Jews in the News: Iliza Shlesinger, Ricki Stern and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Iliza Soars, Isis “Queen” Doc, Creepy and Funny on Netflix, Kid Stuff

Stand-up comedian ILIZA SHLESINGER, 39, is on a roll.  Last January, she and her husband, NOAH GALUTEN, had their first child.  On Oct. 2, she was the winning contestant on “Celebrity Jeopardy” and will advance to the “winner playoffs”.  Her 6th Netflix stand-up special, entitled “Hot Forever”, began streaming on Oct. 11. On the same day, her new book, “All Things Aside”, came out. It’s a mix of memoir and funny observations.

I’ve got to say that Discovery+ has a very varied program line-up. Some may think it is a “bit meshuga”, but I think there is a method to their meshuga-ness. If any program seems like it will get high ratings, Discovery+ will stream it.

How else can you explain a serious documentary, by a filmmaker with a decades-long track record of making serious films, being on the same channel that is streaming “Storage Wars” (about people fighting over stuff in “unpaid for” storage lockers) and Dr. Pimple (don’t ask).

The serious filmmaker is RICKI STERN, 57, and the film is “A Radical Life” (begins streaming on Oct. 13) . Here’s the gist of Discovery’s description: Stern takes an unfiltered look at Tania Joya, who was married to the highest ranking American in ISIS. This is the exclusive stranger-than-fiction story of two persons hungry for power and Islamic supremacy told through Tania’s unique POV as an Islamic soldier, wife, and mother.

When you get down to it—“Radical” is basically another true crime story with a nice big dollop of the ever-popular crazy cult tale. Both of those genres get big audiences and this documentary has them both. (I see ratings!)

However, sometimes what is popular dovetails with serious journalism and “A Radical Life” is a quite legitimate documentary. Stern has been making good documentaries since 1991. In just the last eight years, she has made films about the Boston Marathon bombing, the movement to reverse "Roe v. Wade",  the “Preppy Murders”, and (oy vey!) JEFFREY EPSTEIN.

“The Watcher” is another creepy Halloween-season Netflix series (7 episodes; starts Oct. 13). A family moves into their suburban dream home, only to discover they are in a nightmare. There’s the usual bad stuff: ominous letters, strange neighbors, and sinister threats.

As usual, prolific series creator Ryan Murphy has rounded-up a good starring cast (Naomi Watts, Bobby Cannavale, and Jennifer Coolidge). RICHARD KIND, 65, who has been landing good roles lately, has a pretty big supporting part.

“Rosaline” begins streaming Hulu on Oct. 14. It’s a comedic twist on Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet,” told from the perspective of Juliet’s cousin Rosaline who also happens to be Romeo’s recent love interest. Heartbroken when Romeo meets Juliet and begins to pursue her, Rosaline schemes to foil the famous romance and win back Romeo.

Okay, you’re thinking the writers are taking on too much-- turning the Bard’s tragedy into a comedy. I must disagree. The screenwriters, MICHAEL WEBER and SCOTT NEUSTADER, both 44, have penned a string of films that I respected and enjoyed--as do most critics. Even more amazing, all these films made money! Some a lot of money.

In 2007, they were interviewed by the “Jewish Journal’ (L.A.) just as the first film they co-wrote, “500 Days of Summer”, was about to open. They “came off” as former bar mitzvah boys who were very culturally Jewish. Weber was then living with his Jewish girlfriend, a New Orleans native. A few years later, they married in a New Orleans shul and now have two kids.

“500 Days”, a bittersweet love story starring JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT, was a hit. This was followed by the scripts for “The Spectacular Now”, “The Fault in Our Stars” (which made $307M worldwide) “Paper Towns”, “The Disaster Artist” (they got an Oscar nomination), and the charming “Our Souls at Night”, a two-character Netflix film starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. All their past films, except “Our Souls”, had one or more Jewish actors in them. Well, this streak had to end—sadly, no Jewish thespians in Rosaline.

“Batwings” is an educational (i.e., good values), 7-episode animated series for young children that premieres (Oct.17)  on “Cartoonito”, the Cartoon Network’s block of kid shows starting at 9AM.  On October 18, it will begin streaming on HBO. There are human characters, like Batman, and talking cars. Nightwing, which is really another name for Robin, is voiced by ZACHARY GORDON, 24. He's worked steadily since 2007 in TV guest shots,  in a few “live” films, and in many voice roles. 


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