Jews in the News: Ben Stiller, Bennett Miller and Sarah Koenig

Something for Everybody At the Movies

“Annie,” a “re-imagining” of the hit stage musical, will open on Friday, Dec. 19.  The setting is the present-day and Annie is now an African-American child living in Harlem (Quvenzhané Wallis). An African-American actor, Jamie Foxx, plays Annie’s rich mentor, Oliver Warbucks. The re-make does use most of the  original (1976) Broadway show’s songs. Those songs were penned by MARTIN CHARNIN, 80, and CHARLES STROUSE, 86. The new version features three new songs which were co-written by GREG KURSTIN, 47 (who, last year, kept up the “Jewish tradition” of writing hit XMAS songs---“Underneath the Tree” for Kelly Clarkson). 

The screenplay was written by Emma Thompson, ALINE BROSH McKENNA, 47 (“The Devil Wears Prada”), and “Annie” director WILL GLUCK, 42.  Long a TV comedy writer, Gluck broke out of this niche as the director of two “rom-com” hits: “Easy A” (2010), which made Emma Stone a star, and “Friends with Benefits” (2011), which Gluck also co-wrote. His father, PETER GLUCK, 73, is a quite famous architect, and his mother, CAROL N. GLUCK, also 73, is a Columbia Univ. history professor who has written about the Holocaust.

Opening the same day is “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb”, directed by SHAWN LEVY, 46.  Here’s part of the ‘official’ description of the third and final pic in this series: “When the magic powers of The Tablet of Ahkmenrah begin to die out, Larry Daley (BEN STILLER, 49) spans the globe, uniting his son Nicky (SKYLER GISONDO, 18), Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Jedadiah (Owen Wilson)...and a new Neanderthal named Laa (Stiller)…while embarking on an epic quest to save the magic before it is gone forever.” By the way, Gisondo’s last name comes from his paternal Italian grandfather, who wasn’t Jewish. His other grands were Jewish. Gisondo replaced JAKE CHERRY, 18, as Nicky.

“Secret” is one of Williams’ last films and it is the last movie made by the late Mickey Rooney. Nice touch: Levy personally invited Williams’ widow, Susan Schneider, to the film’s gala premiere on Dec. 12 and she accepted.

“Foxcatcher”, which opens in most cities on the 19th, closely tracks real events. In 1996, John DuPont (Steve Carrell), an heir to the DuPont fortune, shot dead DAVE SCHULTZ (Mark Ruffalo) in the driveway of a house that Schultz had lived-in on DuPont’s Pittsburgh-area estate. The murder was witnessed by Nancy, Schultz’s wife (Sienna Miller).

Schultz (1959-1996) and his younger brother, MARK SCHULTZ (Channing Tatum), both won gold medals in wrestling at the 1984 Olympics. (The brothers were the sons of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. (I am still checking if they were raised in their mother’s faith or any faith.)

DuPont, who never become the top wrestler he hoped to be, bankrolled amateur athletics and provided lavish training facilities at his estate. His amateur wrestling team was called “Team Foxcatcher” and Dave Schultz spent six years living on the estate, with his wife and children, as he coached the Foxcatcher team. The film follows the complex relationship between the Schultz brothers and the mentally unstable DuPont, who also had a drinking problem. Dave Schultz was set to leave “Team Foxcatcher” to take a coaching job at Stanford, his alma mater, when DuPont murdered him. His decision to leave DuPont’s employ may have factored in his death.

The film’s director, BENNETT MILLER, 47, won the “Palme D’Or” at the Cannes Film festival for “Foxcatcher”. His two previous films (“Capote” and “Moneyball”) were also critical and box-office hits. The “Foxcatcher” screenplay was co-written by DAN FUTTERMAN, 47, who also wrote “Capote.” Futterman is a ‘virtually retired’ actor whose roles included playing Robin Williams’ son in “Birdcage.” I spoke to Miller back in 2006, after “Capote’ got a raft of Oscar nominations. I thought of him this past year, when “Capote” star Philip Seymour Hoffman suddenly died. Futterman and Miller, childhood friends, met Hoffman at a New York State arts camp when they were all teens. “Phil”, as Miller called Hoffman, became a life-long friend and a frequent artistic collaborator of Futterman and Miller.

Koenig Heads-Up

Stephen Colbert  recently declared radio/podcast journalist SARAH KOENIG, 45, his “favorite guest”. Koenig produces and sometimes hosts the NPR show, “This American Life.” But since October, the buzz around her is her podcast show, called “Serial”. Over five million people have followed show's first season, which focuses on a (real) 1999 Baltimore murder over 12 episodes. The last episode airs on Dec.18. You can listen (for free) while on-line, or download (free) the episodes to many devices. Log on to:  Koenig’s husband, BEN SCHREIER, 44, is a professor of English and Jewish studies at Penn State.


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