Early 2017 Jewish film releases

December 22, 2016

(This article appeared in different form in the Australian Jewish News on 22 December 2016.)

Many of the best films released in Australia arrive in early summer each year, coinciding with the release of Oscar and Golden Globe nominations in late January and early February.  Watch out for:

January 12

Jackie:  Playing Jaqueline Kennedy is a big step; few Americans are held in such mythical regard as the late wife of the assassinated President, a stylish and tragic figure who was left a widow with two young children after the death of JFK.  Jewish actress Natalie Portman (already nominated for a Golden Globe best actress) perfectly captures Jackie Kennedy’s mannerisms and style in a powerful and brave performance that is likely to place her sitting in the front row awaiting next February’s best actress Oscar choice. “New Yorker” film critic Anthony Lane calls “Jackie”, “a dance to the music of grief”:  this film is a slice of American tragedy.  Given the recent Presidential election and the fascination with “First Ladies”, “Jackie” may very well capture the current “zeitgeist political moment”.   Jewish TV producer Noah Oppenheim scripted, Peter Sarsgaard plays Robert F. Kennedy, Greta Gerwig plays White House social secretary Nancy Tuckerman and Billy Crudup plays the historian Theodore H. White.  Jewish trivia:  The Forward reports that Jackie Kennedy spent the last 14 years of her life living with (but not married to) Maurice Tempelsman, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany.  In common with President Bill and Hillary Clinton and President-elect Donald Trump, Jackie’s daughter Caroline married a Jewish man.  The soundtrack of “Camelot”, which closes this film, was written by Jewish songwriters Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.

January 19:

Lion, produced by Emile Sherman (Australian Jewish producer and Oscar winner for “The Kings Speech”), is being tipped for Oscar considerations.  It’s a great – and true – Australian story, adapted from the book “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierly. Five-year-old Saroo finds himself alone and travelling on the wrong train away from his home in northern India. Frightened and bewildered, he ends up thousands of miles away. He survives the streets, ends up in an orphanage and is adopted by an Australian couple played by Nicole Kidman (nominated for a Golden Globe best supporting actress) and David Wenham, and grows up in Hobart.  The kicker to this story is that using his imperfect early childhood memory and new satellite-imaging technology, Saroo commences “one of the greatest needle-in-a-haystack quests of modern times” – to find his family.  Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire”; also nominated for a Golden Globe best supporting actor) stars as the older Saroo.

Two other important films are due out in February or March, to be confirmed once Oscar nominations are announced:

Denial, the historical dramatisation of the court case brought against American Holocaust expert and professor Deborah Lipstadt, opened this year’s Australian Jewish film festival to powerful reactions. Directed by Mick Jackson and written by Sir David Hare (“The Reader”, “The Hours”), it is based on Lipstadt’s book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier about how David Irving sued her and Penguin Books for libel.  The film stars Jewish actress Rachel Weisz, Academy Award winner for “The Constant Gardener”.  Other actors include Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall as David Irving.

Land of Mine premiered at this year’s Sydney Film Festival and is being considered for a best foreign language Oscar.  The title of this Danish-German co-production (“Under Sandet” in German) holds a deliberate double meaning in English. Taking place in the immediate aftermath of World War II and based on true events, the film tells the story of young German prisoners-of-war who are forced to disarm many thousands of land mines that the German army had placed on the sandy west coast of Denmark.  Intended to slow an Allied invasion that never happened, the mines are highly lethal and hard to disarm.  A particularly young group of German soldiers – most of them still in their teens – has been given this months-long task, supervised by a Danish sergeant who is filled with rage against the Germans.  This powerful portrayal of revenge, culpability and humanity speaks strongly to the questions that faced the Allies immediately following the war: who is to be punished from the actions by Nazi state, and how?

Other films to note in early 2017 include:

January 5:

Edge of Seventeen, an unusually high quality (and soon could be classic) teen film stars Jewish actress Hailee Steinfeld, best supporting actress Oscar nominee for “True Grit” (and nominated for a Golden Globe best actress).

January 12

Collateral Beauty, an absorbing drama about post-traumatic stress starring Will Smith, directed by Jewish director David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada“) and written by Jewish screenwriter Allan Loeb (“Things We Lost in the Fire”).

February 2:

In Patriot’s Day, a docudrama about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing from Jewish director Peter Berg, the theme of home-grown Islamic fundamentalism-turning violent terrorism remains highly contemporary (both the USA and Australia).  Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman and J.K. Simmons star.

Bastards, a comedy from first-time Jewish director Lawrence Sher, who has been one of the most accomplished American cinematographers in recent years (not at profession that has attracted many Jews), and who grew up in “the Orthodox neighbourhood of Teaneck, New Jersey”. Owen Wilson and Ed Helms play two brothers with an eccentric mother (Glenn Close).

