, each January we devote much of the magazine to personal recommendations from staff, contributors and friends of Out & About. These suggestions on where and what to eat, drink, see and do are scattered throughout these pages, interspersed with our usual assortment of feature stories, news items and other fun stuff.

Enjoy, and have a very happy New Year!

MISCELLANEOUS PICKS

Annual Book Sale
Fellow bibliophiles, rejoice. Each year, the dead-of-winter dullness—at least for my admittedly-nerdy self—is brightened in anticipation of this event. Friends of the Hockessin Library hosts a sale at Hockessin Memorial Fire Hall, from which funds go to the upkeep of the Hockessin Public Library. Heaps of books of all genres fill a massive room outlined in rows on tables, in piles stacked on the floor—everywhere, books! Here’s the rule: you purchase a large paper bag (or two, or three) for $7 or $8 and fill it to the brim. Veterans know to bring a sturdier burlap satchel for added support, of course, and a few hours later, you exit with ample texts to last through the coming year. This year’s sale is Jan. 26-29.

— Krista Connor, Associate Editor

meals_on_wheelsDelivering Meals and More
Studies have shown that people who volunteer their time live longer. So live a longer, richer life: volunteer to be a Meals on Wheels driver. These hot, nutritious noontime meals are much more than sustenance. Often, the volunteer driver is the only person the shut-in senior will interact with during the entire day. This nonprofit is in desperate need of drivers. It takes only about two hours of your time, and you can volunteer for as few as two deliveries a month. Call the Meals on Wheels center nearest you: City Fare/St. Anthony Center, Wilmington, 421-3731, or Newark Senior Center, 737-2336.

— Bob Yearick, Contributing Editor

penn-cinemaPenn Cinema
For years, many pleaded for a Wilmington movie complex – former Mayor James Baker being one of the most vociferous. Today we have a state-of-the-art one on the Riverfront and though it’s been around since 2012, there are still plenty who haven’t paid a visit. You owe it to yourself. Penn Cinema has 14 screens plus IMAX, comfortable leather seats, ample leg room and now serves beer and wine. And it’s within walking distance of a half-dozen restaurants for a meal before or after the show.

— Jerry duPhily, Publisher

reply_all“Reply All”
I subscribe to a couple of dozen podcasts, but there’s only one I follow with a first-season-of-“Serial” intensity, and that’s “Reply All.” Every weekish, hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman unearth stories that could only exist in our digital age, stories that are at turns riveting (I swear you will care about the story of Wayne, the guy in the episode “Boy in Photo”), heartbreaking (a game designer works through his son’s struggle with cancer in “The Cathedral”), and mind bending (I truly believe it’s at least plausible that Pizza Rat is part of an armada of highly-trained rats unleashed on New York City to create viral content and modern myths, as investigated in “Zardulu”). Technology changes how we relate to one another in the world. “Reply All” gets right to the heart of it.

— Matt Sullivan, Contributing Writer

Be a Good Human
I know. Who am I to tell you what to do? Consider this just a gentle nudge…a friendly reminder to do something small today to support the notion that there are still good humans living among us. Hold a door. High-five a stranger. Pick up litter and toss it in a trashcan. Say hello to your neighbors. Easy things to overlook, but even easier to accomplish.

— Matt Loeb, Creative Director & Production Manager

vinyl_districtThe Vinyl District Record Store Locator App
So, let’s pretend you’ve been plopped down in Poughkeepsie and you’re wondering if there’s a record shop where you can buy Herbie Mann’s “Push Push” on vinyl. Never fear, that is if you have The Vinyl District Record Store Locator App on your phone. It’s absolutely free for iPhone and Android users, and lists some 3,200 independent record stores in 40 countries, some of them imaginary! If there’s an independent record store in Pyongyang, North Korea, the app’s GPS-based locator will tell you exactly where it is. And the app also displays a vast list of record fairs around the globe by date and location. Finally, it includes a TVD Record Store Club feature that will tip you off to new releases, as well as a host of giveaways, contests, and more. Go to thevinyldistrict.com and download the app today!

