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Kyle Barr

A scene from 'Mid90s' Photo courtesy of A24

By Kyle Barr

The real question with films like “Mid90s” and other throwbacks to the days of the childhoods of those born in the ’80s and ’90s is really how far you can get with callbacks and brand recognition. 

It has worked well in some places, such as with the hit Netflix show “Stranger Things,” but a movie still needs a storyline to fill out the space left between brand name dropping and scenes of, “Oh, don’t you remember this? Wasn’t this fun?” Well, “Mid90s,” which opened in theaters Oct. 21, is an interesting take on nostalgia, one that shows the ugly sides of childhood without any kind of judgment.

Sunny Suljic in a scene from ‘Mid90s’

“Mid90s” takes place in Los Angeles during the titular 1990s as the California skating scene was at its peak. Young Stevie (Sunny Suljic) lives in a dysfunctional house with abusive older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) and his co-dependent mom Dabney (Katherine Waterston). While riding his bike Stevie sees a young group of skaters at a distance and decides to infiltrate that friend group, despite the fact he has never ever skated in his life. The skaters, made up of pro-skater hopeful Ray (Na-kel Smith), party-hopper F**** (Olan Prenatt), lonely Ruben (Gio Galicia) and the reserved filmmaker Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), start taking a liking to the young kid, who they nickname Sunscreen.

Stevie, while learning to skate, also falls into the seedier elements of the scene, the ones involving drugs and alcohol. He picks up terrible habits, acting out against his family. His friends are tested even harder when it becomes evident Ray is coming closer and closer to becoming pro, potentially leaving all those who look up to him behind.

It’s a movie called “Mid90s,” so it’s obvious that first-time director Jonah Hill, most known for his roles in films like “The Wolf of Wall Street,” is trying to make some kind of declaration of this time period. Unlike something like “Stranger Things,” the brands, music and albums so notorious from the era aren’t just set dressing but are integral to the theme. Stevie goes into his brother’s room and looks through his music, full of recognizable band names, just so he could give him a birthday gift in the next scene, which he then tosses on the table like he’s just received rotten fruit. The recognizable posters on Stevie’s wall are swapped out later once he starts to love the skating culture.

Sunny Suljic and Na-kel Smith in a scene from ‘Mid90s’

But what really drives the film’s forward momentum is the intense theme of skating as a relief from home life. Though it’s not so much an escape from problems, skating is shown as a way to connect with people on a deep spiritual level. It’s revealed relatively late in the film how each of the main characters has an imperfect home life, and that the friendship they have with each other is what keeps them all sane. 

Though it’s not a long movie, running at about the 90-minute mark, Hill doesn’t make this film overstay its welcome. That’s not to say there aren’t moments that makes one think this is a first-time directorial effort, small sequences that don’t add up, camerawork that pushes in a little too close to faces and a few other niggling details.

The film is also explicit in a number of ways, some of which involve the main character who is supposedly 13 years old, according to the film. Be sure to come at this flick without a sense of judgment for the characters, as the film itself makes it plain it doesn’t wish to judge them as well.

I was never a skater as a kid, but I knew those who were. Even if you have some sort of interest to dive into a time and place that few can honestly say they were a part of, then “Mid90s” should be a good run of some vicarious nostalgia.

Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content, drug and alcohol use and violence, “Mid90s” is now playing in local theaters.

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John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from ‘The Sisters Brothers’ Photo by Magali Bragard/Annapurna Pictures

By Kyle Barr

Is there something to say about the fact that, even as so many Western genre movies have been released, covering every inch of America’s rugged past, that the genre still survives?

Though it’s one of film’s oldest and most tested settings, the entire concept of the Western has been deconstructed, reconstructed, parodied, satired, mocked and idolized so many times until today where we have different subgenres from the post-Western, the comedy Western and beyond.

So where does “The Sisters Brothers,” a film directed by French filmmaker Jacques Audiard, sit in this framework? The film was marketed as a comedy Western, and while the film is certainly funny at points, it really is so much more.

John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from ‘The Sisters Brothers’ Photo by Magali Bragard/Annapurna Pictures

This is the jazz version of the Western, something recognizable yet off-kilter enough to be fresh in all the right ways. Adapted from a 2011 novel by the Canadian author Patrick deWitt, the story follows the brothers Eli Sisters (John C. Reilly) and Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) as two hit-men gunslingers employed by the enigmatic figure of The Commodore (Rutger Hauer).

