Movie Review

Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae star in ‘Carousel’. Image courtesy of Fathom Events

In honor of the 60th anniversary of “Carousel,” Fathom Events and Twentieth Century Fox will bring the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic to select cinemas nationwide on Sunday, Jan. 8 and Wednesday, Jan. 11 at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. Starring Gordon MacRae as Billy Bigelow and Shirley Jones as Julie Jordan, “Carousel” features one of the most impressive and emotionally moving of all Rodgers & Hammerstein scores, as well as stunning cinematography — the 1956 film was shot largely on location in coastal Maine. Its score includes such classics as “Soliloquy,” “What’s the Use of Wond’rin,” the rousing “June Is Busting Out All Over” and the haunting, inspiring “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” The screenings will also include an exclusive interview between Shirley Jones and the president of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Ted Chapin.

“‘Carousel’ has always been dear to me, a film that remains beautiful, challenging and inspiring,” said Jones. “It was 60 years ago that we immortalized Rodgers & Hammerstein’s gorgeous musical, but when I think back on the memories it feels like no time at all has passed. I hope both longtime fans and new audiences will find it just as fresh and just as wonderful as ever.” “Movie musicals become an entirely different experience when viewed on the big screen and shared with an audience,” Fathom Events Vice President of Studio Relations Tom Lucas said. “We are proud to be presenting one of the best and most unique musicals of the 1950s, showcasing a truly extraordinary achievement of American moviemaking.”

Participating movie theaters in our neck of the woods include Island 16 Cinema De Lux in Holtsville and Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas. For more information, please visit www.fathomevents.com.

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Felicity Jones leads the cast of the newest edition to the ‘Star Wars’ saga. Photo courtesy of Disney

THE EXPERIENCE

By Michael Tessler

Ever wish you could celebrate Christmas each and every day? That’s how I can best describe my childhood dream of receiving a new “Star Wars” film each and every year. What seemed like an impossibility back then has suddenly become an astonishing reality. Thanks to Disney’s acquisition of every creative thought mustered by George Lucas, fans can now enjoy an annual installment of the most successful film franchise in cinema history.

At AMC Loews 17 in Stony Brook on Friday, Nick Acampora and his daughters Elizabeth and Melanie sat together in anticipation for the premiere of Gareth Edwards’ “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” “We’ve got a family connection with the Force,” joked Acampora, a Port Jefferson resident and community historian. Though all smiles, his daughters were bitterly divided between which was their favorite “Star Wars” film (of course, we all know it should be “The Empire Strikes Back”). Despite some debate, all could agree that “Star Wars” is the perfect escape from reality.

Just a few rows away were two grown men named Mike, a father/son duo, both wearing expressions of childlike wonder in anticipation for the new film. The elder Mike had enjoyed the original “Star Wars” film (later titled “A New Hope”) back in 1977 when he first saw it in theaters. The “Jedi master” and his “padawan” have been to every “Star Wars” premiere together since “Attack of the Clones,” released in 2002. They take enormous pride in having a better relationship than their “Star Wars” counterparts Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

Sitting next to me was my childhood best friend Matthew and, in spirit, my late best friend Brandon. For us, “Star Wars” was more than just a film series, it was the basis for our friendship. Countless days in the backyard were spent dueling with plastic toy light sabers, building the LEGO Millennium Falcon brick by brick, and arguing for hours over fan theories and proper pronunciations of Jedi names. As Darth Vader appeared on screen for the first time in over a decade in “Rogue One,” Matthew and I paused for a moment, looking at one another. For that brief second we saw each other not as adults but as the little boys we once knew a long time ago … in a galaxy far, far away.

THE (SPOILERIFIC) REVIEW

By Kevin Redding

“Rogue One,” the first in what promises to be a series of Star Wars-related anthology films, is a risky experiment in that its plot — based on the first two paragraphs of the original’s opening crawl — requires it to forever change the way we watch “A New Hope.”

In telling the story of how the plans needed to destroy the Death Star wound up in the hands of Princess Leia and eventually kick-start the adventures of a blonde farm kid named Luke, “Rogue One” is of course a prequel, which is a dirty word among many “Star Wars” fans.

But Disney, for the most part, knows what the diehards want to see — practical sets and creatures, Tie fighters and X-wings, and the (ridiculously satisfying, vicious and get-on-your-feet-and-growl-like-a-wookie-worthy) return of the biggest, baddest villain in the galaxy, among other familiar faces. The last half of “Rogue One” sets up the start of “A New Hope” masterfully, so much so that if the closing credits of the former and opening crawl of the latter were eliminated, it would work seamlessly as one long adventure.

But I definitely thought it took a while for “Rogue One” to reach its great moments. As we spend time with a ragtag team of new characters, I couldn’t help but want to see what the old standbys were up to instead. This “Star Wars Story” centers on Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a slightly dull heroine whose father unwillingly engineered the planet-destroying weaponry on the Death Star while under the diabolic eye of the Empire’s Imperial Commander Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn).