February 16:

Silence, directed by Martin Scorsese, is an adaptation of the Shusaku Endo novel about 17th century Jesuits who risk their lives to bring Christianity to Japan.  Scorsese has created what will probably be one of the most significant religious history films in years.  Stars include Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”), Liam Neeson and Adam Driver.

March 30

The Ghost in the Shell stars Jewish actress Scarlett Johansson in a sci-fi action film that will bring in audiences, based on the Japanese manga.

Table 19 is an American wedding comedy by Jewish director Jeffrey Blitz, who is an Oscar nominee for the documentary “Spellbound”. Anna Kendrick and Lisa Kudrow star.

April 6

In Going in Style, Zach Braff – the Jewish director of “Garden State” and “Wish I Was Here” – has created a comic heist/caper film, with a great cast including iconic Jewish actor Alan Arkin, along with Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Ann-Margret, Matt Dillon and Christopher Lloyd.

denialImage above: Rachel Weisz (left) plays Deborah Lipstadt (right) in the film “Denial”; see Moment Magazine‘s article and also The New Yorker article by Tad Friend, 3 October 2016.


Boxing Day 26 December 2016 Jewish film releases

December 22, 2016

(This article appeared in different form in the Australian Jewish News on 22 December 2016.)

As Australia’s biggest cinema-going day of the year, Boxing Day (26 December) marks the unofficial beginning of both the summer holidays and entertainment season.  Here’s our pick of the Boxing Day films with Jewish personalities and themes to look out for.

Allied is made for fans of romantic war dramas (and seriously, who isn’t one).  “Allied” stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as secret agents – Canadian intelligence officer Max and French resistance fighter Marianne – who fall in love during a North African mission.  Set in Casablanca and London, “Allied” (the title operates with a double and possibly triple meaning) is directed by Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future”) with energy and verve, tearing at many of the myths we have wanted to believe about wartime heroism.  The film’s big plot twist – a spoiler that any viewing of the film’s trailer tells you – involves the strong suspicion that Marianne is a double agent, placing Max in the distrusting “is she or isn’t she?” role, and forcing him to find the truth in the sort of ways you don’t want to treat the love of your life.

A.O. Scott of the New York Times writes that this film operates, “like [the film] ‘Casablanca’ in reverse. It’s about how the problems in this crazy world don’t amount to a hill of beans next to the troubles of two people in love.” Aside from the Casablanca setting, “Allied” includes prominent singing of “La Marseillaise” and other explicit references to the Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman romance, but without references to Nazi persecution of Jews, just the personal challenges of the heroic couple. “Allied” comes across more like an Alfred Hitchcock film than one by Michael Curtiz (the Jewish director of “Casablanca”).  American Jewish actress Lizzy Caplan co-stars as Brad Pitt’s sister.

Rosalie Blum was the best-attended film in the 27-year history of Australia’s Alliance Française French Film Festival.  This delightful comedy features a central Jewish character (the titled Rosalie Blum), played in turn by Jewish actress Noémie Lvovsky, who is the accomplished writer/director and star of “Camille Unwinds”.  This first film by director Julien Rappeneau draws from a series of popular French graphic novels by Camille Jourdy.  The film’s warm comic exterior at first shields important messages about our need for connection in a disconnected world.  There is something so very “French” about this film, which sits as highly accessible “middle brow” entertainment.  Lvovsky’s co-stars include Iranian-French actor Kyan Khojandi and Alice Isaaz.  A crowd-pleaser for all French film addicts.

Why Him is likely to be one of the summer’s most Jewish releases, although has almost no Jewish characters or content. The creative team behind this broad comedy about an unsuitable boyfriend is a “who’s who” of contemporary Jewish comedy:  Jewish director John Hamburg has written all three “Meet the Parents” and both “Zoolander” films.  Jewish co-writer Jonah Hill has more Jewish comedy connections than almost anyone alive, and got his break on “I Heart Huckabees” through friendships with Dustin Hoffman’s children.  Producers Ben Stiller (need we say any more) and Shawn Levy – director of all three “Night at the Museum” films – are the Jewish “power couple” of contemporary broad US film comedy. Jewish actors also abound:  James Franco, 16 year old Griffin Gluck and Zack Pearlman.  Bryan Cranston, last seen playing the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, also co-stars.

And watch out for two other Boxing Day releases:

Janis: Little Girl Blue is an American documentary about the singer-songwriter Janis Joplin, by Jewish director Amy J Berg.  Berg specialises in “tough” subjects like sex abuse, pedophilia, and the African-American male “crisis”.

Red Dog True Blue: Five years ago, the film “Red Dog” became the eighth (now tenth) most popular Australian film ever.  The follow up “Red Dog True Blue” is a “prequel” and hopes to replicate the original’s success.  Daniel Taplitz returns as the screenwriter, with a cast headed by Bryan Brown.  This most Australian of “Oz” films also stars British-Jewish actor Jason Isaacs, who comes from a Zionist family (his parents live in Israel) and who describes Jewishness as his “core”.


(image above: Marion Cotillard and Brad Pitt in “Allied”)