Movie Review

'Labyrinth' heads to local theaters on March 6 and 10

Fathom Events and The Jim Henson Company in collaboration with Sony Pictures brings the 1986 fantasy epic “Labyrinth” to select theaters nationwide on Wednesday, March 6 and Sunday, March 10.

Frustrated with babysitting on yet another weekend night, Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a teenager with an active imagination, summons the Goblins to take her baby stepbrother away. When little Toby actually disappears, Sarah must follow him into a fantastical world to rescue him from the Goblin King (David Bowie). 

Guarding his castle is the labyrinth itself, a twisted maze of deception, populated with outrageous characters and unknown dangers. To get through it in time to save Toby, Sarah befriends inhabitants of the Labyrinth, in hopes that their loyalty isn’t just another illusion in a place where nothing is as it seems.

The film is executive produced by the visionary George Lucas and boasts breathtaking sets and the signature puppetry and effects from director Jim Henson, as well as original music written and performed for the film by David Bowie.

Each screening includes an exclusive introduction by renowned film critic and historian Leonard Maltin, exploring the enduring appeal of Labyrinth, which has helped cement the film as a true cult classic.

Locally the film will be screened at AMC Loews Stony Brook 17 on March 6 at 7 p.m. and March 10 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Island 16 Cinema de Lux in Holtsville on March 6 at 7 p.m. and March 10 at 4 p.m.; Showcase Cinema de lux in Farmingdale on March 6 at 7 p.m. and March 10 at 4 p.m.; and Regal UA Farmingdale on March 6 at 7:10 p.m. and March 10 at 4:10 p.m. and 7:10 p.m. 

To order tickets in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

By Tara Mae

From the first actuality motion pictures running a minute or less to present day feature length documentaries, nonfiction films have captured the imagination and provided intimate insight into people and situations that inhabit the world with us.

On select Mondays from March 4 to May 20 at 7 p.m., the Spring 2024 season of the Port Jefferson Documentary Series (PJDS) covers seven tales of the audacity of authenticity, unity in adversity, togetherness in triumph, communal solitude, singular sacrifice for an uncommon goal, and whimsy in misadventure. 

Held at either Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson or John F. Kennedy Middle School, 200 Jayne Blvd., Port Jefferson Station, screenings will be followed by Q&As led by Tom Needham, executive producer and host of “Sounds of Film” on WUSB. Guest speakers, involved in the film or experts in its subject matter, will answer questions from Needham and audience members.

Documentary filmmaking is a frank language of cinema, and these conversations are a means by which to continue the dialogue. 

“Film, like other art forms, provides an emotional connection for people to ideas and to one another,” PJDS co-chair Kelly DeVine said. “…This Spring line-up offers seven films and seven opportunities to celebrate cinema and community. The program spans subject areas and moods.” 

Despite divergent topics, emotional comprehension, whether through trauma or triumph, faith or farce, longing for it or security in it, is a theme that permeates the films. 

Sponsored by Maggio Environmental and Wellness; Covati & Janhsen, CPAs; Port Jeff Storage; and the accounting firm Saranto Clamas, CPA with support from Suffolk County and the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, the season opens with Ukraine, The Other Frontline. It follows five Ukrainian journalists who have the courage to continue doing their jobs, and in doing so, become part of the larger story of Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s war in their country.  

Story and Pictures By explores the efforts of today’s children’s book authors to create stories as diverse as themselves and their readers. 

Flipside chronicles filmmaker Chris Wilcha’s attempt to save the record store that sustained him as a teenager while he examines ideas of artistic identity.

Stuart Udall: The Politics of Beauty traces the life trajectory of Stuart Udall, who served as the Secretary of the Interior for Kennedy and Johnson, championed quality of life over quantity of consumerism, and espoused a political philosophy that celebrated life’s simple pleasures and beauties. 

A Disturbance in the Force honors the seemingly nonsensical “Star Wars Holiday Special” that George Lucas produced in 1978. 

We are the Warriors depicts citizens of Wells, Maine, contending with the town’s colonial history, how its modern manifestations effect the Indigenous residents, and the 2017 incident that galvanized citizens to seek common ground. 

Confessions of a Good Samaritan traces director Penny Lane’s generous decision to donate a kidney to a stranger and how this decision leads her on a quest to unearth the meaning of altruism. 

