Movie Review

Image from PJDS

The Port Jefferson Documentary Series will host a special summer screening of “Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation” at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson on Monday, July 29 at 7 p.m. 

With never-before-seen footage, the documentary tells the story of the political and social upheaval leading up to those three historic days, as well as the extraordinary events of the concert itself, when near disaster put the ideals of the counterculture to the test. 

The screening will be followed by an interview with co-screenwriter/editor Don Kleszy. $8 advance sale tickets are now available at www.portjeffdocumentaryseries. Tickets will also be sold at the door (cash only). For further info, call 631-473-5220.

The German film ‘Sweethearts’ starring Karoline Herfurth and Hannah Herzsprung makes its U.S. premiere at the festival on July 20. Photo from Staller Center

The Staller Center turns into a movie lover’s mecca when new independent films from nearly 20 countries screen at the Stony Brook Film Festival on evenings and weekends from Thursday, July 18 to Saturday, July 27. The popular festival, now in its 24th year, brings a highly selective roster of diverse films, making it a favorite of moviegoers and filmmakers alike.

Produced by the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University, the festival pairs memorable short films with an array of features you won’t see anywhere else. This year’s event, presented by Island Federal, brings in filmmakers, cast and crew who field questions after the screenings, adding a unique dimension to the experience.

The idea of family forms the foundation for many of the features and shorts at the festival this year. Whether they are by birth or by choice, flexible or dysfunctional, generational or newly formed, you will see families of all stripes in films that take place in nearly 20 countries, from Australia to Austria, India to Israel and Spain to South Africa.

The families in this year’s films are found in Cold War era East Germany and the political upheaval of 1980s Jerusalem. They brave the isolation of North Dakotan farmlands, experience drug-fueled head trips in the California desert and solve idiosyncratic murders on a small Turkish island. They live in Paris’ Chinatown as well as remote Himalayan villages; they travel the dusty roads of Senegal and the long highway from the south of England to the Isle of Skye; and they revel in the lush rain forest of Queensland and the wilds of Appalachia.

PREMIERES

There are many world, U.S., East Coast and New York premieres in this year’s festival including the opening film, Balloon, a German film based on the true story of two families who escaped East Germany on their homemade hot air balloon, which is making its New York premiere on July 18.

The festival closes with another New York premiere of the French film Lola & Her Brothers, a charming comedy about three adult siblings who are still trying to look after one other after losing their parents.

Several American indie films will have their world premiere at the festival, and many foreign films, including Yao, Sweethearts, Miamor perdido, Lady Winsley and Made in China will have their U.S. premieres. 

American features include Them That Follow, a tense drama featuring Academy Award winner Olivia Colman; the raucous comedy Babysplitters, featuring Long Island native Eddie Alfano; and Guest Artist, a stunning and humorous film written by and starring Jeff Daniels and directed by Timothy Busfield. 

“The quality and diversity in our dramas, comedies, and documentaries are extremely high and I expect our audience to be thoroughly entertained this summer,” said Alan Inkles, Stony Brook Film Festival founder and director. 

For a complete film schedule and descriptions of all of the films, visit www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com.

TICKET INFORMATION

All screenings are held at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook in the 1,000-seat Main Stage theater. Film passes are on sale for $90, which includes admission to all 20 features and 16 shorts over 10 days. 

Passholder perks include VIP gifts, discounts to over a dozen area restaurants throughout the summer, guaranteed admission 15 minutes before each film, and the opportunity to purchase tickets for the Closing Night Awards reception. 

For $250 you can purchase a Gold Pass and receive all the Regular Pass perks plus reserved seating with filmmakers and guests, as well as entry to the exclusive Opening Night party and the Closing Night Awards reception. 

Single tickets for individual films are also available for $12 adults, $10 seniors, $5 students. For more information or to order, call the Staller Center Box Office at 631-632-2787.

Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson in a scene from the movie. Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Fans of Mindy Kaling, best known for “The Office” and “The Mindy Project,” have been flocking to theaters to see her debut as feature writer for “Late Night,” a by-the-numbers comedy that takes on the issue of diversity in the workplace and makes its statement with a connect-the-dots expectation. Directed by Nisha Ganatra, there are no surprises but it still makes for an enjoyable hour and 45 minutes.

Emma Thompson in a scene from ‘Late Night’

Emma Thompson plays legendary late-night talk show host Katherine Newbury whose ratings have been slipping. She has surrounded herself with an all-male, all-white staff and is described as a “woman who hates women.” In response to this, she gives her long-suffering producer Brad (a wonderful Denis O’Hare) the task of hiring a woman. Through slightly unbelievable machinations, he brings on chemical plant worker Molly (Mindy Kaling) to the writing staff.  

