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American Dream

A scene from Minari. Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

In the opening shot of director-writer Lee Isaac Chung’s engrossing Minari, the Yi family arrives at the Arkansas land that the father Jacob (an extraordinary Steven Yeun) purchased. Jacob drives the truck with the family’s possessions. His wife, Monica (Han Ye-ri, simultaneously heartbreaking and a pillar of strength), follows in their car. A small crack in the windshield is almost indiscernible. But this fissure reflects the slow fracturing of the couple’s relationship.

Minari is a thoughtful film, both delicate and tense. And while the story is intimate, it is not small. It deals with the clash of family responsibility and the desire to follow a dream. 

A scene from the film

Initially, Chung wanted to adapt Willa Cather’s My Antonia, but he discovered the late author’s wishes blocked any screen adaptations. Still wanting to create a tale of rural life, he turned inwards and created a semi-autobiographical work inspired by his upbringing. He begins with a list of eighty childhood memories and guidance from Cather’s words: “Life began for me, when I ceased to admire and began to remember.” From this unusual start, Chung fashioned the wholly personal screenplay for Minari.

Jacob Yi has brought his family from California to Arkansas to start a farm — his own “Garden of Eden.” It is 1983, and 30,000 Korean immigrants were entering the United States annually. Jacob plans to grow Korean produce for sale to stores in Dallas. The Yis take-up residence in a single-wide, fourteen-foot trailer on the plot, and Jacob begins to farm. Monica’s stoicism cracks with their change in life: “It just gets worse and worse.”

In the meantime, Jacob and Monica continue the work they had done in California, sexing chickens in a hatchery. To watch their two children, they bring Monica’s mother, Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung, brilliantly eschewing any caricature of a grandmother), over from Korea.

While the family has come for a new start, the marriage shows signs of deep trouble. There are disagreements about where to live and how to spend their money; they don’t fully agree on dealing with their son’s heart murmur. They live in a cold distance, with anger always brewing under the brittle surface. Moments of affection are severed by the movement of a hand, the turning of a head, or the shrugging of a shoulder. The children’s stress reflects their parents’ inability to communicate. Soon-ja observes, “You two will fight over anything.” The daughter, Anne (Noel Kate Cho, mature beyond her years), is more parent than child, running interference and caring for her younger brother, David (Alan Kim, real, honest, and very funny).

Two pieces become central to the story. The first is water, the essential element of farming. Its importance in its presence and absence threads through the entire film. The need for water comes full circle, almost as a washing away of mistakes that have come before. The water allows for a fresh beginning.

The second is the connection between David and his grandmother. Forced to share a room, he dislikes her for not being what his idea of a grandparent should be. His concept is the cookie-baking, non-swearing elder of American media. But from her, he draws strength and begins to leave the fear of illness behind. The bond is a real one; there is nothing precious or sentimental. The grandmother takes him to plant the titular minari (a sort of wild celery). For her, minari represents all that is wonderful: it protects and heals; it grows wild and yet nurtures. It is perhaps not the subtlest part of the film, but it perfectly defines the grandmother-grandson link.

Elements of Korean culture — in food, discipline, and family — are carefully woven into the film, present without being “presented.” There is a yearning for their homeland but also the shadow of the Korean War. The parents predominantly speak Korean to each other and the children. The children respond in kind. However, between them, Anne and David speak English. Language is both communication and barrier, constantly floating and shifting. American culture appears in some of the most unlikely places. The obsession with Mountain Dew is both amusing and telling.

A scene from ‘Minari’

The film lives in the beats and the silences. Whether it is a shot of the idyllic verdant landscape or the dark, cramped trailer, life unfolds. While beautifully cinematic, there is no artifice. In an unusual and exquisite performance, Will Patton plays Paul, a Korean War veteran who works side-by-side with Jacob. Paul, who is a bit of a religious fanatic, chatters and blesses. But he is kind, and, even in his eccentricity, Paul is grounded in the established world. 

When the family attends church, the citizens of the nearby town welcome them. They are not a hillbilly send-up, with a reception that is kind if a bit awkward. While Monica was the motivating force to attend, she decides not to return but sends the children each week. The Yis face curiosity, subjected to the occasional peculiar question or comment. But they are not ostracized or mistreated. Chung offers human beings and not archetypes. 

