Movie Review

Award winners at the Closing Night Awards reception, from left, Catherine Eaton, writer/director/actor/co-producer of ‘The Sounding’; Todd and Jedd Wider, directors of ‘To the Edge of the Sky’; Nadav Shlomo Giladi of ‘Across the Line’; Michael Ferrell, writer/director/actor/co-producer of ‘Laura Gets a Cat’; Robin Grey, producer of ‘Purple Dreams’; and Pavels Gumennikovs of ‘Just, Go!’ Photo by Nick A. Koridis for the SB Film Festival

The 22nd annual Stony Brook Film Festival, presented by Island Federal Credit Union, wrapped up with a Closing Night Awards Reception on July 29. The evening recognized the outstanding new independent films screened at the festival, which was held at Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University from July 20 to 29. John Anderson, film critic and master of ceremonies, and a longtime MC for the awards reception, announced the winners.

The event attracted the largest attendance ever this year. Filmmaker participation also broke records with directors from Armenia, Bulgaria, England, France, Germany, Israel, Latvia, Netherlands, Spain and USA representing their films at the screenings. In addition, films from Finland, Iran, Italy, Norway and Sweden were in the mix.

From left, John Anderson, film critic and MC for the awards reception; Karoline Herfurth, writer/director/actress; and Alan Inkles, director of the Stony Brook Film Festival attend the Stony Brook Film Festival’s Closing Night’s U.S. Premiere of ‘Text for You.’ Photo by Nick A. Koridis for the SB Film Festival

“It truly was a magical year where almost every filmmaker attended their screenings to represent their films and host Q&As,” said Alan Inkles, founder and director of the Stony Brook Film Festival, adding, “As for the films we showed, the audience scores were the best in our 22 years. Great films, great guests and packed houses nightly. It’s what I envisioned for Stony Brook when we started this festival and it was certainly achieved this year.”

Two of the filmmakers whose film won an award at the festival grew up in the Three Village area. The Wider brothers’ documentary followed four families as they fought the FDA to gain access to a lifesaving drug to help their sons, all coping with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The world premiere of Todd and Jedd Wider’s documentary “To the Edge of the Sky” was awarded the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature along with “Fanny’s Journey,” which tied with an identical high score.

“The Stony Brook Film Festival is an incredibly well curated and intelligent film festival. It celebrates independent film from around the world and gives its audience a chance to discover great films and interact with filmmakers,” noted Todd Wider. “Supremely well run and organized, each film is shown once in a giant, state-of-the-art theater to a routinely packed crowd. This format really works well here, as the entire community focuses on one film at a time. Set in one of the most beautiful towns on Long Island and backed by a powerhouse university, the audiences are really smart and very welcoming. Don’t miss this festival [next year]. It’s a wonderful experience,” he said.

Among the many highlights of the festival was the U.S. premiere of the rock documentary, “The Second Act of Elliott Murphy.” The singer-songwriter Elliott Murphy, a Garden City native, moved to Paris after a music career with his band in the U.S. and then found new success in Europe. At the screening of his film, he hosted a Q&A and then played three of his songs from the stage.

Closing Night presented the U.S. premiere of “Text for You” (“SMS für Dich”), a romantic comedy. The writer, director and actress Karoline Herfurth came in from Germany to represent her film.

And the winners are:

2017 Jury Award — Best Feature

“The Sounding” (United States)

2017 Audience Choice — Best Feature (tie)

“Fanny’s Journey” (France)

“To the Edge of the Sky” World Premiere (United States)

2017 Special Recognition by the Jury — Spirit of Independent Filmmaking

“Laura Gets a Cat” (United States)

2017 Special Recognition by the Jury — Achievement in Social Impact

“Purple Dreams” New York Premiere (United States)

2017 Jury Award — Best Short

“Across the Line” World Premiere (Israel)

2017 Audience Choice Award — Best Short

“Just, Go!” (Latvia)

For more information about the Stony Brook Film Festival, visit www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com.

Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh in a scene from ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’. Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

Gnarly dude! In celebration of its 35th anniversary, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” will return to select cinemas nationwide on Sunday, July 30 and Wednesday, Aug. 2. The two-day event, presented by Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies and Universal Pictures, will also feature an exclusive before and after commentary from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz who will give insight into this classic film.

