Authors Posts by Jeffrey Sanzel

Jeffrey Sanzel


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Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan in a scene from 'She Said' Photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures/Plan B Entertainment/Universal Pictures

By Jeffrey Sanzel

In 2019, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement. The two New York Times reporters had exposed producer Harvey Weinstein’s long history of abuse and sexual misconduct, leading to national awareness of the #MeToo movement. The phrase traces to MySpace 2006: Sexual assault survivor and activist Tarana Burke founded the movement as a way for Black girls to share their stories of sexual trauma.

From All the Presidents Men (1976) through Spotlight (2015) and The Post (2017), cinema has addressed difficult topics through the sub-genre of investigative journalism. These movies take a potentially static premise—working an article through phone calls, research, and interviews—and elevating them into an emotionally connective experience. Director Maria Schrader has masterfully directed Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s smart and lean script for She Said. The result is a taut, unsettling, and riveting two hours.

She Said opens with the 2016 inquiry into then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s alleged sexual misconduct. The quick prologue presents the retaliation against his accusers and death threats against the reporter. The telling segment sets up what is to follow.

The film jumps five months to the ousting of conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly. The New York Times staff embarks on exposing sexual harassment in the workplace, finding widespread problems in large companies, including Amazon and Starbucks. 

Actor Rose McGowan becomes an inciting force when reporter Jodi Kantor receives a tip that McGowan had been raped by Weinstein when she was twenty-three. Kantor pursues leads and conducts interviews, but she realizes that even high-profile stars—including Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow—do not want to go on record. This reluctance further emphasizes the power and exploitation systemic in the Hollywood community and culture.

Kantor then joins forces with Megan Twohey. They interview some of Weinstein’s victims, encountering appalling experiences. The pair relentlessly pursue leads, traveling across the country and even to the UK. In every case, they face reluctance rooted in fear. 

The film accurately paints Weinstein as an arch manipulator—a bully who used emotional abuse to prey on young women. He cajoled with statements such as, “It’s just business.” He promised advancement and threatened to blackball, with his greatest weapon being his far-reaching control in the industry. One victim expresses guilt and shame over her powerlessness: “It’s like he took my voice that day.” Weinstein’s influence, coupled with Miramax’s multiple payouts and NDAs (non-disclosure agreements), kept the producer safe for years. Weinstein built the silence, and people complied.

The interviews with two former assistants—Zelda Perkins and Laura Madden—are central to the film. Madden, who initially declines to speak, hears from someone in the Weinstein organization, revealing the network of awareness in Weinstein’s court. This threat ignites Madden’s desire to cooperate with the investigation. 

The film shows the difficulty in finding corroborating evidence. The title—She Said—indicates the challenge of going beyond accusations. Threats of career loss, bad publicity, and “cash for silence” are roadblocks that Kantor and Twohey must overcome. Even the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) shows reluctance to cooperate. 

The quest takes a toll on Kantor and Twohey, invading their personal lives (though they are fortunate in the support of understanding husbands). Twohey gives birth early on and struggles with postpartum depression. Their perseverance is rewarded when several sources agree to go on public record, including Ashley Judd, who appears as herself.

As a film, She Said is relentlessly tense, with almost no breathing space, though much plays in low tones and silence. A few occasional flashbacks are a bit clumsy, but the disturbing recreation of the audiotape of Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez is brilliantly recreated against images of hotel corridors. Likewise, a victim’s clothing on the floor, shown against the sound of a shower, is equally unnerving.

Carey Mulligan (Twohey) and Zoe Kazan (Kantor), both intense but never overwrought, skillfully head up a fine ensemble cast. As editor Rebecca Corbett, Patricia Clarkson once again shows her ability to be understated and fully present, guiding the two reporters with a strong hand. 

Andre Braugher displays wry depth as executive editor Dean Baquet. Jennifer Ehle and Samantha Morton are outstanding as Laura and Zelda, bringing dignity to the pain of two damaged survivors. Peter Friedman’s canny lawyer, Lanny Davis, offers dimension as well as the prevailing attitude of the misogynistic “normal.” Zach Grenier’s adversarial account, Irwin Reiter, seethes with conflict. 

While Weinstein’s hulking figure is only seen from the back, Mike Houston imbues the predator’s voiceovers with brutish, self-entitled cruelty. Finally, Judd’s presence lends an incredible additional weight to the film. Everyone invests in the narrative’s high stakes.

Suffused with tension, She Said finds much of its center in the necessarily uncomfortable and the shadow of the unspoken. Just before the story is about to run, Twohey expresses the prevailing fear: it will run, and people won’t care. While She Said is an incredible film, it is also a sober reminder there is still much work to be done.

Rated R, the film is now playing in local theaters.

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in a scene from 'Spirited.' Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

By Jeffrey Sanzel

No holiday season goes by without a new take on that perennial favorite, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Whether traditional or modern, serious or spoof, the story survives and thrives. 

Reviews are expected to contain some sense of objectivity. However, having had a long and personal connection to this story, I would be disingenuous, pretending I do not have strong, protective feelings. Over the years, I have viewed every version possible. 

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in a scene from ‘Spirited.’ Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

Adaptations of A Christmas Carol are most often referenced by their principals. Among the finest of the traditional versions are, of course, Alistair Sim and George C. Scott. The stronger musicals include Albert Finney, Mr. Magoo (voiced by Jim Backus), and the Muppets (with Michael Caine as the miser). Henry Winkler, Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams, Robert Guillaume, and Susan Lucci barely scratch the surface of the updated undertakings. Many are fans of Bill Murray’s Scrooged, but I confess to have never been on board with its strident humor and ambivalent ending. I have endured Kelsey Grammar, Tom Arnold, Tori Spelling, and even Barbie. 

This leads us to the newest addition, Spirited. Director Sean Anders has co-written the screenplay with John Morris. Composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (The Greatest Showman, La La Land, Dear Evan Hansen) provide the score. Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds star. And the film is pure, outrageous joy from beginning to end.

