Movie Review

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

By Heidi Sutton

Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh get reaquainted.

The long-awaited “Christopher Robin” finally hit movie theaters last weekend and, at least at the end of Saturday’s matinee at Movieland Cinemas in Coram, was rewarded with loud applause. Not to be confused with “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” which was released last September, it tells the story of a boy and his silly old teddy bear and what happens when we grow up and stop dreaming. While it will appeal to children, its target audience is clearly their parents.

Directed by Marc Foster, the Disney film opens like a chapter book, with chapter one describing a farewell tea party in the hundred-acre wood for a young Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien) who is leaving for boarding school. All the endearing storybook characters sprung from the vivid imagination of A.A. Milne are here — the wise Owl (Toby Jones), the stubborn Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), the meek and timid Piglet (Nick Mohammed), the ever depressed Eeyore (Brad Garrett), the kangaroo joey Roo (Sara Sheen), his mother Kanga (Sophie Okonedo) and, of course, Tigger and Winnie the Pooh (both voiced by the incomparable Jim Cummings).

Christopher Robin is given a bag of acorns by Piglet to remember them by. In return, he promises to never forget his friends.

But, “as with all children,” as the chapters unfold and Christopher grows up, he does forget. He falls in love, gets married, has a child, serves in the British army during World War II and then lands a job at Winslow Luggage Company. His priorities are skewed and he spends much of his day at work, coming home late, working weekends and we see the toll it takes on his family. When his daughter finds the bag of acorns and drawings of Winnie the Pooh in an old box, Christopher Robin dismisses them as “nothing of great importance.”

Thirty years have passed since Christopher (now played by Ewan McGregor) has visited the hundred-acre wood, which is now a dark and gloomy place filled with fog and overgrown vines. We meet Pooh Bear again, a little more worn and tired, waking up from his nap with a grumbling in his tummy. When the silly old bear realizes every one of his honey pots is empty, he heads off to borrow some from his friends. When he can’t find any of them, he fears they may have been taken by the ferocious heffalumps and woozles. As he is “a bear with little brains,” Pooh decides to seek the help of his old friend, Christopher Robin.

The movie itself is a work of art and the attention to detail is award winning, from the scenery to the music to the wonderful animation. Much of the filming of the Hundred-Acre Wood scenes took place among the hills of purple heather in Ashdown Forest in Sussex County, England, and the iconic songs parents and children know so well — “Winnie the Pooh,” “Up, Down and Touch the Ground” and “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers,” — are sprinkled throughout.

Spoiler alert: This movie is a raw, emotional, heart-wrenching tale that will remind you of your childhood and the importance of family and friends. When Christopher Robin tells Pooh he hadn’t thought of him for 30 years, Pooh answers, “I think of you every day.” Bounce into theaters like Tigger and see this lovely film today, Pooh’s favorite day, and bring along a box of tissues. Now we just have to wait for the remake of “Mary Poppins” to hit area theaters for the holidays. Oh, bother.

Rated PG, “Christopher Robin” is now playing in local theaters. Running time is one hour and 44 minutes. 

Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

By Sabrina Petroski

My, my, how could you resist seeing “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”? After a 10-year hiatus, the original cast returns to the Greek island of Kalokairi for the grand opening of the Hotel Belladonna. The sequel again showcases the upbeat and fun-filled music of the 1970s pop group, ABBA. With similar themes to the first (love, family, adventure), this movie is sure to be a huge summer hit. 

Written and directed by Ol Parker, the PG-13 movie, which is loosely based on a lesser-known 1968 Italian film, “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell,” opens on Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) getting ready for the opening party for the Hotel Belladonna, named after her late mother Donna Sheridan (Meryl Streep), with help from her stepfather Sam (Pierce Brosnan) and hotel manager Fernando Cienfuegos (Andy Garcia). Sophie gave up her life of traveling to manage the hotel, in hopes of making her mother proud. Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters), childhood best friends of Donna, arrive to help Sophie with preparations and begin telling her stories of Donna’s wild past.