The 1982 film follows a group of Southern California high school students as they explore their most important subjects: sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Directed by Amy Heckerling (“Clueless”) and written by Cameron Crowe (“Almost Famous”), this hilarious portrait of 1980s American teen life stars Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates and Judge Reinhold and features decade-defining music from The Go-Go’s, Oingo Boingo and The Cars.

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 July 30 and Aug. 2 at 7 p.m.); and Island 16 Cinema de Lux, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville (on July 30 and Aug. 2 at 7 p.m.). To purchase your ticket in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

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Fionn Whitehead (Tommy) in a scene from ‘Dunkirk’ Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

By Kyle Barr

How many war movies say that mere survival is not enough? In these films heroics are often displayed by those who sacrifice their lives for their fellow soldiers or defeat the enemy against overwhelming odds.

In “Dunkirk,” directed by Christopher Nolan, our empathy doesn’t end at the people who risk life and limb to save others, but the movie also places us firmly in the shoes of soldiers who want to do nothing more than survive. And while the film has a few small problems with pacing, Nolan tries to say something about battles like Dunkirk, that sometimes survival is victory, and survival is in turn heroic.

Fionn Whitehead (Tommy) in a scene from ‘Dunkirk’. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Every director with enough clout has to have their war movie. The best directors have found the war or battle that fits their directing style. Spielberg went for the overarching heroics of World War II soldiers during and directly after the invasion of Normandy. Kubrick went for the general insanity and dehumanizing nature of the Vietnam War.

So what does Christopher Nolan, who has directed and written such intricately designed plots for movies like “Inception” and “Memento,” do? He again goes for the complicated, so much so that he put his sights on the evacuation of Dunkirk after the German blitzkrieg of France where French, British and other Allied soldiers were pushed back to the beaches of the city and surrounded on all sides. German U-boats prowled the English Channel and German bombers and fighters constantly pounded the men on the beach who were desperately trying to find a way to return to English shores.

There is the subtle hint of a ticking clock in nearly every scene that grows ever more menacing as the tension ramps up. We don’t even see a German soldier until the very end the film. Instead, time is the enemy.

Nolan uses time to structure the film in a very different way. The film is broken up not just into three different points of view, — of young soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead); boat captain Mr. Dawson and his son Peter (Mark Rylance and Tom Glynn-Carney); and an RAF fighter pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) — but also into three separate time frames — that of a week, a day and an hour, respectively.

This does cause some confusion as the point of view jumps from one character to the next. If you are invested in one character’s story, it can be hard to readjust to what another character is doing and remember that some things that have happened in one man’s story have yet to happen in another.

But what is so masterful about this film is how well the tension ramps in tandem with each individual story. Events get more suspenseful for each character as Tommy grows more desperate to get off the beach, Mr. Dawson braves more dangerous waters filled with German U-boats and surrounded by German planes, and Farrier spends more and more fuel in order to stay in the air longer and protect the men below him.

In a movie as technical as this, most audience members will even lose the names of the characters among the minutia; so it is so important the actors carry the rest of the emotional weight. Thankfully the entire cast is up to the task. Hardy has to express himself constantly stuck in a airplane cockpit and wearing a mask, but you can tell how pained he is as he counts down his fuel reserves. Whitehead is a relatively unknown actor but his desperation is keenly felt throughout the entire film.

Most of the attention, however, has to go to Rylance, who holds a good part of the film’s emotional weight on his shoulders. His gentle, yet determined demeanor represents all those on the civilian boats who helped ferry the thousands of soldiers off the beach, and he does it so effortlessly it’s hard not to feel empathy for his struggle.

But why do the film with three separate point of views and three separate time frames? It all seems a little egotistical on Nolan’s part until it becomes clear at the very end, where a soldier reads Winston Churchill’s famous speech of June 4, 1940. At Dunkirk, survival was heroism because it meant those soldiers could live to fight another day and that England would not surrender its forces so eagerly.

As Winston Churchill said before the House of Commons: “[W]hatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender.”

Rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language, “Dunkirk” is now playing in local theaters.

The 2017 Stony Brook Film Festival will host the world premiere screening of ‘To the Edge of the Sky’ on July 23. Photo courtesy of Staller Center
Presents mix of independent features, documentaries and shorts

By Jill Webb

Drop your beach towels and grab some popcorn because the Stony Brook Film Festival kicks off tonight at 8 p.m. and will run for 10 nights. The festival’s director, Alan Inkles, who has been curating the event since its inception, said in a recent interview that the idea to showcase great films annually came to him because “film is the art of this century.”