— Mike Little, Contributing Writer

westworld-posterWestworld on HBO
Two decades before Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park ran wild on the silver screen, he wrote and directed Westworld, a 1973 sci-fi film about another kind of over-the-top tourist attraction going off the rails. Instead of genetically resurrected dinosaurs running amok, Crichton first imagined malfunctioning androids gunning down thrill-seekers in a Wild West-themed vacation spot. Same game, different park. While the DNA (or binary code) of Crichton’s original Westworld repeats itself in the overall structure of this recently adapted HBO series, the show-runners have cleverly tinkered with the original formula. In this iteration, the robots are drawn as the more sympathetic characters while humans are cold and heartless. The show trudges somewhat aimlessly through its middle episodes, but the finale delivers plenty of twists and tense action. That said, Westworld ultimately is compelling because of the questions it asks along the way about identity, memory and what exactly constitutes consciousness.

— Jim Miller, Director of Publications

seinfeldiaA Book about a Show About Nothing
If you’re in the search of some “serenity now,” get your “man hands” on Seinfeldia, a compendium of stories about how one of the greatest sitcoms became a cultural phenomenon. There’s plenty of “yada, yada, yada” about the cast, characters and storylines that produced one of the most influential television shows of all-time.

Rob Kalesse, Contributing Writer

Train Your Brain
Forget all those invites you keep receiving to play mindless smartphone games like “Farmville” and “Candy Crush,” and instead download “Peak.” This mental gymnastics app will keep your brain jumping through all sorts of hoops, helping you focus and sharpen your memory. In no time, your mind will be as sharp as a tack, and you’ll forget about all those other mindless games.

— Rob Kalesse, Contributing Writer

chef_lhulierChef Lhulier Dinner Party
This year, my wife and I hosted two dinner parties at the home of Chef Robert Lhulier. We invited three other couples, carefully selecting a motley crew who didn’t know each other well but would enjoy each other’s company. Chef Robert prepared four courses of food (for $60 a head) and everyone BYO’d the wine and bubbles and brandy. The results: Fantastic, relaxed, delicious evenings filled with great tunes, loud conversation that probably would have gotten us kicked out of most restaurants, and personalized attention from one of the best chefs in Delaware. Chef Lhulier will come to your house too – but he sets a fine table (that you don’t have to clean) at his, while you Uber home. Check out how it works at lhulier.com.

— Matt Sullivan, Contributing Writer

mozart-in-the-jungleMozart in the Jungle
If you think a TV show about a symphony is stuffy, then think again. Amazon Prime’s original series Mozart in the Jungle, whose third season debuted in December, is devastatingly clever. The witty script boasts such well-drawn characters as the eccentric Maestro Rodrigo, played by Emmy winner Gael Garcia Bernal. Bernadette Peters and Malcolm McDowell are also at their hilarious best. The appearance of real life classical heavyweights, including Yo-Yo Ma, add fun and flair. Catch up on Prime.

— Pam George, Contributing Writer

bringing_nature_homeBringing Nature Home
I bought a new (old) home this past spring, and although the lot isn’t very large, it was very overgrown. We ripped everything out and planned to start fresh. While researching ideas, I came across Bringing Nature Home, by University of Delaware professor Douglas W. Tallamy. He makes the case for biodiversity in city and suburban home gardens. He explains how over-development has threatened our ecosystem, why alien plants are problematic (bugs and animals can’t eat them), and provides practical suggestions for how home gardeners can use native plants to make a serious impact. The book made me reconsider my whole landscaping plan, and has me really looking forward to spring.

— Marie Graham, Director of Digital Media & Distribution

lafate_galleryLaFate Gallery
Jamaican-born self-taught artist Eugene LaFate has a cozy, colorful gallery that houses her vibrant work in the LOMA district of downtown Wilmington. With a personality as warm and charming as her artwork, LaFate has established herself as one of Wilmington’s artist advocates. The gallery sells her originals, prints and postcards; she also offers a variety of workshops and classes. At 227 N. Market St. lafategallery.com. 656-6786.

— Mark Fields, Film Reviewer

rei-_optoutside_anthem_film_15REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.)
During an REI kayak-camping trip I took this summer in Wyoming’s Teton National Park, I got a firsthand look at how this company operates in a friendly, fun and professional manner. The co-op offers discounts and annual rebates to its members. In addition, it treats employees with tremendous respect: all REI locations are closed for Black Friday, a traditionally huge shopping day during which staffers are encouraged to get out of the store and enjoy outdoor time with their family and friends instead.

