Movie Review

Burton Gilliam, center, in a scene from ‘Blazing Saddles’
Burton Gilliam set to host special screening of 1974 classic 

By Kevin Redding

Harrumph harrumph harrumph. On Saturday, April 28, the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington invites one and all back to Rock Ridge circa 1874 for a screening of the groundbreaking, controversial and hysterical “Blazing Saddles” more than 44 years after its original release, featuring a very special appearance from one of its stars.  

It was February 1973 when Burton Gilliam, a Dallas, Texas, firefighter of 14 years and a Golden Gloves champion boxer during his time in the Coast Guard, got a phone call from a fast-talking “little ball of energy” from Hollywood he’d never heard of named Mel Brooks. 

Brooks, best known at the time as a staff writer on the Sid Caesar-led variety program “Your Show of Shows,” the co-creator of “Get Smart” and the writer-director of the 1968 film “The Producers,” was offering Gilliam the role of a cowboy in his upcoming film, a then-untitled Western-themed comedy. Gilliam laughed and thanked “Mr. Brooks” before hanging up. 

Just one of his buddies at the fire station putting him on, he thought. “‘Cuz that’s what firemen do to each other,” Gilliam, 79, recalled, laughing.

Months prior, Gilliam, who was 35 at the time, had responded on a whim to an ad in the Dallas newspaper about a local casting call for extras in director Peter Bogdanovich’s film “Paper Moon,” starring Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. 

Despite having no acting experience, Gilliam showed up with his big old grin and even bigger Texan exuberance. Over the course of a few weeks, he beat out hundreds of people in the audition process and impressed Bogdanovich enough to be given a small speaking part as a desk clerk named Floyd. After filming in St. Joseph, Missouri, wrapped, he returned to Dallas and his job at the fire department, looking forward to the June release of the film and thankful for his brush with movie stardom. 

But that phone rang again 10 minutes after he hung up and it was Brooks once more, explaining that he had seen a rough cut of “Paper Moon” and wanted Gilliam to meet with him to play this part. Gilliam was hesitant to abandon his job and $12,000 a year salary to go to Los Angeles and commit to the film. He wound up meeting with Brooks and producers three times before finally agreeing to come aboard.

“I remember that first time I met [Mel] — this little guy jumped over a desk and ran over to me and jumped into my arms, pushing me against the wall,” Gilliam said. “He was like a koala bear. I had no other thought but to like him. He was so open and funny.”

Between Gilliam’s first and third trip to Hollywood, Brooks and his team expanded his once-tiny role as Lyle, a dim-witted and callous antagonist to the film’s hero Sheriff Bart (played by Cleavon Little), into a much heftier one that sets the stage for the entire film (“What about ‘De Camptown Ladies’?”). 

He received a call of persuasion from Richard Pryor, one of “Blazing Saddles’” many writers, and Brooks promised to pay him his yearly salary at the fire department in the three weeks he’d be filming for, plus overtime.

Burton Gilliam and Slim Pickens

“About four weeks later, I quit the fire department,” said Gilliam, one of 10 members of his family to serve as a fireman. “I was the only one that ever quit. And after I did, everyone came out of the woodwork to tell me how crazy I was. But I went to Hollywood and stayed for 23 years! And what a great 23 years it was.”

Since appearing in Brooks’ 1974 classic, Gilliam has acted in more than 50 films and television shows, including “Fletch” starring Chevy Chase, “Back to the Future Part III,” “Honeymoon in Vegas” with Nicolas Cage, and episodes of “Mama’s Family,” “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Knight Rider” and “Walker, Texas Ranger.” He has also appeared in countless commercials and has even lent his instantly recognizable voice to video games. 

“To me, the most rewarding part has been meeting the people working behind the scenes — the makeup people, the wardrobe, lighting, sound departments,” Gilliam said. “They were all so good to me.”

When he isn’t in front of the camera, Gilliam has become a staple at various charities across the country. 

