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Kyle Barr

Mount Sinai School District

With a vote of 1059 to 322, the Mount Sinai School district convincingly passed its $61,009,770 budget, a 1.34 percent increase from last year.

In addition to the budget, the public voted 1,141 to 228 to set a capital reserve of $850,000. Including the $750,000 in funds put last year in capital reserve, the district will have $1.6 million for future capital projects.

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and the board are proposing to use $1.5 million for two projects: the cost of another partial repair of the high school’s roof and to replace the middle school’s HVAC system. The high school roof repair would cost $850,000 and the HVAC replacement would cost $650,000. The remaining $100,000 would be saved for future projects. 

“I feel much better that the turnout [this year] beats the 960 from last year,” Brosdal said. “You can’t assume [the budget] is always going to pass, I was concerned about the bond.”

Brosdal said he is hopeful that the voter turnout is on the upswing. 

“We got over 1,300 voters this year, maybe we’ll get 1,400 or more next year,” he said. 

With five candidates running for three open trustee seats, board member Anne Marie Henninger, who replaced trustee Michael Riggio, secured re-election to the board with the highest vote tally of 790. Challengers Lisa Pfeffer and Robert Pignatello claimed the other two available seats with 713 and 662 votes, respectively. The race for the last seat was a close one with challenger Chris Quartarone coming up short with 655 votes. Longtime board member Lynn Jordan failed to secure re-election this year with 628 votes. 

“I’m very humbled,” Henninger said. “I had a lot of people pulling for me and I’m excited to get back to work, we have a lot to do.”

Pignatello said he was happy with the voter turnout this year for the budget. 

“I’m looking forward to working together with the board and do what’s best for the children and the community,” he said. 

Pfeffer said she is looking forward to serving on the board and doing what’s best for
the community. 

“I’m excited to be working with this group on the board and I’m just going to hit the ground running,” she said. 

Miller Place School District

With the Miller Place School District proposing a $73,958,607 budget, an increase of more than $1.2 million from the current year’s amount, residents overwhelming passed this year’s budget 610 to 173.

This year’s total tax levy amount is $46,928,588, an increase of $638,534 from last year and sticking directly to a 1.38 percent tax levy cap. 

“On behalf of the board of education and district administration, I would like to thank the entire Miller Place-Sound Beach community for their support of the 2019-2020 school budget,” said Superintendent Marianne Cartisano. 

Two seats were open for this year’s Miller Place school board election, and two incumbents ran unopposed. Both seats will be up for three-year terms starting July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2022.  Incumbents Johanna Testa, who this year served as the board president, and Noelle Dunlop secured their seats with 657 and 636 votes, respectively.

Testa said she was pleased that this year’s budget passed by 78 percent. 

“I feel really excited and I’m looking forward to a third term and continuing to advocate for the community and district,” she said.

Rocky Point Union Free School District

Rocky Point residents passed the school district’s $86,743,446 with a vote of 703 to 213. The new budget is a slight increase of 0.71 percent from last year’s amount but a $1.3 million increase in the tax levy.

“The district is once again extremely grateful to the community for its overwhelming support of the proposed budget,” Superintendent Michael Ring said. “This plan is one that will enable Rocky Point to continue to provide enriching academic opportunities for all students and a co-curricular program geared toward supporting student interests.”

Debt services will decrease in the 2019-20 school year as a result of a completion of payments of two bonds that date back to 1995 and 2000. The bond payments will expire on June 30 and will save the district $451,751. 

Employees Retirement System rates will decrease to 13.1 percent, which will most likely save the district more than $159,000. Teachers Retirement System rates are expected to decrease as well to 9 percent and would save the district close to $582,000. 

Rocky Point had two open trustee seats this year. Board member Scott Reh, who was sworn in to the board Jan. 14 to fill the seat vacated by Joseph Coniglione earlier this school year, decided not to run for re-election. Veteran board member Susan Sullivan nailed down a three-year term with 618 votes. Challenger Jessica Ward secured the one-year term seat with 551 votes. Michael Lisa came up short with 410 votes. 

“I’m very excited to be on the board and I’m looking forward to working closely with our new superintendent,” Ward said.  

Shoreham-Wading River school district

Shoreham-Wading River school district residents resoundingly decided to pass this year’s $75,952,416 budget with a 1,129 to 329. The new budget is a $1,176,344 increase from last year’s figure.

