Tags Posts tagged with "Jeffrey Sanzel"

Jeffrey Sanzel

'Everything Everywhere All At Once' is the clear favorite to nab an Oscar for Best Picture at the 95th annual Academy Awards.
The Academy Awards will air live on ABC Channel 7 this Sunday at 8 p.m.

By Tim Haggerty and Jeffrey Sanzel

The 95th Academy Award contenders comprise a wealth of options. Better films provide excellent performance opportunities, so the fields are tight ones. As always, there is the potential for a great number of upsets. Who will take home the statues on March 12 at Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre remains to be seen. But here are a few thoughts.

While all the actors up for Best Actor in a Supporting Role turned in stunning performances, the clear favorite is the once-in-a-lifetime performance of Ke Huy Quan from Everything Everywhere All at Once. Quan gives a dimensional performance that mines both the humor and the day-to-day struggle of the many-faceted character. This he accomplishes with a jaw-dropping facility, finding beauty in sadness but shining in the fantastical shades of the character. While all the other nominees are first-rate, none display Quan’s multiple sides. Barry Keoghan won the BAFTA for The Banshees of Inisherin but is unlikely to bump Quan.

‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is in line to win Best International Feature Film.

Longshots for Actress in a Supporting Role are Angela Bassett (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) and Hong Chau (The Whale), both presenting excellent work but will be overshadowed by a year of showy performances that had surprising depth. Also unlikely is Kerry Condon’s stern sensibility in The Banshees. Finally, it will come down to Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu, both offering simultaneously eccentric and grounded work in industry favorite Everything Everywhere. It is a toss-up, but veteran Curtis is probably favored, receiving the award for both the film and her body of work. 

Much like Supporting Actress, Actor in a Leading Role comes down to two equally worthy possibilities. While Austin Butler gave a good performance as Elvis, the script was weak and did not provide the dimension that would put him on a fast track to winning. Bill Nighy’s Living was too subdued and reserved to receive the Academy’s highest accolade. Paul Mescal’s Aftersun was powerful, but the film did not reach a wide enough audience. 

Actor in a Leading Role comes down to Colin Farrell in Banshees and Brendan Fraser in The Whale. Given the raw, heart-breaking performance—and a range unseen in Fraser’s previous oeuvre—the Oscar is his to lose. However, the fact that it is unlike anything in his career gives him an even stronger edge. 

Ana de Armas’s Marilyn in Blonde falls into the same problematic situation as Butler. She gives a sympathetic performance in an apathetic and unnecessarily exploitative film. The controversial nomination of Andrea Riseborough (To Leslie) earned her and the film little support—most likely taking the spot from Danielle Deadwyler’s flawless mother in Till. Michelle Williams is always good, but The Fabelmans does not display any surprises. It is a shame that Cate Blanchett’s searing composer (TÁR) and Michelle Yeoh’s multi-universe laundromat owner are up against each other. These are two exceptional performances, and both actresses deserve to stand on the Dolby stage—these are career bests. While a tie would solve the problem, the never-awarded Yeoh has a slight edge over the Oscar-winner Blanchett. 

The now glutted Best Picture field includes fillers: the bloated Avatar: The Way of Water (visually stunning but overlong), the ultimate popcorn Top Gun: Maverick (an improvement over the original but still popcorn), and Elvis (clumsy and wrong-headed). Triangle of Sadness was a fascinating exercise, and Women Talking was emotionally gut-wrenching, but both played below the radar. All Quiet on the Western Front will win Best International Feature Film. The critically lauded TÁR and Banshees would have had better chances last season. In another year, Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical The Fabelmans would score the top prize. But the clear favorite is the mind-bending, startling, and outrageous Everything Everywhere All at Once.

As for Directing and Writing (Original Screenplay), the path reflects the Best Picture. In this case, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert will go home with the Oscars for their exceptional work in both categories for the historically unique Everything Everywhere. All Quiet or (possibly) Women Talking will take Writing (Adapted Screenplay). 

A few shoutouts:

Animated Feature Film should go to the glorious Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio—the third Pinocchio film of the year—but the only one of any weight (or value). The moving meditation on mental health, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, will take home Best Short Film (Animated). The quirky Christmas Day orphanage Le Pupille will most likely win Short Film (Live Action). The Whale demonstrated true artistry in the transformation of Brendan Fraser, making it the most deserving for Makeup and Hairstyling. Music (Original Score) could go to either the chilling strings of All Quiet or the bombast of Babylon. Avatar’s only hope for an award is Visual Effects, with Sound going to Top Gun: Maverick.

When all is said, 2022 will be remembered as a strong year for original stories. In a business that thrives on remakes and sequels, this year’s films are a wealth of standalone tales.

