Jews in the News: Elizabeth Banks, Josh Radnor and Natalie Portman

At the Movies: Opens Friday, May 15

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is the fourth in the series of “Mad Max” films and the first in 30 years. After a series of worldwide apocalyptic disasters, Mad Max (Tom Hardy) meets Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a woman trying to cross a huge desert. With her are five former female captives, called the Five Wives, of a real bad guy with a bloodthirsty gang. First, Max helps them and then when Max is captured, he depends on Furiousa and the Five Wives to help him escape. ZOE KRAVITZ, 26, plays “Toast the Knowing,” one of the Five Wives. In a recent interview, Kravitz described her character as the “toughest of the five.”  By the way, Kravitz, along with her mother, actress LISA BONET, 47, appeared in “People” magazine’s recent “most beautiful” issue.


“Pitch Perfect 2” is a sequel to “Pitch Perfect,” a 2012 musical comedy flick about a college female a cappella group that became a sleeper hit. The sequel marks the directorial debut of ELIZABETH BANKS, 41, who co-produced the original (and the sequel), with her husband, MAX HANDELMAN, 42. Banks also acted in the original, playing a reporter who comments on the singing competitions, and she reprises that role. The sequel finds the same college group, the Barden Bellas, in a worldwide singing competition. SKYLAR ASTIN, 27 (born Sylar Astin Lipstein), co-stars again as Jesse, who sings in the college’s male group and is romantically involved with Beca (Anna Kendrick), a member of the Bellas. Also seen in a big part is BEN PLATT, 21, as Benji Applebaum, a comic scene stealer who is Jesse’s roommate and also a singer. (Both guys have top Broadway credits. Last fall, Platt, whose father, MARC, is a prominent entertainment producer, did a one-man cabaret show in New York in which he sang, and--- his words, told “tales about my big Jewish family”).

Joining the cast for the first time is HAILEE STEINFELD, 18, as Emily Junk, a new Bella member. I knew she could act (she got an Oscar nomination for “True Grit”), but I didn’t know she could sing, too.

A Jewish Pharaoh? Well, sort of.

Last year, I had the pleasure of interviewing ART SHERMAN, now 78, the trainer of thoroughbred California Chrome, who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the first two races in the Triple Crown. The favorite in this year’s Preakness is the winner of the 2015 Kentucky Derby, American Pharoah (stories vary about the mis-spelling of “Pharaoh”).  The Derby TV coverage frequently mentioned that the horse’s owner, AHMED ZAYAT, 52, was Egyptian born. Not mentioned was the fact that Zayat is an Egyptian-born Jew.

Zayat came to the USA in 1980. While residing in America, he owned a big Egyptian beverage company, which he sold for millions to Heineken (he retains interests in other industrial companies). A father of four, Hayat resides in Teaneck, New Jersey and he is a major donor to a local Jewish school. A “Daily Racing Form”  2011 profile says,” [Zayat] “is so observant that during Passover, for instance, there were days he would not return calls, owing to religious custom.” By the way, some recent profiles mention that Zayat's stable declared bankruptcy in 2010 and there were allegations from a bank, a major creditor, that Zayat was gambling while going into debt. I haven’t seen these same profiles also note that the bankruptcy court later cleared Zayat of wrongdoing and that he has since paid all his creditors 100% of what they were owed. (Preakness coverage airs on NBC on Saturday, May 16, starting at 1:30PM).

Coming Up

JOSH RADNOR, 40, the star of “How I Met Your Mother,” returns to TV in winter, 2016, as the star of the PBS original, six-part drama series, “Mercy Street”. The series is set in a Union army hospital during the Civil War and Radnor plays a civilian who is a contract army surgeon. The ‘kicker’ is that the doctor comes from a slave-owning family.

On May 18, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” a film from the AMOS OZ novel of the same name, will be shown at the Cannes Film Festival. It is the directorial debut of NATALIE PORTMAN, 33. The May 6 on-line edition of “The Hollywood Reporter” contains a great interview with the very articulate Portman that should be read and not summarized beyond the Reporter’s own lead-in: “Portman Sounds Off on Israel, Netanyahu, French Anti-Semitism and the ‘False Idol’ of Oscar."


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