As Erso later finds out, her father intentionally compromised the Death Star so it could easily be destroyed (by Luke in “A New Hope”), thus cleverly correcting one of the biggest plot holes in the original film: Why would the Empire build this elaborate, clearly-expensive space station that can be blown to smithereens so easily?!

Erso finds herself the resilient leader of a group of Rebels who band together to get the job done. Alongside her is Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who’s sort of the no-fun straight man throughout, K-2SO (perfectly voiced by Alan Tudyk), a reprogrammed Imperial droid that doesn’t know any better than to say exactly what’s on its mind (or in its circuits) to marvelous and hilarious effect, Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a Force-sensitive blind warrior who takes down a lot of stormtroopers with little to no effort and is by far the best new addition to the “Star Wars” universe of the human bunch, Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), Chirrut’s loyal partner, and Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a former Imperial pilot gone rogue.

It’s great to see the inclusion of Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits, reprising his role from the prequel trilogy) and some of the Rebel pilots from the original that were implemented into the spectacular battle scenes on display here. Where the film really shines, however, is in the villain department. Personally, I was blown away at how Edwards and company resurrected the late-great Peter Cushing through a stunning display of CGI and motion capture to give Grand Moff Tarkin, the ruthless Imperial leader in “A New Hope,” a substantial role.

But what brought me to the theater in the first place was knowing that I’d be seeing Darth Vader be Darth Vader on the big screen again, in all his James Earl Jones-voiced glory. It’s really incredible and overwhelming to see. His two scenes, while extremely short, are worth the price of admission, especially the one in the final moments of the film, which will forever change how we see him in the rest of the saga. If nothing else, “Rogue One” reclaims Vader as the powerful and dangerous threat we were always told he was, and then some.

THE VERDICT

“Rogue One’s” greatest attribute is that it somehow manages to make “A New Hope” an even greater film. Admittedly, the first thing I did when I got home was rewatch the 1977 classic. This connective tissue provides compelling emotional subtext to the famed original opening crawl. While a bit clunky in its pacing and struggle to give us new characters to really feel for, “Rogue One” has proven “Star Wars” can survive outside the saga, delivering to fans compelling stories that only further embellish the brilliance of Lucas’ original vision. And if you don’t like this one so much, just wait until next year … and the year after that…and the year after that.

Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

Just in time for the holidays, Fathom Events and the Autism Society of America will bring a first-of-its-kind sensory-friendly cinema event featuring the Bolshoi Ballet’s 2014 production of “The Nutcracker,” captured from the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia, to select cinemas nationwide on Monday, Dec. 19 at 6 p.m.

Danced by the Bolshoi’s principals, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s fairy tale staged by Russian ballet master Yuri Grigorovich will transport children and adults alike to a world of magic and wonder for the holiday season. In this special cinema presentation audience members are encouraged to be themselves; the lights will be turned up, the sound will be turned down and you can get up, dance, walk, shout or sing!

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

By Kevin Redding

We took to the streets of the North Shore to find out what everyone’s favorite holiday movie was and why.

Bella Ayer
Bella Ayer

Bella Ayer, Setauket I watch a lot of the old ones like “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman” and those types of movies. “The Year Without a Santa Claus” is one of my favorite Christmas movies because it’s such a classic and whoever made the movie put so much time and effort in animating it … it’s just so well put together and such a good story. Even though it was made like 30 or 40 years ago, I still loved it as a kid and still love it now.

Bill Herrmann
Bill Herrmann

Bill Herrmann, Port Jefferson I would definitely say “A Christmas Story.” I can’t get enough of it and I think the father makes the whole movie, how he hates the dogs next door and just all of his mannerisms. I love the narration by Jean Shephard too … it’s like an outsider looking in but also like a firsthand recap of what he went through. It’s one of those staples where you gotta expect it to be on 12 times in a row every year. I’d watch it with my family, by myself, or even trick someone into watching it with me.

Rebecca Unno
Rebecca Unno

Rebecca Zunno, Huntington I love “A Christmas Story” because it really reminds me of how my parents were raised, and I love watching it with them because they just laugh the whole way through and it’s one of my dad’s favorite films. I also like Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” because it has the best soundtrack, but “Elf” is definitely my favorite overall. I just love it because it’s funny and goofy and warm, and it kind of brings that sentimental teariness that we love as audience members. I think it’s important to have Christmas films that just make you feel like you’re a kid again. And I love Zooey Deschanel and I remember that was the first time I ever heard her sing [in the shower scene] and she has a beautiful voice. And Will Ferrell just cracks me up and he’s adorable in that. He’s just a big kid and it makes me laugh.

Vera Wilde
Vera Wilde

Vera Wilde, Port Jefferson Well, I love “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I always have to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” because it just makes it seem like Christmas to me and my family. I have to watch it every year, even more than once. It’s just the whole feeling of Christmas, family, generosity, a whole community coming together … it’s a wonderful movie.