— Jim Miller, Director of Publications

Lewinsky’s on Clinton
The name of this Delaware City pub has created quick a few chuckles, but this cozy tavern is a great destination for a beer and a sandwich—perhaps after a stroll along the Castle Trail or a visit to Fort Delaware. The food is tasty, the craft beer selection is solid, and the joint is jumping on weekends with performances by local bands and acoustic acts.

— Jerry duPhily, Publisher

stuff_you_should_knowStuff You Should Know Podcast
How does a fireplace work? What’s the chemical make-up of Play-Doh? Stuff You Should Know is a podcast that answers these random questions, plus so much more. Pop it on while you’re working or doing chores around the house. Knowledge is power!

— Matt Loeb, Creative Director & Production Manager

PACE Network
Have you ever thought about getting involved in the betterment of Wilmington’s public education system? The PACE (Parent Advocacy Council for Education) Network, an initiative of Christina Cultural Arts Center, allows parents and community members to do just that; it joins adults, youth, and educators to imagine, create, and advocate for equity, access and more effective learning in schools and community places. To learn more or get involved, email ccac.pace@gmail.com.

— Sarah Green, Special Projects

dirkgentlyDirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – BBC America (On Demand)
Years after the death of author Douglas Adams, his character Dirk Gently—who solves crimes by surfing along with the interconnectedness of all things—finally made it to TV this fall. The result is a great short-run series that combines the sci-fi, comedy and over-the-top weirdness Adams fans came to love in his Dirk Gently novels—with excellent modern updates. Now that the entire series is available On Demand, let the binge watching commence!

— Scott Pruden, Contributing Writer

avoid_the_kioskAvoiding the Kiosk
There is a Panera next to my daughter’s preschool, and we find ourselves there more than I care to admit. They have “Fast Lane” kiosks there—touchscreen computers that allow customers to order for themselves. We walked in the other day and there was no line, but there were three people using the kiosks. My son asked if we could use one too and I said no. Why? Because if everyone uses the kiosks, jobs currently reserved for humans will be replaced by computers. Same goes for the grocery store self-checkout. If the place is packed, I get it. But otherwise, why not contribute to keeping someone employed?

— Marie Graham, Director of Digital Media & Distribution

PICKS OF THE FOOD VARIETY

traderjoes-this-cranberry-walks-into-a-barTrader Joe’s “This Cranberry Walks Into a Bar…” Cereal Bars
I’ve gotten so many “winning” grocery items from TJ’s, it’s hard to pick a favorite. But this seasonal-only (they usually disappear after January) oat & fruit cereal bar is one of my go-tos—tart, chewy, the perfect-sized mid-day bite. I persistently badger the staff to carry them all year long…so far, no luck.

— Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald, Contributing Writer

tbaar_incTbaar Inc.
Whether you’re looking for a delicious bubble tea, a healthy wheatgrass smoothie, or a sweet or savory crepe, Tbaar at 108 East Main St. in Newark is the place to go. Tbaar may be a chain, but you wouldn’t know it by the scrumptious handmade crepes. I’m the savory type, and I always order the “Yo! Check It Out,” a Chinese style crepe that comes with ham and tofu plus several pungent sauces that make each bite a glorious adventure for your taste buds. And it’s spicy! Order it with the Honey Jasmine Tea, or the Bubble Milk Black Tea, and I guarantee you an experience equal to anything Anthony Bourdain may be eating this week. And you don’t have to go to China to find your bliss.

— Mike Little, Contributing Writer

grub_burger-barGrub Burger Bar – Concord Mall
I didn’t want to like Grub. I don’t like chains, don’t go to malls and thought it was a terrible name for somewhere you plan to eat. There are enough places to get a decent burger, but Grub has become my go-to spot. Turns out it’s a very small (under 20 locations) chain, its burgers are creative and delicious, and though I still don’t like the name I do like the logo. It also turns out I really like milkshakes with alcohol; a bourbon & caramel milkshake takes the edge off being at the mall. And the Scorpion burger with Trinidad Moruga scorpion sauce is intense. Decent food, great concept and surprisingly fast service is a welcome change.

— Joe del Tufo, Contributing Photographer

Cooking with Anchovy Paste
It’s a secret ingredient that will have your tongue saying, “Ooh mommy, umami!” Just don’t tell your uncle about it. He hates trying new things.

