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The Big To-Do: 4 stars for ‘In the Heights,’ 21 John Mulaney shows, 70 summer reading picks, 17 best lobster rolls

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 6/11/2021 Marie Morris
a group of people standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera: Jimmy Smits in a scene from "In the Heights." © Macall Polay Jimmy Smits in a scene from "In the Heights."

Welcome back to The Big To-Do. We can quibble over scientific definitions, but with the first heat wave of the year behind us, it’s definitely summer. Summer movies are opening, weird — sorry, “semi-experimental” summer TV is arriving, summer reading lists are growing like weeds, and potential Songs of the Summer are floating through the air after a way-too-long hiatus. The Globe’s experts are full of entertainment advice as well as suggestions for great ways to fuel up before, during, and after your warm-weather adventures.

FILM: Just the right movie at just the right time, “In the Heights” — “a singing, dancing Technicolor pep shot after what has been a long gray drought” — earns 4 stars from Globe film critic Ty Burr. Under John M. Chu’s direction, the 2008 Tony Award winner for best musical explodes onto the screen, “an immersion not just into sound, song, vision, and verve, but the kind of joyous communal big-screen experience that has lately seemed in danger of being extinguished.”

Ellen Burstyn, Loretta Devine, Ann-Margret, Jane Curtin, and James Caan star (what year is it?) in a tale of “Mean Girls” in assisted living (yup, sounds like 2021). “Queen Bees” and its tales of senior romantic intrigue are “just clever enough to clear the TV-movie bar,” Burr writes in a 2-star review, “and the cast — Burstyn and Curtin especially — bat the dialogue around with feeling.”

Kudos to Burr for not making the obvious joke about the 1½-star Mark Wahlberg vehicle “Infinite” only seeming infinite at 106 minutes of “blissfully incoherent and weirdly generic” action. “What brings the movie to the edge of camp ... is the contrast between Wahlberg’s wooden line readings and the florid performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor as the chief villain,” who apparently “realized there’s no way out but through the roof and as loudly as possible.”

The concert film/confessional/maybe-comedy “Bo Burnham: Inside” sends Burr down something of a rabbit hole, but that’s nothing compared to the effect the pandemic had on Burnham. “Ostensibly a comedy special made over a year of lockdown, ‘Inside’ … is actually a fascinating portrait of a nervous breakdown — or a performance of one, which Burnham convincingly argues has become the same thing.”

The Roxbury International Film Festival starts next week, and the Globe’s Mark Feeney has the lowdown on the 10-day hybrid event, which spotlights 80-plus “documentary and narrative fiction features and shorts, as well as experimental and student films.” Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s documentary “Summer of Soul” and “Jingle Jangle,” starring Forest Whitaker and Anika Noni Rose, will screen free at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Much of Mariem Pérez Riera’s “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” captures the 89-year-old stage and screen legend (and EGOT winner) “simply looking into the camera and talking: Here she is, here is what she has to say,” writes Feeney. “It’s the best thing about the documentary.”

Pixar’s “Luca,” out next week, looks great in every sense of that phrase. The story of sea monsters who turn into teen boys when on land, it’s set in and near Portorosso, Italy. “It’s very much inspired by real people, real towns, a real place that we wanted to honor,” production designer Daniela Strijleva tells Feeney. “[M]aking this place really believable then, in a way, gave us permission … to have a world with sea monsters.”

JUNETEENTH FILM FESTIVAL: The Globe’s Juneteenth Film Festival 2021 celebrates the holiday by shining a light on films and filmmakers telling stories of Black imagination, strength, and liberation. The event kicks off Tuesday when Globe culture columnist Jeneé Osterheldt moderates a discussion of “Black Panther.” Streaming the film is free — RSVP by Friday at midnight. For details and to RSVP, click here.

TV: “Kevin Can F**k Himself” uses “a genre of sitcom built around a shlubby guy and his pretty wife” to ground “a no-holds-barred response to those series — and a dark reflection of the sexism so deeply embedded in them,” writes Globe TV critic Matthew Gilbert. Annie Murphy shines as Allison, whose non-sitcom life is “a much different single-camera universe … where we clearly get to see her depression and her growing rage.”

“The script was so exciting and so refreshing,” Annie Murphy tells Globe correspondent Christopher Wallenberg, “because Allison McRoberts couldn’t be more different from Alexis Rose,” her character on “Schitt’s Creek.” Says “Kevin” creator Valerie Armstrong, “It’s not a show about a toxic marriage. It’s a show about how women can get each other out of toxic situations.”

The “little-known but captivating” comedy “We Are Lady Parts,” about a London punk band made up of Muslim women, is “so much more than its one-line plot description,” Gilbert says. “These characters are written in a way that acknowledges the unlimited variety and mysteriousness of being human, the uniqueness that lies beneath all the shared rules and rituals we might abide by.”

Since March 2020, “everyone relied on TV for entertainment. Now TV is just another option,” observes an Ask Matthew reader. Is Gilbert disappointed? Wow, is he ever not. “I am eager to resume eating dinner at restaurants, seeing the occasional play, and going to art museums, even if it means the return of FOMO,” he writes — after calling out eight shows you’ll want to add to your rainy-day catch-up list.