Festivalgoers view these films in the main 1,000-seat auditorium of the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University, which features a 40-foot-wide screen for maximum viewing pleasure.

Inkles’ biggest challenge as festival director is finding the films that are going to “draw 800 people on a Thursday night — in the summer on Long Island — to a film they’ve never heard of.”

Last year, the director started using www.filmfreeway.com as a way for filmmakers to submit their films, saying the service is “the most fair to both filmmakers and film festivals” due to its piracy protection. Inkles and his team received over 1,000 submissions from the website, along with about 700 from sales agents internationally — all of which are viewed between January and May.

Diversity on the big screen

The vast number of submissions have led to greater diversity. This year’s lineup includes films from Italy, Armenia, France, Sweden and the Netherlands among others and puts a spotlight on a variety of relevant topics including the LGBTQ+ community and immigration.

The big draw this year, Inkles said, is an abundance of women directors — a demographic that often gets overlooked in the film industry. “Almost 50 percent of our films are directed by women — features and shorts,” Inkles said, adding that three of them write, direct and star in their films.

The opening and closing night films both have one thing in common: Germany. Each of these German films will be making its U.S. premiere at SBFF on its respective night. Opening the festival is “Welcome to Germany” (“Willkommen bei den Hartmanns”), written and directed by Simon Verhoeven, a ‘laugh-out-loud’ comedy about a refugee from Nigeria who, while awaiting the ruling on his asylum request, is taken in by a wealthy but severely dysfunctional family from Munich.

A scene from ‘Text for You’. Photo courtesy of Staller Center

The closer, titled “Text for You” (“SMS für Dich”), is a romantic comedy that explores coping with grief and loss. Karoline Herfurth is a triple threat in the movie’s production as director/writer/actress. The film’s main character, Clara, is struggling to get over the death of her true love and begins to send text messages to his old number. The new owner of the phone is compelled to answer these messages, creating a dialogue between the two strangers. Inkles describes the film as a “German [version of] ‘When Harry Met Sally.’”

Long Island: In front and behind the camera

While Inkles stresses that he selects films solely on being the best of the bunch, he admits he loves getting a Long Island angle in. This year’s Long Island connections includes “The Second Act of Elliott Murphy,” a documentary chronicling Rockville Centre native Elliott Murphy’s journey to rock star status, starting in mid-1970s America and eventually traveling to Europe where his career takes off.

While the film is set in Maine, a great deal of “The Sounding” — which follows a woman who has chosen to remain silent until a traumatic experience leads her to speak in only Shakespearean words — was shot here on Long Island.

The 2017 Stony Brook Film Festival will host the world premiere screening of ‘To the Edge of the Sky’ on July 23. Photo from Staller Center

Academy Award winners and Ward Melville graduates, Todd and Jedd Wider, have been making films together for 19 years. Their documentary “To the Edge of the Sky” focuses on mothers trying to get FDA approval for a drug to save their sons affected by the fatal disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Jedd Wider got the idea for the film at an event listening to a Harvard-educated doctor talk about his son’s experience with DMD and the extents his family was going through to save his life.

“I was mesmerized by what he had to say,” Wider said. After the event, a Google search on the doctor, Benjy Seckler, lead Wider to his first meet-up with a family challenging DMD. The film watches the mothers transform into “very serious political activists as they attempt to rally the FDA,” Wider said. “It’s really a window into the FDA system, but it’s also a very serious look and window into the troubles, the issues, the challenges, the tragic circumstances surrounding these families as they attempt to find a cure and secure that cure for their children.”

The short “Brothers” will be screened before the Wider brother’s film and is directed by another Ward Melville graduate, Zachary Fuhrer. “Brothers” tells a story of a 9-year-old boy who deals with experiencing guilt after accidentally hurting his little brother while playing baseball. Fuhrer looked back on the way he dealt with confrontation as a child as inspiration for the film. The take-away Fuhrer hopes the audience gets is “what it truly means to say I’m sorry, and what it truly means to show compassion for another person and understand wrong-doing.”

