Movie Review

From left, Ruth Hussey, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in a scene from ‘The Philadelphia Story’. Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies and Warner Bros. Entertainment are bringing the timeless classic “The Philadelphia Story” to select cinemas nationwide for a special two-day event on Sunday, Feb. 18 and Wednesday, Feb. 21 as part of the TCM Big Screen Classic Series.

Winner of two Academy Awards including best writing, screenplay (Donald Ogden Stewart) and best actor (Jimmy Stewart), “The Philadelphia Story” is a  1940 romantic comedy directed by George Cukor and starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Stewart and Ruth Hussey that was adapted from Philip Barry’s Broadway hit play of the same name.

Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart in a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

In one of her most famous roles, Hepburn plays Tracy Lord, the daughter of a well-to-do Pennsylvania family. On the eve of her wedding, her blue-blood ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant), returns. C.K. discovered that a national tabloid plans to do an exposé on Tracy’s philandering father and has agreed to smuggle a reporter (Stewart) into her wedding if the magazine kills the story on the elder Lord. But C.K. never expects that the woman he still loves will suddenly fall for the undercover reporter. Now, before the evening is over, Tracy will be forced to take an unflinching look at herself and to realize which of these three men she truly loves.

Hepburn won a 1940 New York Film Critics Circle Award for her performance, and the film was named one of the 10 best of the year by Film Daily. Adapted in 1956 as the MGM musical “High Society,” starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Celeste Holm, in 1995 “The Philadelphia Story” was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

The two-day event will also feature an exclusive commentary from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz who will give insight into this classic film.

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 Feb. 18 at 2 p.m. and Feb. 21 at 7 p.m.); and Island 16 Cinema de Lux, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville (on Feb. 18 at 2 p.m. and Feb. 21 at 7 p.m.).

To purchase your ticket in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

FELA The Concert
Lineup celebrates countries and cultures around the world

By Sabrina Petroski

After a brief hiatus, Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts season returns with more fantastical and fun shows for audiences of all ages. This spring will hold many musical and dance performances by award-winning groups and individuals, as well as the screening of recently released films, screenings of the Metropolitan Opera in HD and many performances by SBU’s Department of Music.

Swing Shift Trio

Alan Inkles, director of the Staller Center, is thrilled to be heading into another season. Currently in his 35th year as director, he says this may be the venue’s most exciting and diverse year yet. “I love Audra McDonald, Big Sam’s Funky Nation is going to blow people away and they’re going to be dancing in the Recital Hall aisles, Catapult is just great, and Spherus is fantastic,” Inkles said during a interview in his office on Jan. 16. “All these shows are things that I’ve seen and I know what they’re going to do, but Parson Dance Company is giving me a program I’ve never seen yet and I am really excited for it.”

Inkles said the center produces 40 shows a year, along with film screenings, The Met Opera broadcast, plus the university performances, “and it’s always a really great experience.”

He continued, “A quote that I like to share with my faculty members is, ‘Nothing in life is accomplished without passion.’ I believe that if I can’t be passionate to my team about the upcoming shows, and I’ve been to every single one of them, then the audience can’t. I like watching the audience members’ reactions and seeing their faces; and if we don’t sell enough tickets to pack out the house, I’ll pay for the house. If I have a show that’s not selling well, I like to reach out to local schools or underrepresented families and donate tickets, and we do that every year.”

Catapult

The Staller Center is proud to have been the first theater to have the Live at The Met series and has paved the way for over 200 other theaters all over the country. Inkles says that he always tries to make his seasons diverse not only ethnically but also in the age group they attract. He says that the center likes to celebrate different countries and their cultures.

“We have a very diverse community here and a large international community, so I like the idea of bringing in different things that the students will enjoy,” said Inkles. “We want to do the magical thing of reaching out to people ages 9 through 90, and you can’t always do that with one show. One show may not be someone’s cup of tea, but we will be able to offer them something else that’s more in tune with their interests.”