Through it all, the actor said he never gets tired of answering questions about, and quoting lines from, the movie that made him famous. Although, he admits he never would’ve guessed “Blazing Saddles” would remain so popular and beloved nearly 50 years later, especially one that very clearly could never be made today.

“It’s really a mystery almost that something like this can last this long, and it’s going to last a lot longer,” Gilliam said. “And Mel Brooks is as surprised as anybody that it’s lasted this long. I don’t know what to make of the whole thing. When we did the picture, Mel always said the people at Warner Brothers gave him $3 million and told him to go have a good time. And that’s it right there … it’s something that had never been done before, saying those words and doing those things we did and getting away with it.”

Burton Gilliam as Lyle, right, in a scene from ‘Blazing Saddles’ with Slim Pickens as Taggart

The film, of course, about the arrival of a black sheriff in an over-the-top racist town, is a raunchy (it’s the first film to feature a flatulence scene!), chaotic, uproarious, surreal, wholly politically incorrect and brilliant satire of the western film genre and a no-holds-barred takedown of racism and prejudices. 

In the opening of the film, Gilliam’s character Lyle, joined by his gang of thuggish cowboys, orders a group of black members of a railroad crew, led by Little, to sing a song while they work, saying “When you was slaves, you sang like birds.” Lyle expounds a series of racist comments here, including the N-word, which he recalls made him uncomfortable while filming the scene on set. 

“It was the second week I was there and I had to say those words to about 25 black guys, saying these things that had never been spoken before in movies and that was a bit hard,” Gilliam said. “So after we were on the scene for probably 25 minutes, they were switching cameras for somebody’s close-up, and Cleavon said, ‘Hey let’s take a walk.’ He told me, ‘Listen, I know you’re having a little bit of trouble saying these things but this is a movie and we’re having fun. Be comfortable and call me anything you want to … it’s okay, this is all fun…”

But, Gilliam said, Little warned him, “After they say ‘Cut!,’ if you call me that, we’re gonna go to fist city.’”

Cinema Arts Centre co-director Dylan Skolnick said he considers “Blazing Saddles” one of the funniest movies ever made, and remembers seeing it in theaters when it came out. While it’s been shown at the theater several times, he said he’s excited to have Gilliam emcee the screening.

“Burton’s one of those guys — his name’s not necessarily famous, but when you see him, since he’s been in a lot of movies and things as a character actor, it’s like, ‘Oh! That guy! I love that guy!’” Skolnick said. “It was great to be able to build an event around somebody like him, where he can be the star for the evening … It’s such an iconic movie and he has a crucial scene in one of the most famous moments.”

Gilliam said he’s looking forward to meeting and talking with the fans, and reminiscing about the making of the movie. “I enjoy those things because I get to talk a lot,” Gilliam said, laughing. “And I always get new questions; I have to be on my toes a little bit and I like that.”

As part of its Cult Cafe series, The Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington will present a special screening of “Blazing Saddles” on April 28 at 9:45 p.m. with a Q&A with Burton “Lyle” Gilliam. Tickets are $15 per person, $12 members. To order, call 631-423-7611 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.org.

Photos courtesy of Bobby Bank 

Sherlock Gnomes saves the day in the sequel to ‘Gnomeo & Juliet.' Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

By Heidi Sutton

It’s been seven years since moviegoers were invited into the magical world of garden gnomes with Touchstone Pictures’ “Gnomeo & Juliet,” the charming animated film loosely based on William Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy while celebrating the music of Sir Elton John. 

Juliet and Gnomeo are back for a new adventure.

Set in the English town of Stratford-upon-Avon, the story, which features a star-studded cast, takes place in the backyard gardens of two feuding elderly neighbors — Mr. Montague and Miss Capulet. Their garden gnomes, which are blue and red, respectively, are also strict enemies until Gnomeo (blue) and Juliet (red) secretly fall in love and manage to unite the two gnome clans.