The plot is an absurdist mix of sentimentality and insanity, offering a fresh new vision that surprises and charms for the brisk two hours and ten-minute running time. Jacob Marley (phenomenal Patrick Page, looking and playing like a spritely Christopher Plummer) has managed the afterlife trio of Christmases Past (Sunita Mani, nailing both the earnest and the deadpan), Present (Ferrell at his best), and Future (voiced hilariously by Tracy Morgan), along with an enormous staff in what looks like a Victorian office meets twenty-first-century bureau. 

Each year, one reprehensible human is selected to be studied and redeemed. Research is done; sets are built; plans are made. The world is Alice in Wonderland crossed with M.C. Escher—sort of The Good Place: Holiday Edition.

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in a scene from ‘Spirited.’ Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

In a chance encounter, Present sets his heart on rescuing the seemingly unredeemable Clint Briggs (perfectly wry Ryan Reynolds), a media consultant lacking any conscience. Against Marley’s wishes, Present embarks on the mission to save the unsavable. Spoiler Alert (sort of): Present is Ebenezer Scrooge. The story then follows the intersection of these two who share a commonality. In essence, the question becomes, “Who redeems the redeemer?”

Ferrell is both genuine and hilarious, showing incredible restraint and real connection. He even succeeds as the traditional Scrooge in a few momentary flashbacks. Reynolds is the perfect foil, edgy and honest, and very funny. 

The great Octavia Spencer is Briggs’ quasi-Bob Cratchit but also becomes the object of Present/Scrooge’s affections. Glimpses of Brigg’s family, including his late sister, Carrie (poignant Andrea Anders), and her daughter, Wren (unassuming and genuine Marlow Barkley), build background. 

All these pieces are standard Christmas Carol tropes. But the zany, hyper-meta view matched by a fantastic score, jubilant dancing (outrageously choreographed by Chloe Arnold), and two lead performances that land every moment make Spirited something special. 

From the opening (“That Christmas Morning Feelin’”) to Reynold’s psychotic call to commerce (“Bringin’ Back Christmas”) to the greatest send-up of “Consider Yourself” since Monty Python’s “Every Sperm Is Sacred” (“Good Afternoon”), the film’s musical sequences simultaneously celebrate and satirize. Spencer finds the right blend of humor and heartache in “The View from Here.” While none of the leads are powerhouse singers, the uniformly pleasant voices hit the right vocal and emotional notes.

Anders succeeds on every level as director and adaptor, supported by a production team that delivers strong visuals and whimsical designs. He makes the central message—our choices make us who we are—feel earned rather than saccharine. In addition to a range of Dickens Easter Eggs, the film contains one of the greatest cameos seen in years.

Two more Christmas Carols will be arriving this season. A Christmas Karen takes a comedic look, with a demanding woman coming to terms with her sense of entitlement. Netflix offers the animated Scrooge: A Christmas Carol, adapted from the 1970 film. With a star-studded cast, Luke Evans voices Scrooge. Whether they become valued additions to the canon remains to be seen. In the meantime, we have Spirited to keep us warm and happy. 

I suspect many will disagree with this glowing assessment and see Spirited as one big “Bah, humbug.” As a good friend always said, “That’s why refrigerators come in different colors.” I went into this movie skeptical, dubious, and with my quill sharpened. But, like Scrooge, I left in a giddy state of Christmas euphoria.

Rated PG-13, Spirited is currently playing in local theatres as well as on Apple TV+.

Paul Newman
Based on interviews and oral histories conducted by Stewart Stern; Compiled and edited by David Rosenthal

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“I’ve always had a sense of being an observer of my own life.”  — Paul Newman

Paul Newman starred in over seventy films, including Cat on a Hit Tin Roof, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Verdict, The Sting, The Hustler, Absence of Malice, and many more. From 1986 to 1991, the iconic Newman sat down with writer Stewart Stern (best known for the screenplay of Rebel Without a Cause) for a series of intense interviews. In addition, Stern spoke with friends, relatives, and colleagues for their perspectives. Newman’s driving force in the project was public revelation: “I want to leave some kind of record that sets things straight, pokes holes in the mythology that’s sprung up around me, destroys some of the legends, and keeps the piranhas off.”

For whatever reason, the book was left unfinished. Newman passed away in 2008, and Stern in 2015. They left behind an archive of fourteen thousand pages. 

David Rosenthal has compiled and edited the chronicle into The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man (Knopf Doubleday). Presented as Newman’s memoir, Rosenthal intersperses Newman’s very personal perspective with the additional interviews. The intense, riveting work reflects a man of fascinating contradictions whose legacy lives on in cinematic history and far-reaching philanthropy. Newman’s daughter, Melissa, describes the book as “… a sort of self-dissection, a picking a part of feelings, motives, and motivations, augmented by a Greek chorus of other voices and opinions, relatives, navy buddies, and fellow artists. One overriding theme is the chronic insecurity which will be familiar to so many artists. Objectivity is fickle.”

The book is predominantly chronological, beginning with his difficult childhood. “My brother [Arthur] chose to remember the good things from our childhood, while I best recall the failures and the things that didn’t go right.” Newman grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in an almost pathologically dysfunctional middle-class family, with an alcoholic father and a narcissistic mother. (Later in life, he cut ties with the destructive matriarch.) 

Insecurities, including a sense of intellectual inferiority, plagued him from a young age. “I wasn’t naturally anything. I wasn’t a lover. I wasn’t an athlete. I wasn’t a student. I wasn’t a leader. I measured things by what I wasn’t, not by anything I was. I felt that there was something lacking in me that I couldn’t bridge, didn’t know much about and couldn’t fathom.”

The book follows Newman in college years before and after World War II. There are tales of his early years onstage, a great deal of drinking (including being thrown off the football squad because of a town brawl), and more than fleeting references to his personal life. Of the theatre work, “I never enjoyed the acting, never enjoyed going out there and doing it. I enjoyed all the preliminary work — the detail, the observation, putting things together.”

He met his first wife, Jackie Witte, in a Wisconsin summer stock, and they married in 1949. (Witte speaks frankly but without rancor about her marriage to Newman.) He admits they were relatively clueless: “We were two very young people trying to act grown-up.” They had three children: Scott, Susan, and Stephanie, before divorcing in 1958. Newman highlights his struggle in coming to terms with what it meant to be a father, particularly to Scott, who would die at age twenty-eight from complications due to drug and alcohol use.