Tanya (Christine Baranski), Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and Rosie (Julie Waters) in a scene from the movie.

The flashbacks begin with a young Donna Sheridan (Lily James) walking in late to her college graduation, her floor-length graduation gown failing to hide her gold go-go boots. The headmistress of the college calls her up on stage to give her valedictorian speech, but instead, in true dynamo fashion, she breaks into song and invites her backup girls, young Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and young Rosie (Alexa Davies), to perform ABBA’s hit song “When I Kissed the Teacher.” 

The film constantly flip flops between past and present, following Donna on the adventure of her lifetime and Sophie in the most stressful time in hers. In present time, a huge storm destroys the decorations and flowers, devastating Sophie and all those involved with the party. The storm also stops the ferries from running, keeping Sophie’s dads, Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), and her husband, Sky (Dominic Cooper), from being able to reach the island. 

Going back in time, Donna is traveling the world to find herself, and along the way we see how she met Harry Bright (Hugh Skinner), Bill Anderson (Josh Dylan) and Sam Carmichael (Jeremy Irvine).

If you’ve seen the original “Mamma Mia!” then you know what comes next. Donna gets pregnant while in Kalokairi, is given the old farmhouse to live in and fix up, and decides to stay on the island to raise her baby despite having no one. She doesn’t know who the father is, but doesn’t care. In parallel, Sophie finds out she is pregnant at the same age and in the same place as her mother was. 

Young Tanya, young Donna and young Rosie in a scene from the movie.

Sophie begins to lose hope of being able to open the hotel successfully but is saved by Sky, Bill and Harry, who convince a group of fishermen to bring their friends and family to Kalokairi. Three boats pull into the docks, full of people ready to enjoy the Hotel Belladonna’s opening night.

Toward the end of the movie there is a twist that no one sees coming, including Sophie’s grandmother (Cher) arriving in a private helicopter and crashing the party. She announces she is ready to take on the role of being a grandmother, and now great-grandmother. 

As the party ends, the film jumps ahead in time, following Sophie up the path leading to the church where her child will be baptized. At the same time, young Donna is doing the same walk on her way to baptize Sophie. When they both reach the front of the church, young Donna transforms into her older self and sings a haunting duet with her daughter. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theater as Sophie held her mother’s hands for the last time.

Throughout the film, the audience is drawn in by the dramatic themes laced with comedic moments and the romances blooming between the characters. There is passion and fun, as well as somber moments of heartbreak. Each character is well developed and well received, and the younger versions of the main characters shine with the same awkward, funny and sweet personalities of their older counterparts. 

There are some scenes where Lily James mimics the mannerisms of Meryl Streep’s Donna so well you would think it was Streep in disguise. Young Tanya and Rosie capture the aspects of the friendship so well you would think they had known each other for decades.

Of course, it is the exciting musical numbers featuring many well-known ABBA hits from the original movie including “Waterloo,” “The Name of the Game” and “Dancing Queen” along with more obscure songs (“Kisses of Fire”) from the Swedish pop group that tie it all together for two hours of good fun.

With spot on casting, along with the great costumes and beautiful filming locations, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is a must see for this summer.

Fred Rogers. Photo courtesy of Focus Features
Make the most of this beautiful film

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Morgan Neville’s documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a portrait of Fred Rogers, a man of deep faith and principles and unique in the pantheon of television personalities. His show, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” is lovingly celebrated in this wholly engaging 93 minutes. It does not attempt to be a full-fledged biography but rather a picture of the man in the context of his work and his mission. There are insights into his personal life (interviews with wife and sons), but it is more the story of the evolution of his vocation and his influence on American culture.  

Fred Rogers with Mr. McFeely (David Newell) the delivery man in a scene from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood

The film opens with the iconic entrance of Rogers changing into his sweater while singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and we are immediately transported back to the world he created. With its modest production values and its messages of love and understanding, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” became an integral part of our collective experience.