Instead of a true examination of hiring practices, what ensues is humorous but contrived as Molly is first ostracized and then embraced by the team. There are occasional edgy moments – including Molly writing a topical and controversial monologue joke – but these risks are few. For the most part, it adheres to traditional comedy tropes, including an ill-fated and unnecessary romantic entanglement that feels incomplete. (There is a sense throughout the film that a good deal ended up on the cutting room floor as certain ideas and conflicts are introduced but not seen to conclusion.)

The first turning point is when Katherine discovers she is going to be replaced by a mainstream and extremely coarse comedian Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz, a subtle performance that avoids caricature). With this impetus, she goes to war with the head of the network Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan, saddled with a two-dimensional character). With Molly’s wide-eyed, aw-shucks guidance, Katherine begins to reinvent herself.

Minday Kaling in a scene from ‘Late Night’

Emma Thompson, one of the greatest and most versatile actors, creates a delightful monster of a boss. She never talks to her writers and doesn’t even bother to learn their names. When forced into a room with them, she gives them numbers. This is not done with cruelty but rather by someone who cannot be bothered with the people beneath her. Of course, in a comedy of this nature, she gradually learns to appreciate them.

Thompson’s depth is best shown when interacting with her ill husband Walter (a touching John Lithgow) and in an impromptu performance at a hole-in-the-wall benefit downtown. In the latter scene, the audience can see her pondering the mortality of her career.

Kaling is Thompson’s co-star and conscience. She is also “Late Night’s” writer and producer, which perhaps explains some of the weaknesses. As an actor, Kaling is a personality performer. There is no genuine complexity in her work but she is comfortable in her persona. She is watchable but, unlike with Thompson, as a presence, she is not transformative.  

The film is bolstered by a cast of strong actors in convincing performances, including Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott, Max Casella, Paul Hauser and John Early. It is interesting to note that with the exception of Thompson and Kaling, there are no other fully developed female characters.

The second act crisis is clumsily manipulated but, once again, the actors are able to make it work. “Late Night” builds to an expected resolution but, given the nature of the film, it is the one that the audience hopes for and expects.

Rated R, “Late Night” is now playing at local theaters.

Times Beacon Record News Media hosted a double-feature screening of “One Life to Give” and its sequel, “Traitor: A Culper Spy Story,” at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts on Sunday, June 23. The screenings were followed by a Q&A with Executive Producer Leah Dunaief, Director Benji Dunaief, featured actors Dave Morrissey Jr. and Jonathan Rabeno and production designer Connor O’Neill. The free event, TBR’s gift to the community, attracted hundreds of history buffs to the Main Stage Theater to learn about Setauket’s Culper spies and their critical role in the Revolutionary War.

Photos by Rita J. Egan and David Ackerman

Dr. Jud Newborn presents Dr. Ruth with a birthday cake during her visit to the Cinema Arts Centre last Wednesday

America’s most famous sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer visited the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington on June 19 for a 91st birthday celebration and screening of the new acclaimed documentary, “Ask Dr. Ruth.” The sold-out event also included an interview with Dr. Jud Newborn, Cinema Arts Centre curator and producer of celebrity events, followed by a special reception with entertainment from Metropolitan Klezmer. All attendees received a copy of Westheimer’s latest book, The Doctor Is In: Dr. Ruth on Love, Life, and Joie de Vivre.

Photos by Andrew Attard/ Flashback Photography of Long Island

Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson star in the latest installment of ‘Men in Black.’ Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

By Heidi Sutton

‘Always remember, the universe has a way of leading you to where you’re supposed to be at the moment you’re supposed to be there.’ – Agent High T

It’s been seven years since Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones teamed up as Agent J and Agent K for the last time in “Men in Black 3.” This past Friday, Sony Pictures delivered the fourth and final installment of the series, “Men in Black: International,” to theaters nationwide.

Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth

Directed by F. Gary Gray (“The Fate of the Furious”) and written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, the sci-fi flick follows the London-based team of Men in Black, a secret police force that monitors and maintains order on the comings and goings of extraterrestrials.

While investigating the murder of the alien Vungus the Ugly (Kayvan Novak), top agent H/Henry (Chris Hemsworth) and probationary agent Molly Wright/Agent M (Tessa Thompson) travel around the globe (hence the title) to Paris, New York City, Naples, Marrakesh and the Sahara, to “protect the Earth from the scum of the universe.”