The Sisters brothers are tasked with finding Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), a gentleman and a chemist, knowing that, most likely, they will have to kill him. When they finally find him, Warm and the man who was supposed to confine him, John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) have a much more interesting offer to give the two murderous brothers.

The opening shot is one so cleanly reminiscent of Westerns but given a subtle twist of shot and lighting. It starts large, a black field with the hint of a purple horizon, but the silence is cut short with sparks and flashes of light as the Sisters brothers engage men fortified in a house. The film is violent without languishing in it, and, instead, Audiard likes to spend more time in finding comedic moments in the exhausting work of traveling across the West, from trying to ride when hung over or from a  random spider bite (one that crawled inside his mouth), or force a man near-comatose for several days while a bear attack nearly kills his horse. 

Westerns have long drawn their themes of the line between right and wrong, good and evil, society and the wilderness. “The Sisters Brothers” doesn’t so much run away from those themes as it does show just how deflated they are. The fact that the film ends not with so much of a bang but with a calm, pastoral scene of home and family goes to say something about the entire idea of the Western genre.

Jake Gyllenhaal in a scene from ‘Sisters Brothers’

All actors involved do a great job with their performances, and both Ahmed and Gyllenhaal are particularly interesting to watch as they develop a respect for the other over the course of the film. Phoenix is terrific in his role, playing the slightly unhinged gunslinger with just the right amount of anger while leaving room for introspection.

“You do realize that our father was stark raving mad and we got his foul blood in our veins?,” Charlie Sisters says. “That was his gift to us. That blood is why we’re good at what we do.”

While it was Reilly’s own production company that financed the film, it’s good to note that the man who is most known for his comedies, often co-starring with Will Farrell, takes a far more interesting and nuanced turn as the older Sisters brother, killing people in the name of defending his brother, who does not believe he needs saving. He comes into his own especially at the end of the film, as he tries to make up for the past by protecting his brother as they run across the West pursued by men who would kill them.

“The Sisters Brothers” is one of those films that you’ll either love or fully question what all the fuss is about. As a general fan of Westerns and all its spin-offs, this reviewer says it’s a much-needed spin on many overdone film tropes of the Western genre.

Rated R for violence, disturbing images and language, “The Sisters Brothers” is now playing in local theaters.

By Kyle Barr

The Bates House in Setauket is gearing up to host a night of intrigue and mystery in order to support a local horse sanctuary in need.

The nonprofit Twin Oaks Horse Sanctuary in Manorville will hold a murder mystery event at the Setauket venue on Sunday, Nov. 11 to raise funds for repairs to a barn roof, among others. The farm shelters close to 30 horses, some of which have suffered from abuse, neglect, injury or simply the ravages of time and age. 

“We take them in and they live out their lives,” said Cynthia Steinmann, one of the two main sanctuary volunteers. “You never know their stories before you get them.”

From left, Jennifer Zalak with Maggie the horse and Cynthia Steinmann with Frankie the cat

Horses range in age, but all were saved from worse fates or were taken in when they had no other place to go. Two Friesian brothers Jan and Attilla were brought into the sanctuary after a period where they were nearly starved, kept in the same barn as a dead horse. Another horse named Journey was brought to the sanctuary after a very difficult childbirth in Pennsylvania. Dealer was brought to the sanctuary by caring riding students after becoming too old to be used for lessons.

The sanctuary, which is run by a group of just three women, is looking to get in front of a number of issues before winter season sets in. A recent storm blew the roof off of one of the barn buildings on site and there is a need for a drainage system to prevent flooding as well as to create new boards for horses to walk on if the rains soften the ground too much. 

Several of the horse shelters on site could use renovations, including one that needs to be rebuilt, and the sanctuary is always looking for new wood to reconstruct the pens that some of the larger horses can knock down with only a slight nudge of their huge frames.

“When it’s cold you want them to have a place to get out of the wind,” said Jennifer Zalak, Steinmann’s cousin and volunteer at the sanctuary. “I would just like them to have a nice dry spot to go to if the ground is muddy.”