This years’ annual Staller Center Gala, held on March 3 at 8 p.m., will be hosted by renown comedian, actor, philanthropist and television personality Jay Leno. Opening for the former NBC “Tonight Show” host, and returning to the center for a second time, will be the Doo Wop Project, featuring current and former stars of Broadway’s smash hits “Jersey Boys” and “Motown: The Musical.” Tickets to the Staller Center Gala are $75; gala tickets that include VIP seating, a postperformance reception and recognition in the playbill program are also available at www.stallercenter.com. The reception also includes an intimate performance from the Doo Wop Project and a chance to mingle with Inkles, and possibly Jay Leno himself.

Musical performances

Audra McDonals

On March 7 at 8 p.m., the ever popular chamber music concert Starry Nights will return to the Recital Center. The evening will feature artists-in-residence, professors of music and doctor of musical arts musicians including violinist Philip Setzer, Avery Career Grant winner Arnaud Sussman and cellist and professor of music Colin Carr. The ensemble also includes the top doctoral students in the music program at Stony Brook. Tickets are $38 per person.

The quartet-in-residence, Emerson String Quartet, returns to the Staller Center on March 20. Their exciting mix of music from the 17th, 19th and 20th centuries embraces the new and unusual while celebrating the classics. The nine-time Grammy Award-winning group, and Musical America’s “Ensemble of the Year,” will be performing Purcell’s two fantasies, Bolcom’s Piano Quintet No. 1 and Beethoven’s Quartet No. 13 in A minor, op. 132 (program subject to change). The show starts at 8 p.m. in the Recital Center and tickets are $48.

Big Sam’s Funky Nation, led by trombone powerhouse Big Sam Williams, comes to the Recital Hall on April 7 with their Noladelic PowerFunk style. Their performances are filled with blasts of brass, electric guitar and the charisma of Big Sam, the front man who sings, plays, dances and involves the audience in everything he does. The group of world-class musicians brings the jazz and soul of New Orleans everywhere they go, including mixes of funk, rock, hip-hop and jazz! Tickets are $38 and the show starts at 8 p.m. in the Recital Hall.

On April 21, the Staller Center welcomes Tony, Grammy and Emmy Award-winning singer and actress Audra McDonald to the Main Stage. This powerhouse soprano will be performing many of her Broadway and opera hits. Tickets are $54 and the show starts at 8 p.m.

Dance performances

Tao

The Tony Award-winning Broadway show “Fela! The Concert” comes to the Main Stage of the Staller Center on Feb. 3 at 8 p.m. Featuring members of the original Broadway cast, this lively and inspiring show includes a 10-piece Afrobeat band and singers and dancers performing songs that have been used to promote freedom and champion traditional African culture. Tickets are $42.

The Lezginka Ensemble, the State Dance Ensemble of Daghestan, Russia, will be performing on the Main Stage on Feb. 9. The ensemble includes over 30 dancers who will fill the stage with traditional folk songs and dances of the diverse mountain people of Daghestan. This unique performance includes intense acrobatics and incredible drum and saber work. The dance troupe is said to be “fiery, rhythmic and unforgettable!” Tickets are $40 and the show starts at 8 p.m. Update: This event has been canceled.

On Feb. 17 the Japanese drumming group Tao will be bringing their precision, stamina and innovative choreography to the Main Stage with their show Drum Heart. Their modern twist on a traditional art entices and amazes audiences worldwide. The group sold out their world premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Festival, and Stony Brook now has the chance to see their passion come to life. Back by popular demand, this is their fourth return engagement at the Staller Center. Tickets are $42 and the show starts at 8 p.m.

Dublin Irish Dance

Dublin Irish Dance brings the epic tale of Celtic culture to the stage on March 10 at 8 p.m. with their show Stepping Out. Telling the story of the Great Famine of the mid-1800s, the dancers bring an emotional celebration of the dance and music that came out of a tragic time in Ireland’s history. The audience will journey from past to present and will learn about the fate of Irish immigrants who came to America. Tickets for this Main Stage production are $46.

On April 14, Catapult will grace the Main Stage with their seemingly impossible dancing shadow silhouettes. The “America’s Got Talent” finalists perform behind a screen, transforming their bodies into figures in order to bring marvelous scenes to life. You’ll want to figure out how they do it, and you won’t guess what they’ll come up with next. Catapult also uses exciting music and vibrant colors to give their show the upper hand. Tickets are $40 and the show starts at 8 p.m.