(For dates and times, please see Film Schedule below)

Those involved in arranging and implementing the Series, including PJDS’ film board as well as volunteers, are eager to enjoy these documentaries with audiences and encounter their original reactions. 

“[We] are looking forward to another exciting season…” co-chair Wendy Feinberg said. She selected Stories and Pictures By. DeVine selected the other six documentaries. It is the first time that the documentaries were not submitted by individual board members and chosen by vote of the board as a whole. 

This change in protocol reflects a shift in leadership. Though they remain on the board, Lyn Boland and Barbara Sverd, co-directors with Feinberg, sought to take a step back from organizing and running the Series. Boland and Weinberg became co-chairs; Sverd is now the community outreach coordinator. Their titles are different this season, but their love for documentaries and PJDS has not waned.

“What I didn’t expect was the bitter-sweet feeling I was left with once I cut the cord. I will miss the relationships made with film makers and the thrill of the chase when trying to land a new film. I do intend to help Kelly during this transition which is going smoothly and remain involved in the PJDS,” Sverd said. 

Once a board member, DeVine was invited by Boland to rejoin and lead the Series. She previously worked as a programmer/acquisitions member for the Independent Film Channel (IFC) and still serves as programmer for the Great Peace Film Festival in Florida.

“I really think this was a very lucky break for the documentary series. Kelly is giving us the benefit of things she has seen. I am staying involved, but my role is changing. People should expect some things to be different and much to remain the same,” Boland said.

Even as alterations to its setup were taking place behind the scenes, DeVine and the other board members made sure that key elements of PJDS’ ethos, such as attention to attendees’ interests, stayed essential to its mission. 

“I start with the audience when considering a film…For PJDS, I am still centering the community in the curation process,” DeVine said. “While a film series like this one provides the opportunity to bring the world to Port Jefferson, I also look to make connections between these stories and our own lives and concerns.”

By identifying commonalities and spotlighting individuality, PJDS strives to foster communication, artistic recognition, and interpersonal acceptance. It continues to incorporate documentaries that appeal to the Series’ existing patrons and invite new appreciators to participate. It is a community that honors its fans and welcomes fresh faces.  

“The most rewarding part of programming is always the audience connection. …I am looking forward to seeing the reaction to the programs, hoping to continue to appeal to the existing audience base for the PJDS while bringing in new audience segments along the way,” DeVine said. “For me, programming is a conversation with audiences, and a conversation that I find enriching.” 

An award winning documentary series, organizers, documentarians, and audiences continue to be inspired by PJDS’ dedication to sharing tales well told and amplifying voices that may otherwise be less audible to the public. For those in attendance, it endeavors to offer insights into the world around them and each other. 

“The stories are important, but almost as important is the opportunity to come together in a  social setting. The purpose of public arts is to celebrate and sustain community. Watching a film by yourself has one effect, but sharing the experience with others and maybe learning something about yourself or others in the process is something else altogether,” DeVine said.

FILM SCHEDULE:

◆ The Spring 2024 season kicks off with a screening of Ukraine, The Other Frontline  at Theatre Three on March 4 at 7 p.m. How is wartime news produced in Ukraine? A gripping and fascinating insight into the upheavals of everyday life in television newsrooms. Guest speaker will be Sarah Baxter, Director of the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting at SBU.

Story and Pictures By, the first feature documentary to take audiences behind the scenes to meet the boundary pushers who create children’s picture books, will be screened at JFK Middle School on March 25 at 7 p.m. Guest speaker will be filmmaker Joanna Rudnick.

◆ Next up is Flipside at Theatre Three on April 8 at 7 p.m.  Filmmaker Chris Wilcha revisits the record store he worked at as a teenager in New Jersey, he finds the once-thriving bastion of music and weirdness from his youth slowly falling apart and out of touch with the times. Guest speaker will be Director Chris Wilcha.

Stewart Udall: The Politics of Beauty will be screened at JFK Middle School on April 15 at 7 p.m. The film examines the trajectory of Udall’s life from his childhood to his years as Secretary of the Interior under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, focusing on his effectiveness as a dedicated, bi-partisan public servant. Guest speaker TBA.