 

The documentary is simple and delicate, mirroring the show and the show’s creator. There are no bells and whistles. We are treated to an assortment of interviews that give perspective on the span and impact of Rogers’ career. What is common to all is that he was exactly who he presented himself to be. An ordained minister, Fred Rogers deeply believed that “love is at the root of everything” — learning, relationships, understanding. He saw television as a wonderful way to connect with children; a tool to make them better and happier people.  

Fred Rogers poses with the puppet Daniel Striped Tiger. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

His wife (and much of the documentary) posits that, in essence, Rogers was Daniel Striped Tiger, the first of the many puppets he employed. The tamed feline represents Rogers’ doubts but also the ability to listen and learn. Daniel Striped Tiger is the bridge between the real and fantasy worlds that Rogers invented. As a child, he had been plagued by various illnesses and spent a great deal of time in bed; it was here that he began to realize the power of imagination and he used this to inform his work.  

The film also touches on his faith, suggesting that the show was his ministry and he wore a sweater in lieu of a collar. The heart of this ministry, of course, is the power of love — love for each other and love for ourselves. The belief is that everyone is special (incorrectly twisted by some as entitlement) and we all have inherent value. The embodiment of this is his song “It’s You I Like” — a reminder that we grow through acceptance.

Fred Rogers presented himself as the friend every adult should be. He made it clear that his journey was to take care of the myriad of children who watched him. Unlike his own unhappy youth in which he was not allowed to be a child or to show his feelings, he aspired to provide a safe space for all of the country’s children.  

Fred Rogers with King Friday XIII. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

Over the years, Rogers tackled everything from racial discrimination to divorce to death (including an episode focusing on grief that dealt with the assassination of Robert Kennedy). After retirement, he returned to do a few short PSAs about 9/11 — the horror of which overwhelmed him. What we take away is that he was unflinching in his desire to be truly honest with children but to always let them be children.

There are a treasure trove of clips, dating back to his pre-Neighborhood television days through his series and later efforts. There is the often-seen but no less-effective testimony that saved funding for public television. Puppets (King Friday XIII, Henrietta Pussycat, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, Queen Sara Saturday, X the Owl) and regulars (Mr. McFeely, the delivery man; Lady Aberlin; Chef Brockett; Officer Clemmons), songs and guests … the trolley to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, Picture-Picture … they are all here. 

Throughout his work, there was always an emphasis on taking time and not allowing the world to speed up. He believed that “slow” space was not “wasted” space. That silence is a gift. The final moments of the picture are perhaps the most memorable.  He often invited people to take a minute to think of the those who have cared for them. One after another, the various people interviewed are shown to do just that. Like Fred Rogers and his work, it is at once so simple and honest and yet so powerful.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a film not just to be seen but to be shared. Find those people that mean the most to you and spend some time remembering the power of love.

From left, Tom Needham, Julie Cohen and Wendy Feinberg at the June 25 event. Photo by Lynn Rein

By Heidi Sutton

The film ladies of the Port Jefferson Documentary Series (PJDS) hosted a special summer screening of the blockbuster documentary “RBG” to an enthusiastic sold-out crowd at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson on June 25. Wendy Feinberg, co-director of the award-winning series, introduced the event and informed the audience that the film, which explores Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s exceptional life and career, is now the highest grossing film from Magnolia Pictures.

Feinberg had met one of the co-directors, Julie Cohen, at last year’s PJDS screening of “American Veteran.” “When she told me she was working on a film about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I immediately thought,  wow, she would be a great subject,” and invited Cohen to come back when the film was completed.

“The project started about 3½ years ago when myself and Betsy West, my directing and producing partner, started to notice that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was getting quite a bit of attention,” said Cohen. “We knew her story, we knew what an amazing woman she is … and we just said someone ought to make a documentary about her and why shouldn’t it be us?”