By Heidi Sutton

Fans of the classic movie The Wizard of Oz will fall in love with Theatre Three’s current children’s production, Dorothy’s Adventures in Oz. Adapted from the stories of L. Frank Baum, the show, written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Douglas J. Quattrock, features an original score, a clever script, and wonderful cast — Samantha Fierro, Danielle Pafundi, Steven Uihlein, Sean Amato, C.J. Russo, Louisa Bikowski, Stephanie Moreau, Liam Marsigliano and Kaitlyn Jehle with a special appearance by Shay Francis Feldman — who bring this magical story to life. 

Dorothy Gale, chief editor of her high school newspaper, the Baum Bugle, is busy putting the paper to bed when a fierce storm blows in and knocks her to the ground. When she wakes up, she finds herself in Munchkinland.  Her news stand has landed on the Wicked Witch of the East causing her demise, much to the delight of the Munchkins. 

When the scary Wicked Witch of the West shows up, Dorothy is protected by Glinda the Good Witch who gives her those famous ruby slippers and sends her down the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City to find the Wizard of Oz who can help her get home. Along her journey, Dorothy meets a Scarecrow who wants a brain, a Tinman who yearns for a heart, and a Lion who longs for courage. The three join her on her quest and the adventure begins.

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, all of the iconic scenes are here, from the talking apple trees, the enchanted poppies, to meeting the Wizard in the Emerald City, the flying monkeys, the Witch’s castle, the Winkies and the melting scene (what a world!). A nice touch is the flawless scene changes — each time Dorothy meets a new friend, they walk through the aisles of the theater (the yellow brick road) as the next scene is set up. The costumes by Jason Allyn are just perfect and the special effects are top notch. And did I mention there is a special surprise with four legs and a tail? 

In the end, the show reminds us to be true to our hearts and that there truly is no place like home. Don’t miss this one. Stop by the lobby on your way out for a group photo with the cast.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents Dorothy’s Adventures in Oz through March 18. Running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes with one intermission. Children’s theater continues with The Adventures of Peter Rabbit from April 5 to 29 and Cinderella from May 27 to June 17. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Julianne Mosher

For 24 years, Theatre Three’s “Festival of One-Act Plays” has been bringing new voices to the not only Port Jefferson, but to all of Long Island. 

Festival founder and director Jeffrey Sanzel told the audience on opening night that the festival, which is nearing a quarter-of-a-century next year, received 750 submissions for the 2023 season from all around the world. “I’m expecting 1,000 next year,” he said.  

And of those 750 submissions, eight were selected, directed, rehearsed and will now be performed through March 25. Of those eight, none disappoint. 

For an hour-and-a-half, the audience sits quietly, engaged, watching, listening to what the actors have to say. And the lineup is unique — as a viewer, you don’t really know what to expect coming in.

The festival starts off with “Down to the Wire,” written by Julia Everitt, a New York City-based playwright with 37 stage plays to her name. This piece shows us what goes on inside a college dormitory, when a roommate played by Danielle Pafundi is hilariously losing her mind thanks to procrastinating an assignment. And despite what you might think, the play is not about camels. 

Then comes “A Citrus Day,” by Mark Cofta, a Pennsylvania-based playwright, who sadly passed away last July. With a minimalist set of just a bus bench and a suitcase, the audience watches two strangers together unearth a dark family secret. While sad and thought-provoking, it reminds you that you just need to make lemonade when life gives us lemons. Performances by Melissa Norman and Tristan Prin are top notch.

Following the more-somber bus stop story is Leslie Dianne’s “Accepting Adina.” Father Steve Ayle and son Steven Uihlein sit side-by-side in the patriarch’s living room, packing away mementos. Together they talk about the mother, Rebecca, and how her illness and assisted living stay is impacting them both. “Accepting Adina” is a tough look at grief, but Ayle’s and Uihlein’s performances are so raw that you feel the sadness, but also the hope of the future, we all feel when a loved one is lost. Tissues are required for this one. 

The best performance of the night by far was by Phyllis March in “The Dating Pool.” The scene opens up with Phyllis, 61, standing at a diving board in a dark pool. She’s visited by her 16-year-old self (Ava Andrejko), then herself at 23 (Samantha Fierro), 36 (Brittany Lacey) and 49 (Tamralyn Dorsa), where present day 61 is reminded of her lost loves of each of those lovers impacted her in that moment. The scene ends with her four former selves encouraging her to take the plunge. “The Dating Pool,” written by Arianna Rose is a thoughtful piece, and full of laughs, that can relate to any age in the audience. 