 

Christina Urso and family
Christina Urso and family

Christina Urso, Port Jefferson I think our family’s favorite holiday movie is “A Christmas Story” because I think it just reminds everybody of their own little crazy family. We pull the DVD out and watch it every year. I’ve watched it since I was a kid and teenagers and it’s just something that’s been passed down and now our children like it. They were actually a little afraid of the bully [Skut Farkus] for the first few years and didn’t watch it for a while, so it took them a little time. It’s just a funny, silly movie but again I think it reminds everybody of their own family.

Scott Walsh
Scott Walsh

Scott Walsh, Hauppauge It would have to be “Die Hard.” It is a Christmas movie; it’s based around Christmas, he’s trying to go home to see his daughter, it’s a great movie. Yeah, “Die Hard” is the best Christmas movie of all time. Bruce Willis is in it and I love Bruce Willis and it’s a great action movie, has Christmas music in it … it’s a classic.

 

Amanda Damone and Jacob Ward
Amanda Damone and Jacob Ward

Amanda Damone, Sound Beach I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every year. I watch it twice [in early December and Christmas Eve] in full with my dad. Everyone in the family thinks it’s really boring and annoying, but I’m the only family member who watches it with him.

Jacob Ward, Port Jefferson I really like “The Polar Express.” I love Tom Hanks’ acting in all five of his roles in that movie and I loved it as a kid and seeing it on the big screen was really cool.

Nancy Sanks, Steven Guild, Joanna Guild, Coram

Joanna Guild, Steven Guild and Nancy Sanks
Joanna Guild, Steven Guild and Nancy Sanks

 

Joanna Guild: I like “The Holiday” a lot and remember seeing it when it came out. I like the mellow romantic ones.

Nancy Sanks: “While You Were Sleeping” [with Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman] is one of my favorite ones, because I have three daughters and we started watching those because it puts you in the Christmas mood and it’s friendly and it’s light romance and cozy “hot chocolate” kind of movie. And I’ve always liked “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” with Chevy Chase and all the lights.

Steven Guild: “Elf” is a classic.

PHOTOS BY KEVIN REDDING

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The perfect family movie for the holidays

Meet Disney's newest princess, Moana!

By Erika Riley

Disney’s newest musical movie masterpiece, “Moana,” opened in theaters this holiday season and is unsurprisingly a hit. Kids and adults alike will enjoy its strong protagonist, charming sidekick, beautifully crafted songs and inspirational message.

The story starts with an introduction to a Pacific Islander myth about the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and how he stole the heart of Te Ka. He hoped to bring it to the humans who he lived to serve, but instead opened up a darkness that still crept through the oceans to the present day.

Moana is the daughter of the chief of an island in the Pacific, where everybody lives peacefully and works together to make sure the island is running smoothly. Moana is destined to run the island one day but can’t help wanting to see what’s beyond the reef. Her exploratory nature gets the best of her. When the island is in trouble due to the darkness Maui unleashed, she takes it upon herself to take off on a boat and get the heart back.

The movie feels less like a Disney princess movie after that and more like an adventure, as we watch Moana sail across the ocean in search for Maui. She is simultaneously strong and flawed; while she is confident in her abilities and determined to save her island, she is also not a very good sailor or navigator, or very convincing when she does meet Maui. Yet we watch her grow and learn, and that’s an arc that is rarely seen out of “princesses.” Moana does, however, declare that she is not a princess, insisting that she is the daughter of the chief.

Moana is fronted by new voice actress and native Hawaiian Auli’i Cravalho, who beautifully brings her to life, especially during her musical numbers. This is the first musical movie that Disney has released since “Frozen” in 2013, and it does not disappoint. Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” co-wrote the original songs for the movie with Mark Mancina and Opetia Foi’a. The songs are both catchy and empowering and have a very similar driving groove to them that can be found in the “Hamilton” sound track. “How Far I’ll Go” and its reprises are the most influential songs in the movie, and can easily be seen as the new “Let It Go.” Johnson makes his musical debut with Maui’s “You’re Welcome,” a catchy and fun song that helps flesh out Maui’s self-righteous and confident character.

While the plot of the movie is similar to what Disney has done in the past, with a female protagonist going on a quest with the help of a man, it takes a steep curve in the fact that it does not have a love interest. Even though Moana is traveling with Maui, there is never any foreshadowing that they will be in a relationship, and they remain friends throughout the movie. In the end, it’s Moana who saves the day and figures out how to bring peace and prosperity back to her home, not Maui.

The movie is geared toward kids but will also be perfect for parents and teenagers who are nostalgic for classic Disney movies. While the humor is sometimes geared more toward children, there are some comments throughout the movie where Disney pokes fun at itself that adults will pick up on more.