The Parsons Dance Company will be performing on the Main Stage on May 5 at 8 p.m. With their trained precision and extreme athleticism, these eight dancers will be performing the choreography of David Parsons. The group has a modern style, mixing gesture and movement to make something beautiful. The Parsons Dance Company has toured the United States and Italy, as well as appeared on French Public Television in a live broadcast. Tickets are $42.

The Met: Live in HD

The Staller Center will be screening seven operas, bringing the Metropolitan Opera in HD direct from the Met to the Main Stage. The shows include Puccini’s “Tosca” on Jan. 28, Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” on Feb. 10, Puccini’s “La Bohème” on Feb. 25, Rossini’s “Semiramide” on March 11, Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” on April 8, Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” on April 15 and Massenet’s “Cendrillon” on May 6. For more schedule information go to www.stallercenter.com. Tickets are $22 general admission, $20 for seniors 62 and over, and $15 for students.

For kids of all ages

Imago Theatre’s “LaBelle”

On Jan. 27 at 4 p.m. the Imago Theatre will be performing “La Belle — Lost in the World of Automation,” a Steampunk Fairy Tale based on “Beauty and the Beast” on the Main Stage. The show includes elaborate puppets, a large whirring ship, original music and shadow play, with a story line set on a steamboat in the 1920s. The Imago Theatre, which has toured globally for three decades, uses over 100 effects, puppets and automata to tell this tale that burrows through the hard shell of adulthood to the childlike wonder of innocence and imagination. Tickets are $20.

International Juggling champion Greg Kennedy and his acrobatic duo of aerial dancers will be performing their show Spherus on March 18 at 4 p.m. Touted as a circus with an extra dimension, Spherus is full of fascinating effects with principles of geometry and physics to create groundbreaking and colorful work set to music. Kennedy, a former member of Cirque du Soleil and a Gold Medal recipient from the International Juggling Association, brings curiosity to life with a circus for all ages. Tickets are $20.

Tickets for the shows may be ordered by calling 631-632-2787. Order tickets online by visiting www.stallercenter.com.

Films

Once again, the Staller Center will be screening award-winning movies on five Friday nights starting Feb. 23. Two films will be shown starting at 7 p.m. on the Main Stage.

On Feb. 23, the 2016 Slovak-Czech drama film “The Teacher” (in Slovak with subtitles) and the psychological drama “All I See Is You”  about a blind woman who regains her sight and begins to discover the previously unseen and disturbing details about herself, her marriage and the lives of her and her husband, will be screened at 7 and 9 p.m., respectively.

On March 9, the 2017 drama “Wonderstruck” about a young boy in the Midwest is told simultaneously with a tale about a young girl in New York from 50 years ago as they both seek the same mysterious connection will screen at 7 p.m. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” a crime drama about a mother challenging the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit, will be shown at 9:15 p.m.

On March 16, the Golden Globe-winning “Lady Bird,” the coming-of-age story about a 17-year-old girl in Sacramento, California, will be screened at 7 p.m. and “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” the story of a driven, idealistic defense attorney that finds himself in a tumultuous series of events that lead to a crisis and the necessity for extreme action, will both shown at 9 p.m.

On March 23, “After the Storm” (in Japanese with subtitles), a film about a man struggling to take back control of his existence and to find a lasting place in the life of his young son until a stormy summer night offers them a chance to truly bond again, will be shown at 7 p.m. The Golden Globe winner “The Shape of Water,” about a lonely janitor at a top-secret research facility in the 1960s who forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity, will be shown at 9:15 p.m.

On April 6, “The Post,” a historical drama about the country’s first female publisher of a major newspaper and a hard-driving editor who join an unprecedented battle between journalist and government will play at 7 p.m. “Molly’s Game,” the Golden Globe-nominated drama about the true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target, will play at 9:15 p.m.

Tickets to the movie screenings are $10 for adults, $7 for students and $5 for Stony Brook University students. A movie pass good for all films in $30. To order, visit www.stallercenter.com/movies or call the box office at 631-632-ARTS (2787).

About the author: Farmingville resident Sabrina Petroski is a junior at SUNY New Paltz studying digital media production and journalism. She recently interned at TBR News Media during her winter break and hopes to come back during the summer to gain more experience as a journalist.

Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep lead an all-star cast in Steven Spielberg’s film about the release of the Pentagon Papers. Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

By Kevin Redding

Like a reporter punching away at keys to hit a deadline, “The Post” is fast paced, reflective and inspired in its depiction of the most pivotal moment in American journalism: In the summer of 1971, the Washington Post risked it all to publish the Pentagon Papers, a decision that exposed the lies of political leaders surrounding the Vietnam War and firmly protected the First Amendment against suppression by the occupant of the White House.

Carried by a terrific ensemble of seasoned actors and actresses — including Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bradley Whitford, Bob Odenkirk and Sarah Paulson — this docudrama is an incredibly entertaining, pulse-pounding and extremely timely work by a legendary filmmaker who proves he’s still at the top of his game.

A scene from ‘The Post’

In the beginning of 2017, Steven Spielberg was antsy. Antsy because he was sitting around in postproduction limbo, waiting for the special effects to be assembled on his upcoming blockbuster, “Ready Player One.” Antsy to get back behind the camera and do what he does best. And perhaps a little antsy in observance of the state of America around him, in which the president of the United States wages war on the media on a day-to-day basis via Twitter and continually discards foolproof facts as “fake news.”

Enter “The Post,” a film whose screenplay Spielberg read in February, began shooting in May and released nationwide in late December. “When I read the first draft of the script [written by newcomer Liz Hannah], this wasn’t something that could wait three years or two years,” Spielberg said in an interview with USA Today. “This was a story I felt we needed to tell today.”

A fitting entry in Spielberg’s recent arsenal of films celebrating “American values” (“Lincoln,” “Bridge of Spies”), “The Post” is certainly not subtle in its intentions as a reflection of today’s climate, championing the merits of the press and villainizing leaders who wish to stamp it out. This is all done through the masterful vision of Spielberg, who moves the camera like no other director, knowing exactly when to hold on a moment and when to deliver a visual treat for the audience.

The Washington Post reporters in the film — seen schmoozing in cigarette smoke-filled newsrooms, racing to track down sources, and click-clacking away on typewriters in an effort to make the public aware that their leaders knew the war in Vietnam was a losing battle for decades, yet continued to let young soldiers die mostly to avoid the humiliation of an American defeat — are the heroes, “the small rebellion,” as Odenkirk’s Ben Bagdikian calls them.

Meanwhile, President Richard Nixon is portrayed only as a dark silhouette in a voyeuristic shot through the windows of the White House as he barks into a phone to administration officials that “The press is the enemy” and must be silenced with an injunction. He also asserts that no reporter from the Washington Post is ever to be allowed in the White House.

As stated in the movie by Ben Bradlee (Hanks), the famously tough, feather-ruffling editor of the Post: “We have to be the check on their power. We don’t hold them accountable, my God, who will?”

The heart and soul of the movie lies with the working relationship between Bradlee and Katharine Graham (Streep), the Post’s publisher who inherits her family’s newspaper after her husband — Philip Graham, publisher since 1946, who succeeded Katharine’s father — dies, catapulting her into a position neither she nor anybody else ever expected her to fill. Throughout the course of the film, Graham finds her voice and becomes a leader in the male-dominated business, a journey that’s handled beautifully and satisfyingly. And, like everything else, hits a poignant note in modern times.

After The New York Times receives and publishes several top-secret pages of the Pentagon Papers, the Nixon administration hits it with a lawsuit, prompting the courts to rule that the Times cannot publish any more of the documents or any of its findings.

Not one to be outdone by the New York Times, Bradlee encourages his assistant editor, Bagdikian, to chase down the Times’ source for the leak, who delivers to the Post a total 7,000 pages of the documents. In an especially thrilling scene, Bradlee hosts a small team of reporters in his living room to sift through and make sense of the piles of papers, all while his wife (Paulson) serves sandwiches, his daughter sells lemonade, and a pack of lawyers and newspaper investors balk at their plan to undermine Nixon’s authority and publish them, fearing it will result in the paper’s demise.