‘A Disturbance in the Force’

◆ The season continues with A  Disturbance in the Force at JFK Middle School on May 6 at 7 p.m. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…In 1978 George Lucas was talked in to cashing in on the STAR WARS craze by producing a holiday variety TV special.  What could possibly go wrong? Answer: Everything. Guest speaker will be Director Jeremy Coon.

We Are the Warriors will be screened at JFK Middle School on May 13 at 7 p.m.  For nearly 70 years, students and alumni of Wells High School in Maine have called themselves the “Warriors.” The school’s mascot, variations of a stoic Native American head in profile with braids and feathered headband, has drawn both support and criticism in the past. However an incident in 2017 shocks the town and reignites the debate. Guest speaker TBA.

Confessions of a Good Samaritan heads to Theatre Three on May 20 at 7 p.m. Director Penny Lane’s decision to become a “good Samaritan” by giving one of her kidneys to a stranger turns into a funny and moving personal quest to understand the nature of altruism. Guest speaker will be filmmaker Penny Lane.

Tickets are $10 per person; season passes are $58 each. For more information, visit portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.  

'My Fair Lady'

Fathom Events’ Big Screen Classics series continues with the landmark 1964 Oscar®-winning musical My Fair Lady  returning to select theaters nationwide in honor of its 60TH Anniversary on Sunday, February 4 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Monday, February 5 at 7 p.m.

Audrey Hepburn is willful, self-aware and ultimately self-reliant Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison is Professor Henry Higgins in this splendid big screen adaptation of the smash Broadway musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. My Fair Lady won the Academy Award® as Best Picture of 1964 and seven additional Oscars®, including Best Director (George Cukor), Best Actor (Harrison), and Best Art Direction. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the film still dazzles thanks to enduring  performances, gorgeous cinematography, and songs like “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “The Rain in Spain,” “On the Street Where You Live” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”

Each screening is presented as it was originally intended—complete with a musical overture and intermission—and includes an exclusive introduction by Film Critic & Historian Leonard Maltin on how this Broadway classic came to life on the silver screen.

Locally the film will be screened at AMC Stony Brook 17, Island 16 Cinema de Lux in Holtsville, Showcase Cinema de Lux in Farmingdale and Regal UA Farmingdale. For advance tickets, visit www.fathomevents.com.

 

A scene from 'The Wizard of Oz." Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

Fathom Events’ Big Screen Classics 2024 kicks off with the beloved 1939 fantasy The Wizard of Oz returning to select theaters nationwide in honor of its 85th anniversary on Jan. 28, 29, and 31.

In this classic musical fantasy, Judy Garland stars as Dorothy Gale, a young Kansas farm girl who dreams of a land “somewhere over the rainbow.” Dorothy’s dream comes true when she, her dog Toto, and her family’s house are transported by a tornado to a bright and magical world unlike anything she has seen before. Unfortunately, she makes a mortal enemy of the  Wicked Witch of the West when the house falls on her sister. Now, befriended by a scarecrow without a brain, a tin man with no heart and a cowardly lion, and protected by a pair of enchanted ruby slipper, Dorothy sets off along a yellow brick road for the Emerald City to beseech the all-powerful Wizard of Oz for his help to return home.

The Wizard of Oz received five Academy Award® nominations, including Best Picture (Outstanding Production), and captured two Oscars®—Best Song (“Over the Rainbow”) and Best Original Score — plus a special award for Outstanding Juvenile Performance by Judy Garland. 

Each screening includes an exclusive introduction by acclaimed film critic and historian Leonard Maltin, shedding light on the groundbreaking film’s incredible legacy and lasting impact—both on cinema and pop culture.

Locally the film will be screened at AMC Stony Brook 17, Island 16 Cinema de Lux in Holtsville, Showcase Cinema de Lux in Farmingdale and Regal UA Farmingdale. For tickets, visit www.fathomevents.com.

Daniel French. Photo courtesy of CAC

By Kevin Redding

“Answer the question, same category…Name the killer in Friday the 13th.”

Ghostface, the masked slasher in Scream, dishes out a fatal round of movie trivia over the phone to Drew Barrymore’s character in the heart-pounding opening of the 1996 meta-horror classic.

Over in Huntington, in the summer of 1997 when Scream was newly available on VHS, Daniel French, now 38, remembers his parents bringing the movie home—making sure to send their kid to bed before watching the R-rated stab-a-thon unfold. But French, obsessed with movies from a young age, snuck out of his bedroom and watched the entire thing from the hallway that led into the living room.