Moana is a great role model for kids, and the inclusion of Pacific Islander culture is a stark contrast from movies like “Tangled” and “Frozen,” which featured white protagonists. Moana learns more about her culture throughout the movie, and it’s a beautiful part of the plot, and an arc rarely seen in fairy tales.

Moana is a great choice for a movie to see with the whole family this holiday season. It is currently playing at AMC Theaters across the Island, as well as PJ Cinemas in Port Jefferson Station.

About the author: Stony Brook resident Erika Riley is a sophomore at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She is interning at TBR during her winter break and hopes to advance in the world of journalism and publishing after graduation.

Dr. Harold Fernandez is one of the world's leading cardiac surgeons. Photo from CAC

By Kevin Redding

There is perhaps no one on Long Island whose story encapsulates the American Dream better than Huntington resident Harold Fernandez, who fled drug-and-murder-ridden Colombia when he was 13 years old; charted through the treacherous waters of the Bermuda Triangle; came into the U.S. not speaking a word of English; worked hard in school; gained admission to Princeton University; graduated from Harvard Medical School; got married and helped raise two children; and ultimately rose to the top of his profession as a cardiac surgeon, currently working at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore.

But his journey to the operating room was one of constant fear. As an undocumented immigrant, Fernandez had broken countless immigration laws by the time he arrived at Princeton. The secret he had harbored his whole life was about to be revealed and potentially undo everything he had achieved for himself and his family and send him back to Colombia.

Harold Fernandez, left, with his brother Byron with the Statue of Liberty in the background.
Harold Fernandez, left, with his brother Byron with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

Fernandez’s compelling and inspiring story is the focus of a new documentary titled “Undocumented.” Based on his memoir of the same name, the documentary will have its world premiere screening at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington on Sunday, Nov. 13, at 6 p.m. (sold out) and 8:15 p.m. The film will be followed by a Q-and-A with filmmakers Patricia Shih and Greg Blank, as well as Fernandez himself.

Shih, a professional local musician who had no prior experience in filmmaking, read the book cover to cover and knew right away that the story needed to be translated to film, not only because of its cinematic themes of danger, suspense and eventual triumph but because its message rang especially true today.

“Harold’s story … puts a human face on the abstract issue of immigration,” she said. “When the presidential election started, there was a lot of hateful rhetoric by one of the candidates about immigration, and specifically racial and religious discrimination. I’m hoping that [the film] will move people enough so that some hardened positions will soften. I can’t stress enough how amazing his story is.”

As an Asian woman whose own father was one of only 105 Chinese immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. in 1945 as a result of the Magnuson Act, Shih considers this an extremely personal topic. She hopes to combat the ever-increasing violence, racism and xenophobia that surrounds the issue of immigration with the film’s telling of Fernandez’s incredible life.

And incredible it is.

When he and his 11-year-old brother Byron left Medellín, Colombia, in 1978, Fernandez hadn’t seen his parents for years. They had already moved to the U.S. to escape poverty, working in embroidery and clothing factories and struggling to make ends meet in West New York, New Jersey, with the hopes that one day they would earn enough money to be reunited with their children. His parents arranged for the two of them to be smuggled in, and so began their dangerous voyage to freedom.

Fernandez, his brother and a dozen other immigrants huddled in a small boat that seemed to constantly be on the verge of splitting in half as the harsh sea raged on in the thick of hurricane season. When he finally arrived in New Jersey, Fernandez was at a complete disadvantage, needing to learn a new language and catch up with his classmates academically. However, he saw how much his parents struggled to put food on the table and understood that the only way he would get ahead in life would be through a good education, and so he buckled down and devoted himself to his studies.

Fernandez became valedictorian in his high school class and was accepted to Princeton with flying colors, determined to help people through medicine. However, this is when his undocumented status came back to haunt him. The documentary explores how Fernandez overcame the very real threat of being deported and wound up where he is today.

As Shih had never tackled a film before, let alone a feature-length film, she approached Push Pause video journalist Greg Blank to see if he would help make this dream project a reality. It didn’t take much to persuade him to get on board.

Much like Shih, Blank had become extremely immersed in Fernandez’s memoir and thought that a lot of people would relate to his story on different levels. The two launched a Kickstarter campaign in an effort to crowd fund the film in April, wound up exceeding their cost goal, and with a final budget of roughly $20,000, shot and edited the documentary in five months — all under the complete cooperation and encouragement of Fernandez, who even contributed large quantities of footage when he visited his old neighborhood, school and home in Colombia this year.

The film features interviews with Fernandez’s parents, a professor of his from Princeton, as well as two former patients who say they owe their lives to him as a result of emergency open-heart surgeries, among others. The bulk of it was shot in Huntington, said the filmmakers, with segments in New Jersey and Princeton.

“This is the quintessential American story,” said Blank. “I hope people can see that it’s not just the story of Harold and one person succeeding in this country, but an entire family coming [here] and making the most of it, and really contributing.”