Journey

The staff take turns alternating between the mornings and evenings, and each in turn is there close to six days a week or more depending on what work is needed. In previous years, when snow storms closed off roads and blanketed their small farm in foot after foot of muddy snow, the volunteers have also slept there to make sure the horses were alright come morning.

Most of the horses are older, around 20 to 30 years old. It means most are past their prime, and they are treated more like members of a retirement community. “With our guys being senior citizens, they really don’t care about moving around too much,” Zalak laughed.

Bates House Manager Lise Hintz said she took a road trip out to the sanctuary and was amazed at how much such a small group of people have been able to accomplish. “When I went out there I could not believe what I saw,” said Hintz “How do you not help a group like that? This sanctuary is in such need of repair and help.”

If Zalak and Steinmann had the opportunity and the funds, their dream would be to open the sanctuary to the public, not necessarily for lessons due to the age of most of the horses, but for therapy reasons, where people come to interact with the horses in quiet and peace. Steinmann said she has seen just how much of a calming effect the horses can have on individuals, especially for people experiencing depression or for those with other mental issues.

“My ultimate dream would be to do a bed and breakfast on the sanctuary with therapy programs for veterans and retired police officers, people with social disabilities, anxiety, depression and others” Steinmann said. “Some people get something spiritual out of it, some people get something relaxing out of it.”

The Nov. 11 murder mystery event, run by the nationally based Murder Mystery Company, will put local residents into a 1920s-themed scenario in which one person has committed a murder most foul. Titled “Crime and Pun-ishment,” the audience has to figure out who the murderer is before he or she gets away. Participants are encouraged to dress for the occasion in either flapper dresses, zoot suits or whatever attire one thinks is appropriate to the time. 

The Bates House is located at 1 Bates Road in Setauket. Doors will open at 5 p.m. and the show will start at 6 p.m. An assortment of Italian food will be served buffet style along with a variety of wines, soft drinks, dessert, coffee and tea. In addition, there will be a silent auction, and a raffle for local artist Dino Rinaldi to personally paint a picture of one winner’s family pet.

Tickets are $35 per person and must be purchased before Oct. 29. Tickets are sold on a first-come, first-sold basis and can be purchased at www.twinoakshorsesanctuary.org, by mail at P.O. Box 284, Lake Grove, NY 11755 or by phone at 631-874-4913. If you are mailing a check please write “Murder Mystery Ticket” in the memo. No tickets will be sold at the door.

For further information call 631-689-7054.

All photos by Kyle Barr

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Along with falling leaves, colder weather and comfy sweaters, autumn also brings the flu, and while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last year’s season was one of the worst on record, only time will tell how serious this season will be.

Despite the prevalence of the influenza virus and availability of vaccines, the virus still remains deadly on an annual basis. The CDC reported an estimated 80,000 people in the U.S. died from health complications related to influenza during the 2017-18 season, the highest fatality rate compared to any contemporary season on record since first published in 1976.

Of those deaths 183 were children, the most since 171 died in the 2012-13. Approximately 80 percent of those children who died did not receive a flu vaccination, according to the CDC.

The 2017-18 flu season yielded 30,453 influenza-related hospitalizations from October 2017 through April 2018. People 65 years or older accounted for the majority of those hospitalizations, according to the CDC. Overall hospitalization rates were also the highest on record.

Influenza viruses are hard to pin down, as they come in several forms which can require different vaccinations. The influenza A virus was the preeminent strand throughout the 2017-18 season, though influenza B viruses showed up in different parts of the season.

The CDC report for 2017-18 said the flu shot was only 25 percent effective against the H3N2 virus and 65 percent against H1N1, both type A viruses. Meanwhile it was 49 percent effective against B viruses. The report estimated the overall vaccine effectiveness at 40 percent, meaning it reduced a person’s overall risk of having to seek medical care for flu illness at that rate.

The CDC still strongly recommends vaccines as the best way to prevent contracting the virus, but especially for children at least 6 months old, and people aged 50 and older. Children aged 6 months through 8 years who require two doses should receive the first vaccination as soon as possible, and their next dose four weeks later, according to the CDC. For those looking to travel this season the CDC recommends a vaccination two or more weeks before departure.

The new vaccines being rolled out for the 2018-19 flu season will contain agents to specifically target the A(H1N1) and A(H3N2) viruses along with the usual B viruses.