Graham must decide whether or not to allow the documents to be published. By doing so, she risks the legacy of her family’s newspaper and also the friendships she has with many Washington, D.C., players, including Robert McNamara, secretary of defense under President Lyndon Johnson, who is largely involved in the deception of the American public. Although we, the audience, know the outcome of the film’s events, it’s great fun to watch it unfold, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s a history lesson presented by some of the finest actors, and the greatest director, that ever lived. It’s an incredibly human and powerful story that serves as a great reminder that the voices of the governed should always be louder than those of the governors.

Rated PG-13 for “salty language,” “The Post is now playing in local theaters.

Above, Humphrey Bogart and a young Robert Blake. Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

Nothing is more special for a movie fan than seeing their favorite classics on the big screen — and in 2018, Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies will present 13 classic movies in theaters nationwide as part of the TCM Big Screen Classics Series.

Humphrey Bogart in a scene from ‘The Treasures of the Sierra Madre’. Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

Kicking off the New Year in celebration of its 70th anniversary, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” will return to 600 select cinemas nationwide on Sunday, Jan. 14 and Tuesday, Jan. 16. The special screening of the 1948 classic will include exclusive insight from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

Director John Huston’s unforgettable drama follows desperate prospectors, Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt and Walter Huston, who set off to find gold in the rugged Mexican wilderness. Instead, they find trouble — not the least of which is the temptation of greed.

While countless films deal with the subject of money and greed, and the deadly combination the two can create, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” stands out for its artistry, including John Huston’s direction, the performances of Bogart and Walter Huston (John’s father) and the stellar camera work of Ted McCord. It’s an uncompromising look at the dark side of human nature.

Participating movie theaters in our neck of the woods include Island 16 Cinema de Lux, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville, at 2 p.m. on Jan. 14 and 7 p.m. on Jan. 16; AMC Loews Stony Brook 17, 2196 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook at 2 and 7 p.m. both days; and Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas, 1001 Broadhollow Road, Farmingdale, at 2 p.m. on Jan. 14 and 7 p.m. on Jan. 16. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.fathomevents.com or at participating theater box offices.

The exciting film series will continue in February with “The Philadelphia Story” starring Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart; “Vertigo” starring Jimmy Stewart in March; “Grease” with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in April; Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” in May; Mel Brook’s “The Producers” starring Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel in June; “Big” starring Tom Hanks in July; the Coen brother’s “The Big Lebowski” and “South Pacific” with Rossano Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor in August; “Rebel Without a Cause” with James Dean in September; “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” with James Stewart in October; “Die Hard” starring Bruce Willis in November; and for the holidays, “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in December. For exact dates, locations and times, visit www.fathomevents.com

From left, Nick Jonas, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart star in the new ‘Jumanji’ reboot. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

By Heidi Sutton

After a 21-year absence, the African drums are back and beating stronger than ever. Fresh, original and exciting, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” rightfully topped the charts last weekend as king of the mountain, bumping “Insidious” to second and “Star Wars” to third.

Directed by Jake Kasdan (“Bad Teacher,” “Sex Tape,”) “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is based on the 1981 children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. While many theorize the film is a remake of the original 1995 classic starring Robin Williams, it is actually a sequel that has been adapted for modern audiences where the creepy board game finds new unsuspecting players to terrorize. That was Kasdan’s goal from the beginning, reaffirmed in a recent interview with Forbes Magazine. “I loved the original movie, and [this new film] was a really cool extension of that, but it was vital to us that it stands on its own and be its own thing.”

This time around, instead of the jungle and all its creatures coming to town and creating havoc (remember the monkeys?), the four main characters are sucked into the game and have to overcome many obstacles to be able to come back home.

From left, Alex Wolff , Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman and Morgan Turner play four teens that fall prey to ‘Jumanji,’ now in the form of a video game. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

The year is 2016 and “Jumanji” has transformed itself into a video game, the only way it can attract its next victims (“who plays board games anymore?”). Sitting innocently on a shelf in a high school storage room, it peaks the interest of four students of Brantford High School who find it while serving detention for the afternoon. (Think “Breakfast Club.”) There’s Spencer Gilpin, self-proclaimed nerd; jock Anthony “Fridge” Johnson; popular girl Bethany Walker; and shy bookworm Martha Kaply. When each teenager chooses an avatar to start the game, they are teleported to a dangerous jungle and become the characters they have chosen.