She continued, “We approached Justice Ginsburg with this idea, this ambitious plan to make a film about her life. Her answer to us essentially was ‘not yet.’ We looked carefully over her emails — we know the Justice is a woman who chooses her words very precisely and we know two words that were not in her emails were ‘no’ and ‘never’ so we decided to proceed. ”

 The film had its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and has been making the rounds ever since.

The evening was preceded by a Toast to Ruth Bader Ginsburg wine and cheese reception downstairs at Griswold’s Cafe and was followed by a Q&A with Cohen which was moderated by Tom Needham, host of “Sounds of Film” on WUSB.

Reached after the event, Feinberg said she couldn’t believe the wonderful turnout. “We knew that ‘RBG’ had already played at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington since early May, at the AMC Stony Brook 17, and at the Port Jefferson Cinemas, among others.” While the reception sold out in two weeks, the ticket sales on the day of the event was a record for the series. Feinberg attributed the evening’s success to the film’s subject, the political climate and the fact that Julie Cohen made a guest appearance. “What can top this?” she laughed.

“It really moved so many people — they just loved it,” added co-director Lyn Boland, “It was just very gratifying to feel the community together like that. The audience’s reaction was great and on point. It was an amazing night.”

The team at the Port Jefferson Documentary Series is now preparing for its exciting Fall 2018 series, which begins on Sept. 17 with “Love, Gilda” followed by “When Lambs Become Lions” and “Roll Red Roll,” among others. Visit www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com for updates.

The PJDS would like to thank Theatre Three, Pindar Vineyards of Port Jefferson, Wild by Nature, Pasta Pasta, Nantuckets Restaurant, C’est Cheese, Z-Pita and La Bonne Boulangerie Bakery for making the evening possible.

REVISITING AN OLD SPORT

As part of the Museum Movies in Huntington series, the Huntington Historical Society will present a special screening of ‘The Great Gatsby’ (1974) starring Robert Redford, Mia Farrow and Sam Waterston at the Whaling Museum, 301 Main St., in Cold Spring Harbor on Wednesday, July 11 at 7 p.m. $5 per person. Reservations are required (no walk-ins) by calling 631-427-7045.

 

By Heidi Sutton

The 1,000-seat theater at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center was filled to capacity last Sunday night as the community came out in droves to celebrate the first screening of TBR News Media’s feature-length film, “One Life to Give.” And what a celebration it was.

“I have to say this exceeds our highest expectations. We are so thrilled,” said TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief, scanning the packed house as she welcomed the audience to “what has been a year’s adventure.”

“I am privileged to be the publisher of six hometown papers, a website, a Facebook page and, now, executive producer of a movie,” she beamed.

TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief addresses the audience.

Dunaief set the stage for what would be a wonderful evening. “I’m inviting you now to leave behind politics and current affairs and come with me back in time more than two centuries to the earliest days of the beginning of our country — the start of the American Revolution.”

“We live in the cradle of history and I hope that when you leave tonight you will feel an immense pride in coming from this area,” she continued. “The people who lived here some 240 years ago were people just like us. They were looking to have a good life, they were looking to raise their children.” Instead, according to Dunaief, they found themselves occupied by the British under King George III for the longest period of time.

Filmed entirely on location on the North Shore in 16 days, the film tells the story of schoolteacher turned spy Nathan Hale and how his capture and ultimate death by hanging in 1776 at the age of 21 led to the development of an elaborate spy ring in Setauket — the Culper spies — in an effort to help Gen. George Washington win the Revolutionary War.

Scenes were shot on location at Benner’s Farm in East Setauket, the William Miller House in Miller Place, the Sherwood-Jayne Farm, Thompson House and Caroline Church of Brookhaven  in Setauket and East Beach in Port Jefferson with many local actors and extras, period costumes by Nan Guzzetta, props from “TURN” and a wonderful score by Mark Orton.