After a brief intermission, we’re inside an airport with Keith Whalen’s “Unclaimed Baggage” — a hysterically funny look at coming back to the real world after a relaxing trip. Not only does Marvin (but shhh… don’t tell the clerk his name), played by Angelo Dibiase, have to pick up his suitcase and some medicine after a long plane ride, but he has a special encounter with Finn, played by Jason Furnari, who just wants to help. 

Another audience favorite was Larry Brenner’s hilarious supernatural dating story “First Bite.” Here we learn about Wanda’s (Brittany Lacey) past dating history — and let’s just say she has a type — while out to dinner with John (Evan Teich). The scene starts out with a normal looking couple enjoying drinks and each other’s company, until Wanda asks John her place or his? You’re going to laugh a lot, but make sure you leave your garlic at home.

And finally, Mark Loewenstern’s “The Slightly Exaggerated True Story of ‘Civic Virtue’” concludes the show with a fascinating exploration of the intersection of the public eye and the power of art. Based loosely on the famous statue and fountain that once stood in front of New York City Hall in Manhattan, we watch a fast-paced history of architect MacMonnies’ (incredibly played by Antoine Jones) thought process behind sculpting the nude man and two sirens. 

We go through nearly two centuries of the public’s opinion on it, how it moves, and have visits from some well-known elected officials including Mayor La Guardia, Anthony Weiner and Robert Moses. Not only is it a brief, inside look of a famous piece of art, but it reminds the audience how statues (no matter how sexist, racist or now-deemed inappropriate they may be) are still a part of our history. While you’ll learn from this one, you’re also going to laugh. 

Tickets are $20 for the show, plus there’s a cash bar as you walk in. Make sure you visit Theatre Three’s second stage at The Ronald F. Peierls Theatre in Port Jefferson this month for a great night out. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you might learn a fact or two about “Civic Virtue” for your next trivia night.

Theatre Three is located at 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. For more information, or to order tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Scottish actor Alan Cumming launched to prominence with the 1998 Broadway revival of Cabaret. Having first played the role at London’s Donmar Warehouse, the Sam Mendes-directed production shifted Cumming from working actor to star. He returned to his award-winning role in the 2014 revival. In the course of a three-decade career, he has amassed a huge list of acting credits: onstage (everything from Noel Coward’s Design for Living to a one-person MacBeth), screen (Titus, GoldenEye, Spy Kids), and television (The Good Wife). 

In addition, Cumming is a director, an LGBTQ+ activist, and a gifted writer. Unlike many celebrities who have found their way onto the printed page via “as told to” or ghosted autobiographies, Cumming’s first work was the novel Tommy’s Tale (2002). The book was a darkly comic and highly revealing roman a clef. He followed this with a fascinating and complicated look at his relationship with his abusive father, Not My Father’s Son (2014), directly resulting from his appearance on the genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? 

His next work, You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams: My Life in Story and Pictures (2016), presented a mediation on his life through his personal cache of photos. The book served as almost a sketch for his powerful memoir Baggage: Tales from a Fully Packed Life (2021). 

In all his works, he is forthcoming about his struggles, triumphs, doubts, and desires. Baggage is a clear-eyed, sometimes outrageous but always honest account of a career with many highs but also an equal number of challenges. He is forthcoming about his substance use, his relationships, and his struggles. 

Unflinching accounts of partying are juxtaposed with revelations about his family and those closest to him. Whenever possible, he praises his artistic collaborators. He reserves overwhelming gratitude for friends who have stood by him in dark times. He shares his joy and appreciation for meeting his husband, Grant Shaffer. (Cumming discusses the difficulties of his first marriage to actor Hilary Lyon, with whom he planned on having children.) 

Throughout the book, his wit shines through, often in gallows humor when describing particularly difficult outings (such as his work as Nightcrawler in X2). The details in his stage and screen work beautifully portray a performer’s life, recounting and dissecting everything from  auditions to closings. He offers insight into film shoots, red carpets, and press junkets. 

Cumming balances self-deprecation with a sense of accomplishment. He reveals a strong survival streak in a man who has grappled with and overcome his demons. Even his meditation and views on the term “making love” are revelatory. “The more my life has changed, the closer I have come to a place of authenticity. Although I began this book by refuting the notion of having triumphed, I do see great victory in becoming yourself.”

Cumming will appear at the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington on Feb. 24, at 7:30 p.m. The sold-out event will include a screen of the documentary My Old School. 

A scene from ‘My Old School’

The 2022 documentary deals with the Brandon Lee scandal. In 1995, authorities discovered the supposedly seventeen year-old Bearsden Academy student, Brandon Lee, was actually a thirty-year-old former student, Brian MacKinnon. The film explores the bizarre story with a combination of present-day interviews with MacKinnon’s fellow students and teachers, animated recreations, and archival footage. While MacKinnon agreed to be interviewed, he declined to appear. Instead, Alan Cumming stands in for him, lip syncing the audio of the interviews. The film premiered virtually at the 2022 Sundance Festival. 