Daniel French. Photo courtesy of CAC

It was a viewing that “blew his mind,” with all the film references in Scream ultimately sending him down a path of discovery of other movies and deep-dives into directors, from John Carpenter to Alfred Hitchcock.

“Movies have been my number one, constant passion ever since,” said French, the host of Cinema Arts Centre’s monthly Movie Trivia Night since 2016. But no worries, the game of trivia that usually takes place the first Monday of each month in the theater’s Sky Room Café is “much less dire” than Ghostface’s. 

“I just want everyone to do well and have fun. When you think about the Cinema Arts Centre, you think independent films, foreign films, less mainstream movies, but I don’t want people to think they have to know who directed ‘M.’ It’s everything: a well-rounded, accessible experience for everybody.”

For every trivia night, French devises a fresh batch of 50 questions across five rounds revolving around film, actors and actresses, famous needledrops, awards, and more. 

One such question in a previous trivia was “What actress won Best Supporting Actress for ‘My Cousin Vinny?’” For one of the music rounds, the hint was “Directed by John Hughes” followed by a clip of “Danke Schoen” from…Anyone? Anyone? Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

A tense tie-breaker was a reading of the cast list, from the bottom to top, of Jaws; the first team to correctly guess the movie title based on its minor actors won.

French, who joked that he battles with his film geek self not to have a whole category dedicated to the works of David Lynch, does bring a personal flair to the questions: “You know that during Halloween, there’s going to be a Scream question, and you better believe there’s going to be a question about one of my favorite movies Carol and a The Nice Guys question for Christmas.”

Each team writes their answers on a sheet of paper that’s graded and at the end of the night, there’s a final tally to determine the winner. With an average of 50 to 60 people attending the event every month, French says there’s no limit to the amount of people on each team—but keep in mind that the winning team earns a cash prize of $100; the second place team receives up to four Cinema Arts Centre gift cards, with a value of $24 each; and the third place team gets to come up with a category for the next month’s trivia.

Plus, concessions, including the beloved CAC popcorn, are open late so “you can have some snacks, have a beer or two, and just talk movies.”

French, who works in insurance full-time and is married with two kids, said of getting to host the event every month, “It’s incredible and just so much fun. It’s something I genuinely enjoy doing, I like seeing the regulars, and it blows my mind every time that people keep coming back. It’s a special feeling for me personally and it’s a good little community that we’ve built. I’m surprised they’re letting me get away with it still!”

Since French was old enough to get into bars, he’s been participating in trivia nights. But he’s the first to admit that when there weren’t movie or TV categories included in general trivia, he’d get upset. “I’ve got a specific set of skills that I’m pretty good at, but if those don’t come up, it’s tough sledding,” he laughed. But in 2014, he started going to movie-only trivia at his go-to theater, Cinema Arts Centre.

For two years, he gathered to eat, drink, compete, and talk about movies, even forming a close friendship with a rival team member—when she got married years later, he was in her wedding party. “You keep showing up, talking to people, and you already know you got one thing in common: a love of movies,” he said. The event had a rotating cast of hosts throughout this stretch, and in April 2016, he eventually approached the theater about giving the job a shot.

“Daniel French and his super entertaining Movie Trivia Night have become a fixture here at Cinema Arts Centre,” said Dylan Skolnick, co-director of the theater. “This event is a delight for true movie lovers, especially those with a competitive streak.”

Located at 423 Park Avenue in Huntington, the Cinema Arts Centre will host Movie Trivia Nights on Jan. 8, Feb. 12 and March 4. Tickets are $10 per person, $7 members at www.cinemaartscentre.com or at the box office. For more information, call 631-423-7610.

Timothée Chalamet stars as chocolatier Willy Wonka. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Among British author Roald Dahl’s best-known children’s novels are James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, Matilda, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. The hilarious but macabre tales garnered controversy for their darkness and violence, as well as racist and sexist bents. However, his work remains popular, with many stage and screen adaptations. Published in 1964, his ninth and most popular book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, followed a poor London boy, Charlie Bucket, and his venture in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. To date, over twenty million copies have been sold in fifty-five different languages. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory takes its place with classics such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. 