The film screening was preceded by a short behind-the-scenes documentary and was followed by a Q&A with Dunaief, producer and writer Michael Tessler and director and writer Benji Dunaief along with several key actors in the film — Dave Morrissey Jr. (Benjamin Tallmadge), Hans Paul Hendrickson (Nathan Hale), Jonathan Rabeno (John Chester) and David Gianopoulos (Gen. George Washington).

“It says quite a bit about our community that we could pack the Staller Center for a story that took place over two hundred years ago,” said Tessler, who grew up in Port Jefferson. “I hope everyone leaves the theater today thinking about these heroes — these ordinary residents of our community who went on to do some extraordinary things and made it so that we all have the luxury to sit here today and enjoy this show and the many freedoms that come with being an American.”

Director Benji Dunaief thanked the cast, crew and entire community for all their support. “In the beginning of this project I did not think we would be able to do a feature film, let alone a period piece. They say it takes a village, but I guess it actually takes three.”

From left, Jonathan Rabeno, David Gianopoulos, Hans Paul Hendrickson and Dave Morrissey Jr. field questions from the audience at the Q&A.

“Our cast … threw themselves 100 percent into trying to embody these characters, they learned as much as they could and were open to everything that was thrown at them — I’m blown away by this cast. They are just incredible,” he added.

“The positivity that was brought to the set every day made you really want to be in that environment,” said Rabeno, who said he was humbled to be there, and he was quick to thank all of the reenactors who helped the actors with their roles.

One of the more famous actors on the stage, Gianopoulos (“Air Force One”) was so impressed with the way the production was handled and often stopped by on his day off just to observe the camera shots. “I really enjoyed just watching and being an observer,” he said, adding “It was just such an honor [to be a part of the film] and to come back to Stony Brook and Setauket where I used to run around as a little kid and then to bring this story to life is just amazing.”

According to the director, the film has been making the rounds and was recently nominated for three awards at Emerson College’s prestigious Film Festival, the EVVY Awards, including Best Editing, Best Writing and Best Single Camera Direction and won for the last category. 

Reached after the screening, Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said the film was the essence of a sense of place. “I thought it was spectacular. I thought that it was one of the highlights of all of the years that I have lived in this community.”

He continued, “It all came together with local people and local places talking about our local history that changed the world and the fact that it was on the Staller Stage here at a public university that was made possible by the heroics of the people who were in the film both as actors today and the people that they portrayed.”

For those who missed last Sunday’s screening, the film will be shown again at the Long Island International Film Expo in Bellmore on July 18 from 2 to 4 p.m.

Filming for a sequel, tentatively titled “Traitor,” the story of John André who was a British Army officer hanged as a spy by the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, will begin in two weeks.

Special thanks to Gold Coast Bank, Holiday Inn Express, Island Federal Savings Bank and Stony Brook University for making the evening’s screening possible.

Photos by Heidi Sutton and Rita J. Egan

From left, Sharks Jay Norman, George Chakiris and Eddie Verso in a scene from ‘West Side Story’

“Something’s coming, something good …” 

Fifty-seven years after its world premiere screening at the Rivoli Theatre in New York City, the award-winning musical “West Side Story” will return to over 600 select cinemas nationwide on June 24 and 27, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events.

Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood sing ‘Tonight’ in a scene from ‘West Side Story’

Starring Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, Russ Tamblyn, Richard Beymer and George Chakiris the film takes inspiration from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and turns the Montague-Capulet battle into a feud between two New York City street gangs — the Jets and the Sharks. When a member of the Jets falls in love with the sister of the Sharks’ leader, things look hopeful at first, but rapidly go downhill. Illustrating the events are many memorable song and dance numbers such as “America,” “Tonight,” “A Boy Like That,” “One Hand, One Heart,” “Somewhere” and “I Feel Pretty.”

With book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics from Stephen Sondheim, the film went on to win 10 Oscars at the 34th Academy Awards, including Best Picture and both supporting acting awards, for Chakiris and Moreno, becoming the record holder for the most wins for a movie musical. Deemed “culturally significant” by the United States Library of Congress, it was selected for the National Film Registry in 1997.