— David Hallberg, Special Projects

thug_kitchenThug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook
This vegan cookbook was probably the best thing my wife and I bought as newlyweds. As we approach our 30s, we realized that we often made the same meals, week after week, since both of us are not very advanced in the kitchen. We’re not vegans but we were looking for a way to expand our culinary horizon, as well as trying to eat a bit healthier and eat less meat. I came across the blog for this book, and was impressed by how easy it was to follow recipes. It explained a few uncommon ingredients and cooking techniques in a straightforward way. I should also mention that the tagline for the cookbook is “Eat Like You Give A F**k” and it uses lots of expletives, so I would not recommend it for children. But for us, it always makes us laugh when we’re reading a recipe out loud, and it made cooking a much more enjoyable activity.

— Tyler Mitchell, Graphic Designer

MKTSTLOGOfinalBLACKMarket Street Bread and Bagel
This small tidy shop has endured some start-up issues in its first year (It opened January, 2016), but it has settled into a welcome addition to Market Street. I won’t evaluate the coffee since I don’t drink the stuff, but I can heartily attest to the quality of the breakfast and lunch offerings. I especially like the sticky buns with their nice blend of stickiness and flakiness. For lunch, I always struggle to choose between the curried chicken salad and ham and brie, all offered on bread baked on the premises. The menu is compact, but what’s there is dee-lish. At 832 N. Market St. 482-2553.

— Mark Fields, Film Reviewer

J’s Café
Located inside Janssen’s Market in Greenville, this cafe was always a great place for breakfast or lunch, but now you can indulge in a mimosa with your breakfast or a beer with your sandwich, and, of course, pick up a few grocery items before you leave. J’s specializes in wood-fired pizza and a wide range of sandwiches and entrees. My favorite is the Janssen’s turkey, arugula, havarti cheese & sun-dried tomatoes panini paired with an interesting craft beer.

— Julie Miro Wenger, Event Allies

angelos_luncheonetteAngelo’s Luncheonette
It’s small (five tables, 12 counter stools) and the food isn’t fancy, but this old-time diner (1722 N. Scott St.) has been feeding happy Forty Acres people for almost 50 years. It’s only open for breakfast and lunch and the menu is pretty standard, but the quality of the food, the reasonable prices and the friendly staff make this place special. Try one of the house specialties, a Provoroni Dog—a hot dog with pepperoni and melted provolone cheese.

— Kevin Noonan, Contributing Writer

ghirardelli_hot_cocoaGhirardelli Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa
Looking through the aisles at the grocery store, it can seem impossible to find something chocolate that doesn’t contain dairy. After reading the ingredients on almost every brand of hot chocolate, I finally found Ghiradelli Double Chocolate, which had the lone ingredient list that did not include milk. So, for any lactose intolerant friends or vegans, this is for you.

— Deanna Daly, Local Artist & Educator

la_madera_bistroLa Madera Bistro
This cozy, rustic BYOB eatery in historic Kennett Square, Pa., offers an eclectic mix of entrees, gleaning inspiration from Mediterranean and Latin American styles, to name a couple. Most sandwiches are served with some variation of fresh, roasted vegetables, and the very-necessary side of roasted potatoes are sublimely balanced between crisp and smooth.

— Krista Connor, Associate Editor

Fried Pickles
These deep-fried delights offer a delicious detour from standard appetizer fare like wings, nachos and hummus. Equal parts salty and bitter, they also offer a satisfying crunch and are clean and easy to eat, unlike many other starters. Chelsea Tavern in Wilmington was one of the first in the area to feature fried pickles on its menu. More recently, Newark’s Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen brought its version to the table, which comes with a zesty cilantro-lime dipping sauce.

— Jim Miller, Director of Publications

PICKS OF THE DRINK VARIETY

paradocx_vineyardParadocx Vineyard
Visiting the Landenberg, Pa., winery and vineyard each autumn and winter has become a non-official tradition for me and some friends. The family-run estate features a handful of wines grown on the surrounding 100 acres of land. Guests are welcome at the informal tasting room to sample full glasses or flights and to hang out indefinitely in the warmth, taking in the bucolic winter landscape outside.

— Krista Connor, Associate Editor

delaware_growerThe Delaware Growler
If you’re a craft beer fan in the area and haven’t checked this place out, I suggest you go, now! Located right across from Dunkin’ Donuts on Main Street in Newark, it has roughly 50 beers on tap at any given time for growler fills, plus much more in bottles and cans. I have found myself checking the website weekly to see what’s on the tap list because there’s usually a beer I’ve been trying to find. Bring your own growler or choose one of theirs, which come in a variety of sizes.