While Dahl vocally disliked the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, it remains a visually clever, entertaining, and original film. Gene Wilder’s enigmatic, eccentric, and underplayed Wonka contrasts smartly with Jack Albertson’s likably gruff Grandpa Joe and a group of excellent child actors supported by equally strong adults. The film does not ignore Dahl’s vision that children can be selfish and often reprehensible. Tim Burton’s divisive and polarizing 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory claimed to return to the Dahl’s original. But the unpleasant film was hampered by John August’s shrill script and Johnny Depp’s disturbing Michael Jackson-like Wonka.

Sam Mendes directed the stage musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in London’s West End, which ran for over three and a half years. However, the Broadway transfer barely eked out nine months. 

The prequel Wonka offers a technicolor glimpse into the early life of the inventor. Director Paul King (best known for the popular Paddington and Paddington 2 films) co-wrote the screenplay with Simon Farnaby. With a potential for a rich and exciting story, King and Farnaby deliver a pedestrian, often tedious, and surprisingly bland prequel.

Timothée Chalamet as Willy Wonka and Hugh Grant as Lofty the Oompa Loompa in a scene from ‘Wonka.’ Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Opening with the strains of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s “Pure Imagination,” Willy Wonka (Timothée Chalamet) boisterously arrives in an unnamed European city. The magician-inventor-chocolatier aims to open a candy shop at the Galeries Gourmet. Quickly, the city bilks the eager youth of his pocketful of sovereigns. Additionally, he comes up against the city’s Chocolate Cartel: Arthur Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), Gerald Prodnose (Matt Lucas), and Felix Ficklegruber (Mathew Baynton).

Broke, with no place to sleep, the brutish Bleacher (Tom Davis) guides Wonka to a boarding house run by the sly Mrs. Scrubitt (Olivia Coleman). Ignoring the fine print, Wonka signs a one-night contract that sentences the boy to work in Scrubitt’s prison-like laundry. There he meets other victims of the Scrubitt and Bleacher plot: orphan Noodle (Calah Lane), Abacus Crunch (Downton Abbey’s Jim Carter), plumber Piper Benz (Natasha Rothwell), switchboard operator Lottie Bell (Rakhee Thakrar), and failed standup comedian Larry Chucklesworth (Rich Fulcher). 

With Noodle’s support, Wonka hatches a scheme to sell illicit chocolate around the city, using the sewers as a means and mode. Eventually, the Cartel destroys Wonka’s legally established store on its opening day.

King and Farnaby have gathered the components of an entertaining, if by-the-numbers plot. However, rather than seeking novel inspirations, the story rehashes successful and more effective predecessors. Elements of Oliver!, Annie, Matilda, and Newsies are “borrowed.” Coleman wickedly chews the scenery, but the character is a clumsy hybrid of Miss Hannigan, Widow Corney, and even Les Misérables’ Madame Thenardier. Her cohort, Davis, is a Disney thug come to life. (Their relationship is not for the younger audience.) 

Wonka’s underground team means well but is given so little development the resolutions to their stories hardly register. The Cartel is an amusing trio, but their predictable bits wear thin. Keegan-Michael Key’s chocolate-addicted chief of police becomes a running fat joke, and Rowan Atkinson’s corrupt Father Julius is just another one of his clerical buffoons. (However, the singing monks make for a clever aside.) The CGI-ed Oompa-Loompa, Lofty, allows Hugh Grant to display his wonderfully wry style. Still, the Oompa-Loompa subplot barely registers and contradicts most of the known Dahl mythology of the diminutive tribe. 

And it is perhaps here where Wonka fails strongly: it lacks the flavor of Dahl’s brilliant, distinctly edgy, and wildly unpredictable world. Nothing separates the film from dozens of children’s movies that build to a caper ending (here, replete with a giraffe and flamingos). Neil Hannon’s original songs offer ersatz melodies and dull lyrics. (Clearly, King and Farnaby were not unaware of this: they use “Pure Imagination” as a finale and have even brought back the Oompa-Loompa song with new lyrics.) Even the visuals seem strangely muted.

As for Wonka’s center, Chalamet is not without charm, but his performance is nothing mercurial or unexpected. The spark that will catch fire to the later Wonka is absent. Whether he is miscast or it is a failure of the material itself (most likely a combination), Wonka must be more than just likable. He must be “more than.” And Chalamet, for all his warmth, is not Wonka.