The CDC recommends everyone 6 months or older gets a shot before the end of October. Flu shots are available at most primary care physicians, but also in CVS Pharmacy, Rite Aid and Walgreens stores free with most insurance plans. The shot is also available in pharmacies in local Stop & Shop, Walmart, Target and Kmart stores. Many colleges, such as Stony Brook University, are offering flu shots to its students. Call your doctor or local pharmacy to ask whether they currently supply flu shots.

Lord Celestant

By Kyle Barr

There — on the battlefield — the Stormcast Eternals, bronze warriors crafted from lightning and forged by a god, stand with warhammers clenched in armored fists. Their boots shake the ground as they march forward, and their leader, a Lord Celestant, wields the power of celestial energies and is mounted on a Stardrake, a hulking, dragonlike being of taught muscles and scales harder than steel.

Ian Craig in his studio

Across the field the sound of malevolent drums beat, making the sky pulse like a frantic heart. A dark and infernal energy swirls above the heads of the opposing army, the frayed host known as the Blades of Khorne. They stalk forward with axe in hand and slaughter on their minds. Dressed in obscene symbols and blood red armor, they pay tribute to a god of chaos that grants his disciples power as long as they only kill, maim and burn. The two armies clash up and down the field, as order and chaos struggle in an unremitting conflict.

Then Huntington resident Ian Craig takes a step back. That field of battle is just a table made from insulation foam and sand. The soldiers are just pieces of plastic less than 1/32 the scale of a human being. It’s all a game called Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, which uses dice and tape measurements to decide the outcome of a battle instead of martial prowess.

Craig is a professional miniature artist, and all those figures and terrain below him took hours upon hours of painstaking work to build and then paint, but it is a love for a craft he perfected since he was a kid, and a love of a game that has helped him find lifelong friends.

Beastmen

“That is what I enjoy most –— when you have this all together, the game transcends a board game, it becomes its own experience,” said Craig during a recent tour of his studio. “It’s really quite a different experience with that kind of beautiful terrain with those kinds of well-painted armies. One of the greatest things about this is we’ve lost, in general, so much of the connectivity between people.”

But it is perspective that matters. In terms of miniature war-gaming, looking at things at such a small scale, perspective is everything. The table and miniatures are so detailed because in it, while playing, everything becomes immersive. The game becomes more than a game; it becomes a narrative that unfolds with each decision and roll of the dice. “My favorite thing is sharing the hobby, and I think why I’m doing this primarily is because most people don’t get the full experience,” Craig explained. 

Now the professional artist wants to turn a portion of his property into a gaming club, one that can facilitate all kinds of gamers, from old hands to young novices. Craig, who recently opened a painting studio called Old Well Miniature Studio in his home, said the game brings people together, and he envisions a space that has the beauty, narrative and immersion that makes the game come alive. “I want people to walk in, start playing and feel like they’re right in those books,” he stressed. “The place will be built to be an immersive experience.”

Until recently, Craig was a teacher at the nonprofit Love of Learning Montessori private school in Centerport, where his wife Lille has recently been named director. Ongoing seizures have forced him to leave teaching, and he misses the kids whom he got to know from first grade all the way to fifth grade. But this hobby-turned-profession has long been Craig’s way to look at things differently. 

Knight Titan

The setting of the game borrows elements from history, but plainly the entire thing is ridiculous. Warhammer’s tone in particular is so dark, despairing, yet ludicrous all at once. The game has been a way for the Huntington resident to enjoy something that does not take itself so seriously.

“It was my escape,” Craig said. “You can mirror your own life situations with that theme, then laugh at it and turn it into something humorous.” 

It is a mindset that allows the artist to turn out project after project. Craig spent several years in the early 2000s as a miniature artist for Games Workshop, the company that makes Warhammer: Age of Sigmar and its sister product Warhammer 40,000. 

“As an adult I got good at it,” Craig said. “I would go so far as to say it is not an obsession. It’s becoming a profession.” He is still working on his designs and is waiting for the necessary space to become available, but in the future, he already has plans for tournaments, community painting sessions and even after-school programs for kids. 

Craig sees many advantages to learning a game like this, especially as a teacher. “You’re teaching fine motor skills, patience, math, reading comprehension to read these rules, interacting, being able to discuss something and come to a consensus, being able to communicate with different people, tactics and imagination, are all engaged on so many levels,” he said. 