I remember taking my daughter and her friends to see this movie and being so enamored by it that I went to a bunch of garden centers the following day and snatched up all the red and blue garden gnomes I could find to put in my rock garden. 

Now Paramount Pictures and MGM Studios bring audiences a sequel to the adorable fairy tale, “Sherlock Gnomes,” with all of the original characters you love including Gnomeo (James McAvoy), Juliet (Emily Blunt), Lord Redbrick (Michael Caine), Lady Bluebury (Maggie Smith), Nanette the Frog (Ashley Jensen), Benny (Matt Lucas), Mankini (Julio Bonet) and Fawn (Ozzy Osbourne) in a brand new mystery adventure directed by John Stevenson.

The Montagues and Capulets have married and moved to London. Their collection of garden gnomes have also made the trip, albeit to a much smaller garden that needs a lot of work, “a fixer upper” of sorts. Gnomeo decides that the garden needs a centerpiece, Juliet’s favorite flower — a Cupid’s Arrow Orchid — and ventures out into the city to find one. When Juliet discovers Gnomeo’s plan, she follows him and ends up rescuing him when he becomes trapped in a florist shop.

Sherlock Gnomes and Watson are on the case of the missing garden gnomes.

When the couple returns home, they find that all of their friends as well as gnomes in seven other gardens have been kidnapped, “an ornamental crime on a scale never seen before.” They must be rescued within 24 hours or they’ll be smashed to smithereens. The police are too busy to help, so Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp), sworn protector of garden gnomes, and his trusty sidekick Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) take the case. Sherlock is convinced this is the work of his arch nemesis Moriarity (Jamie Demetriou) and, along with Watson, Gnomeo and Juliet, follows a trail of clues to find the gnomes, with lots of plot twists and turns along the way. Will the case be solved in time?

A nice touch is the many places in London that the detective team visit to find clues including the Royal Green Park, the Natural History Museum, Chinatown and Tower Bridge. While Elton John recently announced he is retiring from touring, his music will live on in this film with catchy songs like “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and “I’m Still Standing” peppered throughout.  

Although this sequel is not as good as the original, as sequels rarely are, “Sherlock Gnomes” is still worth a trip to the theater for its visually stunning and lifelike animation, wonderful music and positive message to not take your friends for granted. By the same token, it is highly recommended that “Gnomeo & Juliet” be seen first as it will help in relating to the humor and connecting to the characters better. And I’ll be visiting the garden center to stock up on green garden gnomes. Running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes. 

Rated PG for rude and suggestive humor, “Sherlock Gnomes” in now playing in local theaters.

Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta star in ‘Grease.’ Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

In celebration of its 40th anniversary, “Grease” will return to select movie theaters nationwide on April 8, 11 and 14, courtesy of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies. 

Based on the 1971 Broadway musical, the movie, starring John Travolta as greaser Danny Zuko and Olivia Newton-John as his sweet and innocent girlfriend Sandy Olsson who dance their way through their senior year at Rydell High, was a smash hit when it was released in 1978, becoming the highest grossing film of the year and it is still the second-highest grossing movie musical of all time. 

The cast also included Stockard Channing (Rizzo), Didi Conn (Frenchie), Jeff Conaway (Kenickie), Eve Arden (Principal McGee), Sid Caesar (Coach Calhoun) and Annette Charles (Cha Cha DiGregorio) with a special appearance by Frankie Avalon.

The movie’s unforgettable soundtrack, which includes such hits as “Summer Nights,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “You Are the One That I Want” and “Sandy,” was the second best–selling album of 1978, behind “Saturday Night Fever,” which also starred Travolta. 

“Whether you’ve seen it dozens of times and know the words to every song, or you’re in for the rare treat of seeing it for the first time, watching ‘Grease’ on the big screen with an audience is an unforgettable experience that we’re delighted to offer movie lovers,” said Tom Lucas, VP of Studio Relations at Fathom Events.