The creators had an opportunity to give insight into one of the most intriguing icons of twentieth-century children’s literature and produce a bright, thrilling odyssey. While Wonka could have soared as Mary Poppins, it instead lands with the thud of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Rated PG, Wonka is now playing in local theaters.

Fathom Events’ Big Screen Classics series wraps up 2023 with the beloved 1983 comedy A Christmas Story— returning to select theaters nationwide in honor of its 40th anniversary on Sunday, Dec. 10 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. and on Wednesday, Dec. 13 at 7 p.m.

It’s the final days before Christmas in early 1940s Indiana and 9-year-old Ralphie wants one thing from Santa more than anything else: a Red Ryder Carbine Action Air Rifle. As he trudges through the snow to school, faces the neighborhood bully and visits a malevolent department store Santa Claus, Ralphie connives, conspires, and campaigns for the most fabulous Christmas present ever in this heartwarming, hysterical and sweetly nostalgic holiday film.

Based on the tales of celebrated American humorist Jean Shepherd, who also provides the film’s trademark narration, “A Christmas Story” is directed by Bob Clark, from a script written by Shepherd, and Leigh Brown, and stars Peter Billingsley, Ian Petrella, Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon.

Each screening includes an exclusive introduction by noted critic and historian Leonard Maltin, who discusses the Christmas classic’s surprising audience-driven success, and the charming story and magical cast that make the film such a rare masterpiece.

Locally the film will be screened at AMC Stony Brook 17, Island 16 Cinema de Lux in Holtsville and Showcase Cinema de Lux in Farmingdale. To order tickets in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com. 

From left, Eddie Murphy, Jillian Bell and Madison Thomas in a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime

By Jeffrey Sanzel

The Faust story continually appears on stage and screen. Whether complicit or duped, someone—almost always a man—makes a deal with a satanic figure in exchange for a particular gratification. All That Money Can Buy (also known as The Devil and Daniel Webster) and Angel Heart exemplify the darker side. Damn Yankees!, Bedazzled (the original 1967 and its 2000 remake), and Oh, God! You Devil skew lighter. Now on Amazon Prime, Candy Cane Lane is a guileless, uninspired take on the legend.

Just days before Christmas, Chris Carver (Eddie Murphy) is part of a callous layoff by California’s Sydel Twain Industrial Plastics. Simultaneously, the already cut-throat neighborhood decorating competition receives a boost from local Prism Cable, offering $100,000 for the most festive house. Year after year, Chris has decked his home and yard with beautifully carved and hand-crafted pieces but has consistently lost to his shrill neighbors, Bruce and Suz (Ken Marino and Riki Lindhome), who populate their dwelling with crass inflatables. 

Determined to win the prize, Chris happens upon the mysterious Kringle’s, a Christmas shop located beneath an underpass, looking much like the toy store in Jingle Jangle. The proprietor, an elf named Pepper (Jillian Bell), coaxes Chris into a trove of large purchases. Chris signs the receipt without reading the fine print, a sinister contract that will turn him into one of her animated glass ornaments. The centerpiece of the decorations is a massive “Twelve Days of Christmas” Tree, which comes to life. Most of the film is taken up with the chase to acquire the “Golden Rings” that will break the spell. 

The premise is simple, and the action is predictable. Murphy is pleasantly understated and once again proves his easy, likable charm. Tracee Ellis Ross plays his wife, Carol, an executive on the cusp of a big promotion. She demonstrates the same wry command she showed in the series Blackish (basically the same character). They have three children: college-bound Joy (Genneya Walton), a struggling student but gifted musician Nick (Thaddeus J. Mixson), and the sweet, innocent youngest Holly (Madison Thomas). The older two children harbor secrets, which, when revealed, help solve the challenges the family faces. (Please note the lack of subtlety: Chris, Carol, Joy, Nick, Holly.)

Chris is aided and advised by three of Pepper’s previous victims, now glass figurines: Pip, Lamplighter Gary, and Cordelia (voiced by Nick Offerman, Chris Redd, and Robin Thede, respectively). The vocal group Pentatonix is a nice touch, as out-of-control carolers who are also under the enchantment.

