Tags Posts tagged with "Jeffrey Sanzel"

Jeffrey Sanzel

The marquee sign outside Theatre Three on March 30. Photo by Heidi Sutton

To All of Our Friends,

On March 15, after the evening performance of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Theatre Three suspended operations, a week prior to the production’s scheduled closing. We had made the decision both in the interest of the safety of our “Joseph” company and our public.

We have now postponed our next production, “Steel Magnolias,” to the same time in 2021. We have moved our 50th anniversary celebration, originally to take place the first weekend of June, to next year on the same weekend. Our classes, children’s theater productions, and educational touring programs are all on hold. Like everyone in our community, we wait, day-to-day, to see what develops.

We want to express our deepest appreciation for those on the front line … the hundreds of medical personnel, grocery store and pharmacy workers, those in government offices … the hundreds of people who are out there every day, at great personal risk, keeping the essential pieces of our lives going. You are the heroes of these challenging times.  

Theatre Three has been a part of Long Island culture for half a century. Theater is a place where people can gather and share in the human experience, both reflected onstage and in the very act of gathering together. While we don’t know when our next act will begin, we know it will. We look forward to re-opening our doors to once again bring you the joy of live theater.

Until that time, be safe and stay well.

Jeffrey Sanzel

Executive Artistic Director

Vivian Koutrakos

Managing Director

Andrew Markowitz

Board President

Douglas J. Quattrock

Artistic Associate

 

Elisabeth Moss (Cecilia) in a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

By Jeffrey Sanzel

H.G. Wells’ 1897 science fiction novel The Invisible Man is the story of Griffin, a former doctor, who has invented chemicals that changes a body’s optics and renders the individual invisible. Whether from the process itself or the inability to reverse it, Griffin becomes unhinged and homicidal. 

Over the years, there have been various adaptations, most notably the 1933 film starring Claude Rains, which most closely followed its source. Sequels, spinoffs, and spoofs have traded on the concept with varying success.

Harriet Dyer (Emily) and Elisabeth Moss (Cecilia) in a scene from the film.

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, the current version of The Invisible Man focuses on abused wife Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), married to Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a world leader in the field of optics.  

The film opens with Cecilia narrowly escaping her violent husband and taking shelter with her sister Emily’s (Harriet Dyer) ex-husband James (Aldis Hodge), a San Francisco police detective. Two weeks later, Cecilia is informed that Adrian has committed suicide and left her a trust of five million dollars. 

Clearly, Adrian is not dead but has found a way to make himself invisible and Cecilia’s life begins to unravel. She knows this but, of course, no one will believe her. Adrian had warned her that “wherever I went, he would find me … that he would walk right up to me and I wouldn’t be able to see him … but he would leave me a sign so that I’d know he was there.”

The film is a traditional thriller, with all of the tropes, including the Kass house which is part tech laboratory, part museum, mostly glass, and all horror movie. Every movement is accented with an ominous chord; every sound — whether the flipping of a light switch or the gush of a faucet — is amplified. The camera slowly pans on vacant rooms and holds on empty corners. There are no surprises in its “surprises.”

Elisabeth Moss and Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Adrian) in a scene from the film.

But what makes the engine go is Elisabeth Moss, an always watchable actor, with just the right mix of classic Scream Queen and self-actualized modern woman. For the first twenty minutes, her character isn’t given much more to do but look around her, behind her, and over her shoulder. But somehow she endows it all with enough manic energy to make it believable. 

Like all horror movie heroines, at first Cecilia thinks she is going crazy (as do all of the people around her). When she realizes what is happening, it all falls into place and she goes on the offensive. As Adrian destroys Cecilia’s life, including framing her for murder, the stronger and more self-reliant she becomes. A life-altering revelation furthers her resolve. 

The majority of the film moves along as a psychological thriller and doesn’t resort to mild gore and special effects until well into the second half. This is a smart choice as floating objects, no matter how well executed, have a certain humor about them.

There are some nice touches that suggest Adrian’s presence: an exhaled breath in the cold night air, a dent in a chair cushion, a bloody fingerprint on a medicine bottle. These small strokes make up for many of the plot holes that are often found in horror movies. The climax is a predictable showdown but the denouement is satisfying enough.