— Tyler Mitchell, Graphic Designer

cascade_brewingCascade Brewing
The resident beer expert at Trolley Tap House, Greg Safian, recently introduced my husband and me to Cascade Brewing. Cascade is a Portland, Ore., based brewery that focuses on fruit-forward, barrel-aged sour beers, and they just recently arrived in Delaware. I’ve tried the Kriek and the Apricot Ale—an American Wild Ale—and really enjoyed both. If you like sours, keep Cascade on your radar.

— Marie Graham Poot, Director of Digital Media & Distribution

Liquid Alchemy Beverages
I recommend that you get your mead from this new spot in South Wilmington. Yes, you read that correctly, and no, we have not gone back in time. This cozy little tasting room off Maryland Avenue holds regular weekend hours and special events. The most recent limited release, Black-302, became available on Jan. 1.

— Ryan Alexander, Contributing Designer

1984 and Oddity Bar
If ever two Wilmington bars were destined to be neighbors, it was these two. As with many memorable duos—Simon & Garfunkel, Starsky & Hutch, R2-D2 & C-3P0—the two bars build upon their similarities and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. With the variety of bands they book, both venues attract similar crowds: people looking for something other than Top 40 cover bands. While both offer the finest craft beers in the area, Oddity also pours cleverly concocted mixed drinks while 1984 offers an assortment of vintage video games and other arcade favorites. But most important, inside each bar you feel like you are very much in a unique place. Which, in another way, makes them quite the pair.

— Jim Miller, Director of Publications

PICKS OF THE MUSIC VARIETY

The Nomad Bar
I love The Nomad Bar. For anyone who, like me, works late or goes to evening meetings more often than I get out to the many, many shows and performances I wish I had time to see, The Nomad is a perfect go-to spot when you finally find yourself free. It’s a ready-made scene and completely welcoming place to enjoy local artists playing live jazz and other genres that get your blood pumping (and skilled bartenders help that along). I always run into great people there—coworkers, neighbors, community leaders—and you don’t need to worry about who’s playing. Just show up, it will be great music and a great vibe. I’m not a regular at The Nomad, but whenever I’m there, I feel like one. 905 N. Orange St., Wilmington.

— Elizabeth Lockman, Director of the Parent Advocacy Council for Education (PACE) at the Christina Cultural Arts Center

Kate Bush’s Before The Dawn
In 22 nights at Hammersmith, London, in late summer 2014, 75,000 lucky people saw the first live headline concerts by Kate Bush in more than 36 years. In those years, she went from cult heroine to self-produced radio smash to seemingly retired earth mother in the British countryside—until her latest concept LPs. Before The Dawn, an extravagant Broadway-caliber stage production, was assembled over 18 months before this mixture of live concert and dramatic rock theater had its one-month run. We now have a complete live recording on three CDs or four LPs or by download. Experiencing “The Ninth Wave” side 2 of Hounds of Love (1985), performed by Kate, actors and dancers and her live band remains one of my most emotional concert experiences. Experience it!

Ron Ozer, Producer at Arden Concert Gild

Eyebawl
My current favorite local music project is Erin Silva’s (of Tracy Chapstick) solo project “Eyebawl.” Her quiet-rocking confessionals will hit you right in the feels. Catch her at a local venue or hit up her Bandcamp page.

— Miranda Brewer, Owner of Rainbow Records

The Local Music Scene
I can understand if folks feel this is a cop-out. It’s like saying oxygen is worth trying. But hear me out… I’ve been at Out & About for more than two decades. In that time, I have played in bands, booked clubs, managed bands, promoted shows, and helped produce local concerts. And as you can imagine, I’ve also heard and seen a lot of bands play live. A lot. But never have I been more hopeful for the local music scene than I am right now. More clubs are booking live music than they have in years, and thankfully there are a variety of interesting acts to fill them. It feels like an awakening, and whether you are a musician, club owner, or avid fan, I encourage you to take part in it. It’s an exciting time for local music.

— Jim Miller, Director of Publications

Rusty Blue
If you miss ‘90s rock, check out Rusty Blue. I saw them during Musikarmageddon this past summer, and couldn’t believe that sound was coming from teenagers!