PARENTING: The Globe’s In the Family Way project tackles your thorniest pandemic-era dilemmas, including life with the not-yet-vaccine-eligible under-12 set. Through a weekly newsletter and column, it explores questions about children’s health, education, and welfare in uncertain times. Sign up for the newsletter here.

THEATER: With each 2021-22 season announcement, post-pandemic life feels a bit more real, and the latest from the ART — “The Arboretum Experience”! Idina Menzel! “1776″! — is no exception. “I’ve been thinking about the role that theater can play to bring us back into community,” artistic director Diane Paulus tells Globe theater critic Don Aucoin. “How do we use theater as a ritual to begin again, together?”

VISUAL ART: “In American Waters,” at the Peabody Essex Museum, harbors “ambitions of gently eroding expectations around marine painting, a colonial convention that lionized conquest and commerce and the seafaring that made it happen,” writes Globe art critic Murray Whyte. It succeeds, “embracing a breadth of representation” as it “subtly builds marginalized views into the self-important saga of American seafaring.”

More than five millennia after its namesake walked the Alps, “Ötzi,” Nicole Wilson’s new show, “exquisitely holds all we don’t know of Ötzi’s story against the specificity of his tattoos,” says Globe correspondent Cate McQuaid. The artist had the Copper Age man’s body art replicated using her own blood, and “[i]nking his tattoos into her own skin, she asks, who were you?” At Praise Shadows Art Gallery in Brookline.

ARCHITECTURE: Construction noise on Martha’s Vineyard last week wasn’t from a renovation or a new deck but from “a Thoreau Cabin for glamping, writing and display of license plates,” reports McQuaid, who checks out the new structure. Moskow Linn Architects’ Studio North workshop united nine architecture students and recent grads for what architect Keith Moskow calls “a project on speed.”

CLASSICAL MUSIC: A concert by Springfield Symphony Orchestra musicians on Saturday is more than just some free outdoor music — it’s a message to orchestra management about ongoing contract negotiations. “We’re going to play … to bring some kind of symphonic music back to Springfield, because the board’s not willing to do that right now,” violinist Beth Welty tells the Globe’s A.Z. Madonna.

POP & JAZZ: Anointing a Song of the Summer in early June is inadvisable at best, and Omnipop columnist Maura Johnston doesn’t even try — but she does deliver a savvy scouting report (complete with Spotify playlist), noting it’s “more of a partial forecast than anything else, since pop is an ever-shape-shifting entity.” That said, think twice before betting against Olivia Rodrigo or Bruno Mars.

Jazz guitarist Julian Lage took an unusual approach to his new album: “I set about playing music with great orators speaking about topics of great importance,” he tells Globe correspondent Bill Buettler. On “Squint,” his second trio recording with bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King, “there’s this kind of alchemy of sorts. ... My cadence as a player changed next to Nikki Giovanni or James Baldwin or whoever it may be.”

LOVE LETTERS: Ready for a fresh start? Aren’t we all? The theme of Season 5 of the Love Letters podcast, hosted by the Globe’s Meredith Goldstein, is “New Beginnings.” The episodes tell stories about love that’s new, revived, reinvented, and full of hope. In the latest installment, a guest unexpectedly tangling with uncertainty seizes the day. Listen here.

COMEDY: In sports, politics, and business as well as entertainment, a comeback story is irresistible. Maybe that’s why John Mulaney sold out 21 Boston shows in the blink of an eye. His talent “would guarantee brisk ticket sales no matter the circumstances,” writes the Globe’s Don Aucoin. “I wonder if there is also a hunger for public models of resilience, for performers who’ve figured out a way to wrest laughter from the jaws of despair.”

BOOKS: The Globe’s 2021 summer reading guide — literary fiction, mysteries, nonfiction, sports, and young adult books — brings together “70 titles, a blend of old and new, to consider popping into your travel bag.” From Brian Broome’s new memoir “Punch Me Up to the Gods” to several modern classics, these lists include something for everyone (really!).

FOOD & DINING: “All signs point to June as a time to glory in the excellence of Black-owned businesses serving up food and drink,” writes the Globe’s Devra First. She offers more than 100 suggestions of places in Boston proper and the suburbs to go for “jollof rice, pizza, roti, soul food, vegan fare, and more.”

“The table is your breakout room now,” explains First, who has advice for anyone whose restaurant skills are rusty. As we reacquaint ourselves with dining while “seated at a table eating off an actual china plate,” she offers pointers on a number of subjects, including what to wear, what to say to your server, and what not to call “your latest sourdough project.”

Where can you find the best lobster rolls in New England? “We ate our way through the lobster rolls that rule the ‘best’ lists,” write Globe correspondents Diane Bair and Pamela Wright, who boil those down to 17 suggestions in five states (sorry, Vermont). As always, the self-proclaimed experts in the comments have a lot of thoughts. To name your personal favorite, fill out the survey here.

LOOK AGAIN: Monday is Flag Day, an old-fashioned celebration of a 1777 Second Continental Congress resolution adopting the banner, with its stars “representing a new constellation.” Quincy’s having a parade and fireworks on Saturday. Spare a thought and maybe lift a glass of something fizzy (soda’s fine — it’s a school night) to our star-spangled and striped friend, who’s been having a bit of a rough time lately.


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