While the film is practically a one-person vehicle, the supporting cast do the best they can. Hodge is likable as the friend. Dyer is relatable as the sister. Michael Dorman is given the unenviable task of Adrian’s sleazy jellyfish of a brother, Tom, who also served as his lawyer. Jackson-Cohen as the sociopathic Adrian barely has any screen time and is reduced to a few disembodied lines.

The Invisible Man will never be considered a great movie, and, for many, not even a good one. Even as a genre film, it doesn’t touch some of the contemporary classics like Halloween, Carrie, Get Out, The Babadook, and Let the Right One In. But for a star performance and a well-paced two hours, The Invisible Man entertains.

Rated R, The Invisible Man is now streaming online.

Winston Duke and Mark Wahlberg in a scene from the film. Photo by Daniel McFadden/Netflix

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Netflix began as a DVD rental source before it moved into streaming. Eventually, it began to produce its own material, including some exceptional films, series, and specials. These have included Beasts of No Nation, Roma, Mudbound, Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards, Stranger Things, and recently The Irishman and Marriage Story. Not everything has been this intense: Glow, Dear White People, and John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch, among many other smart, amusing offerings. It is unfortunate that Netflix now offers the disappointing action comedy Spenser Confidential. 

Spenser Confidential is loosely based on Ace Atkins’ novel Wonderland, with characters created by Robert B. Parker. Here, the responsible parties are Peter Berg (director) and Sean O’Keefe and Brian Helgeland (screenplay).

Mark Walhberg plays Boston police officer Spenser who is now being released from five years in prison for assaulting his captain (a stock villain played by Michael Gaston). While at first it seems that Spenser’s sole motivation was breaking up a domestic dispute, it is gradually revealed that there is more to it than just the captain’s mistreatment of his wife.  

On the day of Spenser’s release, the captain is murdered. The suspicion falls on a dirty cop who appears to have killed himself over it. Spenser seems to be the only one who suspects that all is not what it seems.  While all he wants to do is learn how to drive big rigs and move out to Arizona (!), he realizes that he is the only honest man in Boston and capable of seeing what no one else does. He sets out on a quest to clear the deceased officer’s disgraced memory. He teams up with his new roommate, Hawk, a gentle giant who had gone to prison for manslaughter. They are, of course, a caricature of a mismatch; while it tries, hilarity does not ensue.  

What follows is a plot that includes a host of standard tropes including a corrupt police force, white supremacists, gang violence, goons-for-hire, drug trafficking, and shady business at the soon-to-be-built casino, Wonderland. There is the obligatory “cops like doughnuts” joke and a boxing montage.  Spenser even provides lists for the camera reading “Who killed him?” and makes bold statements like, “I couldn’t let it go.” 

The tone strips its gears as it shifts between sitcom and deadly serious. A vicious dog attack is played as slapstick in this bizarre mix of real and cartoon violence. Perhaps there was an attempt to make this a common man as super hero vehicle — there are various references to Spenser as Batman — but there is no follow-through on that concept either. The jokey moments come across as precious, with glib quips often followed by an exceptionally ugly moment. It is not impossible to pull off this seemingly incongruent blend; the Dirty Harry movies did it brilliantly. Spenser Confidential doesn’t even try. It just lopes along, leaving a trail (and trial) of clichés. 

Mark Wahlberg is the star and obviously the only reason for the film being made; he appears in nearly every one of the one hundred and eleven minutes. He has a natural ease and, with a better script, he could have used his warmth to offset the character’s anger. But his Spenser (“a Boston cawp with a tempah”) seems to be a relic from television of the 70’s and his rage comes with a wink, making it all seem phony. 

As we now live in an age of complex anti-heroes — Tony Soprano, Walter White, Saul Goodman — Spenser comes across as insufferably self-righteous and squeaky clean. He is constantly spouting aphorisms about honesty and integrity and “doing the right thing.” The movie lacks subtlety and much of this can be attributed to Wahlberg’s mostly two-dimensional performance. Perhaps the character’s constant need to be liked, even when punching or being punched, is at the root of the problem. The writers failed to give Spenser any genuine emotional texture and this prevents him from engaging us.

For the most part, the supporting cast, with a few exceptions, are interchangeable.  Alan Arkin is fine if a bit low energy; he does what he usually does but there is a vague sense that he is walking through it.  

Winston Duke has a certain charm but his Hawk seems never committed to being one thing or another, floating through the story as a generic sidekick. The only thing we learn is that he likes animals; this doesn’t seem enough to flesh out a character who is basically to the second lead. 