The major problems with Candy Cane Lane are Kelly Younger’s meandering script and Reginald Hudlin’s pedestrian direction. Neither committed to a tone or style, with constant shifts from traditional holiday fare to fantasy to topical satire to family drama to slapstick to sitcom to … occasional flashes of genuine wit nod toward the premise’s possibility. 

Prism hosts Emerson (Timothy Simons) and Kit (Danielle Pinnock) are genuinely funny, especially in the revelation of the prize status. A chaotic glimpse of Walmart followed by Target is smartly perceptive. A Hannukah house tops a Matrix-themed home in outrageousness. But these sparks get lost in the boomerang of treacly messages.

The film relies mostly on Murphy and Ross’s chemistry, along with some nice effects. The children play as many shades as possible within the limitations of the writing. Bell seems lost as Pepper, not finding the fun in her villain. “What’s Christmas without a little terror?” stated as the true meaning of the holiday seems unsure. Her joke about “human-splaining Christmas” falls flat. One wishes she was allowed to let loose rather than play Pepper like a Saturday morning children’s show baddy. Redd is hilarious as Lamplighter Gary, landing some of the biggest laughs. David Alan Grier smartly assays his contemporary Santa with just the right amount of wink.

A track meet dealing with “The Ten Lords a Leaping” and a quick debate about Die Hard as a Christmas movie furnish nice moments. (Though the “Maids a Milking” has an uncomfortable horror movie edge.) And the payoff of the “Five Golden Rings” contains genuine heart. 

Ultimately, the biggest problem is the sluggish pacing. Additionally, the film would have benefited from a shorter running time. Eighty minutes of break-neck whimsy would have played better than the nearly two hours of fits and starts. A mathematical loophole in Pepper’s contract adds twenty-plus minutes for a labored farcical finale. 

While benign if slightly saccharine, Candy Cane Lane is destined to be a lesser seasonal offering, an empty stocking to be packed away and forgotten.

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Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon Bonaparte in one of the expansive battle scenes of Ridley Scott’s 'Napoleon.' Photo courtesy of Apple Original Films/Columbia Pictures

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Director Ridley Scott’s career spans over four decades. His earliest films include Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Legend (1985), and Thelma and Louise (1991). Gladiator (2000) garnered twelve Oscar nominations, winning five, including Best Picture. Scott received three nominations for Best Director: Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down (2001). Additional nominations include three British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA), four Golden Globe Awards for Best Director, and two Primetime Emmy Awards. So … shame on you, Mr. Scott.

His latest contribution to the world of overstuffed, overlong, and overdone cinema is the one-hundred-and-fifty-seven-minute Napoleon, a biopic of staggering boredom. Passionless and plodding, the film’s sole strengths are in its excellent visuals, with brutal (albeit seemingly repetitive) battles. 

A scene from Ridley Scott’s ‘Napoleon.’ Photo courtesy of Apple Original Films/Columbia Pictures

A great deal has already surfaced about the film’s historical inaccuracies: Napoleon was not present at the execution of Marie Antoinette; he did not order his troupes to fire on the Pyramids of Giza; he never charged into battle; he never came face-to-face with the Duke of Wellington; there was no giant frozen lake at Austerlitz. But a film does not have to be a history lesson. 

Apocrypha—and even invention—can be forgivable in the name of art, insight, or entertainment. The latter cavils are two of the better moments in Napoleon. The Austerlitz confrontation is powerful but has also been seen in the film’s trailers, spoiling the most dramatic sequence. Napoleon’s meeting with Wellington aboard the HMS Bellerophon contains one of the few moments of dramatic subtext. But a handful of moments do not rescue this Waterloo.

Napoleon opens in 1793, at the height of the Reign of Terror during France’s French Revolution, and ends in 1821, with Napoleon exiled on the island of Saint Helena. Absent of pacing, the story’s twenty-eight years feel like they are playing in real-time. Scott announced he has a four-and-a-half hour cut. (Enough said.)

A scene from Ridley Scott’s ‘Napoleon.’ Photo courtesy of Apple Original Films/Columbia Pictures

Joaquin Phoenix plays Napoleon like a ventriloquist, his lips barely moving, his eyes vacant (somehow reminiscent of Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female.) Occasionally, he throws an ineffectual temper tantrum to show the emperor’s immaturity—more man-child Stanley Kowalski than a legendary conqueror. When he discovers Joséphine’s infidelity, he whines like a frustrated teenager.