After a short and unfulfilling stint at Yale Drama School, and with very few credits, he landed a small role and understudy job in the Broadway production of William Inge’s Picnic (1953-54). Eventually, Newman stepped into the main supporting role. During the run, he met Joanne Woodward. When Newman asked director Josh Logan if he could move into the lead, Logan responded, “I’d like to, kid, but you don’t have any sex threat.” However, this would change over the next several years. “Joanne gave birth to a sexual creature. She taught him, she encouraged him, she delighted in the experimental. I was in pursuit of lust. I’m simply a creature of her invention.”

The volatile, off-again, on-again affair with Woodward eventually dissolved his marriage. Newman and Woodward married in 1958, a union that lasted the rest of his life. The book covers the highs and lows of the famous couple, giving a less hagiographic view of the relationship that endured many personal and professional highs and lows. They would have three children: Elinor, Melissa, and Claire.

Newman details his film career, beginning with The Silver Chalice, and carrying on through some of the most famous movies in motion picture history, working with some of the highest-profile directors, actors (including his good friend Robert Redford), writers, and producers. He generously praises his many collaborators and often denigrates his own talents. Luminaries such as John Huston and George Roy Hill have nothing but admiration for his talent and professionalism.

Throughout, he touches on his politics (including work with the Civil Rights movement), his passion for auto racing (which began with the 1969 film Winning), and his many charitable endeavors. An entire chapter addresses his drinking, which he confesses could be heavy and destructive. In time, he gave up hard liquor, but there is a sense of inconclusiveness in his alcohol-related revelations. 

Over the years, Newman became less responsive to the outside world, reducing his communication to the fewest words possible. However, he is forthcoming about his frustrations with the press and fans and his reluctance to sign autographs and pose for pictures.

The final chapter is both revelatory and ambivalent, reflecting a complicated man struggling to find a center. “But I am convinced that this is only a dress rehearsal.” Newman continued to evolve and grow over the remaining years of his life, finding joy in work and family. This book — “part confessional, part self-analysis” — gives an incredible glimpse into the mind and heart of an enigmatic and fascinating individual. Pick up a copy at your favorite bookstore, or


As a tribute to Paul Newman, the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington will host a special event celebrating the publication of The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man on Monday, Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. The evening will feature a screening of Newman’s most enduring film, the 1961 sports drama The Hustler followed by a discussion with Paul Newman’s daughter, Melissa Newman. Tickets are $43 for film and discussion; $25 for the film only. To order, visit

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Waxing On, subtitled The Karate Kid and Me (Dutton Books), is a smartly written memoir of the career-making role that raised Ralph Macchio from up-and-coming actor to teen icon. He shares his professional arc in the tightly written chronicle, emphasizing the Karate Kid trilogy and the current Cobra Kai. And while he accepts that Daniel LaRusso may have pigeon-holed him in the industry, he consistently expresses appreciation for the opportunity and the people he met along the way.

Ralph Macchio with a copy of his new [email protected]_MACCHIO (INSTAGRAM)

Before The Karate Kid (1984), Macchio appeared in a handful of films, most notably Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders, as well as a recurring role on television’s Eight Is Enough (1980-81). He was living on his native Long Island when he landed the audition for The-Karate-Kid. Dubious, given the cartoonish title, he flew back to Los Angeles. He then began the round of auditions, callbacks, and martial arts training before being officially cast in the role (originally surnamed Webber but changed to suit Macchio’s “East Coast” quality). 

Eventually, after reading with possible co-stars, producer Jerry Weintraub contracted Macchio for the original film and potentially two sequels. (Among noteworthy Daniel contenders were Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr., C. Thomas Howell, and Kyle Eastwood.)

The Karate Kid’s screenplay took its inspiration from a newspaper article about a picked-on boy and how martial arts helped him deal with his bullies. The script relied on the twin themes of bullying and mentorship. The universality spoke to a large swathe of the potential audience and helped maintain its unflagging popularity for nearly forty years.

Macchio is a straightforward, entertaining storyteller, open and direct. Whether discussing the casting process that was months in limbo or the hours of physical training, his descriptions are vivid and personal, presented with warmth and gratitude.

He devotes three chapters to each of his co-stars: Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, who played Mr. Miyagi; Elizabeth Shue, his love interest, Ali Mills; and William Zabka, Daniel’s nemesis, Johnny Lawrence. He makes clear his love and admiration for the three individuals as actors, collaborators, and people.

Morita, in particular, is singled out for his contribution. At the time, the actor was best known as a stand-up comedian and for his stint as Arnold on Happy Days. During his audition, Morita introduced the famous hachimaki (headscarf), explaining its significance. Along with the crane, the cloth became one of the film’s most memorable images. Eventually, Morita won the role of the Okinawan sensei, garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Macchio attributes much of the film’s success to Oscar-winning director John G. Alvidsen (Rocky, Save the Tiger, Lean on Me) and writer Robert Mark Kamen (Taps, Gladiator). He generously praises both men’s patience and support of the young actor, often recrafting the role around Macchio’s persona. “As an actor you often want to ‘disappear’ into a role. You feel you can demonstrate your range by losing yourself in the character. In this circumstance, ‘disappearing’ meant not being able to discern where Ralph ended and LaRusso began.”

He acknowledges The Karate Kid as a movie of its time, referencing John Hughes as well as Back to the Future. “There was an innocence, an adolescent openness and vulnerability, that we don’t often see as much in films today. Perhaps it was a simpler time. Perhaps it was a superficial representation, but it certainly had its place.” 

Macchio reflects on the 1984 release at the height of blockbusters. The Karate Kid shared the same summer with Ghostbusters and Gremlins, just on the heels of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. 

The Karate Kid was a “small” movie in comparison. And yet, it landed big due to the approachability of the Daniel LaRusso character. “For whatever reason, I felt far more like a local hero and much less like a movie star. I was treated like the guy who won the high school football game on Friday night. The kid who lived next-door. Not a celebrity you would see on the red carpet or in magazines.” 