Iliza Shlesinger is Spenser’s on-again off-again girlfriend, Cissy, a dog groomer with an attitude. She manages to make the most of what she is given, finding a few of the film’s only real laughs. Her scene with Spenser in a restaurant bathroom is particularly funny and tells us everything we need to know about their relationship.  (It should be noted that this scene, along with the violence and the language, are what would earn this an R rating.) 

Overall, the Boston accents fade in and out like the hackneyed desaturated flashbacks. At nearly two hours, it is overstuffed. Trimmed down to eighty minutes would not have solved the many problems but it would have eliminated the movie’s repetitiveness.  It is obvious from the final moments that the intention is to launch a series of films centered on Spenser and Company. Like Spenser Confidential¸ they will be for Mark Wahlberg fans only. If even them.

Spenser Confidential is now streaming on Netflix.

‘This book is a love affair with seaside eating.’ 
—  from the Foreword by Gael Greene

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Co-author Hillary Davis

Hillary Davis and Stacy Dermont have collaborated on a book that is more than just a collection of recipes. It is an engagingly written celebration of not just seasonal cooking but local sourcing. They have brought together multiple elements of Long Island and channeled them into a guide that is both entertaining and practical. The love for their home is furthered in its citing of neighborhood farms and businesses and the plethora of ingredients that they provide to make magic in the kitchen.

“Over many meals and food-oriented adventures,” writes Davis, “we came to the conclusion that we wanted to share what we love about this very special part of the world. … In the way we have chosen to live, we shop at our local farm stands and farmers’ markets for most or all of our fresh produce, as much to revel in the amazing quality and choice as to feel as if we are taking part in preserving our small-farm heritage.”  

This local-centric ideology is a passion for both writer-chefs and this clearly honest zeal continues throughout the book. Prior to each recipe there is a succinct and informative narrative piece: a personal anecdote or a slice of hyperlocal detail. Both authors pen in a homey narrative, as if they are sharing a bit of themselves as they prepare the plethora of repasts. Whether it’s a history of the ingredients or a “one time when” they enrich the entire reading experience.

In the first part of the book, there is a discussion about the importance of pairings of food to beverages. Their thesis is that they should amplify or contrast to enhance the meal. Davis and Dermont explain each and propose a local drink as complement.  Most often, there is a recommendation of a product from one of the 60 local wineries, 40 craft breweries, or one of the many distilleries or cideries. Sometimes, they simply advise an herbal tea. These details are a wonderful augmentation.

Co-author Stacy Dermont

The book proper is divided by seasons:  spring, low summer, high summer, fall and winter. Presented is a very detailed list of what is in season and when, a list that should be kept nearby throughout the year. There is even a plea for “Nothing Goes to Waste” with ideas for using remnants in making stock or composting.

Each section of the book contains small plates, salads, main courses and desserts. In the hundred recipes, there is  a nice mix of well-loved and new dishes as well as unique takes on popular favorites.

It is a tribute to the clarity of the writing that even the more complicated and challenging recipes are explained in such a way that novice cooks can accomplish them. They are given step by step with just the right amount of detail. There are also instructions on topics ranging from the roasting of garlic to the blanching of fresh bamboo shoots to the selection and cooking of clams. This is a wealth of knowledge, expertly shared. 

It would be impossible to highlight all of the wonderful choices that are on offer:  Potato Cheesecake with Caramel Crust, Kale Poppers, Blue Cheese Chicken with Strawberry Salsa, Long Island Duck Breasts with Duck Walk Vineyards Blueberry Port Sauce, BLT Macaroni Salad with Ham Crisps, So Many Tomatoes Sauce over Spaghetti Squash, Peconic Bay Scallops with Riesling Cream, Roasted Montauk Pearl Oysters, Wine Country Beef Stew, Cider-Poached Apples on a Cloud of Cider-Sweetened Ricotta … there is not just something for everyone — there is a bounty of culinary joys.

Special note should be made of the original photography by Barbara Lassen. Lassen’s keen eye brings the dishes to life in dazzling and vivid colors, further reminding us that there is a special multifaceted aesthetic involved in this entire process. 

Davis and Dermont’s The Hamptons Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes Pairing Land and Sea will make a wonderful addition to culinary libraries throughout the Island. But even more importantly, it will find its best home in kitchens for many years to come.