House Goliath, Necromunda

By next year Craig envisions the 1,500 square feet of space will make you feel like you’re stepping into another reality, straight out of a Tolkien-esque fantasy story. The space will include a downstairs area for war-games with multiple tables, and the upstairs for a role-playing game library, a separate rentable room for role-playing sessions and the ability to videotape and live stream games so they could post them online. 

Even with all that work, Craig doesn’t plan to make much money for this venture, and only needs enough funds to keep the lights on because when all the miniatures are out on the table, with armor-clad warriors stomping through the brush, yelling battle cries and swinging axes the size of an average-sized human being, it reminds Craig what has made the whole thing such a lasting passion.

“There’s so much to this hobby that’s so good,” Craig said. “We have a community that needs something like this.”

Trustees decide to leave Verity’s seat vacant for 2018-19 school year, will operate with four members

Commack BOE with former trustee Pamela Verity, seated front left, pictured at the start of the 2017-18 school year.

A month after a controversial investigation led to the resignation of a Commack board of education member, the price tag on that review has finally come through.

The Commack school district spent an approximate total of $72,443.24 on the four-month investigation of former trustee Pamela Verity. The board of education announced it intends to remain at four out of five members until the May 2019 school elections.

Board Vice President Jarrett Behar initially announced the district’s special investigation cost more than $60,000 at the Sept. 6 meeting. When the total was first announced, Verity said she found that number to be low compared to what she had seen before resigning from the board.

“I saw the bills prior to being off the board, and they definitely exceeded that number,” she said.

However, school officials said the district has since received additional invoices and corrected its initial estimate bringing the total bill up to more than $72,000.  

“What was not included in those [initial] costs were the costs of legal issues leading up to the
investigation,” said Laura Newman, the assistant superintendent for business and operations. “Those costs were reflected in the April billing by Lamb & Barnosky, totaling $10,585.06. In addition, there will be an additional bill of $1,798.97 reflecting August charges from Lamb & Barnosky.”

The law firm of Lamb & Barnosky, which serves as council to the district, was paid nearly $49,000, including disbursements, from April through August for work done relating to the investigation, according to documents obtained by TBR News Media. Attorney Jeffrey Smith, who had been hired on contract as an independent investigator at a $150 hourly rate, was paid $17,550 for writing the 80-page report released Aug. 2. His fees were included in the disbursements under the June invoice from Lamb & Barnosky. 

In addition, Albany-based law firm Girvin & Ferlazzo was paid approximately $13,500 to verify information that was written in the report and to prepare charges against Verity. Lastly Philip Maier, a hearing officer, received $3,600 in fees paid to attend the first two days of hearing, which did not take place.

Superintendent Donald James confirmed the money came from the legal section of the school’s 2018-19 budget. This is out of the total 2018-19 budget of $193,222,796.

School officials accepted Verity’s letter of resignation at an Aug. 1 special meeting. This came after a four-month investigation into allegations she had disclosed confidential information privy to her as a board trustee and removing school district property from Marion Carll Farm. 

Board members discussed their options for the vacancy left by Verity at an Aug. 16 special meeting. Eugene Barnosky, the district’s attorney, said trustees could host a special election, appoint a new member themselves or leave the seat vacant. The trustees voted 3-1 to remain at four members until the next election cycle in May 2019 with member Jen Carpenter casting the lone dissenting vote.

Carpenter said she worried that without some sort of election it could harm the board’s ability to build trust in the community.

“If there’s a way to get [information of the vote] out there — with word of mouth or on social media — if we do vote and do decide to go in that direction, you’re electing us to be here, share those decisions and be here with you,” she said.

Behar said he feared there would be low turnout for a special election, considering that only 6 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot on the district’s  2018-19 budget and, historically, significantly less people have voted in prior special elections.

“For somebody to serve for that limited period of time to get that low of a level of community participation, the cost benefit analysis is just not there,” the vice president said.

James said the district did not want to rule out community involvement in the decision process, but it did not want to spend an estimated $12,837 to host a new special election.

Several community members spoke at the Aug. 16 meeting advocating for a special election.

“It’s ridiculous,” East Northport resident Dan Fusco said. “The district didn’t want to pay $13,000 to host special elections but they’d spend [tens of thousands] on an investigation? That doesn’t make sense.”

