Kosher Cinema

As April and its wacky weather leaves us behind, I hope you JDaters® are ready for the blockbuster season to start rolling in. The next month offers a torrent of superheroes, science fiction, and Sacha Baron Cohen, which can only mean one thing: summer is coming!

This will be something of a make-or-break month for the film studios as the box office is heavily down this year, despite the dominance of The Hunger Games. I guess the odds haven’t been “ever in their favor.” Releases like Marvel’s The Avengers and MIB III (Will Smith’s return to the big screen after a four year absence) will try to turn that trend around. Will they succeed, or will their Battleship be sunk? Stay tuned!


The Chosen Feature

I hinted you might get another daring Chosen Feature this month, and I won’t disappoint.

The Chosen Feature for this month is Max. Max is a deeply flawed, challenging and controversial movie written and directed by Menno Meyjes, the screenwriter of hits like The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun.

Max stars John Cusak as the titular and fictional Jewish art dealer who befriends a young Adolf Hitler, who’s trying to make it as an artist in Germany in 1918. Their friendship, and the conversations that ensue, provide a powerful glimpse into the nature of art, politics and friendship. The film is at turns both sloppy and breathtaking, but always provocative. Meyjes’ use of sound and symbolism in the film is a thing to behold, and Noah Taylor’s portrayal of Hitler as a snide, vicious little man is laudable for its refusal to become a caricature.

Many of you will hate this movie. It provokes strong reactions in people. But it leads to great conversations, and unlike most films today, it doesn’t let you off easily as a viewer. I encourage you to watch it with friends and then get into amazing arguments.


The JScale

  • The Avengers – 2.5/5 Stars of David

Starting off May with a bang, it’s The Avengers, assembled by Joss Whedon! Though Whedon’s not Jewish, the creators of The Avengers, Stan Lee and the late Jack Kirby, definitely were. The Avengers, which is riding some serious buzz and positive early reviews, also features Robert Downey Jr., who is of partial Jewish descent on his dad’s side, and Scarlett Johansson, my fellow Hebrew with a Scandinavian surname.

  • A Little Bit of Heaven – 3/5 Stars of David

Another season, another middling Kate Hudson movie, or so it seems. If you couldn’t get enough of Bride Wars, or the equally awful Something Borrowed, A Little Bit of Heaven might be the movie for you. Hudson, who was raised Jewish, stars as a terminally ill woman who’s treated by a Mexican-Jewish doctor played by Gael Garcia Bernal. What’s the over/under on Mexican Jew jokes in this movie? The film had multiple writers, a couple of whom have Jewish backgrounds, and also features Whoopi Goldberg. Did you know Goldberg took on her last name because her mom thought her original name wasn’t Jewish enough for showbiz?

  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – 0/5 Stars of David

And the award for Weirdest Film Title of the Month goes to…

  • Dark Shadows – 2.5/5 Stars of David

Tim Burton brings to life the classic Gothic Soap Dark Shadows in what’s sure to be a visual spectacle. The question with Burton is always whether he can strike the right balance between weird and compelling. Shadows was created by Dan Curtis, who was born to Jewish parents, but grew up in a non-religious home and had no Bar Mitzvah. Later in life, he came back to his Judaism through the making of War and Remembrance, the miniseries adaptation of Herman Wouk’s sweeping Holocaust novel. It’s been adapted for the screen by Seth Grahame-Smith, who was born Seth Greenberg and changed his last name… for no apparent reason. The film features the talents of the positively devilish French Jew Eva Green, and Helena Bonham Carter, who is also of Jewish descent. Bonham Carter’s grandfather is actually listed as a righteous gentile for having saved many Jews during the Holocaust. Like (almost) all Burton films, it will feature the music of Danny Elfman, who credits his Jewish background with the development of much of his musical sensibility.

  • The Dictator – 4/5 Stars of David

“Admiral General Aladeen will deliver a formal response tomorrow morning to being banned from the Oscars by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Zionists.” So said the press release sent out by Sacha Baron Cohen’s fictional dictator after he was almost banned from the red carpet prior to the Oscars®. He later showed up and dumped “Kim Jong Il’s ashes” all over Ryan Seacrest. Whether you like Baron Cohen or hate him, he’s very Jewish, and his films reflect a constant dialogue with his Jewish background. His role as an anti-Semitic dictator promises to further that trend. The film is directed by Larry Charles (Jewish) and written by Baron Cohen and several other screenwriters, many of Jewish descent. It looks to be a broad farce, and it remains to be seen whether it will deliver a Borat or Bruno-sized box office.

  • Battleship – 1/5 Stars of David

And now, a film based (extremely loosely) on a board game. Can we sink much lower? Is Hungry Hungry Hippos: The Movie up next? This likely masterpiece features a bunch of “actors” like Rihanna and Brooklyn Decker. It also features actual actors like Liam Neeson and Alexander Skarsgard who must be really bad with money. Peter Berg, who’s half-Jewish, directs, and Taylor Kitsch stars. If this movie bombs in the same fashion as John Carter, Taylor Kitsch’s career, like the enemy battleship, just might be sunk.

  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting – 2/5 Stars of David

Based on the best-selling book series by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel, both Jews, What to Expect offers a sprawling cast headlined by Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez. With a cast this large, somebody had to be Jewish and it’s once again Elizabeth Banks (who has been in pretty much every movie this year.) The film is set in Atlanta for many other reasons than filmmakers get a lot of tax breaks for filming there.

  • Men in Black III – 2.5/5 Stars of David

Here come the Men in Black! Will Smith is back for the first time in half a decade! And he’s brought Tommy Lee Jones along for the ride. Josh Brolin (who has the most famous Jewish stepmother in the world, Barbara Streisand) will be playing a young Agent K in this time-traveling sci-fi follow up to 1997’s Men In Black and 2002’s – “Neuralyzer Flash! Now what were we talking about?” Barry Sonnenfeld is back as director, and he brings along his NY Jewish pedigree. Screenwriter Etan Cohen was born in Efrat, Israel. Whether that means we’ll be seeing any Jewish aliens is another story. Let’s hope this film brings back some of the fun of the original.

  • Chernobyl Diaries – 1/5 Stars of David

From the mind of Israeli-Born Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) comes this actually quite creepy premise about a group of dumb American kids touring Eastern Europe who hire a guide to take them to Pripyat, the site of the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster. When night falls, mayhem ensues.

That’s all for this month, JDaters! Hope you find something fun to check out in this top-heavy month of Blockbusters.

Jonathan Maseng is a Los Angeles based screenwriter and journalist. He is a frequent contributor to the LA Jewish Journal, and his work has appeared in publications around the globe. His mother would like him to find a nice Jewish girl — he’s still looking.
One Comment
  1. Hey there Jonathan

    I was wondering was Seth Grahame-Smith born Jewish?
    Yes or No?

    Can you please answer this for me?

    Thank-you! 🙂

    Shalom! V

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