The cookbook is available online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon and will be in bookstores by April 7. For upcoming book signings, please visit www.thehamptonskitchen.com.

Mia Goth, left, as Harriet Smith with Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse in a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma is a sardonic comedy of manners that swirls around issues of love, marriage and social status. While perhaps not as popular as Pride and Prejudice, it has seen multiple stage, screen and television adaptations, most notably with the Emmas of Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Beckinsale and Alicia Silverstone (renamed Cher) in Clueless, which moved the action to 1990s California. While its mischievous wit is unmatchable, there is a real commentary about human nature that underlies its humor. 

Directed by Autumn de Wilde, from a screenplay by Eleanor Catton, Emma. has arrived, complete with a full-stop at the end of its title. (This is to indicate it is a “period” piece.) It is lush and rich and comical, with just a hint of a modern sensibility to separate it from its predecessors.  

Austen opens the novel with a description of her complicated heroine:

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

This tongue-in-cheek portrait sets up one of the most meddling characters in all of English literature. Following closely to the book, the film opens with Emma having just succeeded at matchmaking her governess. With a taste for this endeavor, she now sets her sites on marrying off her friend Harriet Smith, a simple girl who is easily swayed by Emma’s every suggestion. What follows is a series of courtships and broken engagements, mismatches and misunderstandings, almost all due to Emma’s destructive and misplaced interferences. Like most comedic novels of this nature, it ends happily with multiple pairings, marriage being the ultimate goal.

The film’s peripatetic beginning has an almost farcical feel. The scenes are short, clipped and over-the-top. There are a good many laughs but it takes at least 20 minutes to land for more than a few moments. Ultimately, this is an intentional device. As the film progresses, this whimsical conceit shifts to an earnestness that matches Emma’s maturity. From childishly frenetic to wisely focused, the film and its protagonist grow. The true turning point comes when an off-hand barb wounds deeply. Confronted for her behavior, she realizes that it is time to look beyond herself. It is amazing that as the film begins to breathe in its journey, it picks up momentum: It slows to go quickly.

The performances are uniformly excellent. Emma’s father, who is equally afraid of drafts as he is of being alone, is played with perfect understatement by the redoubtable Bill Nighy; with the simple raise of an eyebrow, he manages to steal every scene in which he appears. Callum Turner avoids the clichés as he finds dimension in the seemingly narcistic Frank Churchill. Chloe Pirrie as Emma’s sister and Oliver Chris as her brother-in-law are one of cinema’s most hilariously unhappy couples. Myra McFayden’s chatterbox of a Mrs. Bates reveals painful dimension in her humility. Rupert Graves as the jolly if slightly flustered Mr. Weston is matched by Gemma Whelan as his self-assured wife. Mia Goth hits the right notes of naivete as Harriet Smith, the unfortunate object of Emma’s machinations. Josh O’Connor and Tanya Reynolds are amusingly vulgar as the minister and his new bride. Amber Anderson does the best she can with the underwritten Jane Fairfax. Connor Swindells’ innocent gentleman farmer infuses his few moments with genuine sweetness.  

At the center of the film is Anya Taylor-Joy, luminous and wholly engaging as Emma. Taylor-Joy manages to be both insufferable and charming at the outset and then finds a natural and touching shift to self-awareness, ultimately embracing her adulthood. Even in stillness, there is a sense of Emma’s ever whirring brain. Johnny Flynn’s George Knightley is appropriately wry and astute, the pain in his growing love for Emma becoming the film’s center.

Christopher Blauvelt’s sumptuous cinematography has made every frame a celebration of Regency England. The film is lavish and credit must be given to the design team: Kave Quinn (production design), Alice Sutton (art direction), Stella Fox (set decoration) and, especially, Alexandra Byrne (for flawless and Oscar-bait costume design).

This Emma. is wonderfully conceived and thoroughly entertaining. It is a reminder of why Jane Austen is a cinematic favorite and why her works — and insights — are still fresh 200 years later. Rated PG.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Animalkind is subtitled “Remarkable Discoveries about Animals and Revolutionary New Ways to Show Them Compassion.” This succinctly explains this straight-forward work coauthored by Ingrid Newkirk, founder of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), and Gene Stone, who has done extensive plant-based writing.

The book is divided into two parts.  The first half deals with understanding animals as beings who “move, chat, love, and romp … and how we humans can benefit from our greater understanding of what makes animals tick.”