If this choice is to show his humanity, it is odd: Phoenix is distinctly modern, surrounded by a company playing some semblance of period style. Ultimately, Phoenix never loses himself in the character, and the audience remains aware of the actor making methodical choices for the sake of effect rather than motivation. (He also seems to live in his bicorne hat.) Vanessa Kirby’s Joséphine de Beauharnais is not without interest. She conveys thought and depth but feels distinctly unfinished. Her mercurial shifts seemed manufactured rather than rooted in emotional struggle. The fault lies in the script and direction, not the actors’ work.

The rest of the cast barely registers. The many cabinet members and historical denizens are interchangeable figures in costumes and wigs—albeit exceptional. Even the great Rupert Everett’s Wellington struggles to find individuality. The French street rabble wave and pump their fists like an overly eager community theatre production of Les Misérables. Oddly, the horrific deaths of the horses in battle convey stronger horror than the murder of the thousands of soldiers. 

A scene from Ridley Scott’s ‘Napoleon.’ Photo courtesy of Apple Original Films/Columbia Pictures

The battles are impressive, epically staged with hundreds of extras. But they seem almost generic. The military conflicts alternate with scenes of pomp and pageantry—balls and meals and a remarkable coronation, all gloriously and beautifully designed and executed. These contrast with scenes of domestic stagnation with Napoleon and Josephine sitting next to each other, staring blankly as if locked into a period spoof of Scenes from a Marriage. Whether it is the actors or the characters, the relationship lacks spark. The sexual encounters are painfully, unintentionally comic. (Or one would hope unintentionally.) Scott’s refusal to find a tonal center results in stretches that seem like a violent episode of Blackadder. 

In the end, Napoleon is mostly style and little substance. Oppenheimer made science and math riveting. Napoleon makes extraordinary political intrigue banal. With a story of power struggles, revolution, betrayals, and world-shattering choices—including the death of millions, the result is strangely hollow. With clunky dialogue and lacking a true core, Napoleon tries—and fails—to clothe this emperor. 

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

By Rita J. Egan

PJ Cinemas patrons catching a screening of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, Trolls Band Together, Wish, The Holdovers, Napoleon, or The Marvels for the Thanksgiving weekend are in for a pleasant surprise. Just in time for the holiday movie season, the decades-long Port Jefferson Station staple has been made over for the comfort of its customers.

After two months of remodeling and temporarily closing its doors to the public, owner Phil Solomon said he opened the PJ Cinemas doors once again in October. In addition to its seven auditoriums — two downstairs and five upstairs —  being painted and getting new carpeting and aisle lights, the movie theater now has new seats that Solomon described as “delicious.”

Initially, the theater had 1,050 seats that the owner called “wonderful seats back in 1994.” Now, the venue has approximately 650 chairs in total, and while that means less regarding occupancy, the new seats have other benefits.

“By doing that, we have put in fewer but larger and more comfortable seats that rock,” he said. “There’s space in such a way that when somebody at the end of the row wants to get out, the people in the row do not have to stand up. You can just walk right by them. The seats are comfortable and supportive.”

Two months may be a long time for a business to close its doors, but Solomon has dealt with closings before as he was among the business owners who survived the mandatory COVID-19 shutdowns in New York. The period marked another time for change for the theater as the owner had new air filters and up-to-date HVAC ductwork units installed to purify the air before theaters were able to reopen in October 2020. 

Despite fewer locally privately-owned movie theaters in the area and many of those businesses struggling, Solomon said it’s important to continue upgrading PJ Cinemas and making the venue more comfortable.

“We’re hoping to keep the industry alive,” he said.

Solomon, who has owned the theater since 1982, is also optimistic about the future now that the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA actor union strikes are over.

The theater owner said he sees the grandchildren of original customers coming to his theater now, and he owes his success to keeping ticket prices low. The movie theater charges $10 for adults and $7.50 for senior citizens and children. Screenings before 6 p.m. are $7.50 for all customers.

“What we do is we keep it so that movies are still accessible to the ordinary movie going public,” he said. “So, you don’t need a large sum of money for a family or a couple to go to the movies and get some popcorn.”

PJ Cinemas is located in the Port Plaza shopping center at 1068 Route 112, Port Jefferson Station. For more information, please call 631-928-FILM or visit www.mypjcinemas.com.