For years, Macchio resisted a return to the franchise even though many ideas (some downright bizarre) were proffered. “Without actual material to judge, I wasn’t willing to take a next step and get involved, officially, on any project connected to The Karate Kid. It was always easier (and safer) to say, ‘No, thank you.’” He feared that anything that “missed the mark” would tarnish the legacy. 

He writes candidly about the 2010 remake, the How I Met Your Mother appearances, and the YouTube The Karate Kid: Daniel is the REAL Bully. He acknowledges these and other cultural moments kept the characters alive. 

Writer/creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg changed his mind with the proposal of Cobra Kai. The team’s respect for the source and welcoming involvement of Macchio’s and Zabka’s insights and expertise helped the project progress. In 2018, the excellent series debuted on YouTube Red before finding a home on Netflix, with the fifth season released this past September. 

Much of the latter part of Waxing On focuses on the new incarnation. The experience has been a joyful one: “I can’t express how much fun it is to play the yesterday in the today of these characters.” 

Throughout the memoir, Macchio meditates on a range of topics, including the cavalier dismissal of Shue’s character between the first and second films, his scandal-free life, the impact of the crane kick, career dry spells, and even the filming of the famous fly catching bit. 

As Macchio stated in a recent panel discussion: “When you make a movie that twenty or thirty years later people still obsess and debate about, therefore continuing to keep it relevant and important … it’s awesome!” In Waxing On, Ralph Macchio offers a welcome, often funny, and always engaging glimpse into the world of one of the most enduring family films.

Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me is available at your local Barnes & Noble or online at or

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Jalyn Hall and Danielle Deadwyler in a scene from 'Till' Photo by Lynsey Weatherspoon/Orion Pictures

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

On August 28, 1955, while visiting family in Money, Mississippi, Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old African American, was lynched for allegedly flirting with a white woman four days earlier. His assailants—the white woman’s husband and his brother—made Emmett carry a seventy-five-pound cotton gin fan to the bank of the Tallahatchie River and ordered him to take off his clothes. The two men beat him nearly to death, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head, and then threw his body, tied to the cotton gin fan with barbed wire, into the river.

The brutal and brilliant Till tells the aftermath of this horrific, racially motivated murder. Under Chinonye Chukwu’s flawless direction (from a taut screenplay by Chukwu, Keith Beauchamp, and Michael Reilly), the film’s relentless two hours tell the harrowing story with unflinching rawness.

Till follows Emmett’s mother, Mamie (Danielle Deadwyler, delivering the year’s best performance), as she struggles with the inconceivable death of her son, Emmett (beautiful Jalyn Hall), and her attempt to find justice in a system stacked against her.

Till opens in Chicago to the strains of “Sincerely.” Mamie, tense but hopeful, drives Emmett to a department store, preparing him for a visit to his cousins in Mississippi. There she encounters the subtler racism of the North, a harbinger, but in no way fully a reflection, of what is to follow. Excited for the next day’s journey, the normally stuttering Emmett—endearingly called Bobo by his family—sings along with a Bosco commercial, showing how he has overcome the stammer. The simple, exquisite moment reflects a boy who has been raised with love and support by his war-widowed mother. Emmett is goofy, wide-eyed, and innocent — in short, a child trusting the world to be a good place.

Concerned by what he might encounter, Mamie warns Emmett “to be small down there.” The next day, the Black passengers move to the back cars when the train crosses into Mississippi. The next time we see Emmett, whimsical and outgoing, he is picking cotton with his cousins. They, like his mother, warn him that he should be careful. While in a general store that caters to the Black community, Emmett compliments the clerk, Carolyn Bryant (Haley Bennett), telling her that she looks like a movie star. Delighted, he shows her the picture that came with his new wallet. Bryant follows him out of the shop, where he naively whistles at her with a sweet smile. Bryant chases him and his cousins away at gunpoint. 

Three nights later, her husband and brother show up at the cousins’ house and drag Emmett out, also at gunpoint. Chukwu chooses not to show the torture and murder. Instead, a lit shed and Emmett’s cries are seen and heard from a distance. The choice amplifies what must have been the child’s fears in his final hours.

Mamie receives news of his kidnapping, but it is several days before his body is found and his fate is revealed. Eventually, in a slow and heart-rending process, Mamie shifts from mother-in-mourning to activist. Her first fight is to have her son brought home for burial. After seeing his mutilated body, she decides that the strongest action is to have a public viewing. When told that Emmet is in no condition to be seen, she counters that he is in just the right shape and that the whole world must see. She leans over the open casket and whispers: “You’re not just my boy anymore.” 

Following this, supported by her estranged father (gentle Frankie Faison), she bravely goes South for the trial: her purpose is to confirm the body’s identity so that the defense cannot claim it was not him. Knowing the danger in testifying—that she will also be on trial—does not deter Mamie’s desire for even a modicum of justice.

In the South, as in Chicago, she encounters members of the NAACP with whom she eventually connects, most notably the Civil Rights activists and voting rights champions Medgar and Myrlie Evers (Tosin Cole and Jayme Lawson, both strong). In 1963, Medgar was assassinated in front of his wife and children.

In Till, Chukwu tells Mamie’s story through her eyes. For most of the film, she shows Deadwyler alone or singly framed, highlighting Deadwyler’s extraordinary portrayal and Mamie’s isolation. Mamie’s all-encompassing love and bottomless pain are present in the brittle silences and the primal screams. Whether sharing a moment of anguish with her fearful and guilt-ridden mother (outstanding, understated Whoopie Goldberg), confronting her cousin, Moses (conflicted and dimensional John Douglas Thompson), or silently watching Bryant hold her son during the trial, Deadwyler’s work is haunting and indelible. Watching her see the crate with Emmett’s casket taken from the train or holding his last, unfinished letter are searing moments of terrible power.