Co-author and animal activist Ingrid Newkirk with a friend

Section I covers a wide, diverse range of beings from the wonder of worker ants; to Rico, the extraordinary retrieving Border Collie; to “Clever Hans,” the Orlov trotter who was purported to comprehend sentences and solve math problems (but was revealed to be taking cues from his master). These and many more are analyzed alongside organisms as unusual as maze-solving slime mold:

The dog who jumps for joy when you come home. The emperor penguin guarding his child through a subzero blizzard. The dolphin smiling at us from the water. The sleeping cat’s purr of contentment. The manta ray’s intricate underwater ballets. The lark’s exquisite song. Animals delight, fascinate, and enrich human lives and thoughts every day of the year.

Newkirk and Stone carefully base their arguments in science and not solely issues of feelings and morality. Extensive research, siting multiple sources, are the foundation of their thesis. They make the distinction that we cannot compare animals’ minds and emotions to our own; anthropomorphizing is a dead-end in the understanding of animal natures. This is also true in comparing animals to other animals.

Contrary to common thought, animals — even fish — can be self-aware, and, therefore, experience pain and trauma as well as other emotions. There are detailed discussions of homing instincts and complex migrations in everything from snails to elephants. They look at the long-term effects of removing animals from their natural habitats. Quoting Darwin, animals experience “anxiety, grief, dejection, despair, joy love, ‘tender feelings,’ devotion, ill-temper, sulkiness, determination, hatred, anger, disdain, contempt, disgust, guilt, pride, helplessness, patience, surprise, astonishment, fear, horror, shame, shyness, and modesty.”

In a mix of investigation and anecdotes, the writers paint a vivid picture of a world that more than just co-exists with ours.

Section II deals with difficult issues. It focuses on how animals have been exploited for science, clothing, entertainment, and food. Part two alternates between detailed and often graphic accounts, offering a variety of proposed alternatives. Each of these ends with suggested calls to action.

The science portion gives a brutal narrative of the history of experimentation and vivisection. It discusses the problems with what few laws there are and their poor enforcement. It brings up the 3Rs of humane animal research:  replacement (substitutions); reduction (using the fewest number possible); and refinement (techniques that reduce the pain and stress). 

According to their sources, much of the testing on animals is of limited-to-no value given the dissimilarities of humans and animals. In addition, computer simulations are slowly replacing many areas of exploration: “In the future, the math may replace the mouse.” Finally, they encourage people to only use products and brands that are proven to be cruelty-free.

The ensuing sections follow much the same format:  A history of the use of animals, followed by analysis of their abuse, and finally specific changes that people can make in their lives. Everything from the pain of sheep raised for wool to the horrors found in circuses, zoos, and all forms of captivity are recounted. Even the “No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of This Film” is, at best, a half-truth, if not a lie. “Free range,” “free roaming,” and “cage-free” are often misnomers, misrepresenting the reality.  

Dunkirk and Stone also provide a brief  but informative history of the animal protection movement. This segues into the health benefits of a plant-based diet, describing the various meat, dairy, and egg alternatives and echoes the earlier proposals for clothing options that do not involve the harming or slaughter of animals.  

The book is passionate and honest in its goals; it makes its points with clarity and sincerity. Ultimately, people are reluctant to make changes they see as inconvenient and the advocacy here is large one. Whether this book creates converts to the cause remains to be seen. However, for those who do read it, it will certainly make a lasting impression. 

Animalkind is available at Book Revue in Huntington, Barnes & Noble and online through Simon & Schuster (simonandschuster.com) and Amazon. 

Harrison Ford and his digitally rendered best friend in a scene from the film.

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Published in 1903, Jack London’s novella Call of the Wild has become a classic, read by people of all ages. Set in the Yukon during the 1890s Gold Rush, it follows the adventures of Buck, a dog stolen and sold. The book shows Buck’s gradual shift from domestication to feral, a portrait of the power and influence of nature and environment. It is a vivid and brutal story of survival, with animals given human thoughts. Film adaptations began with the 1923 silent movie with notable versions in 1935 (starring Clark Gable), 1972, 1981 and 1997.

Now Chris Sanders, in his live-action debut, has directed a script by Michael Green.  Using the book’s inciting incidents and cherry-picking elements of the story, this is a gentler, friendlier and more politically correct manifestation, dropping many of the book’s violent episodes and removing the particularly anti-Native American sections.

