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December 31, 2009 - Image 32

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2009-12-31

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Arts & Entertainment

Films In Review

The movies put a Jewish face on 2009.

Michael Fox
Special to the Jewish News

Lower-profile American independent
films shifted the momentum, led by James
Gray's moody and haunting Two Lovers
he face of Jewish movies in 2009
(starring Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth
was a matronly Bronx housewife
Paltrow). Max Mayer's Adam and Ang Lee's
dispensing wisdom in 1950s black-
Taking Woodstock also constructed their
and-white, and a flummoxed Midwest
narratives around Jewish protagonists, while
physics professor seeking late-'60s guidance an episode in the omnibus film New York, I
from one rabbi after another.
Love You showcased Natalie Portman as an
For far more moviegoers, however, a band unorthodox Orthodox bride.
of Nazi-slaughtering GIs and a gorgeous
As always, vaguely Jewish echoes could be
theater owner in Occupied Paris epitomized discerned in myriad Hollywood films, from
Jewish identity (while stretching credibility
Sandra Bullock's half-Jewish heroine in All
past the breaking point). And in a Woody
About Steve to the grumbling neurotic beasts
Allen film that also seemed to emanate from in Where the Wild Things Are. In case it had
a prior era, an irritable New York pseudo-
somehow escaped your attention, the movie
intellectual shacked up with an unsophisti-
business is very well represented with Jewish
cated and much younger "shiksa."
writers and directors from assimilated sub-
There were plenty of pic-
urban backgrounds.
tures that invoked the con-
Looking abroad, Jewish
temporary Jewish experi-
themes were at the heart of
ence, notably Judd Apatow's
several terrific foreign dramas
Funny People, the Adam
that deserve to be discovered
Sandler-Seth Rogen comedy
on DVD after hit-and-run the-
about a seriously ill movie
atrical releases. Two outstand-
star and his nudnik under-
ing French films that view
ling. But none earned the
the Holocaust — and French
affection or the wrath of the
complicity — through a con-
hit historical documentary
temporary lens, Un Secret and
Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg and
One Day You'll Understand,
the period pieces A Serious
were especially noteworthy.
Man, Inglourious Basterds
The British attitude toward
and Whatever Works.
A hit historical
its Jews isn't exactly a source
The year got off to a solid documentary from Detroit of pride, either. At least that's
start with the high-profile
native Aviva Kempner
one way to interpret the off-
release of Defiance, easily
hand Jewish identification of
overshadowing the appropriation of the
Peter Sarsgaard's seductive outsider in An
dybbuk legend for a widely panned horror
Education.
flick, The Unborn. But a few weeks later,
Israeli cinema didn't match its interna-
Milk lost the Best Picture Oscar (to Slumdog tional successes of the banner year of 2008,
Millionaire) while the stunning Israeli ani-
although the acclaimed Waltz With Bashir
mated film Waltz With Bashir was snubbed
found plenty of American admirers during
in the Foreign Language category.
its winter run. Eran Riklis' excellent Lemon

T

ews

Nate Bloom
41111 I Special to the Jewish News
Imo

I-

111:1 11

Updates
Inglourious Basterds,

Quentin Tarantino's
historical fantasy
MUM
film about Jewish
commandos wreak-
ing revenge on the
Nazis, is now out
Eric Roth
on DVD. Horror film
director Eli Roth, 37, who played one
of the commandos, recently appeared
on a special Chanukah episode of
TMZ.com with TMZ host Harvey
Levin, 58.

32

December 31 • 2009

Levin invited Roth
to play a guessing
game about which
celebrities are
Jewish and which
are not. Neither were
great players – but
Roth dropped one
Harvey Levin
interesting detail
about Austrian actor
Christoph Walz, who played the evil
Nazi SS officer in Basterds.
I previously reported that Tarantino
said in an interview that Waltz's son was
a "rabbi in Israel." I said I didn't think
that Waltz was Jewish. Roth confirmed
this – he said that Waltz "almost con-

