At the Movies; Year’s End Bounty
A number of “big” films open in very limited release during the last weeks of the year so they can qualify for the upcoming Oscars. Please check when “1917” or “Little Women,” which both officially opened on Dec. 25, are opening in a theater near you.
“Bombshell” opens “wide” on Dec. 20. The film tells the story of how Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News, was exposed as a serial sexual harasser by on-camera and off-camera Fox female employees. The all-star cast includes John Lithgow (Ailes), Charlize Theron (former Fox anchor Megyn Kelly), and Nicole Kidman (former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson). Margot Robbie co-stars as “Kayla”, a composite character based upon several other Fox employees Ailes harassed. Theron and Robbie are 2020 Golden Globe nominees for, respectively, lead actress, drama film, and best supporting actress, film.
The director is JAY ROACH, 62, a convert to Judaism. He’s the husband of SUSANNE HOFFS, 60, the lead singer of the Bangles rock band, which was most popular in the ‘80s and still plays some gigs. Remember their hit “(It’s Just Another) Manic Monday”?
The epic war film “1917” takes place at the height of the First World War. The Germans, we learn, are planning to ambush a 1,600 man British battalion. Two young British soldiers are asked to do the impossible: quickly cross strongly defended German territory and tell the battalion’s commander about the ambush.
“1917” has received great advance reviews. The film is nominated for a 2020 Golden Globe award for best dramatic film and SAM MENDES, the film’s director and co-writer, is nominated for a Golden Globe for best film director (I will cover all the Jewish Globe nominees in my first January, 2020 column. The awards are on Jan. 5). Mendes, 54, is British. His father, a UK citizen of Portuguese descent, isn’t Jewish. His mother is an English Jew. His parents divorced when he was young and he was raised by his mother. Success came early to Mendes, who was acclaimed while still in his ‘20s as a great theater director. He got Oscar-nominated for his first feature film (“American Beauty”, 1999) and has many hits since, including the Bond films “Skyfall” and “Spectre”. My sense is that Mendes has always been secular.
Likewise, the new remake of “Little Women” got great reviews following its Dec. 7 special one-theater opening. However, unlike “1917”, it didn’t get many Golden Globe nominations. Of course, the film is based on the famous Louisa May Alcott 19th century novel about four young adult sisters. TIMOTHEE CHALAMET, 23, plays Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, the only major male character in the film or novel.
Chanukah or Hannukah: However You Spell it, It Tastes Good!
On Dec. 21, the Food Network premieres “The Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge”, its first ever Chanukah competition. Four chefs compete in three rounds to see who makes the best crispy potato pancakes, succulent brisket, and fried jelly donuts.
The host is MOLLY YEH, 31, the daughter of a Chinese-American Protestant father and an American Jewish mother of Hungarian descent. Yeh has hosted several other Food Network Jewish cooking specials. The judges are DUFF GOLDMAN, 44, and SHARONE HACKMAN, 38. Goldman is a famous pastry chef who has hosted a number of Food Network shows, including “Ace of Cakes”. Last September, in a speech to the Cornell University Hillel, he noted how important “tzedakah” (giving back) was to his life. Hackman is a self-taught chef who chucked financial planning for restaurant jobs at age 32. He, too, has hosted on the Food Network. A Californian, he is the son of Israeli parents and the grandson of Holocaust survivors. He was Yeshiva-educated. (Many encore showings, also on-demand and on website).
Streaming Choices: An Iraqi/Brit Jewish Festival
The documentary “Mel Brooks: Unwrapped” began streaming on HBO last Saturday, Dec. 14. Filmmaker ALAN YENTOB, 72, has conducted interviews with MEL BROOKS, now 93, since 1981. The documentary deftly combines this interview footage with other material to give us a wonderful portrait of a truly funny man. Yentob, the former creative director of the BBC, was born in the UK to Iraqi Jewish parents.
Buzz is that “The Witcher,” a Netflix action-fantasy series that begins on Dec. 20, will be something of a "Game of Thrones” replacement. It centers on a solitary “monster hunter” (Henry Cavill) who lives in a sort-of-medieval world. British Jewish actor ADAM LEVY, 49, has a large supporting role (“Mousesack”). Levy's father is an Iraqi Jew. His mother is Russian Jewish.