Discussions about religion and heaven, many of them directed towards David, swirl about the characters. But in the end, Minari is about a different kind of belief. With its flawless cast and sensitive writing and direction, the film illustrates the ability to overcoming obstacles. It shows faith in self, growth, and the love of family. In short, Minari is about life.

Rated PG-13, Minari is now streaming on Amazon Video

Photos courtesy of A24

 

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

America was reluctant to enter both World Wars and yet we won them both, at a tremendous cost to previous generations.

Today, as we continue to battle through the coronavirus, I’d like to think we will persevere. We don’t need political spin. We have plenty of that from both sides.

We need a sense of optimism, of shared purpose and of a keen belief that we will prevail through hard work and a readiness to innovate and adapt. We see so many horrific headlines about the number of people who test positive and who are threatening the capacity of health care systems in Florida and Texas, among others.

Even as we do everything we can to protect our health and the safety of our friends and family, we need to believe in ourselves and in our ability to work together. Defeating the virus takes more than ignoring it or claiming victory for political expediency.

Whoever wins this presidential election in this incredibly challenging year will have enormous work to do. 

Even a vaccine that is tested and produced in mass quantities by the early part of next year, which seems spectacularly optimistic but is still possible, doesn’t automatically put us back on the path to the world of 2019.

After all, the flu vaccine doesn’t eradicate the illness. It comes back with a vengeance some years. Some people who receive the shot still get sick, oftentimes with less severe symptoms.

We need to recognize that the world has changed. We’ve had time to process it and to adjust, even if we’re sick of the new rules. We need to use all the space we have to turn what seems like a nuisance and an inconvenience into a modern triumph.

The country can and should rethink everything from ways to attend sporting events to the specific needs of the home office. Maybe sports stadiums should remove seats, put picnic tables in front of patrons and make the game-time experience for fans look different because, for the foreseeable future, it will be.

Yes, I know, that will cost an incredible amount of money, but it would also give patrons a chance to enjoy their own space, instead of hoping for a time machine that brings us back to an era when we gave strangers a high five when our team scored.

Maybe waiters and waitresses can provide virtual personalized service, connecting through online services that deliver, via conveyor belt beneath those tables, contactless food to guests.

We need to renovate our homes to enjoy the new reality. Maybe we need virtual artwork we can add to our walls, that helps expand our small rooms and that changes at the flick of a switch. Maybe we also can figure out ways to create virtual assembly lines, where workers provide their part of a mechanized process from a distance, in a basement, workspace, or outside in their enclosed yards. It may not be as efficient, because someone might have to transport those parts, but those driving opportunities also create jobs for people who become a part of a new, virtual factory.

We may want to go back to the way things were, but we need to recognize the realities, and the opportunities, that come from moving forward. Moving on will require us to develop new ideas, create new jobs, and believe in ourselves. We have survived and thrived through challenges before, by pulling together, by innovating, and by tapping into the combination of ingenuity and hard work. People are prepared to put in the effort to earn their own version of the American Dream. We need innovations, new businesses, and inspirations that reignite the economy, while protecting our health.

Hugo Fitz and his barista, Vito, at Nautilus Roasting's pop-up shop inside Carl's Candies. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Coffee lovers may find themselves intrigued by a sidewalk sign promising Japanese iced coffee is available inside Carl’s Candies.

Nautilus Roasting Co. owner Hugo Fitz has launched a seasonal pop-up coffee shop off Northport’s Main Street that will offer a variety of hot and iced coffee drinks for sale through Sept. 30. For Fitz, he said he hopes the stand is a first step toward fulfilling a dream.

It’s been at least 12 years of me talking about how I’d love to open up a coffee shop one day.”

— Hugo Fitz

“I have a passion for coffee,” he said. “It’s been at least 12 years of me talking about how I’d love to open up a coffee shop one day.”

A Huntington Station resident, Fitz, 39, has spent the last 13 years working for a New York City advertising agency. Facing lengthy commutes into the city, coffee was not only a passion but a daily necessity.

“There’s plenty of opportunities to experience higher-end coffee when you work in the city,” the entrepreneur said. “There’s where I cut my teeth on being a coffee fan.”

