The Arty Semite

100 Years of the 'Joint'

By Michael Kaminer

“I live. Send help.”

With that hopeful but heartbreaking dispatch, a survivor named Luba Mizne implored the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee for rescue amid the devastation of 1945 Warsaw.

Now, her original telegram is one of more than 100 artifacts in “I Live. Send Help,” a moving exhibition at the New York Historical Society that marks the centennial of the JDC, which calls itself “the world’s leading Jewish humanitarian organization” and today operates in more than 70 countries.

The exhibition pulls from the JDC’s massive archives, which includes three miles of documents, more than 100,000 photos, and hundreds of items. An astonishing range of objects, from a bar of soap given to Bergen-Belsen survivors at a DP camp to a child’s dress distributed at Ellis Island in 1949 to a letter urging passage for a rescue caravan out of Sarajevo in 1992, makes the show much more than an academic exercise.

“Our archive is one of the most important repositories of modern Jewish history in the world,” said Linda Levi, the director of the JDC’s global archives and a curator of the exhibition. “Given the significance of our work over the last century, it seemed fitting to have an exhibition at a major institution.”

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David Wain Is Back Again

By Curt Schleier

David Wain is a co-founder of two sketch comedy troupes, The State and Stella. He is executive producer and occasional star of the Emmy-winning Adult Swim series, “Children’s Hospital.” He also has his own online show, “Wainy Days,” about his (mis)adventures with women.

But certainly his greatest claim to fame is his 2001 cult classic, “Wet Hot American Summer.” That is, until now.

Wain’s latest, “They Came Together,” will soon claim top billing. It’s a hilarious spoof on the romantic comedy genre that opens in New York, Los Angeles and other markets June 27.

The film stars Paul Rudd as Joel, the typical romantic comedy lead — i.e. “handsome, but in a non-threatening way; vaguely but not overtly Jewish.”

Amy Poehler is Molly the klutzy but cute potential girlfriend. They meet in a bookstore where they discover that they both like — wait for it — “fiction books.” But problems ensue when she discovers he works for Candy Systems and Research, the company hoping to put her little store, Upper Sweet Side, out of business.

Still, they fall in love. They fall out of love. There are complications, but — spoiler alert — there is a happy ending, with shout-outs to everything from “You’ve Got Mail” to “Crossing Delancey.”

“They Came Together” is so funny you don’t need an entire funny bone to find laughs here. A few funny cells are more than enough to see the humor.

Wain spoke to the Forward about his complete lack of preparation for this interview, the low brow-ness of his jokes and how he’s not Pagliacci.

Curt Schleier: Have you prepared enough one-liners to make me look creative and funny to the readers of The Forward?

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Fighting Aaron Swartz's War

By Dorri Olds

It’s been said that the Internet both defined and was defined by Aaron Swartz. He co-founded Reddit and co-invented RSS, but it was his fight for free speech and open access to information that was both his legacy and his downfall.

Swartz used Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) computers to hack into JSTOR, the academic database. He copied 4.8 million articles and uploaded them for public access to protest the commercialization of information on the Internet. He was arrested for wire fraud and 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and, after a two-year legal battle and facing up to 35 years in prison, Swartz hanged himself at the age of 26.

Brian Knappenberger’s film “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz” is a personal view into who Swartz was, how much he accomplished, and what led to his choice to end his life. The film also shows how society will suffer if we ignore the relationship between our technological landscape and our civil liberties.

Knappenberger has created many documentaries, commercials and feature films, and is executive producer of the 23-part Bloomberg series “Bloomberg Game Changers” which chronicles figures like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and the Twitter and Google co-founders. His films have explored the changing politics and tensions in the post-9/11 era.

The Forward caught up with Knappenberger to talk about “hacktivism,” Edward Snowden and Net Neutrality.

Dorri Olds: What scenes did you really like but had to cut from the film?

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David Ives Tells Truths About Roman Polanski

By Dorri Olds

Playwright David Ives got a telephone message from Roman Polanski: “I love your play and want to turn it into a movie.” The two didn’t know each other. Imagine getting a voicemail like that.

It would be an oversimplification to say Roman Polanski’s “Venus in Fur” is about sadomasochism, but technically it is. It’s about sex and power and humiliation, yet there’s nothing really sexy about it. It’s more a study of the nature of human relationships — to dominate or be dominated. It’s seen through the prism of two lonely people on the edge, played by Polanski’s wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, and Mathieu Amalric, an actor who looks eerily like a younger Polanski.