From Mamie’s entrance to the courthouse—callously patted down by a smirking guard—to the prosecuting attorney refusing to shake her hand—to Bryant’s outright perjury, the trial is a forgone conclusion. How can there be an honest application of the law when the entire jury look like the perpetrators? Or when the sheriff states it is a hoax perpetrated by the NAACP, and Emmett is in hiding? The vicious, virulent, and even casual racism looms throughout. Yet, the hate and ugliness are matched by the dignity, sensitivity, and desire for change of those surrounding and supporting Mamie. 

Till is not a movie of the week, a procedural drama, or a John Grisham novel. Till is not about just one wrong verdict but thousands over years of oppression and bigotry. Any attempt to fully describe this film is difficult and feels somehow disrespectful. However, silence is never an option. It is easy to bandy the word “important” to the point where it loses weight and meaning. But Till is important—an exceptional film that must be seen.

Coda. The Emmett Till Antilynching Act makes lynching a federal hate crime. It was signed into law on March 29, 2022 … sixty-seven years after the murder of Emmett Till. 

Rated PG-13, the film is now playing in local theaters.

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Scene from 'Triangle of Sadness'. Photo courtesy of Neon

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Retitled from the French Sans Filtre (Without Filter), Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund makes his English language feature film debut with Triangle of Sadness. With films such as Force Majeure (2014) and The Square (2017), Östlund adds to his dozen films with this dark comedy that eviscerates wealth and class.

The film follows model Carl (Harris Dickinson) and his strained relationship with runway model Yaya (Charlbi Dean). Though young, Carl’s career is in decline. The title refers to the triangle of lines between the eyebrows, usually caused by frowning and remedied with the liberal administration of Botox. This fact is revealed in the film’s brutally comic interview/audition opening.

Östlund divides Triangle of Sadness into three chapters. The first, “Carly and Yaya,” shows the dysfunctional couple arguing over the check at dinner. The intensely uncomfortable extended scene continues in the taxi back to the hotel and then into her room. Both money and gender roles come into play in their tenuous exchange, the latter issue surfacing surprisingly in the final act.

The second chapter, “The Yacht,” sees the couple on a high-end ocean excursion populated solely by the wealthy. Among the guests are a gregarious Russian fertilizer mogul, Dimitry (Zlatko Burić), and a sweet elderly British couple, Winston (Oliver Ford Davies) and his wife, Clementine (Amanda Walker), who are arms manufacturers. 

In addition, a lonely code writer, Jorma (Henrik Dorsin), and a stroke victim, German Therese (Iris Berben), whose sole sentence is “in den Wolken” (“in the clouds”), are on board. Their common denominator is money and privilege, played through a prism of entitlement and narcissism. Even when trying to show kindness—the Russian millionaire’s wife insists the entire staff stop working for a swim—the action is less about the generosity of spirit and more of a grand gesture.

Paula (Vicki Berlin) leads the staff with the call (and repeat) of “Yes, sir, yes, ma’am!” She demands the staff deny no guest’s request. The purpose, of course, is large tips at the voyage’s end. Meanwhile, she tries to get the dissipated captain (Woody Harrelson) to leave his cabin. Below decks, the cramped, nameless cleaners wait to serve.

Part two culminates in a disastrous Captain’s Dinner during a storm. The meal, plagued by seasickness and endless vomiting, conjures the Titanic by way of Parasite. Outrageous and grotesque, it culminates in an appalling septic backup. Throughout the night, as the $250 million luxury ship rocks the stricken passengers, the captain, a vowed American Marxist, debates and drinks with an equally drunk Dimitry, a proud Russian capitalist. 

In the morning, the seas are calm. And then, the ship is attacked by pirates.

In the final chapter, “The Island,” a handful of survivors wash up on a tropical beach. Here, the disaster upends the hierarchy. Abigail (Dolly de Leon), the ship’s toilet manager, is the only possessor of survival skills and quickly takes over, demanding, “Here, I am captain.” So telling is the image of the skillless passengers eating potato chips as they watch Abigail catch their dinner. In addition to claiming control, she also takes Carl as a sort of cabin boy. The stranded become an ineffectual group, a ghastly parody of The Lord of the Flies.

There is something natural and heightened about the excellent performances. Carl and Yaya endlessly snap pictures for Instagram. One photo involves Yaya posing with pasta she has no intention of eating—the empty gesture as hollow as her career as an “influencer.” A crew member is fired for going shirtless and attracting the attention of a female passenger, much to the chagrin of her male companion. The weapons manufacturer and his wife have an exit that is both perfect and ironic. A man keens over his dead wife and then removes her ring and necklace.

Dickinson presents the fine line between self-deprecating and petulant, playing opposite vain Dean, whose fragility comes to the surface in the last act. (Dean sadly died this past summer at age thirty-two.) Harrelson somehow manages to be both understated and scenery-chewing as the alcoholic commander. Watching de Leon’s evolution from servant to master is a wonder, and the film’s final moments rest on her ability to show Abigail’s roiling turmoil.

It would be easy to be thematically reductive: Rich People are Selfish, Self-Important, and Useless. But Triangle of Sadness touches far more in its complicated and complex narrative. The commentary on class structure and individual identity runs deep, examining those who have the power and those who serve it. 

In turns hilarious and chilling, the film’s nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time is mesmerizing and unflinching, posing difficult questions and never fully answering them. The cliffhanger ending is as frustrating as it is appropriate. Östlund shows remarkable skills as both writer and director, layering Triangle of Sadness in relentless cynicism that, in essence, holds a cracked mirror up to a fractured society.

Rated R, the film is now playing in local theaters.

Jamie Lee Curtis reprises her role as Laurie Strode for the final time. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

After nearly forty-five years and thirteen installments, the Halloween franchise comes to a close. Halloween Ends is the third in David Gordon Green’s reboot that began with Halloween (2018) and Halloween Kills (2021). John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween remains one of the finest horror films of the modern era, while the ensuing sequels and revisions produced diminishing returns.

A scene from ‘Halloween Ends’ Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

Halloween Ends opens in 2019, three years after Halloween Kills, culminating with Michael Myers slaughtering an entire mob. Twenty-one-year-old Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell) accidentally causes the death of his rambunctious babysitting charge, Jeremy Allen (Jaxon Goldenberg), witnessed by the boy’s parents (Candice Rose and Jack William Marshall) as they return from an office party. It is an effective moment, one that is truly horrifying.