Following the film and a discussion, Cumming will sign copies of his book, Baggage, at a reception that includes a live jazz performance by guitarist Mike Soloway and drummer Mike Leuci.

For more information, call 631-423-7610.

by -
0 318
Brendan Fraser in a scene from ''The Whale' Photo courtesy of A24

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

In 2012, Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale premiered off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. It won both the Drama Desk and the Lucille Lortel Awards for Outstanding Play. Hunter has adapted his play for the screen in a compelling film directed by Darren Aronofsky.

The film opens with Charlie, a morbidly obese college professor, teaching online from his Idaho apartment. While Charlie urges his students to write from a place of truth and honesty, he leaves his camera off so they cannot see who he really is. His friend Liz, a nurse with personal ties to Charlie’s history, urges him to go to the hospital as he is bordering on congestive heart failure. Charlie refuses, citing a lack of health insurance and the fear of incurring huge debts.

Charlie spends his days grading papers, eating, and struggling with declining health. Thomas, a missionary from the New Life Church, visits, attempting to bring him to God. Charlie’s only other outside interaction is with the Gambino’s pizza delivery man, Dan, with whom he speaks through the closed door.

Knowing that his time is limited, Charlie reaches out to his estranged daughter, Ellie. Charlie had not seen the girl since he left her and her mother, Mary, for Alan, one of his continuing ed students. 

A dysfunctional family drama ensues that touches on depression, suicide, religion, money, and homophobia. For the screenplay, Hunter hewed closely to his original work. The play was set entirely in Charlie’s living room, and Aronofsky wisely opts to keep most of the action in the dark, cluttered room, only opening up to the apartment’s additional rooms and the porch (though Charlie never goes beyond the threshold).

The film is not subtle in its storytelling and metaphors. The titular “whale” refers to Moby Dick—both Charlie and a student essay he rereads obsessively. Nevertheless, The Whale derives strength from exceptional performances from its ensemble cast. 

The connection between Liz and Charlie is central to his survival, and Hong Chau balances her love and frustration as Charlie’s only direct contact with the outside world. She frets over his health but is a not-so unwitting enabler. Sadie Sink brings multiple shades of anger and darkness to Ellie, showing her pain but also an almost sadistic need to manipulate. 

Ty Simpkins, as Thomas, avoids cliché and makes the later revelations valid and believable. Samantha Morton appears in one scene, imbuing Mary, the alcoholic ex-wife, with the right sense of hurt and damage. But, at the center of the film is Brendan Fraser as Charlie.

Fraser’s early career included Dogfight (1991), Encino Man (1992), and School Ties (1992). He is best known for The Mummy series (1999, 2001, 2008), with other movies ranging from Dudley Do-Right (1999) and Blast from the Past (1999) to Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) and No Sudden Move (2021). Certainly, none of these prepare audiences for the heartbreaking depth of this performance.

Going beyond the physical challenges, Fraser makes Charlie a complicated figure. He alternates between a resigned need to apologize—his litany of “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry …”—and a passionate desire to see the good in people (specifically, the mercenary Ellie, who may or may not warrant this faith). 

Harrowing moments include a choking fit and a pizza binge—each horrifying and gut-wrenching in its own way. But they are no more painful than Ellie’s malevolent, “I’m not spending time with you. You’re disgusting.” And his cry, “Who would want me to be a part of their life?” Even his struggle to stand and cross the room resonates with a deep hurt. Fraser never loses sight of Charlie’s humanity, creating a dimensional, unforgettable performance. 

Fraser has already won twenty awards, an equal number of additional nominations, and another dozen pending, including the Oscar for Best Actor.

However, the film has been in the crosshairs of two controversies. Fraser’s casting required him to wear nearly three hundred pounds of prosthetics. This raised questions about why a more appropriately sized actor was not selected. (Shuler Hensley, who appeared in The Whale off-Broadway, was also heavily padded for the role.)

In addition, the character itself has stoked ire in various sectors. “Some of the film’s critics believe it perpetuates tired tropes of fat people as suffering, chronically depressed and binge eating.” (Time Magazine, December 9, 2022) Appropriately, Aronofsky’s career has included a range of controversial films, including Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, Noah, and Mother!

These challenges aside, the film and its key performance are more than worthy of viewing. At its heart, The Whale asks: Can anyone save anyone? The Whale is a disturbing, extraordinary exploration that leaves the question unanswered. 

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

By Heidi Sutton

Each time I go to review a children’s show at Theatre Three I am amazed at what I witness; from the performance of an original musical, to the audience reaction, to the lessons that are learned, to meeting the cast at the end of the show. Last Saturday’s production of The House That Jack Built was no exception. 

Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Douglas J. Quattrock, the play features seven stories inspired by the Brothers Grimm and Aesop’s Fables. It originally opened in 2007 but has been revamped with a brand new score and dazzling lighting design. The end result is pure entertainment. 

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, and starring Sean Amato, Samantha Fierro, Jason Furnari, Kaitlyn Jehle, Danielle Pafundi and Steven Uihlein, the show opens where six friends are hanging out in a beach cottage on a rainy day. Bored, they decide to have some fun and after reciting the timeless nursery rhyme, The House That Jack Built, they invite the audience to visit “some special places to see some special faces.” They proceed to act out The Lion and the Mouse That Returned a Favor, The Fisherman and His Wife, The Town Mouse and Country Mouse, Henny Penny, Stubborn as a Mule, The Tortoise and the Hare and The Bremen Town Musicians. 

While all of the stories are wonderful, one of the best is The Fisherman and His Wife where the fisherman (Jason Furnari) catches a magical fish (played to the hilt by Steven Uihlein) who agrees to grant him a wish if he is released back into the ocean. After wishing for a beautiful home, his wife (Danielle Pafundi) gets greedy and sends the fisherman back to ask for a castle, to be king and then to become the Lord of the Sun and the Moon. But it all ends with one too many wishes.

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse is almost too adorable for words. The Town Mouse (Steven Uihlein with a Brooklyn accent) visits his cousin (Samantha Fierro in a Southern accent) in the country but finds it very boring. Before leaving, he invites her to visit him in the city. Shortly after arriving, the Country Mouse is bombarded with sensory overload and dangers lurking at every turn. Oh, did I mention this story is acted out entirely in rhyme? 

But the audience favorite hands down is the hilarious rendition of The Tortoise and the Hare. Bullied by the Hare (Sean Amato) “You have two speeds; slow and stop,” the Tortoise (Jason Furnari) challenges the Hare to a race. Sprinting through the theater, the Hare decides to take a nap in one of the seats. As much as they try, the audience cannot wake him and the tortoise, cheered on by the kids, meanders through the aisles and back on stage with a big grin to cross the finish line in slow motion. Great stuff.

The actors take turns narrating the stories while the remaining cast quickly changes costumes and act out the parts. A nice touch is the audience participation — helping to be waves in the ocean in A Fisherman and His Wife, and raising their index finger every time the actors say ‘I have an idea’ in The Bremen Town Musicians — which keep the young audience captivated at the edge of their seats.

Utilizing the mainstage set of The Sweet Delilah Swim Club, superb lighting design by Steven Uihlein, original rap songs arranged by Ryan Alvarado, expert piano accompaniment by Douglas J. Quattrock and the cute costumes by Jason Allyn tie everything together. 

Funny, clever , brilliant and beautifully executed, The House That Jack Built is not to be missed. Your children are guaranteed to love it.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St. Port Jefferson presents The House That Jack Built through Feb. 4. Running time is one hour and 20 minutes with one 15 minute intermission. Children’s theater continues with Dorothy’s Adventures in Oz from Feb. 22 to March 18, The Adventures of Peter Rabbit from April 5 to 29 and the classic fairytale Cinderella from May 27 to June 17. All seats are $10. To order, call 928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

by -
0 552
Tom Hanks and his furry costar Schmagel in a scene from the film. Photo by Niko Tavernise/Columbia Pictures

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove (2012) spent forty weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. First published in Swedish, the English version received almost unanimous raves. The author attributed his inspiration to a newspaper article about a man named Ove who had created a stir while purchasing tickets at an art museum. As a result, Backman created a series of blog posts: “I am a Man Called Ove.” Here, he vented about the world’s many minor aggravations. Eventually, this became the source of the book.

The novel’s Ove is a curmudgeon of the first order. A rule follower, he adheres with almost religious fervor to the letter of the law. He is also deeply mourning for his wife, who passed away six months before the story starts. Forced into retirement, he sees nothing to live for and is determined to end his life so that he may join her. However, a chance encounter with his new neighbors changes his entire course. Reluctantly, Ove becomes drawn into their day-to-day drama and becomes a hesitant but invaluable ally. This involvement shifts Ove’s view of life, and he finds new purpose, mending fences and making changes.

A Swedish film, adhering closely to the source material, was adapted and directed by Hannes Holm, and starred Rolf Lassgård as Ove. Released in 2016, the well-received film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and is now Sweden’s third-most-watched Swedish theatrical film of all time. 

In 2017, it was announced that Tom Hanks would star in an English-language remake. (He is also a co-producer, along with his wife, Rita Wilson, Fredrik Wikström Nicastro, and Gary Goetzman). The danger of the material is leaning into its sentimentality and eschewing the darker tones. 