The film will be presented in its original wide-screen aspect ratio and include a mid-film intermission, as was featured in the original theatrical release. It will also include pre- and postshow commentary from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

There’s no better way to prepare yourself for Steven Spielberg’s reboot, so mark your calendars!

Participating movie theaters in our neck of the woods include AMC Loews Stony Brook 17, 2196 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook (at 2 and 7 p.m. on both days); Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas, 1001 Broadhollow Road, Farmingdale (on June 24 at 2 p.m. and June 27 at 7 p.m.); and Island 16 Cinema de Lux, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville (on June 24 at 2 p.m. and June 27 at 7 p.m.) To purchase your ticket in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

Supersequel was worth the wait

By David Ackerman

After a 14-year hiatus, Pixar’s beloved superhero family, the Incredibles, has returned and immediately picks up where the original left off. “Incredibles 2” follows the Parr family — parents Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) along with kids Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner) and Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) — as they strive to find their place in a society that has criminalized their superpowers.  

The Parr family is back to save the day.

The story opens when the city is under attack by the Underminer who appeared in the final moments of the original movie. The fallout from this epic and highly destructive confrontation causes all Superhero activity to be banned in the city, and the Parr family is forced to go underground, taking up residence in a dingy motel.

The outlook is bleak for the superfamily until they are approached by the wealthy and eccentric siblings Evelyn (Catherine Keener) and Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) who offer them a chance to restore the reputation of all Supers to the glory of a bygone era.

Elastigirl is chosen to take on the mission independently due to her proven track record of causing minimal collateral damage; leaving Mr. Incredible to deal with the equally daunting task of staying home with the kids. In the new role of Mr. Mom, he struggles to manage Violet’s teenage angst, Dash’s math homework, and the highly unpredictable Jack-Jack, who is beginning to show an impressive range of superabilities including self-replication, morphing into demon form and laser vision.

Jack-Jack’s superpowers come out in full force in new Incredibles sequel.

Meanwhile, Elastigirl is faced with her first assignment — to save the passengers on a newly unveiled high-speed train that has been set on a collision course by the mysterious supervillain, Screen Slaver. She accomplishes her mission with flawless style and is applauded for reminding society of the Supers’ value as protectors of the innocent.  Mr. Incredible watches his wife’s success on the news and is forced to reconsider the effectiveness of his macho, alpha-male persona.

The plot remains fast-paced and unpredictable up until the conclusion. Pixar’s brilliant character design and highly creative action sequences will keep your attention from start to finish. 

“Incredibles 2” is a breath of fresh air in the superhero genre, which has become saturated with sequels based on unoriginal, formulaic story lines. The superhero film has been brought back to a focus on strong character development, dazzling creativity and a continuous thread of humor and levity woven throughout the story line. While the film maintains a light-hearted tone it also touches on relevant social issues such as gender stereotypes and the public’s obsessive consumption of digital media and entertainment.

Elastigirl in a scene from the movie.

“Incredibles 2” is a worthy sequel that doesn’t disappoint. Pixar has again succeeded in creating a film that will appeal to audiences of all ages by avoiding the typical limitations of a children’s film. The film’s primary strength is in the creativity and beauty of its visual execution and character design. Although the plot is certainly original and engaging, what will keep your attention is the incredible depth of expression that is achieved through character development, world building and visual design.

The film is a must see for Incredibles fans and is bound to be a major hit this summer for all audiences. Running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.

Rated PG (for action sequences and some brief mild language) “Incredibles 2” is now playing in local theaters.

Photos courtesy of Disney/Pixar

Above, a battle scene shot at Benner’s Farm in East Setauket last summer.
Film showcased at SBU’s Staller Center for the Arts

By Talia Amorosano

The wait is over. On Sunday, June 24, an integral piece of U.S. and Long Island history will be revisited in the geographic location where much of it actually took place. At 7 p.m., the Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook, will host the first major public screening of “One Life to Give,” a film about the friendship and lives of young American heroes Benjamin Tallmadge and Nathan Hale, whose actions would lead to the creation of a Revolutionary spy ring based on the North Shore of Long Island.