The film jumps forward three years to the present. A seemingly healed Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) works on her memoir while facing the town’s anger; residents of Haddonfield hold Laurie responsible for Michael Meyer’s rampage. Laurie’s orphaned granddaughter Allyson Nelson (Andi Matichak), shares her new house. Considering the occurrences of four years prior, she also seems rather well-adjusted.

In a chance meeting, Laurie encounters Corey, who has just been terrorized by a quartet of high school band students. Corey, like Laurie, is a pariah in the community. While acquitted, he remains an outcast, replacing the seemingly absent Michael Myers. Corey is the new boogeyman. To treat his injured hand, Laurie takes Corey to the medical office where Allyson works, setting up the pair—a choice she quickly regrets. Allyson is immediately attracted to the shy, awkward Corey, and they become involved. 

After Jeremy’s mother chases Corey from a Halloween party, the bullies throw him off a bridge. He awakes in a sewer, confronted by Michael Myers (played by Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney). In a new twist, the killer sees Corey’s history in the boy’s eyes and lets him go. Immediately following, while defending himself, Corey accidentally kills a homeless man. With this encounter, the film takes a new path, tracking Corey as he assumes the mantle of Michael Myers. 

The disastrous Halloween Kills was a pointless movie, a meandering bloodbath created as a tensionless placeholder between the first and final chapters. Halloween Ends attempts to cover bigger and deeper territory. The film meditates on trauma and healing in individuals and the community. Discussions of evil entwine, questioning whether it is inherent or a result of circumstances—the nature versus nurture argument. Unusually, Michael functions as symbol and slasher. 

While Halloween Kills focused on mob mentality and the resulting violence, Halloween Ends offers a subtler perspective. Laurie refers to Haddonfield as “a plague of grief, of blame, of paranoia.” Pervading is the sense that the town must always have scapegoats—in this case, Corey, the “psychopath babysitter,” and Laurie, “the freak show.” Laurie parses the evil without—the threat to the tribe—and the malevolence within—likened to a core sickness. Evil does not die; it changes shape. Strangely—and out of place—thoughts of forgiveness are also introduced late in the action. These heady concepts stir a more interesting mix, but while raising many theories, most remain muddled and inconclusive. 

Like the previous film, the dialogue is stiff, declarative, and occasionally cringeworthy. A character states: “If I can’t have her, no one will.” Among the most puzzling pieces: Why would a devastated town continue to celebrate Halloween? Also, drawing the connection between Michael and Corey becomes tenuous. Part of Michael’s gestalt is the random and passionless kills. Corey murders predominantly for revenge, harkening to films such as Carrie or even Willard, where a bullied victim seeks retribution. Corey even has the caricature battle-axe mother (Joanne Baron), both smothering and abusive. However, clever references to the first film pepper the movie, particularly in Laurie and Michael’s final encounter.

Curtis, who was sidelined in the second film, spending much of the action in a hospital bed, takes center. Making her seventh appearance in the franchise, she presents both a grand and intimate farewell performance. Curtis owns her scenes with a strength not seen since the original. Matichak matches her as the self-actualized Allyson. Campbell’s burgeoning monster hits most of the right notes, but the predictability stymies surprise.

Thinly drawn characters driving the action populate the rest of the film. Will Patton’s Deputy Frank Hawkins is a bit too “aw-shucks” in his enamorment of Laurie. Jesse C. Boyd, who plays Allyson’s cop ex-boyfriend, is introduced to be easily dispatched. Keraun Harris, as disc jockey Willy the Kid, wandered in from a different film of a different era.

Halloween Ends delivers the promised finish. The trilogy concludes with a communal action that leaves little doubt, with no cheat teased in the credits suggesting a return. But horror movies have a way of reinventing their mythologies as needed. Is Michael Myers truly gone? That remains to be seen. To cite the misquoted Mark Twain, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” 

Rated R, the film is now playing in local theaters and streaming on Peacock.

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Billy Eichner (with glasses) and Luke Macfarlane in a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

For the most part, romantic comedies are predictable fare. From When Harry Met Sally and Notting Hill to the churned-out Hallmark Channel pablum, they trade surprise for pleasant comfort, rarely deviating from standard boy-meets-girl tropes. Gay characters are relegated to secondary or peripheral positions. Most commonly, they appear as best friends, dispensing sympathy and advice laden with snarky quips. 

The hilarious, delightful Bros is a wholly original comedy that honors the traditional but celebrates what makes the culture and community different. It is not a gay version of a straight movie. Instead, it smartly tells a distinctly gay story in its own voice. It is also the first gay rom-com from a major studio (Universal); nearly the entire cast and crew are people who have lived the experience.

Billy Eichner (with glasses) and Luke Macfarlane in a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

At the center of Bros is Bobby Lieber, played with the right balance of angst and insight by Billy Eichner. Eichner, who has co-written the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller, created a more subdued but no less colorful version of his Billy on the Street persona. Eichner’s Bobby is a fully realized character with a host of neuroses and a fierce independence. 

Bobby is leaving his podcast/radio show, The Eleventh Brick at Stonewall, to become a curator for Manhattan’s National LGBTQ+ History Museum. While attending the launch of a new gay dating app, Bobby meets the handsome Aaron Shepard (Luke Macfarlane). After a brief flirtation, no sparks seem to be in evidence. But eventually, after spending a day together, the commitment-challenged pair begin a complicated relationship.

The film follows Bobby and Adam’s struggle to find common ground. While both men deny the value of monogamy, their journey is a push-me-pull-you battle. At heart, Bobby questions whether he could even be loved, especially by someone as good-looking as Adam. Mismatched, Bobby observes, “You’re like a gay Boy Scout, and I’m whatever happened to Evan Hansen.” Self-effacing to the point of self-destruction, Bobby eventually accepts that there could be a life with Adam. The road is fraught with potholes and leads to some very surprising places. But under Stoller’s excellent direction, the story is clear.