The story begins as the book’s did. Buck, a St. Bernard/Scotch collie, lives in Santa Clara, California, with his master, Judge Miller (a nice cameo by Bradley Whitford). After being stolen and shipped north, he is sold into the service of a mail-delivering dogsled team. 

Run by two kind French Canadians (played charmingly if only slightly over the top by Omar Sy and Cara Gee), Buck finds joy and fulfillment in becoming part of the pack. He runs into trouble with the vicious pack leader, a husky named Spitz (who comes across like a ferocious Mean Girl). Buck vanquishes Spitz and takes his place. 

Buck’s growth in his new position results in several rescues, whereby he earns love, loyalty and appreciation. During his journey, he has visions of a wolf, full eyes a-blazing, evidently symbolizing his deeper connection to his ancestral roots.

When the mail route is replaced by the telegraph, Buck and his compatriots are sold to Hal (Dan Stevens practically twirling his moustache). This is the film’s most resounding false note with villains who seem to have been lifted from One Hundred and One Dalmatians.  

Buck is rescued by Jack Thornton (Harrison Ford, full on grizzle). Buck and Thornton had crossed paths earlier and now forge a deep bond. Thornton is running from his demons:  the loss of his son that led to the crumbling of his marriage and an apparent drinking problem. Buck’s companionship on a journey further north brings Thornton back to life. Harrison, who also serves as narrator, finds humor and depth throughout, and his love for his newfound friend is wholly believable.

The tone and style of this Call of the Wild harkens back to the Wonderful World of Disney of the 1970s. The sense of adventure is a wholesomeness one; its heart beat is the joys of nature with only a few and fairly minor moments of real ferocity. The film never fully embraces the question of domestication versus the savage and untamed, making the deeper animal instincts into something gently spiritual rather than instinctual.  

The main cavil is with the CGI. Buck — and all of the animals in the film, including every dog, wolf, bird, rabbit, fish and caribou — have an odd, almost cartoonish feel. It is clear that the creators have made a choice to anthropomorphize, giving the dogs in particular human-like expressions. It is a choice and one that almost works in context — certainly better than it did in the recent Lion King. And these dogs are far more honest than the humans embarrassingly cavorting in the disastrous Cats. That the dogs don’t ever fully blend into the universe is also due in part to settings that also seem primarily CGI. Often, it feels like a Yukon virtual reality ride.  

Ultimately, these complaints don’t negate the film. Call of the Wild is engaging from beginning to end. It tells its story fluidly, with a wide-eyed sincerity. It has plenty of thrills and is touching and sweet in its more pastoral scenes. And while it never truly emulates nature, the film is certainly a celebration of family entertainment. 

Rated PG, Call of the Wild is now playing in local theaters

Photos courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

 

By Heidi Sutton

When the Brothers Grimm published their Children’s and Household Tales in 1812, they probably had no idea that stories such as the cautionary Hansel and Gretel, would have such staying power. While Disney hasn’t gotten its hold on it yet, the folk tale has held its own over the years, most famously through opera (by composer Engelbert Humperdinck), and with recent revivals on the big screen (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and the even darker Gretel & Hansel). 

Now Theatre Three takes us back into the forest for a light-hearted and funny original retelling of Hansel and Gretel with a big surprise at the end that’s sure to satisfy every child’s sweet tooth. 

Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Douglas Quattrock, with a brand new score by Quattrock, it follows Hansel and Gretel who are living with their father, a woodcutter, and detached stepmother. The family is starving and the stepmother blames the children. She gives her husband an ultimatum: “Either dump them in the forest or dump them in the forest!” The children overhear and gather white rocks to guide them back home. When her plan fails, the stepmother takes the reins and leads them back into the forest. This time Hansel leaves a trail of breadcrumbs (he eats the rocks by mistake) and the children become lost. 

As Gretel goes to find a path home, Hansel is kidnapped by Scrimshaw and Harvis, henchmen working for a child-eating witch who lives in a candy house. The witch promptly gets to work fattening Hansel up with cake, cookies and donuts. When Gretel trys to rescue him, the witch puts her to work cooking and cleaning. When the witch gets too close to the oven, Gretel has a decision to make. Will she push her in or find another way to get out of this mess?

