At the Movies: Opening Friday, Aug. 20
The new film version of “Ben-Hur” is the third major movie based on the famous 19th century novel “Ben-Hur: a Tale of the Christ”. Here’s the story: Judah Ben-Hur is an aristocratic Judean/Jew during the period of the Roman occupation. His best friend is Messala, a Roman officer. An innocent accident gets Judah falsely charged with sedition and he is sent to die rowing a Roman ship, while his mother and sister are clapped in a dungeon (where they contract leprosy). At sea, Judah rescues an important Roman and is given his freedom. He returns to Judea and confronts Messala, who did nothing to aid him or his family. Judea gets his revenge against Messala in the chariot arena. Then Jesus appears and not long before he is crucified, he takes the hate out of Judea’s heart and cures his sister and mother.
Most of the novel’s characters are Jewish, but there haven’t been many Jewish actors in the films. CARMEL MYERS, a rabbi’s daughter, was the only Jew in the 1925 silent version and she played an Egyptian vamp out to seduce poor Judah (this role did make Myers a silent movie star). The 1959 version, starring Charlton Heston as Judah, is the “gold standard”: it won 11 Oscars, including best picture and best director (WILLIAM WYLER). The chariot race scene was then state-of-the art and is still exciting. A lovely Israeli actress, HAYA HAREET, now 84, played Esther, Judah’s love interest. The late SAM JAFFE played Esther’s father. The new version has Israeli actress AYELET ZURER, 47, playing Judah’s mother. Judah’s sister is played by American actress SOFIA BLACK D’ELIA, 24. (D’Elia’s mother is Jewish and she identifies as Jewish. She grew up in Clifton).
The first two films were “easy” on Jewish filmgoers because Jesus and Christian beliefs weren’t mentioned until almost the end. Jesus was virtually a bit part. But the new version has Jesus as a major character and, you know, the implication will be that “good ancient Jews” accepted Jesus as the messiah and were rewarded with miracles. I can get that message, for free, on dozens of religious TV channels. So, I’d advise most Jews to avoid this one in theaters. But I’ll probably rent it at some point just to see how good the chariot race is.
BEN FOSTER, 35, was truly frightening as a psycho Old West criminal in “3:10 to Yuma” (2007). So, he should be great in “Hell or High Water” as a short-tempered ex-con who starts robbing banks with his straight-living brother (Chris Pine) in order to stop a bank foreclosure of their family farm. They are one heist away from the money they need when a tough Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) enters the case and decides to do anything to stop them.
“War Dogs” is based on a true story. EFRAIM DIVEROLI, now 31, and DAVID PACKOUZ, now 34, were raised Orthodox, but were always black sheep. Packouz’s father is a rabbi and Diveroli’s uncle is celebrity rabbi "SHMULEY” BOTEACH, 49. Diveroli (JONAH HILL, 34), was a teen in Miami when he got into arms trading. He had found out the Pentagon needed a lot of small arms to supply U.S.-friendly militias in Iraq and Afghanistan and he got the guns for his first small contracts in Eastern Europe (with the end of the Cold War, weapons could be bought there cheap). He brought in Packouz in 2005 and in 2007 they bid for, and got, a $300 million arms contract from the Pentagon. This huge contract required them to scour the globe and deal with some very unsavory people. Eventually, their activities got them in trouble with the law.
There’s a “very special” Olympics episode of the NBC sit-com, “Superstore,” airing on Friday, Aug. 19, at 10:30PM. Plot in-a-nutsell: a commercial promotion brings former Olympic heroes to the Walmart-style store featured in the series. This promotion shakes up the lives of the main characters, including Jonah (whose played by BEN FELDMAN, 36). A couple of real-life gold medal winners (skaters Apolo Ohno and Tara Lipinski) make cameo appearances.
The CNBC series “Cleveland Hustles” starts on Wednesday, Aug. 24, at 10PM. The premise: 8 small business owners in Cleveland try to convince four judges, including LeBron James, to invest in their stores. They get put through a series of real-life “tests” and eventually four will be funded by the judges. One is a bagel store (unclear if owners are Jewish). One judge, ALAN GLAZEN, 67, is interesting. He grew-up in a Cleveland suburb, the son of a fourth-generation carpenter. His father wanted Alan to do something white collar. Alan went to college for only one year, but landed on his feet with a good public relations job. This led to advertising and eventually he became the owner/founder of Cleveland’s biggest ad agency. A heart attack told him to stop and he went back to college and got a literature degree, with honors, at age 58. Recently, he’s been investing in local stores that interest him, including two innovative cafes.