The screening will include an exclusive commentary from TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz who will give insight into this classic film that has become a pop culture phenomenon. 

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 April 8 and 11 and at 2 p.m. on April 14; Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas, 1001 Broadhollow Road, Farmingdale on April 8 at 2 p.m. and April 11 at 7 p.m.; and Island 16 Cinema de Lux, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville on April 8 at 2 p.m. and April 11 at 7 p.m. To purchase your ticket in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

Jimmy Stewart stars in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, ‘Vertigo.’ Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

In celebration of the 60th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies and Universal Pictures will bring the classic film to select cinemas nationwide on Sunday, March 18, and Wednesday, March 21.

Considered one of Hitchcock’s greatest cinematic achievements, “Vertigo” is a dreamlike thriller from the Master of Suspense. Set in San Francisco, the film creates a dizzying web of mistaken identity, passion and murder after an acrophobic detective (James Stewart) rescues a mysterious blonde (Kim Novak) from the bay and must unravel the secrets of the past to find the key to his future.

Appearing as No. 11 on IMDb’s list of the Top 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, the film will also feature an exclusive commentary from TCM host Eddie Muller, 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; and Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas, 1001 Broadhollow Road, Farmingdale and Island 16 Cinema de Lux, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville on March 18 at 2 p.m. and March 21 at 7 p.m. To purchase your ticket in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

‘The Judge’ offers a unique portrait of Kholoud Al-Faquih, above, the first woman judge to be appointed to the Middle East’s Sharia’a courts.
Popular film festival gives voice to stories that need to be told

By Heidi Sutton

Islamic law, autism, the stock market — these diverse subject matters and more will be explored at length as the Port Jefferson Documentary Series (PJDS) kicks off its spring 2018 season Monday evening, March 19.

Sponsored by the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, the Suffolk County Office of Film and Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts, the PJDS will present seven award-winning documentaries on Monday nights through April 30, alternating between two venues — Theatre Three in Port Jefferson and The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. Each screening will be followed by a Q&A with guest speakers.

The documentaries were handpicked by a seven-member film board that includes co-directors Lyn Boland, Barbara Sverd and Wendy Feinberg along with Honey Katz, Phyllis Ross, Lorie Rothstein and Lynn Rein. The “film ladies,” as they are affectionately known, each choose one film to present and then a seventh film is chosen unanimously by the group.

It is a system that has worked well since 2005. “I have learned that almost everybody [on the board] has their fingers on the pulse of some segment of our audience,” said Boland in a recent phone interview. “I think that we all have slightly different ways of judging the films that we are attracted to,” which the co-director says is a good thing. “You really want a balanced season that appeals to a lot of people.”

According to Boland, the goal of the festival has always been the same. “What we want most is to give our community the kind of access to important well-done documentaries that are fresh, shown the way they were created to be shown, on a big screen with a good sound system at an affordable price. A guest speaker will amplify the experience.”

This spring’s exciting lineup was selected after the members attended screenings at DOC NYC and the Hamptons Film Festival. When choosing the selections, Boland said she looks for a story “that really grabs me, that I think is dramatic, important, … a must see film,” adding “It is our hope that [the film selection] is really adding to the public discourse — that this is something people will talk about and think about.”

Kicking off the festival is the Long Island premiere of “The China Hustle.” “[This film] is one of those cool movies that is like a slow reveal — a financial mystery that you just start putting the pieces together as the film goes on and you really see what a ‘hustle’ the whole situation is with these fake Chinese companies that grabbed American investors,” Boland divulged. “It is absolutely fascinating.”