Pourover coffee at Nautilus Roasting’s pop-up shop. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Fitz said he quickly became a hobbyist who “dove down the wormhole” in learning what went into a cup of java starting with four different methods of processing the beans, the hundred or more methods of brewing from standard drip and iced coffee to Japanese iced brew. This Japanese iced brew method at Nautilus uses hot water and a traditional drip to brew the coffee, but then drops onto ice “flash freezing” it to preserve each batch’s unique flavors.

“I have a master’s degree worth of knowledge in coffee, and yet, there’s still so much more I don’t know,” he said. “I think to evangelize good coffee to people, this is a great opportunity.”

Fitz said he wants to help bring “third-wave” coffee, a movement to create high-quality artisanal coffee that’s sourced from individual farmers or locally roasted, out to Long Island. While it’s prevalent in New York City, he claims to know only a handful of shops that offer it locally.

In 2017, the entrepreneur founded Huntington-based Nautilus Roasting Co. and began searching for a storefront. After four failed attempts at negotiating a commercial lease, Fitz said he decided just to focus on what he loved — making a great cup of joe. The entrepreneur began renting time on a Long Island City roasting machine to prepare 25 to 40 pounds of coffee beans at a time — putting him in business as a nanoroaster. His first product, the Signature blend of Columbia, Burundi, Guatemala and Sumatra coffee beans, was sold online. 

There’s a great opportunity to bring the coffee bar up on Long Island.”

— Hugo Fitz

Fitz met with Gina Nisi, owner of Carl’s Candies, looking to rent space before being offered the chance to setup a space of his own. He’s got a small coffee bar set up inside the sweet shop where customers can purchase espresso, hot coffee, hot or cold lattes, cold brew, Japanese iced brew or the potent Red Eye, a choice of hot or Japanese iced brew coffee with two espressos, made from his roasted beans through Sept. 30. Prices range from approximately $2.50 to $4 per serving.

Fitz said he feels like he’s gotten a warm reception in Northport, sometimes finding it difficult to keep growlers of cold brew and cold-brew concentrate in stock due to its popularity.

“There’s a great opportunity to bring the coffee bar up on Long Island,” Fitz said. “There’s no reason if you want great coffee to go to Brooklyn. It’s not grown there. We can make great coffee here too, and get people drinking great coffee.”

Bags of his specialty coffees are available for purchase inside the Carl’s Candies. Learn more about Nautilus Roasting at www.nautilusroasting.com.

Joe Rezvani plans to close 8 Futons after nearly three decades in the community. Photo by Alex Petroski

The furniture store on the corner of Sheep Pasture Road and Main Street in upper Port Jefferson turned its owner’s American Dream into reality, but after 26 years in business, 8 Futons is preparing to close its doors.

Joseph Rezvani, a Port Jeff resident who immigrated to the United States from Iran in the 1960s when he was 18 got his start in the futon business in 1989, back then operating out of the garage of his home, before opening his store in Port Jeff in 1992. He owns the building that houses 8 Futons and said he’s not sure yet if he’ll rent it to a new tenant or if his wife would move her nail salon to the location. He attributed his decision to close to a number of factors — a desire to spend more time with his grandchildren, a decline in business precipitated by more online and chain store options and an ever-growing number of empty storefronts in 8 Futons’ direct vicinity.

“Doing business with Joe is like doing business with your best friend. He’s interested in what I need and what I want.”

— Donna Karol

The store was known for carrying unusual, unique items like furniture and decorative pieces in specific styles, in addition to futon mattresses and frames. The business was also known for Rezvani’s willingness to find and order specific items if they weren’t in the store, helping customers replace damaged items, assisting with assembling pieces and adding a hands-on, personal sales touch from him and his staff. He told TBR News Media in a 2006 interview he always had an interest in design and started making his own frames for the futons before opening the store and offering a wider array of furniture and other home furnishing accessories.

“I have a bond with my customers — I don’t mind spending the time with them,” Rezvani said, adding that interacting regularly with his loyal customers is easily what he will miss most about his business.

Donna Karol, a Port Jeff resident shopping for a new shelfing unit on the afternoon of June 29, said she’d moved around the area several times over the years, and each time she paid Rezvani a visit to help furnish her new home.

“Doing business with Joe is like doing business with your best friend,” Karol said. “He’s interested in what I need and what I want.”