For Fernandez, seeing his story make its way to the big screen is really exciting. He said it’s an opportunity to show people that most immigrant families in this country are regular people who have dreams and are looking for ways to contribute to the American way of life. “I’ve been so blessed to be able to make my dream come true,” said Fernandez. “but I think that most immigrants that come here are really looking for simple things — living with dignity, just being able to work — and I think that’s what my story really portrays. And the main thing that I remember coming here to America was not really the excitement of coming [here] as much as just the desire to be together as a family again.”

Fernandez continued, “I think it’s one of the tragedies of the whole immigration issue right now. You have all these families apart, so I think the idea of being together again as a family was the most important part at the time.”

The Cinema Arts Centre is located at 423 Park Ave., Huntington. Admission is $16, $11 members. A premium admission of $22, $17 members, includes a wine and cheese reception. For more information, please call 631-423-7611 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.com.

Alex Seel. Photo from Spencer Edelbaum

The School of Social Welfare at Stony Brook University, the Undergraduate Social Welfare Alliance (USWA) and the Protestant Campus Ministry will welcome Alex Seel, one of six participants in a challenging documentary, “Borderland,” on Saturday, Nov. 5, in the in the Health Sciences Tower (hospital side of campus), Level 3 Galleria and adjacent Lecture Hall 5 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The final episode of the series will be screened and Seel will share his experiences and answer questions.

A scene from 'Borderland'
A scene from ‘Borderland’

In this four-part television series, six Americans from varying backgrounds are confronted with the realities of undocumented migrant labor. The participants split into three groups and go to Mexico and Central America in order to retrace the footsteps of three migrants who did not survive the journey north. They discover the circumstances which led the migrants to risk their lives; they make their way north by riding atop a cargo train know as “La Bestia” or “The Beast”; they learn about the impact of Mexico’s drug wars on immigrants; they traverse the desert in which some 2500 migrants died the previous year. The journey leaves them shaken and changed. Borderland does not provide answers to the problem of undocumented immigration, but it shows the humanity of everyone involved in the process.

Undocumented migrant labor is a compelling issue that all of us face, and the debate over immigration policies brings out deep passions, but it is divorced from our day to day experience. The show presents the full complexity of the issue, and the participants come away with something desperately needed in the debate—empathy. After viewing the documentary, you will not look at the issue of undocumented immigration the same way again. Free and open to all. For more information, email sbu.uswa@gmail.com.

For Free parking: 

From 25A to Nicolls Rd., Rt to West Campus on Shirley Kenny Drive,
Immediate left on Circle Rd. to the stop sign then there is an entrance to free parking. Walk through the underpass to Health Sciences tower. Go up the escalator 1 flight. Parking here on weekends is free.

(From 347, left on Shirley Kenny Drive)

For paid parking:
From 25 A, left on Health Sciences Drive and follow the signs to the main entrance of the hospital and hospital garage or use Valet parking if you wish. Enter hospital lobby and ask at the registration desk for the Health Science tower escalators.

From 347, right on Health Sciences Drive.

Photo courtesy of PJDG

CHECKMATE!

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson will screen the award winning documentary “Magnus” on Monday, September 26 at 7 p.m. as part of the 2016 Fall Port Jefferson Documentary series.

Through archival footage and home movies “Magnus” tells the story of 26-year-old Norwegian chess champion Magnus Carlsen’s rise to the top. A hit at several international festivals and winner of the Ray of Sunshine prize at the Norwegian International Film Festival, the documentary also gives the audience a peek inside the isolated world of the chess community. In English and Norwegian. Sponsored by the Long Island Chess Club. Guest speaker, via Skype, will be the director, Benjamin Ree.

Tickets are $7 and will be sold at the door. For more information, call 631-473-5220 or visit www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.

Please note the incorrect date was listed in the printed Times … and dates calendar under the photo.

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Callie Hernandez (Lisa) in a scene from ‘Blair Witch’.Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Publicity

By Kevin Redding

In the summer of 1999, “The Blair Witch Project” was unleashed on audiences everywhere and shook things up in a huge way. The low-budget film’s remarkable authenticity — from the talent of its anonymous actors to the way it was shot on hand-held cameras to the conceivability of the events — and genius viral marketing in the early days of the internet convinced millions of moviegoers that the madness they were seeing unfold on screen was real and a direct result of piecing together “found footage” from a trek in the woods gone horribly awry.

This subgenre, which we’ve since been beaten over the head with to the point of desensitization, was spectacularly fresh at the time and unlike anything anybody had ever seen before. It worked like gangbusters and the film’s incredible box office success — raking in about $248.6 million off a $60,000 budget — influenced the next crop of indie filmmakers and certainly spawned its fair share of countless imitators that continue to this day, none of which have yet to rise to its level.

Whether it scared you or not, “The Blair Witch Project” remains a masterfully crafted and wholly unique piece of horror that can never be replicated.