The district said the new budget will cover the implementation of an integrated video, door access and alarm management system as well as additional video cameras and perimeter fencing. Night gates will be installed at the Alfred G. Prodell Middle School, Miller Avenue Elementary School and Wading River Elementary School. Also, the budget will cover the purchase of a new high school auditorium bandshell and supplies/materials for the middle school greenhouse and new electives for high schoolers.

“I am very grateful to the Shoreham-Wading River community for their ongoing support of our students and school district,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said. “Our students have a longstanding tradition of achieving academic, artistic and athletic success. This approved budget will allow us to continue to build upon that legacy while maintaining our commitment to fiscal responsibility.”

Six people ran for Shoreham-Wading River school board to fill three seats. This comes after trustee Erin Hunt vacated her position in March and after current trustee Kimberly Roff said she will not run for re-election. 

Incumbent board president Michael Lewis was re-elected to a one-year term with 652 votes, while challenger Meghan Tepfenhardt received the highest votes with 744 and secured a three-year term. Thomas Sheridan also secured a three-year trustee seat with 691. Challengers who did not win election were Edward Granshaw who received 471 votes, Jennifer Kitchen with 568 and Bill McGarth with 603.

Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson School District

With the final voters leaving the polling stations at the stroke of 9 p.m., the Port Jefferson School District residents passed the $43,936,166 2019-20 budget with 559 for and 160 against.

In addition to the vote, the second proposition to use $3.6 million in funds from the capital reserve fund for high school roof repairs passed 591 to 125.

Results of the budget are read to board members. Photo by Kyle Barr

The new budget is a 0.11 percent increase from last year’s budget, and the tax levy, the amount of funds the district raises from taxes, has also gone up to $36,898,824, a $464,354 and 1.27 percent increase from last year, staying directly at the 1.27 percent tax cap. Officials have said they had a lower tax cap this year due to a reduction in capital projects funded by general appropriations.

“I have two words, thank you,” said Superintendent Paul Casciano. This will be the last budget overseen by the Casciano, as his position will be filled by incoming superintendent Jessica Schmettan in October. “The board and administration worked hard to make a budget the public would be receptive to, and apparently we were.”

The district has slashed and consolidated a number of items, including professional development for staff, private transportation allocation and a $142,000 reduction through scheduling and enrollment efficiencies for staff. The district has also cut the teacher’s retirement system by $25,000 and staff retirement system by $60,000. The biggest increases in the budget came from health insurance for staff, increasing by approximately $555,580, and benefits, which increased by $408,480.

The district also plans to use $400,000 in the general fund budget to relocate the middle school office into an existing upstairs science classroom for what district officials said was security reasons.

District keeps two incumbents, elects one newcomer

Much less controversial than last year’s election, Port Jefferson residents decided to keep two current members of the board and vote in one newcomer.

Incumbent trustee Ellen Boehm, a seven-year member of the board, was again asked to take her seat securing 521 of the votes. 

“I’m pleased with the positive confidence of the residents in Port Jefferson,” she said.

Ryan Biedenkapp is sworn in. Photo by Kyle Barr

Ryan Biedenkapp, who had been appointed to the board to replace resigned board member Adam DeWitt, was elected to the board to serve out the rest of DeWitt’s term, ending June 30, 2020. His seat will be up for election come that time. Biedenkapp was sworn in for the first time the night of the election.

“I’m honored the town saw fit to bring me back,” Biedenkapp said. “I look forward to serving the kids, all of the kids.”

Newcomer Randi DeWitt, a teacher at Mount Sinai Elementary School, will be taking the post as board member thanks to a vote of 473. 

“I thank the community for their belief in me, and I look forward to working with the rest of the board members,” she said.

Mia Farina was the last candidate standing, securing only 291 votes. She said she plans to run again for the board next year as well.

“I just wanted to thank everyone who supported and voted for me even though I did not make the board this time,” Farina said in a Facebook post. “I have made so many new friends and learned so much through this campaign. So many people have helped and supported me with inspiring words.”

Comsewogue Union Free School District

Comsewogue school district voters resoundingly passed its 2019-20 budget with a vote of 660 to 152.

The district’s second proposition to create a capital reserve fund also passed with high margins, 656 to 150.

The new budget of $93,974,755 is an increase of $2,027,025 from last year and includes a $57,279,755, a 2.2 percent increase from last year and below this year’s tax levy cap of 3 percent.