Director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Christopher Robin) and screenwriter David Magee (Finding Neverland, Life of Pi) have marginally avoided too gooey a center. While maintaining the plot and most details, this incarnation is distinctly more emotional than the novel or the Swedish version. However, taken for itself, A Man Called Otto is a surprisingly fast-paced, heartfelt two hours and a worthwhile journey. If there are moments that might feel saccharine, the end is both rewarding and cathartic.

The story revolves around Otto, first seen buying five feet of rope sold by the yard. He argues that he does not want to pay the additional thirty-three cents. Even though planning on using the rope to end his life—and clearly, the change would not make a difference to his future—he obsesses on principle. The scene establishes the man and his views.

Each day, Otto makes his morning rounds of the community. Neighbors attempt to engage him, but he responds, “I have too many things to do.” (This mantra will eventually shift from the negative to the positive.) While Backman’s Ove is taciturn, Hanks’ Otto borders on chatterbox, with a running commentary muttered under his breath. Occasionally, his vocalizations conjure an irate Mr. Bean. 

A few changes bring the film into the present: A gay character is now transgender. Social media becomes a force for good. But, overall, the throughline remains the same. 

The major narrative shift is in the use of flashbacks of Otto’s life. The book and earlier film reveal Ove’s history as a series of bad breaks, hard work, and patience. Important is his particular hate for the bureaucratic “men in the white shirts” responsible for many of the worst events in his life. In Otto, the flashbacks are used almost exclusively for his courtship, marriage, and life with Sonya (Rachel Keller). This obscures much of the causality in the story that showed Sonya bringing him out of his misfortunes. (Tom Hanks’ son Truman plays the young Otto, but his work fails to link the two Ottos.) Ove is a man marinated in sourness. Conversely, one suspects Otto is a false Grinch, masking his too-large heart.

Of course, the film’s purpose is Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks is the great American Everyman, so his Otto becomes not a scarred survivor but a reflection of what anyone would become from this loss. Like Jimmy Stewart, Hanks is unique because he manages to be all of us but wholly himself. Different from Backman’s Ove, Hanks makes Otto his own. 

There is a wonderful eclectic nature to the neighborhood residents. In particular, Mariana Treviño brings humor and grounding to Marisol, the new neighbor. In addition, Treviño offers a warm but knowing presence, suspecting that there is more going on with Otto than he shows. 

The interactions between Treviño and Hanks are the highlights of the film. (Christiana Montoya and Alessandra Perez deserve special mention for playing her children with an energy that is neither precocious nor shrill.)

In the end, A Man Called Otto is a different, if gentler, take on a touching, tender, and uplifting tale. 

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

Photo by David Ackerman

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Maybe it sounds like I’m tooting our horn too much, but I have to say how proud I am of the columnists who write for our papers and website. They are clearly bright and offer the reader information and knowledge that aren’t usually found even in a big metro daily or a glossy magazine. They are, collectively and individually, one of the main reasons our hometown newspapers have managed to survive while so many of our colleagues, 25% of them in the nation, have had to shut their doors.

Readers want to learn from our regular columnists, who, by the way, are local residents. That’s not surprising, though, because the population we serve is exceptional, accomplished in their own right, and can be expected to harbor such talent. Let me explain.

The columnists are found in the second section of the newspaper, called Arts & Lifestyles. In the interest of full disclosure and without false modesty, I point out and salute my youngest son, Dr. David Dunaief. He is a physician totally committed to helping his patients, and the high regard is returned by them in equal measure, as testimonials about him confirm. In addition, he writes every week about current medical problems and brings readers up to date with the latest research and thinking regarding common ailments. I know him to be a voracious reader of medical journals and he footnotes his sources of expertise at the end of every “Medical Compass” column. 

Dr. Matthew Kearns is a longtime popular veterinarian who writes “Ask the Vet,” keeping our beloved pets healthy. Michael E. Russell is a successful, retired financial professional who cannot cut the cord with Wall Street, and  shares his thoughts on the economy and suggesting current buys on the stock market. He will also throw in something irreverent, or even askance, to keep you tuned in. 

Also writing knowledgeably on the contemporary scene about finance and the economy is Michael Christodoulou, who is also an active financial advisor. Ever try to read your auto insurance policies? If I had trouble falling asleep, they would knock me out by the second paragraph. Enter A. Craig Purcell, a partner in a long-established local law firm, who is attempting to explain auto insurance coverage, a merciful endeavor, with his column. His words do not put me to sleep. Shannon Malone will alternate the writing for us. Michael Ardolino, a well-known realtor, somehow manages to make both ends of a real estate transaction, for buyers and sellers, sound promising at this time. 