A scene from 'Blair Witch'. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate/ Chris Helcermanas-Benge
A scene from ‘Blair Witch’. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate/ Chris Helcermanas-Benge

This past weekend, the film’s direct sequel “Blair Witch” is just further proof of that. Resurrecting such a hot property like this was inevitable in the modern age of nostalgia-based reboots, but the studio did something promising by handing the keys to the cabin to some of the most interesting young horror filmmakers working today: director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett, the team behind subversive and exciting films like “You’re Next” and “The Guest.”

Unfortunately, their well-established chops aren’t reflected in the film. With Wingard and Barrett at the helm, it’s just even more baffling that the end result is so uninteresting, by-the-book and overall kind of obnoxious in that modern, big-budget “cash grab horror movie” kind of way.

Gone is all the subtlety, atmosphere, tension and dread of the original; in its place are loud and unearned jump scares every couple of minutes, bland and laughably unrealistic characters we don’t care about, and a plot that doesn’t do anything to really enhance the lore and mythos of the witch, leaving me to wonder what the point of this sequel was at all.

It’s difficult to even consider this a sequel as much as an outright remake, because although “Blair Witch” equips its new generation of soon-to-be faces on “Missing” fliers with updated gadgets like Bluetooth earpiece cameras, drone cams and GPS for new inventive angles for the subgenre, it’s basically a beat-for-beat copy of that first one, but without the things that made it really effective.

Here, we follow James (James McCune) in his determination to go and find his long-lost sister, Heather from the original, who disappeared in that dreadful Black Hills Forest 15 years ago (this one takes place in 2014).

Valorie Curry in a scene from ‘Blair Witch’.Photo courtesy of Lionsgate/ Chris Helcermanas-Benge
Valorie Curry in a scene from ‘Blair Witch’.Photo courtesy of Lionsgate/ Chris Helcermanas-Benge

A recent video taken in that stretch of woods was uploaded to YouTube, and blurry footage of a woman convinces him that it could be her and she could still be out there. Even though in the universe of this movie the footage of the original film exists and has been seen and is well known, James decides to gather up a group of friends and go ahead and suffer exactly as his own sister and her two pals did.

One of the friends, Lisa (Callie Hernandez), is a filmmaker set on documenting the experience. Because the leads in the original were likable and realistic human beings, it’s extremely sad to watch their journey as we know full well that they’re not going to make it out alive. Here, there’s no emotional attachment to anyone on screen and so it’s tough to root for anyone but the witch herself.

With the inclusion of two weird locals, the pack of Abercrombie models we’re supposed to believe are real everyday people discover that there’s more to the woods than mere folklore and gossip. Things unravel pretty quickly like in the first film: stick figures are found outside of their tents, people disappear, they walk for hours only to wind up at the same spot. There are also bizarre things thrown in that don’t really go anywhere. It definitely feels like Wingard and Barrett were boredly waiting the whole movie just to get to the last 15 to 20 minutes where they could finally let loose and show off a bit. They take everything up a few hundred notches and for the first time, the movie feels a little interesting and fun. They basically take us through a virtual reality haunted house ride that’s pretty intense and stressful, even though it winds up just being a bigger and louder version of what we’ve seen before — which pretty much sums up the entire film.

In a recent Facebook post, actress Heather Donahue —whose tearful face adorns the iconic image of “The Blair Witch Project” — declared that “scare for scare, the new ‘Blair Witch’ is better than the original” and I couldn’t disagree more.

There’s nothing in the original that breaks the illusion that we’re watching real people going through a real, horrifying situation. Whereas in this one, there’s nothing that feels genuine; instead we’re very aware that we’re watching bad actors pretending to be scared in a very scripted movie. The first one sends chills down your spine with just the sound of a twig snapping and a distant voice in the dark and changed movies forever. This one shoves everything in your face, blares in your ears and is afraid to try anything that hasn’t been done before. It simply doesn’t hold a candle to what a couple indie filmmakers did in 1999 with just a couple cameras and a couple actors in the woods.

“Blair Witch,” now playing in local theaters, is rated R for language, terror and several disturbing images.

'Betting on Zero.' Photo courtesy of PJDC

By Heidi Sutton

Jon Stewart’s  ‘After Spring’ will be screened on Oct. 17 at Theatre Three. Photo courtesy of PJDC
Jon Stewart’s ‘After Spring’ will be screened on Oct. 17 at Theatre Three. Photo courtesy of PJDC

Autism, pyramid schemes, the mental health system, the game of chess, gay rights, the Syrian refugee crisis — these topics and more will be explored in depth as the Port Jefferson Documentary Series kicks off its fall 2016 season on Monday, Sept. 12. 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 this season at two venues — Theatre Three in Port Jefferson and the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. Each screening will be followed by a Q-and-A session with a guest speaker.