Exploring your options

Presented by Island Federal Credit Union, the festival will run through July 29. For $85 you can purchase a Festival Pass to see all of the films, along with promotions for local restaurants through labor day, seating guaranteed up to 15 minutes prior to the showing, first entry for preferred seating options and some merchandise freebies: a film pass, lanyard and tote bag.

If you’re looking for something a bit more lavish, try the Gold Pass: For $225 you get all the perks of the Festival Pass but also entry into the Opening and Closing Night parties along with access to the VIP seating with the filmmakers. Individual tickets are $12 adults, $10 seniors and $5 with a student ID. Free parking is available in the Visitors Parking Garage during the festival.

For more information on the program, tickets and trailers check out www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com or call the Staller Center Box Office at 631-632-2787.

Film Festival Schedule

Thursday, July 20

Opening Night

8 p.m. “Welcome to Germany”

Friday, July 21

7 p.m. “Walking David”

Short: “Game”

9:30 p.m. “Let Yourself Go”

Short: “Rated”

Saturday, July 22

4 p.m. “Ethel & Ernest” (animated)

Short: “Snowgirl”

7 p.m.“The Sounding”

Short: “Icarus” 9:30 p.m.

“Love Is Thicker Than Water”

Short: “Waiting to Die in Bayside, Queens”

Sunday, July 23

4 p.m. “To the Edge of the Sky”

Short: “Brothers”

7 p.m. “Fanny’s Journey”

Short: “Who Sank Your Ships?”

9:15 p.m. “Tonio”

Short: “Oma”

Monday, July 24

7 p.m. “Apricot Groves”

Short: “The Simon’s Way”

9:15 p.m. “Strawberry Days”

Short: “The Dog and the Elephant”

Tuesday, July 25

7 p.m. “Little Wing”

Short: “Real Artists”

9:15 p.m. “From the Land of the Moon”

Short: “Interrogation”

Wednesday, July 26

7 p.m. “Laura Gets a Cat”

Short: “Speak”

9:15 p.m. “The Second Act of Elliott Murphy”

Short: “Just, go!”

Thursday, July 27

7 p.m. “Purple Dreams”

Short: “Across the Line”

9:15 p.m. “Hanna’s Sleeping Dogs”

Short: “AmeriKa”

Friday, July 28

7 p.m. “The King’s Choice”

9:30 p.m. “The Midwife”

Saturday, July 29

Closing Night

8 p.m. “Text for You”

Filming the Battle of Long Island scene at Benner's Farm. Photo by Michael Pawluk

By Jenna Lennon

History came to life on Long Island this summer with the production of TBR News Media’s first feature-length film, “One Life to Give,” which paints a picture of the events leading up to the formation of America’s first band of spies, the Culper Spy Ring.

The Culper Spy Ring was organized by Benjamin Tallmadge under orders from General George Washington in the summer of 1778. Tallmadge recruited a group of men and women he could trust in Setauket and, for the remaining years of the war, collected information regarding British troop formations, movements and plans.

The spy ring became the most successful intelligence group on either side of the war during the course of the Revolution. Its existence was unknown to the public until the 1930s when Long Island historian Morton Pennypacker analyzed handwritten letters to Washington and discovered that Robert Townsend and Samuel Culper Jr. were, in fact, the same person.

A battle scene shot at Benner’s Farm. Photo by Michael Pawluk

Based on these true events, “One Life to Give” follows Tallmadge (Dave Morrissey Jr.) and Nathan Hale (Hans Paul Hendrickson) in the early stages of the war and plays off of the speculation that Hale’s famous last words, “My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country,” were inspired by Joseph Addison’s “Cato, a Tragedy.”

“Tallmadge and Hale are both very motivated individuals. They graduated from Yale at the same time in 1773, and they are good friends. They’re schoolmates and they spent a whole bunch of time at Yale together, but they are very different,” said director, Benji Dunaief, an incoming junior at Emerson College in Boston. “In a lot of ways, they are kind of yin and yang. They’re opposites and opposites that attract and opposites that ultimately prove to be the pieces that transpired into the Culper Spy Ring,” he said.

Colonel John Chester (Jonathan Rabeno), a fellow Yale graduate along with Hale and Tallmadge, tasks Tallmadge with the duty of convincing Hale, who has enlisted in his local militia, to actively join the cause.