Jeffrey Sanzel directs a brilliant adult cast of six in this delightful retelling of the beloved story. While the story of Hansel and Gretel isn’t all lollipops and gumdrops — after all, there is a wicked witch who preys on children — there are no scary moments in the show and everyone learns a lesson about the importance of family.  Nicole Bianco is perfectly cast in the dual role of stepmother and witch and delivers her lines softly, albeit sarcastically (“These kids are monsters!”), and never raises her voice. Her opening solo, “Stepmother’s Lament,” is hilarious.

Michelle LaBozzetta as Gretel and Eric J. Hughes as Hansel give standout performances. LaBozzetta’s character is strong-willed, confident and brave while Hughes plays a  carefree, clueless and sweet little brother. Their duets, “Stones Along the Way” and “Hansel’s Dinner” are perfectly executed. Steven Uihlein in the unpopular role of the father who goes along with his wife’s plans, does a fine job, as always. His character’s guilt in his solo “Lost” and at the end of the show is palpable. 

Although not part of the original story, Darren Bruce Clayton and Ryan Worrell, in the role of Scrimshaw and Harvis, entertain the audience by incorporating the Charleston, ballet and hip hop in their dance numbers, “Out of Step” and “Harvis and Scrimshaw.” What a treat!

The end result is a charming and imaginative production of Hansel and Gretel that should be added on your family’s to do list. Stay for a meet and greet with the cast in the lobby after the show.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents Hansel and Gretel on March 7, 14 and 21 at 11 a.m. and March 15 at 3 p.m. with a sensory-sensitive performance on March 8 at 11 a.m. Children’s Theater continues with The Adventures of Peter Rabbit from April 8 to 25 and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves from May 23 to June 6. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

by -
0 298
Will Ferrell and Julia Louise-Dreyfus in a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

By Jeffrey Sanzel

At the outset, the most important thing to know going into this movie is that it has been mismarketed as a black comedy. It doesn’t help that the two stars of Downhill are known for their exceptional work in the world of film and television: Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are iconic comedic actors. Their reputations are not of great help in the context of this drama of a marriage in jeopardy. Yes, there are flashes of humor but they are few and appropriately dark.  The occasional attempts at traditional comedy are intrusive. There are few of these but when they appear, they are jarring.

Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, with a screenplay co-written by Faxon, Rash and Jesse Armstrong, Downhill is a remake of the 2014 Swedish comedy-drama Force Majeure.

A scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Pete and Billie Staunton (Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus) have brought their two sons (nicely understated Julian Grey and Ammon Jacob Ford) to a ski resort in the Alps. Pete is still mourning the passing of his father eight months prior; the father was a travel agent who never traveled. Clearly, Pete has inherited some of his stasis. Even before the film’s inciting event, the marriage seems frayed.

At the beginning of the vacation, while sitting in an outdoor restaurant, they are subjected to a small avalanche. Rather than protecting his children, Pete grabs his cell phone and runs. This action drives the rest of the film.  What follows is the unraveling of the marriage as Billie simmers before reaching a boiling point. In one of the stronger moments, Louis-Dreyfus recalls the experience, unleashing a torrent of anger and pain. Underneath this is the desperation of someone who no longer recognizes her partner of over two decades.

The plot is simple but Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus manage to be fully present in this couple’s emotional turmoil and are able to convey their deep inner conflicts. 

The supporting cast fares less well. Miranda Otto’s aggressive hotel hostess is an annoyingly predictable hedonist. She is a caricature, saddled with the film’s coarse jokes. It is she who sets Billie up with a sexy but understanding ski instructor (Giulio Berruti); whether he is intended to be a parody is not clear. 

Will Ferrell and Julia Louise-Dreyfus in a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Serving as a plot device are Pete’s co-worker (Zach Woods) and his girlfriend (Zoë Chao), a younger couple who are enjoying the freedom of an adventurous and unplanned journey across Europe. It is hard to judge if their initial pretentiousness is intentional or incidental. Discussions of what is “better than decent” and “live your best life” because “every day is all we have” swirl around the film. Like the title, the metaphors are obvious and heavy-handed. Much is made of isolation and the cold and “going solo.” It is all too on-the-nose.

The film works best in its silent moments.  The tension that plays between Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus is honest and brittle. It is when the film tries to explain itself that it falls down the slope. The mostly banal dialogue never approaches the subtlety of its two leads.