Spencer is now Dr. Smolder Bravestone, played by the 6-foot 5-inch Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; Fridge is the short zoologist Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart); Martha is a martial arts expert, Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan); and Bethany is an overweight, middle-aged cartographer named Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black). Black’s performance as a 16-year-old girl is brilliant.

The group soon realizes that they are in a video game, and each has just three lives. If they lose all three, they will die for real. Their mission is to steal the Jaguar’s Eye from big-game hunter, Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), return it to its rightful owner and win the game.

One of the funniest moments throughout the film is the special skills and weaknesses attributed to the avatars. While Gillan’s character weakness is venom and Black’s weakness is endurance, Hart’s weakness is strength, speed and cake, and instantly self-implodes when he takes a bite. On the other hand, The Rock has no weaknesses, only a “smoldering charisma,” which he utilizes quite often.

As the movie progresses, the avatars lose lifeline after lifeline, dying in various ways and then dropping from the sky for another try. When things start to look grim, they bump into Alex (Nick Jonas), a boy from their town who has been lost in the jungle for 20 years. Can the five combine their skills to overcome the game’s magical power and return home?

Filmed on the Hawaiian island of Kauai where “Jurassic World” was also filmed, the movie is visually stunning and the special effects are top notch. With a great script, adventure, action packed and funny as tech, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is now playing in area theaters.

Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and some language.

Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig star as a husband and wife who consider shrinking themselves in order to simplify their lives. Photo courtesy of Venice Film Festival

By Michael Tessler

Several months ago I stumbled upon the trailer for “Downsizing” and its concept really struck me as something special. In an era of reboots and sequels it was so refreshing to hear an idea I’d never heard before. Judging from the trailer, the film appeared to be a fun-sized science fiction comedy perfect for families during the holiday season. What was delivered, however, was something entirely different for better or worse, I’m still not quite sure, and it’s definitely not kid friendly.

Here’s what you need to know: With the global population swelling, scientists in Norway discover a formula that shrinks people to miniature size. In the years that follow, communities begin popping up around the world that allow “downsized” individuals to live like kings in idealistic domed neighborhoods. Since everything is smaller, it is significantly cheaper … allowing people who’d otherwise be poor or in the middle class to enjoy life in massive mansions with the most expensive foods and goods at their pint-sized disposal.

Udo Kier, Matt Damon and Christoph Waltz in a scene from ‘Downsizing’

Directed by Alexander Payne, the story follows occupational therapist Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), your generic middle-class man who is forced to live in his childhood home after his mother gets sick. He and his wife, played by SNL alumni Kristen Wiig, attend a high school reunion where they discover that two of their old friends have downsized. After having them over for dinner, they make a trip to visit one of these pint-sized communities. Ultimately the couple decides to move forward with being downsized, selling their home, possessions, and planning to enjoy life as millionaires in the idealistic Leisureland Estates.

Separated by gender, Damon’s character undergoes the procedure first. It hilariously involves the shaving of his eyebrows and facial hair, among other things. He awakes as a small person, about 6 inches tall, and is shocked to discover that his wife has backed out at the very last minute, leaving him alone in a small, small world.

From there the story flashes forward and takes a few unexpected turns as we are introduced to eccentric millionaire Dusan Mirkovic, played by the enormously talented and multifaceted Christoph Waltz (“Inglorious Bastards,” “Django Unchained”) and, among the most unanticipated turns, the introduction of Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese civil rights activist who gets downsized by her government as punishment for staging a series of protests. In the process she loses her leg and lives in the slums outside Leisureland working as a maid. Portrayed by the lovable Hong Chau, this character adds an exciting dimension to the story.

The cast also includes brief but memorable appearances by the likes of Margo Martindale, Jason Sudeikis, Udo Kier, Laura Dern, Niecy Nash, Kerri Kenney and Neil Patrick Harris.

Visually, this film is stunning, especially in its ability to make you thoroughly believe in these downsized communities. Where this film flops is its inability to figure out what it wants to be and accomplish. “Downsizing” has the perfect cast to get the job done, but the screenplay doesn’t quite deliver. It has some very funny moments though, to the point where belly aching laughter was heard throughout the theater on various occasions. It also has some serious undertones about purpose and conserving the world we live in. By the end of the film, however, I didn’t quite feel the story was neatly tied up … and the writer’s vision fell a little flat.