“I play Colonel John Chester. He’s from Connecticut. He went to Yale, and he’s friends with Benjamin Tallmadge and Nathan Hale,” Rabeno said. “He kind of acts as a recruiter for getting them involved more in the cause. … so this is really right in the beginning stages of it.”

Cast and crew gather around a camera to view playback. Photo by Michael Pawluk

Hale not only enlists, but eventually is Washington’s (David Gianopoulos) first volunteer to go behind enemy lines and gather British intelligence. Soon after, Hale is captured by Robert Rogers (George Overin), and General William Howe (Jeffrey Sanzel) sentences him to death for committing acts of espionage.

With the motivation of the loss of one of his dearest friends and his brother, William (Aaron Johnson), Tallmadge and Washington form the Culper Spy Ring. “This is a guy who experienced something very traumatic when his brother William died, and it changed the course of history. He took that energy, and he inspirationally manifested it into something so incredibly positive for all of us that we are all benefitting from today,” Morrissey said.

He continues, “As someone who’s brother has died who is also named Will, this was an inspiration for me to be able to hopefully manifest it into something that other people will benefit from in the future. That’s why this is so important for me. I loved working on this film, and I am never going to forget this ever. This one’s for you, Will.”

The producer of “One Life to Give,” TBR’s director of media productions Michael Tessler, grew up “with Setauket in my backyard” and has always had a fascination with Revolutionary War history. “I’m grateful that historians, authors, and film producers have finally brought the narrative of the Culper Spy Ring to life. This history remained elusive for so many years and has evolved from local lore into a spectacular chapter of our founding story,” said Tessler.

Above,the Continental Army shoots off a cannon at Benner’s Farm. Photo by Michael Pawluk

“As a lover of history, the question that kept me up at night and acted as the muse for this piece is simply what tragedies had to occur that would cause the heroes of the Culper Spy Ring to risk everything? Digging into textbooks, letters and the memoir of Benjamin Tallmadge, it became apparent to me that there was an important story to tell, one too often forgotten in the annals of history,” he said, adding “When all is said and done, this is the story of two best friends who saved the Revolution and changed the course of human events.”

While working to write and produce their first feature film beginning in March, Dunaief and Tessler were also tasked with finding a talented cast, a passionate crew and period-appropriate locations where they could tell this story.

“Everyone on the crew I’ve either worked with, somebody on the crew had worked with, or we had just heard really good things about,” Dunaief said.

“I think I wouldn’t do it any other way. We had 12 people on our crew to make a feature film in 16 days. That’s like bare bones. That’s like barer than bare bones. But the fact that everybody was doing two or three jobs at the same time, everyone was pulling their weight and more by a lot really speaks volumes about the kind of people that we had on the crew and had it been a different group of people, I really don’t think we would have been able to finish,” said Dunaief.

Benji Dunaief, left, directs a scene at the Caroline Church of Brookhaven with actor Dave Morrissey Jr. Photo by Jenna Lennon

“We had the most phenomenal cast, crew and community behind us. All of our locations are genuine historic properties beautifully preserved by local organizations — places these heroes actually lived, worked and played. That’s a benefit not afforded to those using sound stages in Hollywood,” Tessler said.

Filming took place over the course of 16 days at many local historic locations including the Caroline Church of Brookhaven, the Sherwood-Jayne House and the Thompson House in Setauket along with the William Miller House in Miller Place.

Scenes were also shot on location at Port Jefferson’s East Beach and Benner’s Farm in Setauket, where a trench with palisades, a fort and nearly 100 reenactors, acting as both Continental and British troops, staged the Battle at Bedford Pass.

“Though exhausting, this was the most rewarding experience of my professional career. Waking up after sleeping in Washington’s marquee tent and seeing a trench, palisades, cannon and an actual Continental Army was just an indescribable experience,” Tessler said.

“This happens to be a local story, but it’s a great story, and it’s a story worth telling,” Dunaief said. “You don’t come across a story like this every day that’s as powerful, as meaningful, as patriotic. There have been so many movies that have been made that have glorified the Revolution, that have taken insane liberties and basically just use it as a backdrop for their own narratives,” he said. “But this is a film that truly pays homage and respect to real people who lived and died for our country, and I think it’s an incredibly important story.”

“One Life to Give” is scheduled to premiere on Sept. 22, the 241st anniversary of Nathan Hale’s execution.