Our lead movie and book reviewer is the highly talented Jeffrey Sanzel. In addition to being a terrific actor, he is a gifted writer and almost always feels the same way about what he is reviewing as I do. No wonder I think he is brilliant.  Father Frank has been writing for the papers for many years and always with great integrity and compassion. 

John Turner, famous naturalist and noted author and lecturer, keeps us apprised of challenges to nature. This is a niche for all residents near the shorelines of Long Island. He also writes “Living Lightly,” about being a responsible earth dweller. Bob Lipinski is the wine connoisseur who travels the world and keeps us aware of best wines and cheeses.

Lisa Scott and Nancy Marr of the Suffolk County League of Women Voters, keep us informed about upcoming elections, new laws and important propositions. Elder law attorney Nancy Burner tells us about Medicare, estate planning, wills gifting, trustees, trusts and other critical issues as we age.

The last columnist I will mention is Daniel Dunaief, who, like bookends for my salute, is also my son. Among several other articles, he writes “The Power of Three,” explaining some of the research that is performed at Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Labs and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He makes a deep dive into the science in such a way that layman readers can understand what is happening in the labs. He has been paid the ultimate compliment by the scientists for a journalist: they pick up the phone and willingly talk to him, unafraid that he will get the story wrong or misquote them. In fact, he has been told a rewarding number of times by the researchers that his questions for the articles have helped them further direct their work.

When my sons began writing for TBR News Media, a few readers accused me of nepotism. I haven’t heard that charge now in years.

P.S. Of course, we can’t forget Beverly C. Tyler and Kenneth Brady, stellar historians both.

by -
0 445
Trinity Bliss, as Tuk, in a scene from Avatar: The Way of Water. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Released in 2009, Avatar took in over $2.9 billion, making it the highest-grossing film of all time. The brainchild of James Cameron, who wrote, directed, and produced, Avatar received nine Academy Award nominations and won three: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Visual Effects. It won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture and Best Director, and garnered other major awards and nominations.

Over a decade later, Avatar: The Way of Water arrives in theaters with many of the same strengths: exceptional visual artistry, extraordinary special effects, and thrilling action sequences. This time, Cameron collaborated with Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver on the screenplay (with “story by” credits adding Josh Friedman and Shane Salerno). 

Avatar: The Way of Water, a spectacle of the first order, is many things. It is also too long. Whether by twenty minutes or an hour and twenty minutes, this epic desperately sags in the middle. The original Avatar is a long film that runs two hours and forty-two minutes. Avatar: The Way of Water clocks in at three hours and twelve minutes. Is this too much of a good thing or just too much? The reality is that it is an unnecessarily extended three hours. That said, for the pure beauty of vision, it lands in the win column.

Much of the film plays like a reboot of Avatar, except this time underwater. As a result, it plays the assumption of an audience familiar if not fully aware of the background. (To a certain extent, the history is referenced and recapped in the first thirty minutes.) 

The story picks up fifteen years following the end of the first film. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is now chief of the Pandora tribe Omaticaya, raising a family with his wife, Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña). They have two sons, Neteyam (Jamie Flatters) and Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), daughter Tuk (Trinity Bliss), and adopted daughter Kiri. The latter was born from Grace Augustine’s (Sigourney Weaver) inert avatar. Added to the family mix is a human boy, Spider (Jack Champion), who is the son of Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang).

The Resources Development Administration (RDA) has returned to Pandora to pave the way for human colonization for a dying Earth. Na’vi avatars have been implanted with the minds and memories of deceased soldiers, with Quaritch ruthlessly leading the group. After Sully leads an attack on the RDA, Quaritch captures Jake’s children. Sully and Neytiri rescue them, but Quaritch realizes that Spider is his son and draws him in to help with his knowledge and navigation of the Na’vi. 

Meanwhile, Sully and his family flee the Omaticaya forest and hide with the Metkayina, a clan spiritually connected to the sea. While initially rejected by the Metkayina, the family eventually integrates. After a series of adventures and clashes, the film builds to a staggering thirty-plus-minute climax of jaw-dropping action. 

Thematically, like its predecessor, Avatar: The Way of Water addresses larger issues. While not approached with any subtlety, the concept of wanton plundering of natural resources and the callous destruction of an indigenous people play clearly. 

Likewise, the unwelcome and unwanted outside force annihilates for commercial gain. Embodied by the RDA’s almost carelessly sadistic General Ardmore (Edie Falco), the military destroys everything in its path. Whether devastating wildlife or destroying homes, the overwhelming and relentless insensitivity is always at the center.

The acting is fine—neither terrible nor remarkable. While the Na’vi are CGI-ed, the characters relate a range of expressions matching the vocalized emotions, allowing the viewer to believe them to be as real as their human counterparts. In addition, the meticulous detail accomplishes more than just ciphers but individuals with drive, humor, fears, and desires. 

Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) with Payakan. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios

The filmmakers have done miraculous work in the creation of sea creatures. Particularly wonderful is Payakan, who rescues one of Sully’s children. Payakan is a Tulkun, an intelligent aquatic mammal (resembling a whale). The creators have embodied this creature with a reality that makes it noble and sympathetic. Again, the film’s strength is in imaginative world-building.

At its heart, Avatar: The Way of Water wants to celebrate family and community and the ends to which we go to protect those we love. The story strives for honesty and integrity, enhanced by astonishing visuals. And while the running time is excessive (and perhaps off-putting), the final film is still a work of art. And if not great art, the film is spectacular craft. 

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

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

I love you, come for dinner! Isn’t that invitation we all want to hear? It promises an evening of good food, warm conversations, and the chance to share our lives with family and close friends.” The wonderful Ina Garten, best known as The Barefoot Contessa, opens her excellent new cookbook, Go-To Dinners (Penguin Random House/Clarkson Potter), with this call to celebration. Leading with community, she addresses the power of connection that meals bring. 

Garten’s most accessible work to date, the book offers seventy-eight detailed and plainly articulated recipes: “Make ahead, freeze ahead, prep ahead, easy, assembled.”

Go-To Dinners is just that. As with Modern Comfort Food, Garten acknowledges the desire for ease in challenging times. Specifically, she embraces the need for the occasional modest approach. “When I planned a party before the pandemic, it was always a multicourse extravaganza. But then the pandemic happened and everything seemed like so much work. I started making simple dinners for [my husband] Jeffrey and me. I often made a lighter, easier, all-in-one dinner.” 

In addition, the experiences of the last two years changed her point of view on leftovers — something she had previously disliked — repurposing one dinner into the next. “… I tried to think of new ways to be creative with what I had on hand. It became like a game to see how many different meals I could get out of the dinners I was cooking!” Throughout, she even suggests various “two-fers” (such as putting the leftover Mussels with Saffron Cream into the One-Pot Oven Risotto). 

English Cream Scones

She smartly breaks the book into six sections: drinks and apps; breakfast for dinner; light dinners (the largest chapter); family dinners; vegetables and sides; and desserts. Nothing seems overly complicated, and the directions, as always, are clear. “And just because a recipe is easy to make, it shouldn’t skimp on flavor or style.” 

There are one-pot meals (as mentioned above) and others that take fewer than a quarter of an hour to cook. Some are supplemented with store-bought items, such as a pie crust that works better for a particular recipe. In addition, she has suggestions for boards made of purchased food (shown in inviting arrangements).

Garten proposes clever insights. The trick to pulling off cocktails is to prepare them ahead of time in a large pitcher; this provides more time with guests. Often, she updates classics (as with Creamy Hummus and Easy Oysters Rockefeller). Breakfast for dinner is the perfect answer to the love for breakfast food but acknowledging that mornings present time constraints. From the relatively simple Overnight Irish Oatmeal to the more demanding English Cream Scones, there is something for every level of cook. 

Eggs in Purgatory

Garten writes with ease and frankness. She is self-revelatory that she did not grow up loving family meals, which were grim, anxious affairs. Her passion for parties and dinners came later. Now, dinnertime marks the welcome end of the day, a time to relax and engage, an opportunity to be home. She draws on a skiing metaphor, encouraging risk-taking. “… avoiding failure means we miss out on the thrill of accomplishing something new”— whether on the slopes or in the kitchen. She also is not lacking in a sense of humor: witness the aptly named Eggs in Purgatory, with the eggs floating in a red sauce. 

Of course, the proof is in the eating. My good friend, Doug, kindly made the Lemon Linguine with Zucchini and Basil, a highly recommended dish. He reported that the dish came together easily. His plans include tackling the Oven-Roasted Southern Shrimp Boil; the Summer Skillet with Clams, Sausage, and Corn;  and the Creamy Chicken Thighs with Lemon and Thyme. He also has his eye on Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Fennel, Parmesan Polenta; and Panettone Bread Pudding.

Enhancing Go-To Dinners are dozens of vivid and elegant photos from the sure and artistic eye of Quentin Bacon (who also provided the visuals for Modern Comfort Food). 

“Restaurant food is wonderful but there is something soul-satisfying about making and eating a real home-cooked dinner right at your own kitchen table.” Ultimately, Ina Garten’s Go-To Dinners is an exploration of stress-free cooking with dozens of creative, tasty options to be easily prepared, shared, and enjoyed.

Go-To Dinners is available at www.penguinrandomhouse.com, www.amazon.com and www.barnesand noble.com.