Jews in the News: Mila Kunis, Billy Crystal and Steven Spielberg

Two Movies To Watch at Home; Fact and Semi-Fiction

Two movies, starring three major Jewish stars, opened recently in theaters: “Four Good Days” (April 30) and “Here Today” (May 7).  I didn’t write about them in advance because I had a feeling reviews would be mixed at best and why risk going to a theater to see a “talky” film that doesn’t lose much in home viewing?

As I expected, recent reviews of “Four Good Days” were so/so. Last year, it got so/so reviews when it played the Sundance Film Festival. MILA KUNIS, 37, stars as a long-term heroin addict who is determined to stay clean for four days to qualify for a hospital rehab slot. She recruits her mother (Glenn Close) to help her. This is Kunis’s first edgy dramatic performance and she’s very good. That’s alone makes it worth viewing.  (Starts streaming on May 21).

BILLY CRYSTAL, 73, plays a top comedy writer starting to struggle with dementia in “Here Today”. He chances to meet a struggling singer (TIFFANY HADDISH, 41) and they hit it off. As I expected, “Here” fit into the pattern of other films that Crystal has written —reviewers say there are many good moments and some funny stuff. But it just doesn’t consistently work. Crystal has written six films, including “Here Today”, and they all got similar reviews. (Streaming date not-yet-set).

 But you really must watch the profile of Crystal and Haddish that aired on CBS Sunday Morning on May 2. Entitled “Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish on comedy, friendship and a bat mitzvah”, it’s posted on Youtube. It’s just, well, heart-warming to hear how these Jews of different colors and generations hit it off and became great, personal friends. Its moving to see Haddish embrace her Jewish ancestry at her 2019 bat mitzvah (a clip is shown)—and its equally moving to hear Crystal talk about the honor he felt when Haddish asked him to make an aliyah at her bat mitzvah.

On May 17, Netflix began streaming “The Last Days”, a documentary about the Holocaust in Hungary. Produced by STEVEN SPIELBERG, it won the Oscar (1996) for best documentary. Hungary was the last country in Middle Europe to feel the full fury of the Holocaust.  Most members of the pre-war Hungarian Jewish community (about 800,000) were still living when the Nazis occupied Hungary in March, 1944. By war’s end (April, 1945), only 265,000 were still alive.

There’s an interesting intersection between this film and the PBS Masterpiece Theater series “Atlantic Crossing”, which many of you probably have been watching. It’s about the Norwegian royal family during WWII. Norway fell to the Nazis in 1940. The King of Norway fled to Britain with the Crown Prince.  Crown Princess Martha and her three children (first) fled to neutral Sweden. Then, at President Roosevelt’s invitation, Martha and the children settled in America for the duration of the war.

 While well-produced, this (Norway-made) series is flawed in many ways. For example, it’s central to the series that FDR really liked Martha.  But I couldn’t figure out why. The series’ Martha is “admirable”, but never says anything funny, witty, or flirty. According to famous historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Roosevelt liked her because she was witty, funny, and knew how to flirt.

The PBS website has notes detailing some “Atlantic” fictionalizations or factual errors. These notes are just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s just one “un-noted”, really galling error: the series depicts Eleanor Roosevelt as an opponent of America giving arms to Britain and Norway before America entered the war in Dec. 1941 (the Lend-Lease program).  I checked: Mrs. Roosevelt was a supporter of Lend-Lease. It is a stupid, false depiction of a great woman who saved many Jewish lives. She once said her greatest regret was not pushing harder to save more.

In the second episode, we see Martha getting a cold reception from her uncle, King Gustav V of Sweden. He is depicted as very pro-German. Well, like life, the full story is complicated. Gustav was sometimes sympathetic to Nazi Germany. However, in 1934, he privately told Hitler to leave the Jews alone; in 1943, at the urging of Nobel Prize winner NIELS BOHR, a Danish Jew, he supported the transport of the whole Danish Jewish community to Sweden; in 1944, he personally urged the anti-Semitic head of Hungary, Miklos Horthy, to protect Hungary’s Jews (which, remarkably, Horthy did until he was deposed. His actions saved tens of thousands); and Gustav completely supported Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews.   


Add Comment