Above, from left, Jamie Foxx and Ansel Elgort star in ‘Baby Driver'. Image courtesy of Tri-Star Pictures

By Kyle Barr

Think of all the songs that use the word “baby.” Think of every time it’s used in a love ballad, a rock song about a girl or close to every country song that comes out over the radio. Baby is mysterious. When we listen to those songs, we create the image for this “baby” in our heads, but we don’t really know much about who it really is.

In Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver,” Baby isn’t the vague object of desire; he’s the main character. The eponymous Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a young man whose head is constantly swimming with music. He doesn’t talk much with his mouth, but he expresses himself in the way he moves and the way he drives.

Lily James and Ansel Elgort in a scene from ‘Baby Driver’

The story takes cues from a host of classic crime movies. Baby is involved in a number of high-profile bank robberies. Things get more complicated as he falls in love with a waitress at the local diner named Deborah (Lily James) who loves music as much as Baby does. As Baby is drawn into one final heist alongside Darling (Eliza González), Buddy (Jon Hamm) and the psychotic Bats (Jamie Foxx), he must find a way to escape with Deborah and drive until its all left behind in the rearview mirror.

Wright, who serves as both director and screenwriter, has always had a knack for soundtracks that apply to both the tone and scene. One well-remembered scene from “Shaun of the Dead,” one of his earlier films, was of a group of heroes pummeling a zombie with pool cues to the ironic sounds of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

In “Baby Driver,” the entire movie takes on this schtick. Baby has tinnitus, an ear injury he received as a child, and he uses music to drown out the hum in his ears. All the music in the movie is diegetic, as in the music is listened to by the characters in the scene. When Baby removes a single earbud from his left ear, the music in the theater is coming from the right-hand speaker.

Ansel Elgort and Kevin Spacey in a scene from ‘Baby Driver’

It’s a brilliant thing to watch when it takes in the whole theater experience of spectacle and sound. Music becomes Baby and it transforms the world around him. It’s hard to tell whether Baby is acting to the beat of the music or the world itself is conforming to the sound.

The action scenes, such as the first car chase playing to “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, take on a new dimension when Baby turns and brakes in time to the song. Yet even the calmer scenes, like when Baby and Deborah bond in a laundromat over music, becoming much more charming even as Baby is incredibly sparing with his words.

It’s no coincidence that the most tense scenes in the movie usually occur when Baby’s earbuds are taken out and the music cuts. The movie is both classic in its heist movie sensibilities and also incredibly dark. Baby matches the audience in his fear and disgust at the death happening around him.

While the dialogue is clearly Wright, it is much more terse than his other films. Doc (Kevin Spacey) has some of the best lines in the film, where exchanges are often short and witty. “I’m looking at some of the country’s finest thugs and of course young Mozart in a go-cart over there.” But while his character is clearly meant to be powerful and frightening, his heel face turn during the movie’s climax comes too much out of left field. The entire climax in that way feels a little too forced, and without any spoilers, some character beats feel a little too forced as well.

But otherwise, “Baby Driver” is an excellent movie on its own, and it is a great way to start off the summer movie season. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself tapping your foot while Baby puts his foot on the gas.

Rated R for language and violence, “Baby Driver” is now playing in local theaters.

Gal Gadot tackles the role of Wonder Woman in Warner Brothers new superhero flick. Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

By Daniel Dunaief

Remember those Mad Libs games? You’d insert an adjective, a noun, a verb, adverb, a command, perhaps, into a premade sentence and then you’d read it back, laughing or pondering the combination of words thrown into the structure of a familiar narrative?

Superhero movies, particularly those about the origin of a character we all know, are like a game of Mad Libs. Few superheroes start out life with a cape, a star or a penchant for helping society and standing up against supervillains. Superheroes start out not knowing their fate, or some secret about themselves, and then have to learn the truth along the way.

“Wonder Woman,” the film version from Warner Brothers Studios based on the DC Comics, provides an enjoyable Mad Libs experience, sticking, for the most part, to a familiar structure. The movie, which has been flying high at the box office despite the lack of an invisible plane, executes on its premise well, while offering a few moments of levity scattered through its mix of high-action battle scenes.