The documentaries are chosen by a six-member film board, affectionately known as “the film ladies,” who each choose one film to present and then a seventh is chosen unanimously by the group. The ladies, who include co-directors Lyn Boland and Barbara Sverd, Wendy Feinberg, Honey Katz, Phyllis Ross and Lorie Rothstein, are celebrating the festival’s 11th year this month.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Lyn Boland about this local cultural gem and about this season’s exciting lineup.

Can you believe it’s been 11 years?

Yes, it’s amazing. We are very grateful to our audience and also to the directors and distributors we have gotten to know who are willing to share their films with us. This fall will be our 23rd season and longevity has its rewards. For example, for the upcoming fall season, I was emailing a producer and I could honestly write that I was one of his biggest fans because I realized, when I checked his bio, that we had previously run at least three of his films. He was impressed enough by our record to give us his newest film.

How many choices does each film lady bring to the table initially?

I would say each film lady brings five to 10 films to the first meeting, but they have probably gone through a winnowing process even before the first programming meeting.

What film festivals did the film ladies attend this year?

We went to our usuals — Tribeca, Hamptons, Stony Brook. We follow a lot of other festivals from a distance. Toronto will be coming up in a few weeks, and we will watch what happens with the films there or the films at Sundance in January. The festivals announce the films they have chosen to show about a month before they start screenings. Once the films are announced, we are busy reading about them and trying to contact the directors. Fortunately, although we can’t get to some festivals, Tribeca has become an important focus for documentaries. Several of our fall films are films we saw at Tribeca last spring — “Betting on Zero,” “Strike a Pose,” “Life Animated,” “After Spring,” and “Magnus.” It was love at first viewing with those films and then the chase was on.

I understand that you have some extra help these days?

Our initial group is still intact but we have had some great new additions. We have four new volunteers: Lynn Rein, who has contributed tremendously to creating our posters and fliers; Emily Sobel, our agent on the ground at Stony Brook, making sure our public service announcements get on the air; Irene Berman, who brings a fresh perspective after a long career of teaching; and Kathryn Hunter, a charming jack-of-all trades.

In the spring of this year the PJDS formed a new partnership with the Long Island Museum. How is that working out?

Working with LIM has been delightful. They have a great staff there, very competent and open to new ideas. Lisa Unander, the administrator we work with, is calm, understanding and knows how to make things happen. So far the size of the venue has not been an issue although we came close this summer with our special event screening of ”The Witness.” We filled up all 128 seats! The film, which we screened at the same time as it opened in NYC, was a huge success and a great tie-in with the museum’s Long Island in the Sixties exhibit. Our guest speaker, director James Solomon, loved the museum’s exhibit and the perfect tie-in with his film.

Which documentary are you most excited about?

I think one of the most riveting documentaries is ”Tower.” Using animation, the film brings the audience right into the crisis at the University of Austin where a shooter occupied the tower and held the campus prisoner. There are heroes and villains in the film and the point of view is mesmerizing. It is also the 50th anniversary of the shooting which gives all of us pause when we contemplate how frequent these tragedies have become since that horrifying beginning. I am also in love with “Betting on Zero,” the film I am presenting.

Why did you choose to present ‘Betting on Zero’?

I am fascinated by the financial world and I think most of us have become more cognizant of how much we are impacted by stocks, banks and investors since the Great Recession. The story in “Betting on Zero” is particularly dramatic because it involves two financial titans, Carl Icahn and Bill Ackman. Icahn, whose name is familiar to many, is a big shareholder in Herbalife, a well-known company. Ackman, less well-known outside of financial circles, believes Herbalife is a Ponzi scheme and has bet a fortune on bringing the company down. The billionaire battle is set against the backdrop of the many Herbalife small business owners who are caught up on the conflict. So you have humanity, money, and the hint of a Madoff-like shell game.

Which guest speaker are you most excited about meeting?

I am very excited about bringing the director of “Betting on Zero” Ted Braun in from LA. It is also a great privilege to welcome the producer of “Life Animated,” Carolyn Hepburn, since she is a Long Island native and because “Life Animated” is a film that has had a great impact all over the country. I look forward to meeting Steph Ching and Ellen Martinez, the directors of “After Spring,” and I know they will be audience favorites as will Salim Gauwloos, the dancer in “Strike a Pose,” who I met briefly at the screening at Tribeca. However, I think I am most excited about bringing back Todd and Jedd Wider, the directors of “God Knows Where I Am,” because they grew up in Setauket and have been wonderfully generous to the series. We have shown five of their previous films, including the Academy Award-winning documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side,” and we look forward to seeing them again (and again!)

What do you feel is so special about documentaries?

Documentaries are real. Granted, they often represent the director’s point of view, but what you see on the screen actually happened and it is amazing how dramatic and moving real life is. Also, most documentaries are works of passion and dedication. Many of these directors spend years following their subjects, devoting endless hours to stories that need to be told. Documentaries can bring change to our way of life while bringing tears to our eyes. There is a special insight that you get from seeing the real thing.

Why should people come out on a Monday night to see these films?