Sadly, the solution is rushed and more than a trifle facile. However, the film’s final moment is a the true resolution; it is smart, surprising, and resonant. It is a strong “aha” for a film that never fully finds its way.  

On a positive note, Danny Cohen’s cinematography is exquisite and he creates an atmosphere that is at once idyllic and melancholy. 

The film’s promise rested in its leads, playing against a breathtaking backdrop. If only they had been given less to say and more to do.

Rated R, Downhill is now playing in local theaters.

by -
0 351
Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell and Michael Peña in a scene from the film. Photo by Christopher Moss/Columbia Pictures

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Few who lived through the late-seventies to mid-eighties could avoid an awareness of the two cultural − and, ultimately, cult − monoliths that dominated Saturday night television: The Love Boat (nine seasons; 1977 to 1987) and Fantasy Island (seven seasons; 1977 to 1984). Both were introduced in TV movies, played on ABC, and boasted a parade of guest stars, ranging in both level of celebrity and talent.

Each episode of Fantasy Island, the darker of the pair, featured two to three separate stories. The island’s visitors all came away wiser if a bit bruised from the experience. The theme, week after week, was clearly “careful what your wish for.”

Entering the realm of iconography was the spritely Hervé Villechaize as Tattoo, and his cry of “The plane! The plane!” This was complimented by Ricardo Montalbán, suavely raising a glass with his, “My dear guests, I am Mr. Roarke, your host. Welcome to Fantasy Island.”

Portia Doubleday and Lucy Hale i a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Directed by Jeff Wadlow (with a script by Wadlow, Chris Roach and Jillian Jacobs), Fantasy Island has reached the big screen as Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island albeit a decidedly different incarnation. Blumhouse Productions gave us the cutting and insightful satire Get Out, but it also is responsible for more common fare such as Truth or Dare, Happy Death Day 2U, and others. Fantasy Island clearly falls into the latter category.

A group of disparate people believe they have won a contest and are brought to a remote island where they are each told they will received the fantasy of their choice. Gwen Olsen (Maggie Q) needs to undo what she thinks was the worst choice of her life: rejection of a marriage proposal. Former policeman Patrick Sullivan (Austin Stowell) aspires to be a soldier; his wish is wrapped up in a need to connect with his father who died saving men in his platoon. Stepbrothers and “bros” J.D. (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) want to “have it all.” Finally, Melanie Cole (Lucy Hale) desires revenge on her childhood bully (played by Portia Doubleday).

They are told at the outset by the not-so-mysterious Mr. Roarke (Michal Peña) that they must see their fantasies through to the end. The machine grinds to life.

All of this might − might − have worked had the film aimed for a modicum of subtlety. The idea of wishes always being a doubled-edged sword is not new but has great potential. Sadly, it is surprising to think that the rather kitsch television series was ultimately more sophisticated.  

From the first moments of the film, “THIS IS A HORROR MOVIE” is not so much telegraphed as it is ballistically launched. Generically ominous music, a ghoulish staff that lopes and hovers like refugees from a Halloween walk-through, and images of snakes everywhere (a nod toward the invasion of the Garden of Eden? a sale on serpent knickknacks?), there is no possibility of anything other than waiting for the limp scares. How much more interesting it would have been to let the fantasies emerge and grow before changing into nightmares. For such a dark movie, it is almost completely lacking in tension; even the jump-outs and the mild gore seem lacking in any commitment to frighten.

Instead, the movie immediately devolves into the characters running around the island, hiding and escaping and then being caught … and then hiding and escaping and then being caught. What eventually comes to the forefront is a convoluted mythology of how the island works. It is both simple and overly complicated, dampened by a lot of dripping black blood.  

It is not until late in the film that all the strands come together for a very nice “aha” moment of how the characters are actually connected. It is here that the story takes a brief up-tick with an extra twist before once again watching the characters hide and get caught and escape. For just a few clever moments, there is a glimmer of hope before it all slides back down into the mire of its own lore, winding toward a very anti-climactic dénouement. There is one humorous nod to the series in the last moments of the film but it was one of the very few shout-outs and seems a bit misplaced. 

With the move toward constant reboots, the real fear is what will come next? Joanie Loves Chachi Loves Satan? Facts of Life: Tootie’s Revenge? One can only hide in the jungle for so long.

Rated PG-13, Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island is now playing in local theaters