— Sana Bell, Community Events Manager at The Grand

PICKS OF THE PLAY VARIETY

Russell Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge
Did you know that Wilmington has a 212-acre wildlife refuge right in our backyard? Located at the end of the beautiful Christina Riverwalk, this urban oasis is a great destination for a peaceful walk, a glimpse of a bald eagle, or a drop-in program for kids to see what critters they can find in the pond. Whether you’re just interested in strolling through the marsh on the boardwalk loop or coming out for one of Delaware Nature Society’s many programs, this spot is well worth a visit any time of the year.

— Sarah Green, Special Projects

The Woodlands at Phillips
Looking for a way to boost your immune system? Then head to this delightful little mushroom museum and retail store in Kennett Square, Pa. (1020 Kaolin Rd.), and pick up some Maitake mushroom. This edible mushroom, known as the “hen of the woods,” is great on the grill or in stir-fry and has anti-cancer, anti-viral and immunity-enhancing properties. It also may help reduce blood pressure and blood sugar. The Woodlands is the retail store of Phillips Mushroom Farms.

— Julie Miro Wenger, Event Allies

Northern Delaware Greenway Trail
This 7.2-mile trail provides a unique and spectacular view of some of New Castle County’s recreational treasures, including Alapocas Run State Park, Bellevue State Park, Rockwood Park and Bringhurst Woods Park. Walk, run or ride it.

— Jerry duPhily, Publisher

Oddball Art Hall
Have you ever found yourself at a craft fair or arts festival and thought the selection was tacky or basic? If yes, check out Oddity Bar’s Oddball Art Hall. This local artist collective is held on the third Friday of every month, the next date being Jan. 20. Support some great local artists, including Dea Daly, Kristen Margiotta and Cori Anne.

— Ryan Alexander, Contributing Designer

South Chesapeake City
Come visit a quaint little historical town separated by the C & D canal. It’s a charming town with lots of interesting shops and some good food with local lodging available. Take a walking tour and see the restoration of lovely homes and gardens. Less than an hour’s drive from Wilmington, it will transport you back in time. Visit the website: chesapeakecity.com.

— John Murray, Proprietor, State Line Liquors & Contributing Writer

Embrace the Season
Winter can be an easy time to stay inside and hibernate, but I say try to do something outside to embrace the season. Why not lace up your skates and enjoy the Riverfront Rink on the Wilmington Riverfront? The kids love it and it feels great to get outside and do something festive around the holidays. riverfrontrink.com.

— Matt Loeb, Creative Director & Production Manager

Six-pack Cinema & A Shot

As winter comes to Delaware, enjoy the warm sun and sand from these tropical locales, but remember not all—in fact, not much—is well in paradise.

Cast Away (2000)
Director Robert Zemeckis and actor Tom Hanks, who worked together effectively on Forrest Gump, re-team for this modern-day take on Robinson Crusoe. Hanks plays Chuck Noland, an efficiency expert for FedEx who finds himself stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash. Although the before and after-island scenes seem superfluous, the actor carries more than half the film by himself as he learns to survive on his wits…and with the repurposed debris washed up from his FedEx plane.

The Impossible (2012)
Directed by J.A. Bayona, The Impossible depicts the impact of the devastating Thailand tsunami of 2004 on the people in its relentless path. Focused on a vacationing British couple (Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) and their children, the film explores the human tragedy of natural disasters—powerfully re-created on film—as this family is battered (literally) and separated in an unfamiliar and horrifying landscape. I have qualms with the focus placed on a Western couple amid a Southeast Asian disaster, but the human drama still resonates.

Lilo and Stitch (2002)
Plucky but lonely adolescent Lilo finds a strange creature that she mistakes for an especially ugly dog, but Stitch (as she calls him) is actually an extraterrestrial genetic experiment gone rogue. Feared as violent by his creators, the escaped Stitch is adopted and domesticated—somewhat—by the irrepressible Lilo. Woven into this “girl and her dog” tale is a backstory based on the Hawaiian concept of ohana, or family, where bonds of love and interdependence can overcome even an alien invasion.

South Pacific (1958)
The big-screen translation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical about sailors and nurses on a South Pacific isle during World War II still shimmers with terrific R&H songs: “Nothin’ Like a Dame,” “Bali H’ai,” and the luminous ballad, “Some Enchanted Evening.” But the romance between Mitzi Gaynor’s Nellie and Rossano Brazzi’s Emile feels overblown on screen, in part due to the chemistry-free casting. Ray Walston as hustling Seabee Luther Billis is a delight.