In an effort to achieve too much, “Downsizing” misses the mark. Forgetting its own lesson in the process, that bigger isn’t always better. Though certainly entertaining, I’d give “Downsizing” a generous 6/10.

Rated R for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use, “Downsizing” is now playing in local theaters.

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Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley in a scene from ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’. Photo courtesy of Lucas Films

By Caleb Bridger

Picking up almost immediately after “The Force Awakens” the second installment of Star Wars’ third trilogy, “The Last Jedi,” follows the fledgling Resistance being outgunned across the galaxy by the mysterious First Order. Meanwhile on a distant and ancient world, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker has entered self-imposed exile after his former pupil Kylo Ren has slaughtered all the students at his new Jedi Academy. Rey, a scavenger orphan from the junkyards of Jakku, finds herself standing before the legendary Jedi master turned hermit … offering him the lightsaber of his father, Darth Vader, in hopes that he’ll train her in the ways of the Force. Pretty great setup, but not the greatest execution in Star Wars history.

In an effort to accomplish too much, “The Last Jedi” achieves too little. Though wildly entertaining, the film somehow remains a major disappointment. This sequel trilogy can best be defined for its Death Star-sized plot holes, which seem to continuously blow up again and again with the film’s sloppy writing and pacing. The film at times feels like a campy parody of Star Wars, featuring an all-star cast and some beloved familiar faces who are given continuous piles of bantha fodder to work with. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this film, but I certainly didn’t like it either.

Disney took a gamble by passing the Star Wars trilogy off to multiple writers and directors. Though their gamble has certainly “paid off” in the literal box office sense, the Star Wars franchise has taken a damaging hit, losing itself and beloved characters, and bringing a new generation of fans into a series that is becoming increasingly difficult to love and follow.

In 2014, JJ Abrams (“Star Trek,” “Lost”) alongside veteran Star Wars writer Lawrence Kasdan (“Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi)” returned us to a galaxy far, far away after replacing Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”) who’s original Episode VII screenplay was scratched.

Disney was eager for its return on investment so their work was rushed, the galaxy they built thoroughly undeveloped … forcing them to deliver a plot that can be described as sloppy at best and self-plagiarism at worst. “The Force Awakens,” which I originally gave a rave review, has not aged gracefully in the two years since its theater debut. Several viewings later, I can say that film only succeeded because of nostalgia, incredible casting and for the enormous potential of its sequel.

Writer/director Rian Johnson tried to leave his own mark on the franchise by course correcting the failed plot of Kasdan and Abrams’ “The Force Awakens,” quite literally and symbolically throwing away their story arch as Luke tosses his father’s lightsaber over his shoulder, denying Rey the tutelage she so desperately sought at the end of the seventh installment. This disconnect between two otherwise great talents effectively ended any sense of a unified trilogy and story. Almost impressively, Johnson, in two and a half hours, manages to move the overall plot barely an inch.

What shines best in this film is the cast. From top to bottom, it’s hard not to love this diverse and enormously talented ensemble. Old heroes return as well as a generation of new talent who are quickly taking Hollywood by storm.

Among those who shine the brightest are Oscar Isaac as the dashing X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron. His bromance with former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) is alive and well, much to the audience’s enjoyment. My favorite pair, however, is the unlikely duo of Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver. Ridley brings to life the force-wielding scavenger and would-be Jedi padawan Rey. Meanwhile the quirky and brilliant Adam Driver serves as her complicated dark side counterpart, Kylo Ren, the film’s primary antagonist and fallen apprentice of Luke Skywalker. These two share in a remarkable performance and also produce “The Last Jedi’s” greatest scene, which will no doubt enter the annals of Star Wars lore.

Carrie Fisher’s finest performance is unfortunately also her final performance. Princess Leia returns to the big screen as a fearless leader and general, both emotionally complex and still spitting out that same quick humor that helped her ascend to fame.

In this film she’s joined by her twin brother, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill. Though I wasn’t a fan of Luke’s new story arch, I’m still very much in love with this poor moisture farmer from Tatooine who becomes one of the galaxies greatest legends. Hamill reminds us all why we fell in love with Luke Skywalker in the first place.