The co-director is most excited about sharing “The Judge” with festivalgoers. The documentary follows Kholoud Al-Faqih and her journey to be the first female judge in a Shari’a court in Palestine. “I think it is particularly appropriate to be screened now during Women’s History Month. [Al-Faqih] is a very mesmerizing figure — practical, smart, stubborn and just totally dedicated. That appealed to me,” said Boland. “[The film shows] how family disputes were negotiated in a Muslim religious court. As a former matrimonial attorney I was amazed how similar the issues were [to the United States] and how similarly they were handled.”

She is also enamored by “This Is Congo.” Skillfully directed by Daniel McCabe, Boland describes it as “an incredibly risky showing about what’s going on in Congo that nobody’s talking about, nobody’s writing about. This is a story that needs to be told and we have to do our part to get some of these things out.” Boland’s favorite part of the evening is the Q&A, which this year will feature for the first time six directors and one screenwriter.

The documentary series wouldn’t be possible without the support of numerous volunteers. Every season, help is needed for each part of the process, from distributing flyers and running the ticket booths to tracking down directors and even recommending new films. “We need volunteers not only to help the evenings go more smoothly but we would really love to have more people on the board,” said Boland. If you love documentary films and would like to volunteer, please call 631-473-5220.

The board was recently notified that the PJDS was chosen by Bethpage Federal Credit Union’s Best of Long Island survey as the Best Film Festival on Long Island, beating out the Stony Brook Film Festival, the Hamptons International Film Festival and the Gold Coast Film Festival for the second year in a row for “its devotion to documentaries — which are evocative, thought provoking, and shed light on often-unrepresented segments of our population.” To Boland, it is affirmation that the group’s tireless work is paying off. “I am just thrilled,” she gushed. “Every time we have our first meeting to start work on the next series … I am just amazed at how everybody hangs in there … just because they really love films and love to bring them to the community. That’s the bottom line.”

The Port Jefferson Documentary Series will be held at 7 p.m. every Monday night from March 19 to April 30 at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson or The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. Tickets, sold at the door, are $7 per person. (No credit cards please.) New this year at the Long Island Museum’s screenings is the Cinema and Chardonnay program. For $5, participants can purchase a glass of chardonnay and/or a $1 bag of pretzels and then enjoy the wine and snack while watching the film. For more information, visit www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.

Film schedule

▶ The spring season will kick off with a special screening of “The China Hustle” at Theatre Three on March 19. The documentary exposes a new financial crime perpetrated by Wall Street where investors dumped their money into Chinese businesses that turned out to be fraudulent. The hook of the story is that everyone involved is guilty, including the investor who called out the fraud in the first place. Guest speakers will be Director Jed Rothstein by Skype and Juan Carlos Conesa, chair of Dept. of Economics, Stony Brook University.

▶ “Sammy Davis, Jr: I’ve Gotta Be Me,” to be screened at the Long Island Museum on March 26, is the first major documentary to examine Davis’ vast talent and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress in 20th century America. With interviews from Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Kim Novak along with photographs, television, film and concert. Moderated by Tom Needham, host of “Sounds of Film” on WUSB, guest speaker will be screenwriter and co-producer Laurence Maslon.

▶ The series continues with “The Judge” on April 2 at the Long Island Museum. The Muslim Shari’a courts in the Middle East have excluded women for centuries, and the influential religious legal system has never appointed a woman as a judge — until Kholoud Al-Faqih came along. The documentary follows the Palestine judge’s brave journey as a lawyer, her tireless fight for justice for women and her drop-in visits with clients, friends and family. Guest speaker will be Director Erika Cohn.

▶ “This Is Congo,” to be screened at Theatre Three on April 9, is a riveting, unfiltered immersion into the world’s longest continuing conflict and those who are surviving within it. Following four compelling characters: a whistleblower, a patriotic military commander, a mineral dealer and a displaced tailor — the film offers viewers a truly Congolese perspective on the problems that plague this lushly beautiful nation. Moderated by Shimelis Gulema, professor of Africana studies and history, SBU, the guest speaker for the evening will be Director Daniel McCabe.