She said she first bought furniture from Rezvani 25 years ago and has even sent furniture with her kids when they went away to college over the years.

“When I saw the sign go up, I was devastated,” she said of her reaction to hearing 8 Futons was closing. “It’s the service, him personally.”

“I have a bond with my customers — I don’t mind spending the time with them.”

— Joe Rezvani

Rezvani said at times during his years uptown he felt neglected by Port Jefferson Village, though he added he appreciates the hard work Mayor Margot Garant and her team do in trying to foster a beneficial environment for businesses. The village is in the process of implementing long-planned revitalization efforts for the uptown business district, expected to get underway in the coming months.

“I understand the mayor is doing a hell of a job, but there is a little bit more that can be done,” he said. “I’ve been struggling for the last two years to stay in business. I just didn’t want to be another statistic, another empty store.”

He said he would like to see some more incentives for landlords to be able to reduce rents imposed on tenants. Rezvani said he is thinking about continuing his business without occupying the physical space on Main Street, offering customers the opportunity to buy inventory online, but only making shipping available locally in an effort to maintain his community-oriented feel.

As an immigrant, Rezvani said he’s sometimes troubled by the political rhetoric surrounding the immigration discussion.

“There’s a lot of people — the majority — that are just looking for a better opportunity, and that makes the country better,” he said. He added that he feels his desire to seek his American Dream paid off.

North Shore resident Ivan Kalina is remembered by many as a man of adventure. Photo from Yvette Panno

By Yvette Panno

Ivan Kalina, 84, of Setauket died peacefully the morning of May 27 following a brief illness.

Originally born in Kosice, Czechoslovakia, in 1932 to beloved parents Geza and Ilonka, Kalina’s life was defined by courage, strength and resilience. First as a European Jewish Holocaust survivor, later as an escaped refugee from Communism to America, his story shaped not only his life, but also the history of a generation.

During World War II, Kalina was a young child who managed to survive the Nazis’ early invasion of Czechoslovakia and the deportation of the Jews to concentration camps through the help of Christian friends and false papers.

In the final years of the war, he separated from his mother and father and went to Budapest, Hungary, to hide in an apartment with relatives just blocks from Gestapo headquarters that was bombed day and night by American, Russian and British forces.

Returning to Kosice, his was among the few Jewish families to survive.

Although his education was delayed for years by the war, as a testimony to his determination, in 1956 he graduated as the valedictorian of his medical school class from Charles University in Prague, as a pediatrician. That same year, he married his beautiful wife Vera Atlas, a histopathologist, in Kosice.

With the onslaught of Communist persecution of both Jews and democratic sympathizers, Ivan and Vera realized they could never be free in their oppressive homeland.

In 1965, they left their close families and planned a daring escape through the Yugoslavia border into Austria, until they could manage a flight to New York City with their two young children, Peter and Yvette. They came to this country with two suitcases and $200. With prison sentences awaiting them if they returned to Czechoslovakia, they dedicated themselves to making new lives. Ivan and Vera worked long hours at Bellevue Hospital and New York University while he took his medical board exams in English – his fifth fluent language.

Ivan’s favorite expression – said with characteristic humor and positive spirit – was “that’s why I came to America.”

To this country, Kalina brought with him the grit, charm and fun-loving outlook to be successful. His career spanned a private practice in pediatrics in Rocky Point as well as medical director of Little Flower Orphanage in Wading River, associate professor at Stony Brook University, and attending physician at both St. Charles Hospital and John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson.

Always athletic and tanned, he was a fiercely competitive, daily tennis player and longtime member of the Harbor Hills Country Club near his original home in Port Jefferson. A perfect day was sitting in the sun near the backyard pool reading a newspaper. A remarkable skier until the age of 70, he loved to travel and took multiple trips out to his condo in Vail, Colorado, and traveled several times a year around the world.

His love of children was no greater than that for his five grandchildren, who called him Papi and of whom he was most proud: Olivia, Mia, Sydney, Jake and Sam.

He is also survived by his children, Dr. Peter Kalina and Yvette Kalina Panno; daughter-in-law, Michelle Kalina; and long-loved partner, Carolyn Van Helden.

As he would say in Hungarian: Sok Szeretet, Servuse Tatulko.