“Stars Wars: The Last Jedi,” despite its flaws, remains a must-see film filled to the brim with excitement, spectacular cinematography and some serious action. There is still much to love in this eighth Star Wars installment, even if the Force falls flat from time to time. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, “The Last Jedi” is now playing in local theaters.

Home Entertainment Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman star in ‘Casablanca.’
‘Here’s looking at you, kid’

In celebration of its 75th anniversary, “Casablanca” will return to select movie theaters nationwide on Sunday, Nov. 12 and Wednesday, Nov. 15, courtesy of Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies and Warner Bros. The screening will include an exclusive commentary from TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz who will give insight into this classic film.

Paul Henreid and Humphrey Bogart in a scene from ‘Casablanca’

Considered one of Hollywood’s greatest and most iconic films, “Casablanca” won an Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director Michael Curtiz and Best Adapted Screenplay by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch. Set against the backdrop of World War II, the 1942 classic stars Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine, the owner of a nightclub in Vichy-controlled Casablanca, whose life changes forever when his lost love, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), walks into his club and back into his life.

Participating movie theaters in our neck of the woods include AMC Loews Stony Brook 17 (at 2 and 7 p.m. on both days); Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas (at 2 p.m. on Nov. 12 and at 2 and 7 p.m. on Nov. 15); and Island 16 Cinema de Lux in Holtsville (at 2 p.m. on Nov. 12 and at 2 and 7 p.m. on Nov. 15). To purchase your ticket in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Rick Moranis and Audrey II in a scene from ‘Little Shop of Horrors’. Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

Just in time for Halloween, “Little Shop of Horrors: The Director’s Cut” will return to select cinemas nationwide on Sunday, Oct. 29 and Tuesday, Oct. 31, courtesy of Fathom Events and Warner Bros. Written by the Oscar-winning team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, it will also include a brand-new, exclusive interview with director Frank Oz.

Business is bad at Mushnick’s Flower shop. Shy Seymour and brave Audrey will soon be unemployed. That is until Seymour pricks his finger and a sickly little exotic plant gets its first taste of human blood. The plant spurts 10 feet tall. As horticultural interest in “Audrey II” sprouts, Mushnick’s business takes off. But fresh blood must be found — and people start disappearing. Love and business bloom at a hilarious yet bloody cost.

Starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin and Vincent Gardenia in the leading roles with Levi Stubbs as the voice of Audrey II, the 1986 American rock musical horror comedy film will feature the rarely seen original ending.

Participating movie theaters in our neck of the woods include AMC Loews Stony Brook 17 (Oct. 29 and Oct. 31 at 2 and 7 p.m.); Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas (at 7 p.m. both days); and Island 16 Cinema de Lux in Holtsville (at 7 p.m. both days). To purchase your ticket in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

AS YOU WISH Cary Elwes and Robin Wright star in ‘The Princess Bride’

Inconceivable! Thirty years have passed since the tale of Princess Buttercup and her true love Westley became a movie classic. In celebration of its 30th anniversary, Rob Reiner’s film adaptation of William Goldman’s “The Princess Bride” will return to over 700 select cinemas nationwide on Sunday, Oct. 15 and Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m., as part of the TCM Big Screen Classics series from Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies.

André the Giant and Robin Wright in a scene from ‘The Princess Bride.’

When the beautiful maiden Buttercup (Robin Wright) hears that her true love Westley (Cary Elwes) is dead, she reluctantly agrees to marry the loathsome Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). After Westley returns to rescue Buttercup, the two begin an epic adventure filled with giants, fire swamps and rodents of unusual size. Featuring an all-star cast, including Mandy Patinkin, Carol Kane, André the Giant and Billy Crystal, the film proves that true love will conquer all. The screening will include a special introduction by TCM Primetime host Ben Mankiewicz and Reiner, who will discuss “The Princess Bride” and its legacy.

Participating movie theaters in our neck of the woods include AMC Loews Stony Brook 17, 2196 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook; Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas, 1001 Broadhollow Road, Farmingdale; and Island 16 Cinema de Lux, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville. To purchase your ticket in advance, please visit www.fathomevents.com.

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