Presented in the Main Theater, doors will open at 6:45 p.m. After a message from publisher Leah Dunaief, a short behind-the-scenes documentary will be shown followed by the main film screening. After a message from the creators, the evening will conclude with a Q&A with the cast and crew. Admission to the event is free, courtesy of TBR News Media. No reservations are necessary.

Cast and crew gather around a camera to view playback last summer.

The film’s co-producer and writer, Michael Tessler, describes the film as an exploration of historical events with a human focus. “After spending several years researching Benjamin Tallmadge and the other heroes featured in our film, I began to look at them not as detached names in a textbook, but more so as real people, with real stories that deserve to be told,” he said.

 Dave Morrissey, the actor who portrays Tallmadge in the film, describes his character as a “22-year-old kid,” who, despite his relative youth, is “focused” and “grounded,” propelled into action by the death of his brother at the hands of the British. “When something like that happens to you, you turn into a machine … into something else,” said Morrissey. “If you channel the energy and do what’s right, the possibilities are endless.”

By focusing a metaphorical macro lens on the multidimensional characters of Tallmadge and Hale, the film traverses consequential moments of American history: the Battle of Long Island, the anointing of America’s first spy and the events that would lead to the creation of the Culper Spy Ring, a group of men and women who risked their lives and status to gather British intelligence for the Revolutionary cause. 

Though Tessler notes that the film is, at its heart, a drama, he and the film’s director and co-producer Benji Dunaief stress the cast and crew’s commitment to accuracy in their interpretation of historical events. 

“The history comes second to the narrative in most [other film adaptations of historical events],” says Dunaief. “Our approach with this film was the exact opposite. We wanted to see where we could find narrative within [pre-existing] history.” 

“Many of the lines from the film were plucked directly from the diaries of the heroes themselves,” stated Tessler. “We worked closely with historians and Revolutionary War experts to achieve a level of accuracy usually unseen in such a local production.”

The fact that many scenes from the film were shot in the locations where the events of the real-life narrative took place helped give the visuals a sense of truthfulness and the actors a sense of purpose.

“The location took production to the next level. It’s really crazy how closely related the sets we used were to the actual history,” said Dunaief, who specifically recalls filming at a house that contained wood from Tallmadge’s actual home. “It helped to inspire people in the cast to get into character.” 

Morrissey recalls spending a particularly inspiring Fourth of July on Benner’s Farm in East Setauket. “We were filming the war scenes with all the reenactors … in the cabin that we built for the set … in the town where the battles and espionage had really happened. There were fireworks going on in the background while we sang shanty songs. It was amazing.”

The Continental Army shoots off a cannon at Benner’s Farm.

Though locational and historical accuracy played a large role in making filming a success, ultimately, Dunaief and Tessler credit the resonance of “One Life to Give” to an engaged and participatory community. “This was a community effort on all accounts,” says Dunaief, noting the roles that the Benners, Preservation Long Island, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the Three Village Historical Society and others played to bring “One Life to Give” to fruition. 

The fact that the screening will take place at the Staller Center, in the heart of the community that helped bring the film about, represents a full-circle moment for the cast and crew. “We’re calling it a screening but it is so much more,” said Dunaief. “It is a fantastic example of how the community has stood by this film, from beginning to end.”

“We’re beyond honored and humbled to use a screen that has seen some of the greatest independent films in history,” said Tessler. “Stony Brook University has been a wonderful partner and extremely accommodating as we work to bring our local history to life.” 

Tessler projects confidence that viewers will leave the screening with a similar sense of gratitude. “This story shows a part of our history that I think will make the audience very proud of the place they call home.”

The future of ‘One Life to Give’: 

Michael Tessler and Benji Dunaief plan to show the film at festivals around the country, to conduct a series of screenings on Long Island, and to partner with local historical societies that can use it as an educational tool. Additionally, a sequel to “One Life to Give,” titled “Traitor,” is already in the works. Filming will begin this summer.

