Jews in the News: Steven Spielberg, Hedy Lamarr and Howie Mandel

At the Movies: Opens June 15/22

 “Tag” is based on a true story about five friends who have been playing the schoolyard game since they were children. As adults, they drop everything to meet up once a year and play tag. As the film opens, the wedding of Jerry (Jeremy Renner), the only player never to lose at tag, coincides with the annual tag game. The other four players figure he’ll be so distracted that they can finally beat him. The cast includes RASHIDA JONES, 42, as Cheryl, the only female player, and ISLA FISHER, 42, as the wife of one of the players. (Opens Friday, June 15)

 “Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom” is the fourth sequel since “Jurassic Park,” the blockbuster 1992 STEVEN SPIELBERG film that posited that dinosaurs could be brought back from extinction by using their ancient DNA.  The premise was interesting, but what knocked everyone’s socks off was the tremendous computer generated (“CGI”) special effects that made the dinosaurs come alive on the big screen. 

Reviews for “Fallen” are mixed at best, but many are like this BBC review: “The plot might be ludicrous and the CGI below par, but the latest dinosaur blockbuster is good old-fashioned summer entertainment.”

 As the last sequel ended, the island theme park where the dinosaurs live has been destroyed and the dinos fend for themselves in the jungle. As the new film opens, a long-dormant volcano on the island comes to life, threatening to make dinos extinct again.  The effort to save them is led by characters played by Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. The supporting cast includes TED LEVINE, 61 (“Monk”). JEFF GOLDBLUM, 65, who co-starred in the first two “Jurassic” pics, has a small, but important cameo. The script was co-written by COLIN TREVORROW, 41.

 Advance reviews are great for “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” a documentary about the beloved children’s program host Fred Rogers (1928-2003).  Rogers certainly wasn’t Jewish. His children’s program began in Pittsburgh in 1954 and he simultaneously took theology classes at a nearby Presbyterian seminary. He was ordained in 1963. He always intended to incorporate his religious training into his TV hosting skills.

 In the Feb. 1, 2017 issue of the “Canadian Jewish News” there is an article, by MICHAEL TAUBE, about some of Mr. Rogers’ Jewish connections. Summarized, here, are three of the biggest. Taube’s article was prompted by an award (“Pursuer of Peace”) given in 2014 by Pittsburgh Congregation Rodef Shalom to Mr. Rogers’ widow.

(1) Rogers' book, “The Giving Box: Create a Tradition of Giving with Your Children” (2000), was inspired by the Jewish tradition of the tzedakah box, which promotes savings and philanthropy. (2) A prominent “Happy Chanukah” banner appears early in the 1977 prime-time special “Christmastime with Mr. Rogers”. Later on, Rogers talks about Chanukah and even spins a dreidel—and (3) HEDDA SHERPAN, the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, was one of his program’s longest-serving staff members (associate director and producer). In Oct. 2016, she said: “I had such great respect for [Rogers'] wisdom and his commitment to serve children and families in an authentic and meaningful way – so I wanted to do my very best.”

Hedy and the Deutch Sisters

 Now streaming on Netflix is “Bombshell,” a documentary about the life of actress and inventor HEDY LAMARR (1914-2000). The film had a limited theatrical opening last year. Few persons under 50 have even heard of Lamarr, but in her heyday, circa 1940, she was a big Hollywood star and was widely considered the most beautiful actress alive. In the last 25 years, another side of the actress has become known—her talent for invention.

Lamarr, the child of affluent, assimilated Viennese Jews, led an extraordinary, improbable life and that alone makes this well-crafted film worth your time. Via interviews with her three children, and many others (including MEL BROOKS, 91), a full portrait of Lamarr emerges. But, be warned, it isn’t a happy story.

Early on, Lamarr was interested in science, but that wasn’t, then, a viable career path for women. Her beauty led her into an acting career in European films, and, later, in Hollywood pics. She sometimes had great courage. On the other hand, she cast off things that were “inconvenient”, like her Jewish background, her one adopted child and her five husbands. Much time is spent on her most famous invention: a way to make radio-controlled torpedoes invulnerable to “jamming” by Nazi subs. The Navy didn’t use the invention during WWII, but later her “frequency hopping” idea became the basis for the way cell-phone calls, WI-FI, and GPS is transmitted. (Enough spoilers! Watch it. )

 Much more contemporary is the new Netflix comedy series “Set It Up.” It begins streaming on June 15. ZOEY DEUTCH, 23, and Glen Powell co-star as assistants to two high-powered executives (Taye Diggs and Lucy Liu) who run them ragged. They decide to orchestrate a romance between their bosses in the hope that will calm them down.

Opening the same day in many theaters and available on video-on-demand is the feature film “The Year of Spectacular Men”. It was written by Zoey’s sister MADELYN DEUTCH, 27, and directed by their mother, actress Lea Thompson. This film got such good reviews in film festivals that it earned a wide release. Madelyn, who describes the film as semi-autobiographical, plays lead character Izzy Klein. We follow Klein as the recent college grad suffers through a series of bad romantic relationships and leans on her younger sister and her mother for support (played, respectively, by Zoey and Thompson).

The Deutch sisters, with their mother’s total support, were raised Jewish and had bat mitzvahs (their father is producer/director HOWARD DEUTCH, 67). Last month, Madelyn said this to the “Jewish Journal” about her bat mitzvah: “It puts a lot of responsibility and accountability on the kid.  You’re treated like an adult with opinions and a point of view. I think it changed my life, being able to stand at the bimah in front of a congregation and say what I thought about the world around me. I think it altered the kind of adult I became.”

Animal Corner

 Comedian HOWIE MANDEL, 62, will host the new Nat Geo Wild series “Animal Doing Things” (it premiered on Saturday, June 16, at 9PM). The show features the best, never-before-seen animal videos submitted to the popular Instagram account “@AnimalsDoingThings”. Each video is hosted by Mandel, who provides funny narration and witty commentary before and/or after the videos.


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