From left, Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek in a scene from ‘Papillon’. Photo courtesy of Bleeker Street

By Kyle Barr

Here’s a question when it comes to remakes: Should a film stand on its own two feet or should we as an audience come down harder on its mistakes than we would an original film?

“Papillon,” the 1973 movie directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, is based on Henri Charrière’s autobiography of the same name. I’ve never read the book, and I’ve never seen the original movie. Hell, it might be a great movie, but too often people would rather compare films to each other than consider them on their own merits.

A film is a film before it is a remake, and it should be taken as such. If so, then there is a problem when a remake such as “Papillon” is missing key pieces of character motivation that makes one wonder if it was assumed from the original movie.

“Papillon” starts in early 1930s France, as the titular Papillon (Charlie Hunnam), a safecracker working for the local mob, gets framed for a murder he didn’t commit by a local mob boss for whom he worked. He is sentenced to life in prison at Devil’s Island in French Guiana, a place known for its abject brutality and harsh conditions. Anyone sentenced to Devil’s Island is exiled, never able to return to France. On the way there Papillon meets Louis Dega (Rami Malek), a convicted counterfeiter to whom he offers protection in exchange for money, all the while thinking of escape.

Though Papillon and Dega initially dislike each other, it is their commitment to their friendship that drives the plot of the movie, and both actors play across each other very well. This friendship is despite attempts by Warden Barrot (Yorick van Wageningen) to break Papillon’s spirit through a long stay in solitary.

Director Michael Noer does a pretty good job at really setting the tone of the film. Everything at the prison colony is dirty, bloody and hard. Every actor involved is well tuned to his role. Malek does well as a stoic man seemingly numb to other people’s problems, that is until he starts to form a bond with Papillon. 

Hunnam has never really had a problem falling into character, and here he plays the hard-bitten man with a heart of gold as well as he has for nearly every film and show since “Sons of Anarchy.”

Yet there is a clear lifelessness to the whole affair. We start the film in France, end up in French Guiana, and yet we never hear a single person try to affect even an attempt at a French accent. It takes the occasional sight of the tricolor French flag to remind us that, yes, these people are French, with French guards and French prisoners. It’s enough to question whether Hollywood still thinks Americans will laugh at anything French as if every line is a nasal-sounding comic’s routine. 

What’s worse is Papillon, the character, never makes you care enough about his plight. He is a rough man, willing to beat any man into roadkill just to get enough money to escape, but he stops just short of killing anybody. It seems the film is trying to tell us that is something to admire. He spends enough time in solitary confinement and suffers so that we may admire him in a Christ-like sort of way, but much like the real prison system, it seems we are supposed to root for someone’s morality just because they will do anything to attain some form of “justice” just short of the original sin. 

Perhaps it would be different if I saw the original film; then perhaps I would understand what character Papillon is trying to be. Perhaps in that film they comment about his violent nature, but there’s not enough here for any kind of real understanding.

The movie is good enough, but it’s still sad to see so much effort go into the set and costume design as well as the character’s portrayals only to see it wasted on what Hollywood must be thinking is just another remake.

Rated R for language, violence, nudity and some sexual material,“Papillon” is now playing in local theaters.

By Kyle Barr

Fallen U.S. Airman Christopher Raguso, who perished in a March 15 helicopter crash, promised his Commack family he would get them a dog upon his return. Although he never came home, a local organization has stepped in to fulfill his pledge.

Paws of War, a Nesconset-based nonprofit that helps connect dogs with veterans and retired law
enforcement as companion animals or to be trained as service dogs, gifted a 4-month-old black Labrador named Calvin to the family Aug. 24.

“I didn’t sleep at all last night I was so excited,” Raguso’s wife, Carmela, said. “We needed this — we’re wounded, our dad was a warrior, our hearts are broken and maybe this dog can help us.”

Carmela Raguso told her two daughters, Eva, 5, and Mila,7, when the truck rolled up it was just their family friend, Joe Bachert, a retired member of the New York City Fire Department, bringing his own dogs for them to play with. Instead, Bachert came out of the vehicle with Calvin cradled in his arms.

Eva ran forward with her arms outstretched, screaming with delight, and started to hug and kiss the young pooch. Mila asked her mother if the dog was theirs, who responded that of course he was. 