▶ The series continues on April 16 at Theatre Three with an impressionist, fly-on-the-wall portrait of the life and glorious music of Israeli-born Itzhak Perlman, widely considered the greatest living violinist. Titled “Itzhak,” the documentary follows the virtuoso around the world for a year, portraying his huge passion and spirit. Wheelchair-bound from childhood polio, Perlman recounts overcoming obstacles with humor and talent. Featuring archival materials and performance clips, the guest speaker will be Director Alison Chernick.

▶ “Love, Cecil,” which will be screened at the Long Island Museum on April 23, brings to life the glamorous world of fashion/celebrity photographer and stage set designer, Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) through the use of archival footage, interviews and readings from his diaries by actor Rupert Everett. Guest speaker for the evening will be Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland.

▶ The final film for the spring 2018 season, “Mole Man” will be screened at the Long Island Museum on April 30 and follows Ron Heist, a 66-year-old autistic man who built a 50-room structure, consisting solely of scrap materials, on the land behind his parent’s home in Western Pennsylvania. His creation was built without the use of nails or mortar and keeps expanding, as he collects, classifies and displays objects from a deserted cluster of homes in the woods. This is the story of an extraordinary life, a family and the beauty of thinking differently. Director Guy Fiorita will be the guest speaker.

All photos courtesy of the PJDS

Thirty-five years after it first stunned audiences and critics with its unprecedented visions and mythic storytelling, Jim Henson’s 1982 epic fantasy-adventure “The Dark Crystal,” co-directed by Henson and Frank Oz, will return to big screens nationwide in a special presentation from Fathom Events, The Jim Henson Company and Universal Pictures.

Newly restored in 4K “The Dark Crystal” is a visually spectacular tale of a young hero who must find a legendary relic in order restore harmony to the universe. A watershed in fantasy filmmaking produced by Gary Kurtz (“Star Wars, A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back”), “The Dark Crystal” will play in select theaters on Saturday, March 3 and Tuesday, March 6.

The event will feature a brand-new introduction with Lisa Henson, CEO and president of The Jim Henson Company, who will reflect on the making of the one-of-a-kind film and the legacy of her father, Jim.

Gelflings Jen and Kira in a scene from ‘The Dark Crystal’ Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

The ambitious story of “The Dark Crystal” takes place in the world of Thra, which has been torn asunder by a fracture in a great magic crystal, causing two races to be created: the tranquil Mystics, or urRu, and the evil Skeksis, who all but destroyed Thra’s native species, the Gelflings. Now, the Mystics have summoned Jen, one of the last surviving Gelflings, to find the lost piece of the crystal. The quest sends him on an unbelievable adventure that can restore harmony and peace to Thra.

“The Dark Crystal” features performances by Jim Henson as the Gelfling Jen (voice of Stephen Garlick), Kathryn Mullen as the Gelfling Kira (voice of Lisa Maxwell), Frank Oz as the astronomer Aughra (voice of Billie Whitelaw) and Dave Goelz as Fizzgig (voice of Percy Edwards), with Henson, Oz and Goelz also performing as the Skeksis. Kiran Shah also performs the body of Jen, Kira and Aughra. With a screenplay by Dave Odell (“The Muppet Show”), “The Dark Crystal” also features a majestic score by Trevor Jones (“Excalibur,” “Labyrinth”).

“Jim Henson created a truly one-of-a-kind experience with ‘The Dark Crystal,’ one that is rarely seen on the big screen,” said Tom Lucas, Fathom Events vice president of studio relations. “Fathom Events could not be more excited about the privilege of working with The Jim Henson Company and Universal Pictures to give movie lovers the chance to see the visual splendor of ‘The Dark Crystal’ in movie theaters.”

The participating movie theater in our neck of the woods will be AMC Loews Stony Brook 17, 2196 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook at 2 p.m. on March 3 and at 2 and 7 p.m. on March 6. To purchase your ticket in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com

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

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