Played by the easy-on-the-eyes Gal Gadot, to whom the movie’s other characters react with the kind of awe and attraction the audience might have if they met her, Wonder Woman tells the tale of Diana, the Amazonian princess of Themyscira. We meet her as a young girl, on a picturesque island full of woman who are forever training to fight a battle against man, who may discover their island some day despite remaining hidden from view.

Diana’s mother Hippolyta, played by Connie Nielsen, doesn’t want her daughter to be a warrior, which, of course, means that Diana’s primary focus is on developing her battle skills.

Enter Steve Trevor, an American spy played by Chris Pine, whose plane penetrates the fog that renders the island invisible. Now grown up, Diana races to save Trevor, who crash lands off shore. Trevor, unfortunately, brings an armada of Germans to the beach, where the first of many battles occurs. Diana is determined to end the War to End All Wars by returning to the outside world and fighting an enemy Trevor doesn’t see. While Pine’s Trevor doesn’t understand much about Diana and the island, Diana, in turn, finds the American warrior confounding and slightly amusing.

The interactions between Diana and Trevor throughout the film are amusing, filled with a blend of Trevor’s humorous awe and Diana’s unrelenting sincerity in her quest to end the war.

Complete with the Mad Libs collection of damaged heart-of-gold band of merry men, which fits conveniently into the superhero plot, Diana, Trevor and company seek out the evil General Ludendorff, played by Danny Huston, who seems bent on using a toxin Dr. Maru, Elena Analya, is creating.

The best parts of the film are when Diana, who is unaware of the broader conflict around her, drives the action. She races out of the trenches to try to save a town held by the Germans, followed by the reluctant heroes-despite-themselves band, including Trevor. Movie aficionados have focused on the glass ceiling shattered by director Patty Jenkins, who set a box office record for a movie directed by a woman. Jenkins has blended character development, high energy and an enjoyable script to create a worthwhile comic book movie. Her direction, with battle scenes alternating with the ongoing quest to end the war, kept the pace of the movie. The interaction among the main characters — friend and villain alike — made this Mad Libs origin story a success.

Now playing at local theaters, “Wonder Woman” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action.

Sophia Boutella is ‘The Mummy’ in Universal Pictures latest venture. Photo from Universal Pictures

By Heidi Sutton

Recently Universal Pictures announced that it will produce a new series of classic monster films, titled “Dark Universe,” of which “The Mummy” is the first to be unwrapped. The studio also plans to remake “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Invisible Man,” “Dracula,” “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Dr. Jekyll” as well as a “Wolfman” reboot. “The ‘Dark Universe’ is a continuation of a love affair the studio has had with its classic monsters. It is a Valentine to the genre that is in our DNA,” says Universal domestic distribution president Nick Carpou.

Let me begin by saying I love scary movies. “The Grudge” and “Shutter” are personal favorites. And I’ve always been fascinated with ancient Egypt and the pyramids ever since my father gave me a book about King Tutankhamun as a child. So when given the opportunity to see the big summer reboot of “The Mummy” I was excited. The 1999 version starring Brendan Fraser, who evoked the Indiana Jones character, and Rachel Weisz became a surprise box office hit and was, at times, bone chilling to say the least.

Tom Cruise and Annabelle Wallis in a scene from ‘The Mummy’ Photo from Universal Pictures

Unfortunately, watching the new monster flick play out on the big screen at the Port Jefferson Cinemas last Sunday afternoon, I felt my excitement turn into disappointment as I realized I had set my expectations too high. Tom Cruise stars as Nick Morton, a less than likable character who lurks around war-torn Iraq with his partner in crime, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) stealing ancient artifacts and selling them on the black market. During an air strike, a missile uncovers the burial chamber of Egyptian Princess Ahmanet, played to the hilt by Algerian actress Sophia Boutella.

Why is an Egyptian burial chamber in the Persian Gulf? A flashback to 5,000 years ago tells the story of how the princess is next in line to succeed her father, Pharaoh Menehptre. When her father’s second wife gives birth to a son, the enraged princess sells her soul to the Egyptian god of death, Set, who gives her a special dagger to murder her family.

As she attempts to sacrifice her lover so that Set may appear in a physical form, Ahmanet’s plan is thwarted by the priests and mummified alive for her sins (sound familiar?). Her sarcophagus is carried to Mesopetamia and buried in a tomb filled with mercury, “a fate worse than death” and a curse is placed upon it. When Nick finds a way to remove the coffin, he unknowingly awakens the princess from her “prison” and is forever cursed as the chosen one who must be sacrificed.