“I’ve been dreaming about this,” Eva said, as she held Calvin’s head close to hers. “I like him so much.”

Raguso’s wife said Eva took the death of her father hard. The couple’s youngest had taken to sleeping in bed with her, “to keep her father’s side of the bed warm.” Now, with the addition of Calvin, Eva said she will be sleeping in her own bed with Calvin always at her side.

“To have this dog be her buddy and especially be her sleeping buddy, maybe she’ll sleep well,” Raguso’s wife said. “It’s been tough, but we put one foot in front of the other — we honor the dead by living.”

Raguso was one of seven members of New York’s 106th Rescue Wing killed in the line of duty when a H-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed while carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. 

“One can’t even imagine what the family is going through, and we hope that this adds a little sunlight to their lives because they’ve been in darkness for some time,” said Smithtown resident Robert Misseri, a co-founder of Paws of War.

The black Lab was just one of a litter of 11 puppies that Paws of War’s sister organization and nonprofit rescue group Guardians of Rescue saved from a high-kill shelter in Louisiana, days before they would have been put down, according to Misseri. The rest of the dogs will be given to other veterans and veterans’ families either as a companion animal or be fully trained as a service dog.

The Nesconset nonprofit provided the Raguso family with a puppy starter kit that included everything from food to toys, and even a cage. Calvin is already leash trained and housebroken, and Misseri said the rest of the dog’s training will be provided for free.

“The goal is just to make their lives better and put smiles on their faces,” said Bachert, who is a member of Paws of War and served as Raguso’s drill instructor in the Commack firefighter academy.

By all accounts, Calvin was excited to be with his new family, but he was still nervous of new places. As the family tried to bring him into the house the young puppy shied away from the door. 

It was only when Eva went inside, suddenly upset by a rush of emotions, that Calvin darted after her. He instinctively knew his role with the family, to comfort them in their continued grief.

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Elsie Fisher in a scene from ‘Eighth Grade’. Photo courtesy of A24

By Kyle Barr

There’s something inherently unrealistic in movies about young kids. Everyone remembers “Stand By Me,” where young but intelligent kids with hard home lives take an important step in becoming an adult, or the recent Netflix hit show “Stranger Things,” which plays more as a standing ovation to the media of the ’80s through children who use their pop culture knowledge as a weapon against evil. 

Perhaps what’s so unrealistic about them is that they’re made by adults far and away from their youth, looking back on it all with at least some form of fond nostalgia. Those movies centered around kids in the grade school age always seem to say life swings around a single turning point, where kids, who often speak much more eloquently for a person their age, at some point switch from the naiveté of childhood to the outlook of adulthood. It’s a nice thought, if unrealistic. 

Elsie Fisher in a scene from ‘Eighth Grade’

“Eighth Grade,” written and directed by Bo Burnham, remembers school like most of us do. It was an awkward age where young people are not only trying to learn how to exist as a teenager, but also start becoming an adult. Unlike your usual stock of movies centered around kids, nobody is really learning how to keep it all together, nobody talks like an adult, and everything is in transition.

Thirteen-year-old Kayla Day (played with such exactitude by Elsie Fisher) is just about to finish up her last week of eighth grade, which means soon she will enter the strange and complicated world of high school. Kayla is shy and quiet, but she doesn’t want to be. The teenager makes YouTube videos giving advice in often uncertain terms on how to be brave and outgoing while she herself was voted “the most quiet” of her grade.

Kayla spends time scrolling through social media liking or commenting on other people’s Instagram posts. When she makes YouTube videos, she rarely gets any views. At the dinner table she stares down at her phone, mindlessly shuffling through social media despite her dad, Mark Day (sincerely played by Josh Hamilton), attempting to interact with her. At school, she is just one of hundreds of students with their nose in their phones as she stares longingly at her crush Aiden (Luke Prael.) One day, after being invited to the popular Kennedy’s (Catherine Oliviere) birthday party, Kayla tries to transform herself into the girl she portrays on her YouTube videos, often with results that are both sincere, cringe-worthy and glorious all at once.