All photos by Michael Pawluk Photography

Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ will be screened at the Crab Meadow Beach Drive-In on July 19.

By Sabrina Petroski

Mark your calendars! With the beautiful summer weather comes another season of free outdoor movie screenings for families on the North Shore. Parks, beaches and other outdoor spaces will magically transform into theaters, presenting a mix of animated films, current releases and family favorites.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and the Town of Huntington recently announced this year’s schedule for its annual Movies on the Lawn event. Now in its 14th year, four movies, handpicked by the councilman himself, will be shown over the course of the summer at various locations in the town for free.  

“We are excited to bring you another great lineup of movies this summer. Pack your picnic dinner, blankets and lawn chairs and enjoy this summer’s lineup,” said Cuthbertson. 

This year’s program includes “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” at Heckscher Park, 2 Prime Ave., Huntington on June 25 (rain date July 16); “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” at Crab Meadow Beach Drive-In, Waterside Ave., Northport on Thursday, July 5 (rain date July 31); Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” at Crab Meadow Beach Drive-In on Thursday, July 19 (rain date July 31); and “Despicable Me 3” at Peter Nelson Park, Oakwood Road, Huntington on Aug. 13 (rain date is Aug. 20).  

A sandcastle contest and basketball shoot off will be held on July 19 before the movie. All movies will begin at dusk. 

According to Cuthbertson’s office, no alcohol is allowed at any of the events. If a showing is rained out, the event will be moved to the listed rain date and be shown indoors at Walt Whitman High School, 301 West Hills Road in Huntington Station at 7:30 p.m.

For more information about the movies, including updates, visit http://huntingtonny.gov/moviesonthelawn2018 or call 631-351-3112. 

More free outdoor movie offerings:

•The St. James Chamber of Commerce will host a Movie Night at Deepwells Farm County Park, located at the corner of Route 25A and Moriches Road, St. James on July 17, with “Coco” and Aug. 21 (updated) with “Breaking Legs.” Movies begin at 7:45 p.m. Call 631-584-8510 or visit www.stjameschamber.org for updates.

•Grumman Memorial Park, Route 25, Calverton will screen “Top Gun” on Aug. 3 at 8:30 p.m. Call 631-727-574 or visit www.riverheadrecreation.net for further info.

•Hoyt Farm Park Preserve, 200 New Hwy., Commack will screen “Beauty and the Beast” on Aug. 3 at 8:30 p.m. (rain date is Aug. 10). Alternate street parking is available for nonresidents of Smithtown. For more information, call 631-543-7804 or visit www.smithtowninfo.com.

•North Shore Heritage Park, 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road, Mount Sinai, resumes its annual Movies in the Moonlight series on July 6 with “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” July 20 with “The Incredibles” and Aug. 17 with “Toy Story 3.” Sponsored by Heritage Trust, all movies begin at dusk (approximately 8:15 p.m. Bring a blanket or chair. Movie refreshments will be available at The Shack concession. No rain dates. Questions? Visit www.msheritagetrust.org, or call 631-509-0882.

•The Village of Port Jefferson’s Movies on the Harbor returns to the Jeanne Garant Harborfront Park, 101 East Broadway, Port Jefferson on July 10 with “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory,” July 17 with “Wonder,” July 24 with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (updated),  July 31 with “Cars 3”  and Aug. 7 with “Coco.” Movies begin at dusk and the rain date is the next evening. For additional info, call 631-473-4724 or visit www.portjeff.com.

•Movies Under the Stars returns to Smith Haven Mall’s Lifestyle Village (located next to Dick’s Sporting Goods), Lake Grove, with a screening of “Moana” on Aug. 6, “Justice League” on Aug. 13, “Coco” on Aug. 20 and “A Wrinkle in Time” on Aug. 27. Call 631-724-1433 or visit www.simon.com for updates.

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