“The budget passed by 81 percent, the highest margin it has ever been at Comsewogue,” Superintendent Joe Rella said. “I just want to thank the community from the bottom of my heart for supporting us.”

One increase came in the form of pupil personnel services from $3,322,061 to $3,678,447. PPL aids students with special needs. 

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella. File photo

While the district experienced a total enrollment decline of 40 students, the number of students with special needs has increased, according to the assistant superintendent, and each of those young people is more expensive overall than a typical student. In addition, the district is hiring one additional social worker and a new social worker teacher’s assistant.

Other major increases include a 27 percent and $696,209 increase in debt services, but this is offset slightly by a $570,000 or 33 percent decrease in interfund transfers.

Meanwhile, the district is going ahead with the first phase of its bond project; bids were scheduled to go out to companies in April. District voters approved the $32 million bond last year, which the district said would go up in several phases. The first phase, costing about $5.8 million, will complete work on the parking lots at the Boyle Road Elementary School and the Terryville Elementary School, along with the creation of security vestibules in all school buildings and adding new locks to doors throughout the high school building.

District re-elects incumbents

Being uncontested, current trustees Robert DeStefano and Francisca Alabau-Blatter maintained their seats.

Protesters hold signs in front of Port Jefferson Village Hall May 8. Photo by Kyle Barr

A score of people from Port Jefferson and surrounding areas gathered in front of Village Hall May 8 to protest what they said is a potential mass slaughter of innocent deer.

Protesters hold signs in front of Port Jefferson Village Hall. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Hunting tears families apart and leaves countless orphaned … they grieve for them, just like humans do,” said Gabby Luongo, a protest organizer and representative of animal rights group Long Island Orchestrating for Nature. “Trying to manage the deer through lethal means is also inefficient. When deer are killed, more deer will use those available resources, the temporary availability in the food supply will cause those does to breed at an accelerated rate.”

The protesters traveled from nearby areas like Shoreham, Selden and Fort Salonga as well as a few from the villages of Port Jeff and Belle Terre. They said they came in response to news the village has been making plans for some sort of deer management program, particularly some kind of controlled hunt or professional culling.

The protest signs read, “Don’t kill my family” and “Port Jeff: Animals are not ours to slaughter.” The signs also had the LION and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals logos printed on them.

In April, the Village of Port Jefferson hosted a public forum with representatives from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, along with other federal environmental agencies. Those representatives said deer have had a particularly harmful effect on the Long Island environment, especially in them eating vegetation and ground cover, including tree saplings that would replace the ever-shrinking forest growth of Long Island.

Mayor Margot Garant said PJ Village has not yet made a decision about its deer policy. Photo by Kyle Bar

Village code still curtails hunting by restricting the use of any firearm or bow and arrow within village limits. However, Mayor Margot Garant said they have received a letter from the New York State Attorney General, Letitia James (D), stating the village does not have the legal capability to regulate hunting, as that is a state matter.

“The community has a lot to think about and address, the board of trustees has a decision to make, whether we change the code or keep the code in place and wait for that code to be challenged,” Garant said during the public portion of the meeting, attended by the protesters. “We are not here supporting the hunting of deer.”

The mayor said that no decisions have yet been made on the issue of deer population, and at the meeting left it open to any forms of suggestions, saying for the moment, the code restricting hunting remains on the books.

However, in conversation after the April deer forum, the mayor said if a person had the right permits and brought a hunter onto their property, and the hunter was staying a lawful distance from other residents property, the village could not and would not go after those residents who broke the code.

“I think we have to take a really hard look at what we’re doing, not just with deer, but all the other animals that pay the hard price for our greed and our non-consideration of them,” Shoreham resident Madeleine Gamache said.

Protesters hold signs in front of Port Jefferson Village Hall. Photo by Kyle Barr

Protesters at the meeting said instead of a hunt or cull, the village should instead look into nonlethal sterilization programs, such as that currently taking place in Head of the Harbor with the Avalon Park & Preserve. Scientists from Tufts University and The Humane Society of the United States have taken a $248,290 grant from the park to fund the six-year study.

“We would like to see some kind of birth control,” said Belle Terre resident Yvonne Kravitz. “We’re very much opposed to having these beautiful animals hunted and killed.”

Others called for the village to change the code to allow for higher fencing, as current fencing is restricted to no more than 6 feet.

Still, others were adamant the village needs to step up and perform a culling or controlled hunt of deer.

“I don’t know one person from where I live who doesn’t want you to go out and do a big cull,” said Port Jeff resident Molly Mason.

