Nate Bloom blogs on this week's Jews in the News.
The Downey Family, Asner is Still in New Stuff, The Whale
“Sr.”, is a “now-streaming” original Netflix documentary about avant-garde director/writer ROBERT DOWNEY, SR. It was co-directed by Downey, Sr. (1936-2021) and his son, famous actor ROBERT DOWNEY, JR, 57. This isn’t a “by the numbers” biography. It is a very moving portrait of father-and-son as they make parallel “home movie” biographies of Robert, Sr. The two films have been merged together in the film we see.
I felt (in a good way) the documentary was a great excuse for father and son to spend a lot of time together, knowing that Robert Sr., was suffering from Parkinson’s and his time was short.
Most people aren’t familiar with Robert Sr.’s films. You learn a lot about them in the documentary. Long ago, I saw Sr.’s best known films: “Putney Swope” (1969) and “Greaser’s Palace” (1972). The former pioneered funny “fake ads” that satirized the Madison Avenue variety. A few years later, such fake funny ads became an SNL staple. “Greaser’s Palace” was a wild, sort-of Western that starred the late ALLAN ARBUS. It’s worth viewing. (Robert Jr. had brief roles in both films and clips of him, as a child actor, are in the documentary).
The Netflix film addresses Robert Sr.’s long-term cocaine addiction and it alludes to Robert Jr.’s near-fatal battle with the same addiction. Robert Sr. candidly says what a mistake drugs were and how much he regrets that his behavior influenced his son. But there is so much love between this father-and-son that “blame for addiction” isn’t an issue that divides them.
The big take-away from the film is the tender love among Downey family members. Robert Sr. clearly loves and enjoys his wife, his son, and his charming grandchildren (Robert Jr.’s young children).
Robert Jr.’s wife, talent agent SUSAN LEVIN DOWNEY, 49, is seen now-and-again. Robert Jr. has said that she was critical to his recovery and sobriety. They wed in a Jewish ceremony and Downey Jr. now calls himself “Jewish-Buddhist”. I strongly suspect their children are being raised Jewish.
Robert Sr. was born Robert Ellis. His father was “all Jewish” and his maternal grandmother was Jewish. (Robert Jr. is “3/8” Jewish). In the film, Downey, Sr. explains why took the “non-Jewish” last name Downey.
Frankly, Robert, Sr. comes off as a funny old Jewish guy. Appropriately, ALAN ARKIN, 88, and NORMAN LEAR, 100, two funny old Jews, are briefly interviewed about Downey,Sr.
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules”, an animated film, began streaming on Dec. 2. Like all the “Wimpy Kids” movies, it is based on a best-selling series of novels for young readers. Four “live action” “Wimpy Kids” movies were released from 2010-2017, including a film (2012) with the same title as the new film and pretty much the same plot. In 2021, Disney released a “reboot” animated film version of the first live action film (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid”)—and Rules” is the 2nd re-boot.
ED ASNER, who died in 2021, age 91, co-stars as Grandpa Heffley, the grandfather of Greg (the Wimpy Kid) and Greg’s annoying brother, Rodrick. Basic plot: Greg does Rodrick a big favor and Rodrick shares his “secret rules” with Greg. The “rules” are tips on how to manipulate people into doing stuff that Rodrick likes. About half-way through the film, the boys’ parents go out-of-town and they stay with their Grandpa at his nursing home for several days.
Asner loved to work and at the time of his death he had completed 10 TV shows and movies that hadn’t (yet) been released. Six Asner projects (two voice and four “live”) remain to be released.
The most exciting is “Deadly Draw” in which he co-stars as “Max Perlmutter” (got to be Jewish!) a participant in a very dangerous card game. By the way, Asner holds the record for the most Primetime Emmys won (7) by any actor. He could be the first actor to win an Emmy two years or more after his death!
“The Whale”, which opened in theaters on Dec. 9, stars Brendan Fraser as Charlie, a morbidly obese man. He is plagued with guilt about leaving his wife for another man. He’s also guilty about leaving his daughter behind and they are long estranged. After the death of his male partner, Charlie “cycles” down and he seems to want to kill himself via over-eating.
Film festival audiences seemed to love the film, and there’s real “Oscar buzz” about Fraser’s performance. But reviews, overall, are mostly negative. The film was directed by DARREN ARNOFSKY, 53. None of his films are “easy” watches (his hits include “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan”).