Tropic Thunder (2008)
The parts are greater than the sum in this often silly, occasionally hilarious parody of war movies, as it depicts a group of superficial, pampered actors trying to make a war movie. Starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr. and Steve Coogan, the movie contains some great moments and ideas (including Downey lamely trying to play a black character) but it suffers from Stiller’s inability as the director to stay focused. The best gag is a barely recognizable Tom Cruise as a profane studio executive.

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
A sterling cast, mostly unknowns at the time (Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver and Oscar-winner Linda Hunt), illuminate this tense drama set during an attempted coup in 1960s Indonesia. Directed by Peter Weir, this film has a lot on its mind (political turmoil, journalistic ethics, poverty, exploitation) and conveys it compellingly. Gibson and Weaver create sparks in the central romance, which is given further depth through Maurice Jarre’s thrilling score.

And a shot…coming to Theatre N in December.

Little Sister Screening Dec. 16-18
This offbeat dark comedy by fledgling writer-director Zach Clark centers around a strong if strained sibling relationship within a dysfunctional family. Colleen has reluctantly returned home to Asheville, N.C., to reconnect with her seriously disfigured brother, a recent Iraq War veteran. But she must also contend with parents and a community that have an out-of-date understanding of who she is. Ally Sheedy plays Colleen’s passive-aggressive stoner mom, perhaps her Breakfast Club character become an adult. For a full Theatre N schedule and more information, go totheatren.com.

Worth Trying – Aug. 2016

Suggestions from our staff, contributors and readers

Constitution Yards

The new seasonal beer garden is the perfect addition to the Riverfront. Located at Justison Landing and open seven days a week, the summer go-to destination offers backyard games, classic barbecue fare and of course, a variety of beers and cocktails. Grab a summer ale and get in line for giant Jenga!

—Krista Connor, Associate Editor

Quinn’s Café

Whenever I go out to breakfast with family or friends, my first instinct is to go to Quinn’s. The eatery has been around for a while, but became known as Quinn’s Café in 2011. This Hockessin favorite tends to be a little crowded on the weekends, but the delicious food is made to order so it’s always worth the wait (quinnscafe.com).

—Emma Driban, Intern

Mini-Cannoli from Toscana To Go

I went with my mom to pick up dinner from Toscana To Go, and after I bugged her enough she let me get a dessert. But she would only let me get the cannoli because they were small and only cost $1.50. I was nervous because she said there was cheese inside, and that kind of sounded gross. I didn’t like it. I LOVED it! The outside was like a thin cookie, the inside was sweet and creamy, and there were chocolate chips sprinkled on it. You have to try one.

—Oliver Poot, 1st grader and Wilmington Resident

Movies on Tap

When the good folks at Premier Wine & Spirits sat down with our friends at Penn Cinema, they conjured up some sweet synergy. The meeting’s magic resulted in the “Movies on Tap” series at Penn Cinema, which pairs cult-classic films with seasonal offerings of local breweries. For film geeks, it’s a great opportunity to see some popular movies of the past on the big screen in a fun setting. For beer freaks, it’s a chance to meet area brewmasters and get a taste of their latest concoctions. That these nights raise money for local charities is simply icing on the cake. Caddyshack with Mispillion River Brewing, Ghostbusters with Sicilian cannoli with chocolateYards Brewing Co., Pulp Fiction with Evil Genius Beer Company and The Blues Brothers with Blue Earl Brewing Co. were big hits. This month, it’s The Goonies with 2SP Brewing Co. on Wednesday, August 17. To reserve your seats, go to penncinema.com.

—Jim Miller, Director of Publications

Free State of Jones

From writer-director Gary Ross (The Hunger Games, Pleasantville) comes this hyper-earnest tale of a disillusioned Confederate soldier who abandons the cause to start an egalitarian community of escaped slaves, deserters and displaced farmers in the waning days of the Civil War. Based on a little-known true story, the film is handsomely made and well-intentioned but continues an unfortunate cinematic tradition of telling the stories of the disenfranchised (blacks, women, etc.) through the eyes of a white male protagonist. Matthew McConaughey and Gugu Mbatha-Raw resonate as leader Newton Knight and his common-law black wife Rachel, but Keri Russell is wasted in the role of Knight’s first wife. A late 20th century framing device with one of Knight’s descendants facing similar challenges is more annoying than illuminating.