Running in the background are “Hallheart” holiday movies such as the bisexual Christmas with Either and the polyamorous A Holly, Poly Christmas along with Have Yourself a Heteronormative Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street But There’s One Gay Guy. These, along with discussions of straight actors co-opting gay stories as Oscar bait, make a strong comment on the cinematic industry. (In a flashback, Bobby suffers through an interview by a studio executive who wants him to shoehorn a gay love story into straight parameters. Jaw dropped, he responds, “Our relationships are different! Our sex is different!”)

Bros is never cloying or indulgent, addressing the characters’ doubts and fears head-on. Often wickedly self-satirizing, at an LGBTQ ceremony, Bobby receives “Best Cis Male Gay Man.” The award is presented by Kristin Chenoweth, adorned in a hat with a revolving replica of the Stonewall Inn. The museum staff meetings cheekily spoof personal agendas, with fractious disagreements over the Hall of Bisexuals and Abraham Lincoln’s sexuality. Even the end of Bobby and Adam’s first date pulls back to one of the funniest and most telling reveals. Harvey Fierstein cameos as a bed-and-breakfast owner, poignantly sharing his losses, but parts with the film’s best throwaway and outrageous exit lines. One of the culminating moments includes the Haunted House of Gay Trauma rollercoaster. 

The writing is funny and sharp, ranging from subtly wry to uproarious. Bobby is both in denial and hyper-self-aware. He acknowledges he does not let things go. As for relationships, “No one’s more emotionally unavailable than me.” But his humanity plays throughout the entire film. In a particularly powerful moment, he shares the experience of seeing Love! Valor! Compassion! when he was twelve, while seated between his parents.

The cast is exceptional, with a wide LGBTQ+ representation. Each actor brings a different and unique shade to the overall tapestry. As Bobby states, “We are not a monolithic group.” Macfarlane is charming and dimensional as Luke. When Bobby is to meet Luke’s upstate family, Luke makes a difficult request: “Be less yourself for three hours; I want them to like you.” Somehow, Macfarlane navigates these dangerous waters by showing Luke’s vulnerability. Guy Branum has the perfect deadpan as Bobby’s best friend, Henry. Ts Madison, Dot-Marie Jones, Miss Lawrence, Eve Lindley, and Jim Rash are flawless as the museum staff. Debra Messing is pitch-perfect, playing a desperate version of herself.

Bros never eschews the many rom-com essentials: the montage, dancing on the beach, Christmas in the City. Even the song climactic song “Love Is Not Love” both celebrates and parodies. But Bros is a fresh, bold take on the genre. Unusual? Absolutely. But one of the best romantic comedies in many years.

Rated R, the film is now playing in local theaters.

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Author Sarah Beth Durst

Like many sisters, Even and Odd shared many things:

            Their bedroom.

            Their closet.

            Six pairs of flip-flops.

            Use of the living-room TV.

            And … magic.

This is the intriguing premise of the gifted, award-winning Sara Beth Durst’s young adult novel, Even and Odd. Sisters Emma and Olivia Berry live in Stony Haven, Connecticut, having moved from the magic land of Firoth. The siblings’ powers manifest on alternate days. Thus, Emma’s nickname is Even, and Oliva’s is Odd.

As they grew, the girls took separate paths. Even has passionately embraced her training and is studying for her level five exams for the Academy of Magic; she wants nothing more than to enter the magic world as a hero. Odd’s interests are grounded in the “real” world; she spends her free time working at an animal shelter and sees her sorcery as a burden.

Durst is a consummate world builder. Her nearly two dozen books contain original mythologies, complete with unique and imaginative rules, histories, and limitations. (Three of her previous, very different novels were reviewed in this paper:  The Stone Girl, in May 2018; The Deepest Blue, in June 2019; and The Bone Maker, in May 2021). With Even and Odd, she has created a universe where the known overlaps with the enchanted. And while books about wizards cannot help but recall a bespectacled boy with a lightning scar, Durst’s current offering—with its wry, contemporary wit and easy charm—echoes Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn and Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. She writes with a smart sense of humor, penning characters larger than life but wholly relatable. As in her previous works, her dialogue is crisp and honest and always rings true.

The Berry family runs a border shop, “close to the gateway between worlds,” serving the magical community when its members are in the mundane world. In addition to supplies, it is a source of information. For example, visitors “from Firoth could ask basic questions, such as ‘What is an airplane, and is it going to eat me?” The local gateway is behind Fratelli’s Express Bagel, owned by a wizard who looks like “a carb-and-cream-cheese-bearing Santa Claus.”

A normal day immediately shifts when it appears that “magic [is] on the fritz.” Even is briefly stuck as a skunk when she is not able to reverse a transformation. While investigating the gateway, Even and Odd become trapped in Firoth. Teamed up with an energetic young unicorn traveling under the name Jeremy (real name “Shimmerglow”), they confront the villainous Lady Vell, who is draining the magic for nefarious purposes.

The unleashed turmoil has caused shifting geography, with homes landing in dangerous locations, stalked by creatures displaced from their habitats. The author subtly offers a portrait of refugees seeking haven and even a hint of vigilante justice as the population begins to question the ability of the Academy of Magic to cut through its bureaucracy and deal with the dire situation.

The book contains a wide range of unusual beings: Haughty elves, friendly centaurs conducting research, flower fairies that sting, mermaids that screech, and a curmudgeonly but helpful goblin are among the denizens.

While the action is brisk and the adventure is always engaging, Durst’s ability to balance the magical realm with true family dynamics elevates the novel. Even and Odd are close but clash. “For me to be surprised,” quips Odd, “you need not to be predictable!” They seek their parents’ approval and yet yearn for independence. The author wisely chooses for the children to hope that the adults can fix the situation (so often eschewed in literature for young people).

Durst also delves into the doubts that plague Even. She frets over the upcoming magic test:

I have to be ready [] not taking [the exam] would feel like saying she wasn’t as good as kids her age who had magic every day. Maybe even like saying I’ll never be as good as them […] It would be admitting that the little voice of doubt that nagged at her was right, that practicing every other day wasn’t ever going to be enough, and she’d never be ready to be a hero.