A scene from ‘Eighth Grade’

What makes the film so compelling and so realistic is the way it portrays Kayla. There is no “Mean Girls” level of commentary. Nobody is looking down on her; instead the audience looks straight at her. She talks like many young girls do, with constant breaks for “umms,” and “likes.” As she stares out the door to Kennedy’s party, the audience is bombarded with kids being kids, of them turning their eyelids inside out, of a girl walking backward on a bridge, all the while the music plays something like out of a dark carnival. Scenes like that strike a very real cord with anybody who grew up around the time of burgeoning social media. Nothing really feels real.

Burnham’s comedy always includes a musical element, and that sense of musical timing is used to full effect in his breakout movie. Every time Kayla sees Aiden, the ambient sound is drowned out by a heavy bass. The musical choices, often listened to by Kayla diegetically through her omnipresent earbuds, are very appropriate for each scene.

Burnham’s final stand-up comedy special “Make Happy” slowly became a commentary about comedy itself. The now-former comedian asked questions of the point of comedy, whether it’s right to make people laugh to forget their problems, even if he himself might not be happy. He baited the audience, often making them laugh before directly insulting them. Really, the show was an expression of how Burnham did not see the performance as “real.” It was his criticism of the entire entertainment industry that goes for glitz and easily digestible media rather than substance. 

“Eighth Grade” is Burnham’s answer to those criticisms. I’m glad to say it is a pretty good response, and it will be exciting to see just where all those involved will take their careers in the future. 

Rated R for language and some sexual material, “Eighth Grade” is now playing in local theaters.

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Hauppauge firefighter Larry Kunzig, left of center, and his wife, Grace, right, recount when a pregnant woman collapsed in front of their home Aug. 6. Photo by Kyle Barr

When 45-year veteran firefighter Larry Kunzig, 64, heard his wife, Grace, tell him a pregnant woman had collapsed in front of their Hauppauge house, he didn’t hesitate for a second — not even to grab his shoes. 

“I just ran out of the front door,” Kunzig said. “You don’t even think, you just do.”

Kunzig darted across his front yard at approximately 6:50 p.m. Aug. 6 while still in his socks. He assessed the 47-year-old woman, and upon seeing she was unconscious and not breathing, the firefighter immediately began performing CPR. 

The woman had pulled up with her husband in front of the house in an SUV, according to Assistant Chief Brett Martinez of Hauppauge Fire Department. Her husband was starting to panic when she fell unconsciousness. The woman’s lips were blue and foam was coming from her mouth, according to the accounts of first responders. 

The seven-month pregnant woman was transported by a Stony Brook medic to Stony Brook University Hospital where she underwent an emergency C-section. The name of the mother or baby has not been released; however, officials from the fire department said both are doing well.

“She had a very shallow heartbeat,” Kunzig said. “You just keep doing the CPR. When you see she’s pregnant you want to be careful — you can’t go too low because you don’t want to hurt [the baby.]

Two young volunteers of the Hauppauge Fire Department Andrew Mendola, 18, and Jonathan Munro, 18, just happened to be driving nearby. They heard of the situation through their radio, and saw what was happening in front of their fellow firefighter’s house, they jumped out of the car and took positions on either side of the woman and started helping with CPR. 

“It was shocking to see,” Munro said. It was his first time performing CPR in a real-life emergency. “We just helped in any way we could.”

Mendola said he asked Kunzig if he needed to swap out, but the man was laser focused.

“We asked if he needed help and he said ‘I got this, I got this,” Mendola said. “His adrenaline was going, he was not stopping.”

All together the group kept up CPR for about five minutes before more emergency responders arrived from Nesconset and Hauppauge fire departments. Officials said that the first responder’s actions saved the woman’s life.

Kunzig’s wife said she had stayed up all night praying for the family. 

“I know emotionally what she’s going through,” said Grace Kunzig, 60, a teacher’s aide at Hauppauge School District.

The event hit close to home for the Kunzigs, because Jan. 1 Grace had suddenly collapsed unconscious and was no longer breathing. Emergency medical technicians from the Hauppauge Fire Department, including Mendola, came to help and managed to resuscitate her with an defibrillator. Kunzig remembers how difficult it was for him not knowing if his wife would pull through. 

“It’s hard to work on someone you love,” he said. “It just changes your whole perspective.”

Now the couple said they see what happened Monday as a way of paying it forward in gratitude for all the personnel who helped them in their greatest time of need.

“I was so grateful when they stopped my own cardiac arrest — I can’t thank the men and women enough for helping me,” Grace Kunzig said. 

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