In the succeeding scenes the mummy chases Nick around London unleashing an evil energy wherever she goes, all the while searching for the special dagger that was stolen by knights fighting in the Crusades in Egypt in 1100 A.D. and taken back to England to bury with their dead. Sounds interesting enough, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it only gets more complicated from then on.

Directed by Alex Kurtzman, and written by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman, with story by Kurtzman, Jon Spaihts and Jenny Lumete, the film also stars Annabelle Wallis who plays Jenny Halsey, an archeologist and friend of Morton, and Russell Crowe who plays the role of Dr. Jekyll (Yes, Mr. Hyde does make an appearance) intent on capturing the mummy to disect her, an obvious introduction of what is yet to come in the “Dark Universe” series.

While the special effects and stunts are top notch, especially the scene where the transport plane carrying the sarcophagus crashes, and the flashbacks of Egpyt in the New Kingdom are visually stunning, it is not enough to hold the story together as the actors are left to work with a poorly written script that seems to jump all over the place with no focus. When it tries to be funny it is corny; when it tries to frighten, it is funny. It’s also not very scary — creepy, yes — but not scary. And in hindsight, maybe 54-year-old Tom Cruise was not the best choice in the lead — he’s certainly no Brendan Fraser!

“There are worse fates than death,” says the mummy to Tom Cruise’s character. Yes, like having to sit through “The Mummy!” I’ll take Rick and Evie and Jonathan and even Benny anytime!

Now playing in local theaters, “The Mummy” is rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images and for some suggestive content and partial nudity.

Above, a scene from ‘Sour Grapes’ Photo courtesy of PJDS

The Long Island Museum, located at 1200 Route 25A in Stony Brook, along with the Port Jefferson Documentary Series, will host the 2nd Summer Thursday event on Thursday, July 6, with a film screening of the 2016 documentary “Sour Grapes,” followed by a Q-and-A with the film’s co-director and free admission to the Long Island Museum’s newest exhibition, Midnight Rum: Long Island and Prohibition. The festivities begin at 4:30 p.m.

Set in the super-fast, super-rich world of LA and New York during the financial boom of the early 2000s, in the lead up to the 2008 financial crash, and featuring the obsessive collectors, outraged wine producers, suspect auction houses and specialist FBI sleuths, “Sour Grapes” is an “Emperor’s New Clothes” fable for the modern age.

The film traces the story of the millions of dollars made from the sale of fake vintage wine, which flooded a susceptible luxury market with counterfeits that still lie undetected in cellars across the world. The film was awarded Winner of Best Documentary at the Key West Film Festival. Critics have called the film “highly entertaining” (The Guardian) and “real-life comic mystery fit for Hercule Poirot” (Variety).

In addition to the film, there will be a wine reception (courtesy of Pindar Vineyards Port Jefferson Wine Shop) and a chance to meet Reuben Atlas, who co-directed the film, from 5 to 6 p.m. Advance tickets to the film and reception, which are selling out fast, are available for $12 at www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com through July 5. Tickets for the film only will be available at the door for $7 (no credit cards please). Ticket holders will receive complimentary admission to the Midnight Rum exhibition from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in the Visitors Center. The reception begins at 5 p.m. in the Carriage Museum’s Gillespie Room and the film begins at 6 p.m.

For more information and to purchase tickets, please call 631-473-5220.

From left, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe in a scene from ‘Some Like it Hot'. Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

The film that holds the top spot on the American Film Institute’s list of the funniest American movies of all time will return to select cinemas nationwide for two days only on Sunday, June 11, and Wednesday, June 14, at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events will present the screenings of “Some Like It Hot” (1959) along with specially produced commentary from TCM host Tiffany Vazquez before and after the film.

Billy Wilder’s beloved comedy is about two jazz musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) who find themselves on the run after they inadvertently witness a gangland murder. With no money and nowhere to hide, the two masquerade as members of an all-girl band, leading to a number of romantic complications when one falls for the band’s lead singer played by Marilyn Monroe in one of her most iconic roles.

Participating theaters in our neck of the woods include AMC Loews Stony Brook 17, Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas and Island 16 Cinema de Lux in Holtsville. For more information or to purchase your tickets in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

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