In addition to seeing films that they might not get to see otherwise and hearing the inside story from a director or cast member that they might never meet, the doc series is a great community event. Our Q-and-As are lively and provide an opportunity to hear from one’s neighbors, near and far. The PJDS audience is a fascinating and ever-changing cross section with whom a film enthusiast can enjoy a unique and often bonding experience. Plus, it’s the best bargain around: film and live speaker for $7!! Finally, the films provide a fantastic learning experience. For example, I had no idea who Magnus Carlsen was before I saw “Magnus” but I soon learned that every chess player from dilettante to devotee knows and follows him.

Are you looking for volunteers?

Yes, very much so. We need people to do imaginative PR, anything to get the word out for a series that operates on less than a shoestring budget. We need grant writers, film enthusiasts, and tech people to create our posters, math people to work on the budget, anything and anyone you can imagine. See you at the movies!

The first and last documentary will be screened on Mondays at the Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. All others will be screened on Mondays at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. All films begin at 7 p.m. and doors open one half hour before show time. Tickets for all films are $7 and will be sold at the door. For more information, call 631-473-5220 or visit www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.

Film schedule:

▶ The fall season will kick off with a screening of “Life, Animated” at the Long Island Museum on Sept. 12. Winner of the Sundance Film Festival Director Award for a U.S. Documentary and the Audience Award at the Full Frame Festival and San Francisco International Film Festival, the film follows the life of Owen Suskind, who stopped speaking at the age of 3 and withdrew from his family and the world. Diagnosed with autism, he developed his own language skills after repeated viewings of Disney classics like “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid.” Guest speaker will be co-producer Carolyn Hepburn.

“Betting on Zero,” (Arts & Lifestyles cover photo) the second film in the series, will be screened at Theatre Three on Sept. 19. The financial docu-thriller, which made its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, follows hedge-fund titan Bill Ackman as he seeks to expose global nutritional giant Herbalife as the largest pyramid scheme in history in this deeply emotional dive into the world of money, fraud and the American Dream. In English and Spanish. Guest speaker will be director Tim Braun.

Director Benjamin Ree will be the guest speaker on Sept. 26. Photo courtesy of PJDC
Director Benjamin Ree will be the guest speaker on Sept. 26. Photo courtesy of PJDC

▶ Through archival footage and home movies, “Magnus,” to be screened at Theatre Three on Sept. 26, tells the story of 26-year-old Norwegian chess champion Magnus Carlsen’s rise to the top. A hit at several international festivals and winner of the Ray of Sunshine prize at the Norwegian International Film Festival, the documentary also gives the audience a peek inside the isolated world of the chess community. In English and Norwegian. Sponsored by the Long Island Chess Club. Guest speaker, via Skype, will be the director, Benjamin Ree.

▶ The fourth film, titled “Strike a Pose,” screened at Theatre Three on Oct. 10, features Madonna’s seven backup dancers from her Blond Ambition Tour in 1990, whose journey was captured in the rockumentary, “Truth or Dare,” The documentary follows the lives of Kevin Stea, Carlton Wilborn, Luis Xtravaganza Camacho, Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza, Salim Gauwloos and Oliver S. Crumes III since the tour. The seventh, Gabriel Trupin, died from complications due to AIDS in 1995 and is represented in the film by his mother, Sue Trupin. In English and Spanish. Guest speaker will be Salim Gawloos.

▶ The series continues on Oct. 17 at Theatre Three with a screening of Jon Stewart’s heartbreaking “After Spring,” a feature documentary about the Syrian refugee crisis that has affected millions since the conflict began six years ago. Filmed in Jordan, the audience will experience living in Zaatari, the second largest refugee camp in the world. In Arabic, English and Korean. Guest speakers will be directors Steph Ching and Ellen Martinez.

‘God Knows Where I Am’ will be screened on Oct. 24 at Theatre Three. Photo courtesy of PJDC
‘God Knows Where I Am’ will be screened on Oct. 24 at Theatre Three. Photo courtesy of PJDC

“God Knows Where I Am” will be screened at Theatre Three on Oct. 24. Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Hot Docs, the documentary, using 16mm and 35mm cinematography, tells the story of Linda Bishop, a homeless woman who was determined to stay free of the mental health system, documenting her experience in a diary before her tragic death. It has been called by critics “a film for the ages, great cinema and certainly a contender for one of the best documentaries of the millennium that features some of the most beautiful cinematography ever to be seen in a documentary.” Setauket natives and directors Jedd and Todd Wider will join the audience for a Q-and-A after the screening.

▶ The final film for fall 2016, “Tower,” will be screened at the Long Island Museum on Nov. 7. Combining archival footage with live-action animation, “Tower” tells the story of America’s first mass school shooting at the University of Texas in 1966. “Tower” was the Grand Prize Winner and Audience Award Winner at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. Guest speaker will be co-producer and animation director Craig Staggs.

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