Once in Firoth, Even and Odd learn starling facts about their origins. They face a surprising revelation that gives an understanding of the history of the unheard of split magic. This leads to further introspection but does not deter them from entering danger for the greater good.

Even and Odd is a wonderful book about and filled with enchantment. Durst deals with misguided and false assumptions about self, but also the ability to learn and grow. The story’s heart celebrates inherently different sisters who are bonded by love. Even and Odd embraces the normal and fantastic and weaves a shared magic all its own.

Award-winning author Sarah Beth Durst lives in Stony Brook with her husband, her children, and her ill-mannered cat. Pick up a copy of Even and Odd online at or  For more information, visit

'Jewish Noir II'

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Pinpointing “noir” is challenging. Generally, explanations include terms such as “tough,” “cynical,” “dangerous” and “bleak.” However, these words could also apply to a range of works. This crime genre, which leans towards the dark and pessimistic, has an alchemical combination that defies a narrow definition. While often associated with hardboiled detective fiction (Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane), this is not necessarily an accurate association. Conceptually, “noir” focuses on flawed individuals who are often morally questionable or corrupt. Greed, lust, and jealousy mix with societal alienation resulting in situations from which the characters cannot extricate themselves.  

In any case, defining “noir” is not essential to appreciate the exceptional Jewish Noir II (PM Press), subtitled “Tales of Crime and Other Dark Deeds.” Edited by Kenneth Wishnia and Chantelle Aimée Osman, the collection of twenty-three compelling, sharp, and haunting tales encompasses an eclectic and page-turning mix. 

As indicated by the title, the over-arching element is Judaism. But the editors offer a range of perspectives, from religious to cultural. Some stories feature Jewish identity at their core; in others, the elements remain peripheral. In an age steeped in fear and a global rise in antisemitism, many of these short pieces — subtly and directly — address the toxicity embroiled therein. Osman indicates in the introduction, “What I do know is that this anthology is important. And the stories in this book apply to everyone.”

“Taking Names” (Steven Wishnia) uses the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire as a framing device to highlight “corruption [as] the most truly diverse aspect of New York City politics.” Like many of the stories, the language is rich and distinct: “The spokesperson for the Laborers, a skinny guy who looked like he’d lifted more textbooks than cinderblocks …” Antisemitic backlash from a reporter’s story results in a tragic and violent turn. (Later in the volume, “Triangle” (Rabbi Ilene Schneider) uses the tragedy in a wholly different and perfectly unsettling tale of an Angel of Death nurse.)

“Sanctuary” (Doug Allyn) focuses on the horrifying impact of a newly graduated medical student and the liberation of Buchenwald. A granddaughter inherits a necklace and a packet of blood-covered documents in “The Cost of Something Priceless” (Elizabeth Zelvin). With the traditional noir edge, “Only a fool can expect the cost of acquiring treasure to be paid in full. Blood has a tendency to leak and go on leaking. So do reputation and deceit.” The story of twin generational treachery concludes with a sharp stinger of a final line. The brief but potent “The Black and White Cookie”(Jeff Markowitz) takes on segregation.

The book deals with Jewish people worldwide — even as far as Trinidad and China. Violence is consistently present, both casual and deliberate. Humor flows liberally throughout, often to create an illusion quickly shattered with a deft plot twist. “Wishboned” (Jill D. Block), with its mix of fantasy and Philip Roth, deftly skewers the bar mitzvah sphere: “That was his cue, once again, that paying for a bar mitzvah is like buying a brand new sports car and driving it straight off a cliff.”

“The Shabbes Goy” (Craig Faustus Buck) is one of the book’s truly noir entries. The Jewish elements weave tautly into a narrative of plotting femme fatales and an abusive husband. “To Catch a Ganef” (Lizzie Skurnick) blends Alfred Hitchcock Presents and O. Henry in a smartly multicultural story. “Paying the Ferrymen” (E.J. Wagner), an account of a wronged wife, also feels like an ode to that 1950s series. “Inheritance” (Terry Shames) leans into a Ladies in Retirement tone, with a nursing home setting and vengeful relatives. 

Drawing on biblical sources, “Brother’s Keeper” (Eileen Rendahl) presents a private investigator and a moral dilemma utilizing the Cain and Abel story as both a parallel and mirror image. In contrast, “The Almost Sisters” (Ellen Kirschman) contains a more ethnic reflection: “If there is a gene for pessimism it will be in Jewish blood. I heard it a million times, keynehore, don’t relax, don’t get too happy, something bad is coming.”  

“Crossover” (Zoe Quinton) broods on conversion and a suspicious mikvah death, the permeating darkness in the water giving a sense of unease.

One of the most unusual entries is editor Kenneth Wishnia’s “Bride of Torches,” a bloody account of tribal battles. While the vivid tale reaches back into ancient history, its unique voice helps fit in with this modern anthology. Equally remarkable is “The Just Men of Bennett Avenue” (A.J. Sidransky), a mystical procedural drama.

“The Hanukkah Killer” (Robin Hemley) balances the portrait of a murderer — “eyes that, if they were windows to his soul, you would have wanted nailed shut” — with the vivid portrait of an old neighborhood, with its family illness, dysfunction, and poverty.

The closing story, “Hunter” (Jen Conley), follows a therapist struggling with a threatening and most likely sociopathic patient. The details are striking and disturbing — the eeriness of a burning cigarette suggesting an ominous watcher — and contrast brilliantly with the social issue — a community’s reaction to the encroachment of Orthodox families. The story’s final line is appropriately chilling and the perfect coda to this collection.

While Jewish Noir II takes mild liberties with the definition, this is a minor quibble in this amazing collection of tightly written, powerful, and must-read stories. Pick up a copy online at or 

In conjunction with the book, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, 120 Main St., Setauket will host Stories Light and Dark: An Evening of Jewish Noir on Thursday, Oct. 13 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Join Kenneth Wishnia and other contributors for a spirited discussion of the diverse themes in the Jewish Noir II anthology. Copies of the book will be available for sale at the event at a discount, plus a bonus story collection offered free with each purchase. To register, call 631-941-4080