Along the way, they find (and constantly lose) the Tesseract, a magical, glowing, cube-like object that has the power to control the universe. On top of that, they suspect a mole in the MIB organization, further threatening the fate of planet Earth.

The neuralyzer is back to erase our memory, the comedic lines and sarcasm too. Every method of transportation has a warp-speed option, from a rocket-powered bike, bullet train and a Lexus, and the weapons of choice are bigger, fancier and more powerful than ever before.

Les Twins

Scarier, stranger and cuter aliens lurk in every corner, in particular the shape-shifting extraterrestrial assassins Les Twins (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) who seek to possess the Tesseract, and Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani), a pocket-sized, scene-stealing green alien.

Hemsworth and Thompson (of “Thor: Ragnarok” fame) have great chemistry together but any notion of romance between the two is mute. The film also stars Liam Neeson as High T, the head of MIB UK branch; Rafe Spall as Agent C, Agent H’s nemesis; Emma Thompson as Agent O, the head of MIB; and Rebecca Ferguson as Riza Stavros, an alien intergalactic arms dealer who has three arms.

The movie has been receiving more negative reviews than not, even going as far as to say “it’s a case of the blahs” and “you’ll forget it in a flash,” but fans of the original trilogy should find it enjoyable, action-packed, with visually special effects. And, of course, Chris Hemsworth is very easy on the eyes, so that always a plus.

Running time is 2 hours. Rated PG-13 (for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material), “Men in Black International” is now playing in local theaters.

Taron Egerton as Elton John in a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Elton John: So how does a fat boy from nowhere get to be a soul man?

Wilson: You got to kill the person you were born to be in order to become the person you want to be.

The first moments of “Rocketman” easily establish the world in which this film will take place. In full demonic costume, Elton John descends on a rehab group therapy session. This serves as the framework throughout this unusual musical.

Promoted as “based on a true fantasy,” this is less a biopic of Elton John (who produced) but a fantastical rumination on the power and price of superstardom. Chronology and accuracy of time line are flexible at best but this by no means is a complaint. The result is a flashy, frenetic and wholly engaging two hours where we are treated to John’s rise and ultimate self-destruction. 

The movie is both a traditional and a unique musical, most often using the songs to further the story rather than focusing on his concert career. The unusual gambit pays off in Dexter Fletcher’s imaginative direction of Lee Hall’s scattered but satisfying screenplay.

Taron Egerton as Elton John in a scene from the film Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

The film shifts quickly from the rehab group therapy as John literally steps into his past. A cold and distant father (an appropriately uncomfortable Steven Mackintosh) paired with an indifferent and narcissistic mother (Bryce Dallas Howard, in an ugly but believable performance) fuel his need to find himself.

“I wish I was someone else,” laments his boyhood self, Reginald Dwight. With the encouragement of a benevolent grandmother (the always wonderful Gemma Jones), he begins to take piano lessons, graduating to a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music.

The film hopscotches through the next years as he begins playing with the pub band, Bluesology. The story then hits the highlights. These include connecting with music publisher Dick James (a cigar-and-scenery-chewing Stephen Graham), meeting and working with his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin (a saintly Jamie Bell) and his debut at the Troubadour, a Los Angeles club. It is here he meets John Reid (Richard Madden, a little too full-on villain) who becomes his manager and his lover.

Much of the film follows this destructive relationship. John then begins the transition to the flamboyant persona that would carry him through much of his career. With success comes a life of excess as he becomes embroiled in alcohol, drugs and sex.

The film’s center needs to be its heartbeat.  In the starring role Taron Egerton creates a mesmerizing, three-dimensional performance and even provides his own vocals. Egerton smoothly arcs from the inhibited Reggie to the outrageous but equally self-doubting
Elton John. He manifests a complete rainbow of humanity, with shades of loneliness showing through even the grandest moments. Egerton is a marvel and drives the entire film.

As for the music, nearly two dozen songs are used, including “The Bitch Is Back” (a fascinating opening), “I Want Love” (highlighting the family’s dysfunction), “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting” (chronicling his early years), “Honky Cat” (embracing his life of indulgence), “Rocketman” (an attempted suicide and recovery), “Bennie and the Jets” (spiraling down), “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road” (emphasizing his break with Taupin), as well as various concert moments.

Special note should be made of Adam Murray’s interesting, sometimes dreamlike and often athletic choreography. Costume designer Julian Day’s reimaging of Elton John’s spectacular wardrobe is a whirlwind of sequins, feathers and glitter.