Tree, a contemporary feminist parable of
Israeli-Palestinian relations, eluded most
moviegoers and is well worth checking
out. Shiva (Seven Days), The Beetle and
The Debt (Miramax's remake with Helen
Mirren arrives in 2010) made numerous
stops on the Jewish film-festival circuit.
A scene from the Academy Award-
On the horizon, a trio of gritty, power-
nominated Waltz with Bashir
ful Israeli dramas opens in the next few
months. But don't expect the award-win-
who died at 95, made his Broadway debut
ning Lebanon, Ajami and Zion and His
in The Diary of Anne Frank and reprised the
Brother to be cuddly crowd-pleasers.
role of Van Daan a few years later in the film
Typically, the most visible — and colorful version. Late in his career, Jacobi memorably
—Jewish characters on American screens,
played one of Armin Mueller-Stahl's broth-
big and small, are to be found in documenta- ers in Barry Levinson's Avalon.
ries. Aviva Kempner's Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg
Howard Zieff, a successful director of
led the field with outstanding ticket sales
humorous commercials who went on to
for a historical doc targeted to a niche audi-
forge a middling career in Hollywood helm-
ence. Anvil! The Story of Anvil won fervent
ing comedies such as Private Benjamin and
fans with its heart-on-the-sleeve portrait of
Hearts of the West, was 81.
two middle-aged Canadian rockers, while
The French filmmaker Claude Berri (born
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe
Claude Berel Langmann) was best known
introduced the late, uncompromising
in this country for directing Jean de Florette
defense lawyer to a new generation.
and Manon of the Spring. His touching
The impressive list of worthwhile docu-
1967 debut, The Two of Us, was based on
mentaries with a Jewish angle also included
his childhood experience of living with an
Blessed Is the Match: Hannah Senesh, At
elderly anti-Semite in the countryside dur-
Home In Utopia, Schmatta, Herb & Dorothy,
ing the Occupation.
Defamation and Four Seasons Lodge, plus the
It's a bit early to predict the key Jewish
PBS docudrama The People v. Leo Frank
figures in film in 2010, but keep an eye out
2009 was a year of loss, with the pass-
for the "star" of The Most Dangerous Man In
ing of several talented and important film
America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon
artists. Budd Schulberg, the revered screen-
Papers, a documentary that could well be
writer (Nuremberg On the Waterfront) and
in the running for an Academy Award as it
author ( What Makes Sammy Run?), died
rolls into theaters in February.
at 95. Another great writer, Larry Gelbart
Another candidate is the late poet Allen
(Tootsie, the TV series M*A*S*H), was 81.
Ginsberg, whose censorship battle in the '50s
Ron Silver won a Tony in David Mamet's
propels the fact-based drama, Howl. Rob
Speed-the-Plow on Broadway in 1988 and
Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's independent
gave a marvelously sensitive performance the film premieres next month at the Sundance
next year in Paul Mazursky's first-rate Isaac
Film Festival, alongside documentaries
Bashevis Singer adaptation Enemies, A Love
about Jack Abramoff and Joan Rivers.
Story. The splendid actor's numerous Jewish
If Jack and Joan turn out to be the defin-
roles included Professor Alan Dershowitz in
ing faces of Jewish film in 2010, we may
Reversal of Fortune and Henry Kissinger in
well find ourselves waxing nostalgic for the
the TV movie Kissinger and Nixon.
bloodthirsty Jewish soldiers of Inglourious
The beloved character actor Lou Jacobi,
Basterds. 1

verted" when he was married to an
game. I've long had a
American Jewish woman. He added
feeling that Mayer was
that Waltz knew an incredible amount
at least "part Jewish";
about Judaism and that his son is
he confirmed my feel-
studying, now, to be a rabbi in Israel.
ing in a recent Twitter
Levin, by the way, inaccurately
post that can be found
described Kate Hudson as a convert
on his official Web site.
to Judaism while playing this game.
In his "tweet," Mayer
Hudson's mother, Goldie Hawn, is the John Mayer
describes himself as
daughter of a Jewish mother and a
"half Jewish," but adds
non-Jewish father. Therefore, Hudson,
no more relevant details. However, now
who refers to herself as Jewish, is a
that the Jewish cat is out of the bag,
halachic Jew, even though only one of
reporters may ask Mayer follow-up
her grandparents was Jewish.
questions in the near future.
I suspect that by this time next year,
You can find the TMZ.com Chanukah
Levin will be including famous musi-
special at this Web address:
cian John Mayer, 32, in his Celeb Jews
http://tinyurl.com/ya9uf4d.

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