Garant said the village had a meeting with the Village of Belle Terre May 7, and the two villages together barely make up more than 4 square miles. A healthy deer population would be 15 deer per square mile but the local mayors have said the real number could be several hundred per square mile. Belle Terre has had 33 vehicle collisions with deer on Cliff Road alone, according to the Port Jeff mayor.

The Village of Belle Terre voted at the beginning of this year to allow hunting within the village. Since then Mayor Bob Sandak said hunters have killed approximately 100 deer so far.

Reporter David Luces with his mom Ruth

Mother’s Day is just around the corner. It’s a time to celebrate the most important people in our lives, the women who made us who we are. As is tradition, the editorial staff at TBR News Media has written short letters so that our moms know we are thinking of them.

Kyle Barr’s mom Deborah

Kyle Barr — editor

My mom is scared of being apart from me. She is sad she will leave her house behind, the one she helped raise me in for over 20 years.

Like many, they’re leaving because of Long Island’s high property taxes, and without the SALT deduction, it’s proved infeasible to remain. But still, to her, the house was the lodestone of her life for so many years. She decorated it with attention to detail, even dragging me to the attic to take down decorations for every New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Fourth of July and on and on until Christmas. 

Now she is leaving her temple behind, and I feel for her. She can’t bring everything. Things will have to be sold or given away, and as she struggles with a bad back, picking out the leaves from the bushes in the front yard (all despite my pleas to let me do it instead). I see the frown set into her face like a jagged crack in the pavement.

Feel better, Mom. You may be away from me, but — hopefully — you won’t find a way from my words.

Rita Joy Egan with her mom Rita

Rita J. Egan ­— editor

Mother’s Day brings with it a slew of memories. My mother and I have been through the best of times and the worst of times together, and that’s OK, because we are still here to tell our stories. There are the not so fun times to remember, such as walking around a Queens apartment wrapped in blankets to keep warm in the winter months because the landlady was too cheap to turn up the heat and tears shed over boys who didn’t deserve them during my younger years. But also, there are the memorable vacations, celebrating milestones and catching the concerts of both of our favorite celebrities from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to New Kids on the Block. So cheers to memories of all types and happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

David Luces with his mom Ruth

David Luces — reporter

She’s been there all my life. Someone I can always count on. She’s my role model. She sacrificed so much over the years for my brother and me so we could go to college, and it’s something I am grateful for every day. I don’t say it enough but thank you, Mom, for everything you do. I know I could be a pain when I was younger, but I’m thankful for the lessons you’ve taught me. As I’ve gotten older and matured, I’ve realized the importance of your messages. So, on this Mother’s Day, I just wanted to give my appreciation to the greatest mom and friend a kid could ask for. 

Steven J. Crowley Memorial Park in Port Jefferson Station on Old Town Road is one of the parks affected by the new limitations. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Town of Brookhaven is looking to make cleaning up their parks a little quieter and a little more environmentally friendly.

At its May 2 meeting, the town board voted unanimously to establish “green parks” at various locations within the Town of Brookhaven. This mandates the town to only use electric-powered, handheld landscaping equipment when cleaning up the parks.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) was one of the main drivers for the bill, which would establish the ordinance in only small parks, including the Steven J. Crowley Memorial Park and Block Boulevard Park in Port Jefferson Station, and Sycamore Circle Park and Parson Drive Park in Stony Brook. The Democratic councilwoman said it is a case of both noise and pollution.

“Thirty minutes running a gas-powered leaf blower pollutes the same as a Ford Raptor truck running 3,900 miles. One leaf blower creates two to four pounds of particulate matter per hour,” Cartright said.

The changes have been limited to small-sized parks in the town, according to Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), because the batteries wear out if used constantly for the larger town-owned parks, though he said the town was looking to go beyond this pilot program in the direction of all electric handheld landscape equipment for more than town employees.

Cartright said she has been looking into more general legislation that would affect gas-powered leaf blowers within the entire town. She pointed to the town of North Hempstead, which passed a law in January this year banning the use of gas-powered leaf blowers from June 15 to Sept. 15. 

The councilwoman said she wants to bring landscaping associations and other advocacy groups to the table.

“I don’t want to do something that impacts the landscapers that’s negative,” Cartright said. “I do want to bring them to the table to talk about how we can be a little more environmentally friendly.”