When you throw Polanski’s name into this story — that of a man who’s successfully avoided prosecution for raping a minor — the project takes on a new significance. But, as with Woody Allen, Polanski’s supreme artistry can overshadow what we don’t know and don’t want to know.

The Forward’s Dorri Olds landed an exclusive interview with Ives, who spoke about his collaboration with Polanski for their “Venus in Fur” screenplay and to elaborate on his time spent with a genius on the lam.

Dorri Olds: Where did you meet Polanski?

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'Tyrant' Is Brutal, But Not Anti-Arab

By Curt Schleier

“Tyrant” is a new series made possible by the combination of a network willing to take chances with a producer/writer/director who understands the Middle East and international intrigue.

The network is FX, which long ago decided that an audience for intelligent TV existed, and you didn’t need Kardashians to goose ratings. There followed a series of smart and occasionally quirky shows such as “Rescue Me,” “Justified,” “Sons of Anarchy” and “Louis,” which drew audiences, advertisers and critical raves.

“Tyrant”’s mastermind is Gideon Raff, an Israeli, who created the TV series on which “Homeland” is based. Once again he’s teamed up with Howard Gordon (“24”) to come up with a concept that is smart, tense and brave.

Bassam (Barry) Al-Fayeed (Adam Rayner) is the son of a dictator of Abbudin, a fictional Arab country. He fled from there two decades ago and built a new life in the United States. Now he’s a California pediatrician with a gorgeous wife and two all-American kids.

When the show opens, he reluctantly returns to Abbudin to attend his nephew’s wedding. From the get-go, there is a sense of foreboding that he and his family won’t make it home. While there, his father, Khaled, dies and his older brother, Jamal (Ashraf Barhom), is incapacitated in a car accident. While only the pilot was available for review, it seems clear that Bassam will need to stay there to rule.

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Israeli Actress Moran Atias Talks 'Third Person' and 'Tyrant'

By Dorri Olds

“Third Person,” written and directed by Paul Haggis (“Million Dollar Baby,” “Crash”), tells three love stories about passion, trust and betrayal. “In any relationship,” Haggis said, “there is always a third person present in some form.”

Israeli actress Moran Atias, who starred in the TV series “Crash,” pitched the idea of a multi-plotline film about love and relationships to Haggis. “Third Person” is the result, and Atias plays Roman beauty Monika in the movie. Atias stars opposite Adrien Brody as one of the three fraught couples. The all-star cast includes Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Maria Bello and Kim Bassinger.

Atias had worked directly with Haggis and Neeson when she starred in Haggis’s 2010 crime drama, “The Next Three Days.” Born and raised in Haifa, Atias later moved to Italy where she starred in several Italian films including the thriller “Gas.” Additionally, she worked for modeling campaigns for Dolce & Cabana, Roberto Cavalli and Versace. After much success in Italy she returned to Israel. Currently Atias lives in Los Angeles and stars in the FX series, “Tyrant,” an American show that takes place in the Middle East.

The Forward caught up with Moran Atias for an exclusive interview.

Dorri Olds: What inspired your idea for “Third Person?”

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'Making Stalin Laugh' Finds Humor in Tragedy

By Liam Hoare

Photo: Simon Annand/JW3

The second act of David Schneider’s new play, “Making Stalin Laugh,” opens in 1935, the year the Moscow State Yiddish Theater decided to mount a production of “King Lear” with its legendary director Solomon Mikhoels as the lead. Lear, Mikhoels tells the cast as the party apparatchiki watch over his rehearsal, is a “tragedy about the slow disintegration of a man’s illusions. Illusions don’t shatter overnight,” Mikhoels states, “they wither.”

A comedy within a tragedy, “Making Stalin Laugh” — premiering this month at London’s JW3 — is also about the slow withering of illusion: in this case, the notion held onto by Mikhoels that Jewish culture could survive in a state that saw Yiddish and Judaism as anachronisms, antithetical to revolution and progress.