The creators chose not to present the last three decades of his life, instead opting for a quick summation, including sobriety, marriage and fatherhood. While it would have been nice to follow his recovery and the second act of his career (“The Lion King,” “Candle in the Wind,” etc.), it finds an appropriate ending to an epic journey. “Rocketman” is thoroughly entertaining with all of the glitz and razzle-dazzle one would expect to celebrate this legendary icon.

Rated R, “Rocketman” is now playing in local theaters.

Dave Morrissey Jr. returns as Benjamin Tallmadge in ‘Traitor.’

Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook will present Times Beacon Record News Media’s latest film, “Traitor,” on Sunday, June 23 at 7:30 p.m. The special screening is preceded by the award-winning “One Life to Give” at 6 p.m. Admission is free, TBR’s gift to the community. Call 631-751-7744 for more information.

Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

In honor of its 30th anniversary, “Field of Dreams” will be screened at more than 600 select theaters nationwide on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 16, and Tuesday, June 18, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events.

The film tells the tale of Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) as he follows a vision and a mysterious voice (“If you build it, he will come.”) encouraging him to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield. Along the way, he encounters ghosts of famous baseball players, including “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, and wrestles with his rocky relationship with his late father.

Upon its release in 1989, the film earned critical acclaim, an eventual Oscar nomination for Best Picture and the adoration of dads everywhere. A heartwarming experience that has moved critics and audiences like no other film of this generation, “Field of Dreams” is a glowing tribute to all who dare to dream.This special two-day event includes exclusive insight from TCM Primetime host Ben Mankiewicz.

Participating movie theaters in our neck of the woods include AMC Loews Stony Brook 17, 2196 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook on June 16 at 1 and 4 p.m. and at 4 and 7 p.m. on June 18; Island 16 Cinema de Lux, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville and Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas, 1001 Broadhollow Road, Farmingdale on June 18 at 7 p.m.

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

Beanie Feldstein and Kaityln Dever in a scene from the movie. Photo by Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures

By Daniel Dunaief

Although it’s getting a lot of buzz, few moments in “Booksmart” are worth the price of admission. It’s just not that funny, charming, unique, innovative or engaging.

The story follows two high school girls, Amy (played by Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (played by Beanie Feldstein) who are at the top of their class. Academic overachievers, they suddenly realize on the eve of their graduation that their classmates have done well academically too, have gained admission to top colleges and seem to have engaged in a social scene that clearly hasn’t included them. The two best friends spend the rest of the film trying to make up for lost party time on their last day of high school.

The antics that follow mirror the shenanigans of “Superbad,” albeit from a female perspective. The problem is that this film from Annapurna Pictures doesn’t do for awkward high school girls what “Bridesmaids” did for rowdy and raucous women.

Amy and Molly have their own little world, which includes an extended dance sequence on the street and an endless stream of compliments about how great each of them looks. While these moments of connection, which likely originated from years of a developing and co-dependent friendship, appear to be genuine and reflect their friendship, they can’t and don’t replace more substantial memories or interactions that allow them to coexist, and feel like they might be thriving, on their booksmart island.

Just about everyone else in the film is a woefully underdeveloped character. Jason Sudeikis, who is married to debut director Olivia Wilde, plays Principal Brown. Clearly exhausted and burned out by his job, Brown can’t stomach the holier-than-thou attitude Molly demonstrates when she lectures him.

He shuts the door on her until later, Amy and Molly discover that he moonlights as an Uber driver. Yeah, funny stuff. Well, it could have been, but it doesn’t play out especially well, even when the girls accidentally share some raunchy sounds from a phone he’s charging in his car.

Jessica Williams, who plays teacher Miss Fine, is a 20-something version of Molly and Amy, relating well to them because she clearly followed a similar school-committed path. She weaves in and out of the film, sharing a few details about breaking free of the bonds of commitment and academic dedication, but again, her character is neither especially funny or poignant.

“Booksmart” is desperate for the equivalent of a McLovin, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse in “Superbad.” Sure, he’s ridiculous and awkward and overwhelmed by various moments, but he’s amusing, awkward and desperate in ways that are charming and relatable.

The other characters in “Booksmart” are one-dimensional. Billie Lourd, daughter of the late Carrie Fisher, plays the offbeat Gigi, who seems rich and strange. She floats in and out of scenes with Skyler Gisondo, who plays Jared. Neither character adds much and yet they each enter scenes like unwanted weeds and then disappear, only to spring up again.

While “Booksmart” has an interesting premise, with two intelligent seniors eager to catch up on the social scene they missed through academic dedication, it fails to deliver memorable scenes or compelling dialogue.

Rated R, “Booksmart” is now playing in local theaters.