At the Movies:
“Florence Foster Jenkins” was the subject of a long feature piece recently on “CBS Sunday Morning” and if the film lives up to its clips, and its interesting backstory, it should be a hoot. It’s based on the true story of the title character, a New York heiress who, due to a medical condition, couldn’t hear own singing voice—just the sound in her head. In the 1940s, Jenkins was such an important socialite and philanthropist that nobody had the nerve to tell her how awful her opera singing was. However, things came to a head when she gave a concert at Carnegie Hall before a packed house. Meryl Streep plays Jenkins. Co-starring as Jenkins’ pianist is SIMON HELBERG, 35 (“Wolowitz” on “The Big Bang Theory”). He told “Today” that director STEPHEN FREARS, 75 (“The Queen”), cast him mostly because he is a trained pianist and wouldn’t have to fake it. By the way, Helberg recently revealed another talent: he is a karate black belt. (Opens Friday, August 12)
“Sausage Party” is an R-rated animated movie about one sausage leading a group of other foods on a quest to discover the truth about their existence and what really happens when they are taken from the store. SETH ROGEN, 34, has a leading voice role as a sausage, and he co-wrote the film. Also playing a sausage is JONAH HILL, 32. Some characters have cute names, my favorite being “Sammy Bagel, Jr.” (a bagel). One blogger noted that all this sounds like the plot of a hilarious “SNL” short—but whether the premise will sustain a feature length film is still unknown. (Opens Aug. 12)
“Equity”, which opens on Aug. 12 in limited release, has been praised as the first film that shows Wall Street women engaging in cut-throat high finance deals. Women are not just peripheral characters, as in similar themed films like “Wall Street” or “The Big Short”. The script is by AMY FOX, 40, whose best known for her play and film, “The Heights” (2005). “Equity” was co-produced by ALYSIA REINER, 46, and she plays one of the film’s three leads (Reiner’s best known for playing the nasty asst. warden Fig on “Orange is the New Black”). She’s married to actor DAVID ALAN BASCHE, 47 (“The Exes”). Also appearing in a biggish part is SOPHIE VON HASELBERG, 29, who is BETTE MIDLER’s daughter. (No, Sophie’s father, MARTIN, wasn’t born in a Bavarian castle. He was born in Argentina, the son of a Jewish mother and a German father.)
More on the Olympics: More Athletes and Fun Facts to Know and Share
Sources confirm that three more American Jewish athletes at the Games. Add them to the seven American Olympic athletes in my July 29 column: SETH WEIL, 29, is a rower on the “Men’s Four” team, which is given a good chance of medaling. Weil is from the San Francisco area; SAM OJSERKIS , 26, the coxswain for Weil’s team (if the team gets a medal—Ojerskis gets one, too.). He’s from Linwood, New Jersey; JOSH SAMUELS, 25, is a driver on the U.S. water polo team. A driver tries to get away from his defender, position himself on the perimeter of the goal, catch a pass from a teammate, and score. Samuels is a very good driver and was a star player on the UCLA water polo team. He graduated in 2013 and has played professionally in Europe.
In my July 29 column, I listed one Diaspora athlete, other than an American, competing at the Games (JO ALEH, 30, women’s sailing. Gold medal winner in 2012. From New Zealand).
Here are six more. AUSTRALIA: JESSICA FOX, 22, canoe slalom (“K-1”). She won the silver medal in this event in 2012. Both her parents are canoeists who competed in the Olympics (Her father for the UK; and her mother for France. Her mother won the bronze in 1992). Aussies NATHAN KATZ, 22, and JOSH KATZ, 18, are brothers and judo athletes; CANADA: JOSH BINSTOCK, 35, and his team partner, SAM SCHACHTER, 36, play beach volleyball; NEW ZEALAND:
And one athlete from the host country of the Games:
--FELIPE KITADAI, 27, is a judo athlete from Brazil. He won a bronze medal (for Brazil) at the 2012 Games. He also won a bronze at the 2009 Maccabi Games in Israel.
By the way, star American swimmer Katie Ledecky has some Jewish ancestry—her paternal grandmother. Her other grandparents were not Jewish and she was raised a Catholic.
While the Games are still on, here’s my best answers to two Olympic questions I get asked: (1) Why are there always Jews in fencing events? Answer: 50 Jews have won Olympic medals in fencing, a remarkable total. Fencing, of course, is an urban sport and Jews, by and large are an urban people. More to the point: Years ago, I read that the Jewish college students in Hungary, Germany, and Austria started this cultural tradition in the late 19th century. They were constantly insulted by non-Jewish classmates and, per school tradition; they would challenge their 'insulters' to a fencing match. Reportedly, so many Jews got so skilled in fencing that some non-Jewish college clubs prohibited their members from “honoring” Jews with the right of answering an insult with a fencing match. And (2) Why are there so many Jewish Olympic swimmers? Answer: 42 Jews have won Olympic medals in swimming, another remarkable total. Anecdotally, my sense is that Jews, even non-athletic ones, have a fondness and respect for swimming---it’s healthy, non-violent, and almost the perfect sport for a protective Jewish parent. There is even respect for swimming from the ‘non-sporting’ ultra-Orthodox. They know that the Talmud (Kiddushin 29a) specifies three skills that parents must teach their children: Torah, how to make a living, and how to swim.