A Veritable Feast of Cinematic Hebrews
Four movies with major Jewish connections open on Friday, Nov. 18. The first is “Bleed for This,” a bio-pic about real-life middleweight boxer Vinny Pazienza (played by Miles Teller). In 1991, shortly after winning a title fight, Pazienza was in a very serious car accident. He defied doctors’ predictions and orders by not only walking again, but getting in the ring to fight again. KATEY SAGAL, 62, and TED LEVINE, 59, co-star as Vinny’s mother and trainer, respectively. The movie is directed by BEN YOUNGER,44, who grew-up Orthodox, and made a splash with his first movie, “Boiler Room” (2000), His best known follow-up film, “Prime” (2005) starred Meryl Streep as a Jewish psychiatrist flustered by her young adult son’s (BRYAN GREENBERG, 38) romance with one of her patients.
HAILEE STEINFELD, 19, stars as Nadine in “Edge of Seventeen,” a coming-of-age story that is a drama, with some comedy. Nadine feels confused and alone when her best friend starts dating her brother. But the friendship of a thoughtful boy helps ease her funk. KYRA SEDWICK, 51, co-stars as Naomi’s well meaning but ineffective mother.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is based on a J.K. Rowling (“Harry Potter”) novel of the same name. The plot is pretty complicated and there are quite a few characters. The story begins in 1926. Newt Scamander (Eddie Reymayne), a wizard, has just completed a global trip documenting magical creatures. During a stop-over in New York things go very wrong and some creatures escape. A major figure in the mishap is Jacob, a non-wizard (DAN FOGLER 40).
Other Jews with big parts include EZRA MILLER, 24 (Credence Barebone) and RON PERLMAN, 66 (Gnarlack). By the way, two major film characters, the sisters Tina and Queenie Goldstein, are hinted at being Jewish in the novel. Rowling has revealed they are distantly related to Anthony Goldstein, a 1990s “Harry Potter” character who is the only explicitly Jewish wizard in the “Potter” series.
Interesting sidenote: Miller is now filming “The Flash,” in which he plays the title role. Many say this role will make him a star. A journalist reporting for the”I09” website was recently invited to see some scenes and, in one, the Batman character calls the Flash “a Jewish looking boy.” It’s unclear if this line will stay-in or if the Flash will be explicitly Jewish.
“Loving” is a dramatization of the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a Virginia couple who married (out of state) in 1958 and then were prosecuted in Virginia, a few months later, for the crime of interracial marriage. They were very ordinary working class rural people who just wanted to be left alone. Their case was taken up by the ACLU. The Lovings were represented by two young Jewish lawyers, BERNARD COHEN, now 81 (played by NICK KROLL, 38) and PHILIP HIRSCHKOP, now 79, (played by JON BASS, 30ish). Eventually, the Supreme Court took the case and their ruling in “Loving v. Virginia (1967), struck down all state laws barring inter-racial marriage.
The “Loving” filmmakers acknowledged they drew from “The Loving Story,” a great 2012 HBO documentary. Director NANCY BUIRSKI, 71, deftly utilized a lot of news film shot in the mid-‘60s for an “as it happened” look at the couple and their “super-mensch” lawyers. There are archive and recent interviews with the lawyers. HBO has moved it “first spot” on their documentary list because of the new film.
You have until Nov. 25th to see, for free, the 2015 PBS “American Masters” documentary about the life of NORMAN LEAR, now 94 (“Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You”). It’s a very good, if not great look at the TV pioneer who created “All in the Family” and other groundbreaking shows. It’s free, now, via PBS on-line or the PBS app. If you're a PBS station member, it will remain free. Also, it was just added to Netflix viewing.
I find a bit more exciting “By Sidney Lumet,” another “American Masters” film. Lumet directed 80 films and his hits included: “12 Angry Men,” ”Network”, and “Dog Day Afternoon.” Directed by Nancy Buirski, the documentary is based on extensive, never aired 2008 interviews with the great director (he died in 2011, age 87). PBS was so high on “Lumet” that they gave it a rare theater showing last month in NY and Los Angeles. It got rave reviews. The exact PBS air date is not yet out.