The new ordinance requires a budget transfer of $10,000 for the new equipment, which mostly comes in the form of electric leaf blowers.

Other parks included are Miller Avenue Park in Shoreham, the Gary Adler Park in Centereach and the Pamela and Iroquois parks in Selden. All councilors on the board cosponsored the bill with parks from their individual areas.

Cartright said she receives constant notice from residents complaining about landscapers using loud equipment not just in town-owned parks, but at all times in the day on people’s property. 

“We have constituents calling every other day telling us they’re in violation of our noise code, and that we need to do something about it,” Cartright said. 

When it comes to choosing a landscaper, the Democratic councilwoman said there is no one person helping to show which landscapers try to use electric equipment.

“If I wanted to pick a landscaper that used only electric, we don’t know who that is,” she said.

Angeline Judex stands with New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright at the 2018 Eastern Long Island Mini Maker’s Faire. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

kyle@tbrnewsmedia.com

At a glance, the Long Island Explorium building looks like an old-school log cabin compared to the great glass facade of the neighboring Port Jefferson Village Center and the rustic townhouses or surrounding businesses.

Angeline Judex

If anything, both the building and the Long Island Explorium program, which brings in school-aged children from all across Long Island in education programs, stand out. They have stood out in no small part thanks to Angeline Judex, the executive director of the explorium.

Judex has been a part of the Port Jefferson program for close to two years. “She has a great desire to work with people, and she’s very honoring of other people’s perspectives,” said Jacqueline Grennon Brooks, the president of the Long Island Explorium. “Through that dialogue with people is how we can achieve these goals.”

Every year the explorium welcomes close to 10,000 young students through its doors. Inside is a number of puzzles and interlocking machinery, all part of a teaching philosophy called constructionism, which asks young people to use ingenuity and logic to solve problems on their own.

“She’s made her program very successful, and she’s brought in students from all over Long Island,” Port Jeff trustee Bruce D’Abramo said. “She’s one of the reasons that Port Jefferson is a place for learning and life sciences.”

The explorium has become a lightning rod for STEAM education and creativity in Port Jefferson since it was created in 2004, then bearing the name The Maritime Explorium. Since then, programs have expanded outward from Port Jeff, but the most sizable events still happen within Port Jeff Village, often spilling out from its log cabin building and onto Harborfront Park. In November the explorium received $43,626 in grant funds to install native plant rain gardens in high visibility areas such as in front of its building on East Broadway and the corner of East Broadway and Main Street.

While the Mini Maker’s Faire had its fourth year in 2018, under Judex, the event gained official status with the larger Makers Faire organization. The past two events brought thousands of people to the village who experienced many things from amateur DIY robotics to Colonial-era cooking and blacksmithing. Now expanding on the idea, the executive director has brought in past faire participants for “makers spotlights,” which show guests at the explorium their projects and explain to them how they created them.

“I have found her to be very personable, very organized and very focused,” said village administrator Robert Juliano. “She has a sunny disposition and always looking to make things better for the explorium and the community.”

Angeline Angeline Judex receives a grant from Edward Palleschi of the Long Island Community Foundation. Photo by Kyle Barr

In August 2017 the explorium hosted a watching party for the total eclipse of the sun. Even then, with so many heads turned to the sky, the explorium was pushing the scientific impact of the event by having those who attended help to accumulate scientific data to be used by researchers across the country. Children of all ages charted the temperature, percentage of the sky covered by clouds, the color of the sky and the visibility of the sun every five minutes until the conclusion of the eclipse. All the data was collected and sent to NASA.

Brooks said since Judex has become the executive director, the explorium has focused more and more on outreach outside the Port Jeff community. The explorium hosts outreach programs for public school teachers called Educate the Educators that sends explorium staff out to school districts such as William Floyd to help those teachers embrace problem-based education techniques, often on a small budget. In the past instead of simply teaching kids about earthquakes with pictures and PowerPoints, Judex used gelatin and had kids build houses that could resist the constant trembling.

“Because of economics, going out on field trips is being done much less than it has been done in the past, so what we do is we bring our program to school,” Brooks said. “This takes the explorium model to other aspects of their teaching program.”

Judex and the explorium are not slowing down either. The Mini Maker’s Faire will return next year, and the executive director already has plans to make additions to the building interior, working with a local Girl Scout to create a programmable robotic hand.

If anything, Judex and the explorium have become much less of a hidden gem, and more of a shining jewel in the Port Jefferson community.

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.

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