“Making Stalin Laugh” follows the fate of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater from around the time of its production of “The Travels of Benjamin III” in 1927 until the assassination of Mikhoels by the Ministry for State Security in Minsk in 1948, the closure of the theatre company in 1949, and the Night of the Murdered Poets on August 12, 1952. Having been arrested on charges of espionage and treason, the Soviet Union’s most prominent Yiddish writers were executed as part of Stalin’s wider campaign against “rootless cosmopolitans.”

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Is the U.S. Getting Better at Soccer?

By Dan Friedman

Getty Images

As Team USA carries the hopes of the English-speaking world in Brazil, inquiring minds are wondering why England is so perennially terrible at the sport it invented (and let’s not get started on cricket).

It is a question that was surprisingly well answered in 2009, along with the corollary question about how America is getting good at a sport it barely cares about, by Simon Kuper in his book “Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey — and Even Iraq — Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport.”

In this soccer version of “Moneyball,” which he co-wrote with Stefan Szymanski, Kuper explains the success of various club soccer teams as well as national soccer teams through the judicious use of statistics. It explains the opportunity cost of racism in England in the 1970s and 1980s and, as the title suggests, provides a convincing explanation of why England are poor and the USA are destined for greatness.

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POEM: 'Letter to God'

By Joy Ladin

You say because I’m always about to die,
I am truly alive. My shadow stretches
over fallen branches, my skin smiles
under fingers of light, grass smiles along the path

You say is mine.
When You look at me, you see a child.
When I look at You, I see
a woman under a tree, a dog, a sign,

libraries of books I neither read nor write.
Life for You is easy as death, You do both all the time.
Try it You say. Be dead. Now be alive.
Now be everything you desire. Now let desire lie.


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From One Soccer Writer to Another

By Dan Friedman

There are two Jonathan Wilsons writing about soccer in a knowledgeable way. One is Jonathan Wilson from the Guardian, arguably the foremost journalistic expert on tactics in the modern game, the other is Jonathan Wilson, the Tufts University Fletcher Professor of Rhetoric and Debate, who covered the 1994 World Cup for The New Yorker and who covered the 2010 World Cup for the Faster Times, in the persona of a slightly demented Diego Maradona.

It’s hard for me to write about the latter Jonathan Wilson’s fast-paced memoir “Kick and Run, Memoir with Soccer Ball” — a tale that weaves the author’s passion for soccer through his life — because his dreams and realities so closely mirror my own in crucial ways. Although the details of his childhood troubles in London, his relationship with his mother, his time in Israel and the writing experiences mentioned above bear no direct relationship to mine 20 years later, his journeys through Judaism, Zionism, British and American academia into middle-class American middle age share the same outline.

Although he has more successfully used academia to straddle bohemia and bourgeoisie than I did, we both go to sleep dreaming of goals we — or more often now, our favorite teams — scored. Wilson’s knee injury means he has played his last Sunday morning pick up game, while I still struggle on. But the poignant mentions of the deaths (cancer and traffic accident) of his co-players sound a warning knell over my own beloved cohort of Sunday morning strugglers.

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Hero in Print, Villain at Home

By Allen Ellenzweig

Few of us ever face a moral decision with life or death consequences, or that threatens to influence, however feebly, the course of history. This may be one reason why the moral calculations of men and women who lived during the rise of the Third Reich and the Second World War prove so durable as the subject of literature and film.

“The Last Sentence,” director Jan Troell’s account of a renowned Swedish newspaper editor, Torgny Segerstedt, who wrote early and forcefully against Hitler in his editorials, presents us with one such man. Yet instead of portraying this valorous figure as totally heroic, Troell does something more complicated — he presents a man whose personal life contains a strong dose of moral failure.

From Troell’s earliest frames, shot in the classic black and white of the period in question, we are in the hands of a master film craftsman. (Troell is best known in America for his award winning “The Emigrants” and “The New Land.”) Simple but compelling images of leaves floating on the surface of a clear shallow stream strike a poetic but also a philosophical note: Is the image a reminder of the way in which most of us “float” on the surface of life led by imperceptible currents?

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Jewish Roots of the 'Beautiful Game'

By Dan Friedman

British Jews have never accounted for more than 1% of the population. And their contribution to soccer has always been obscured. But, in his well-researched and compellingly-written history, “Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?: The History of Football’s Forgotten Tribe,” Anthony Clavane explains the outsize contribution of British Jews to British soccer and their pivotal role in the creation of the English Premier League.

For America this is the first World Cup. In 1994 the USA (under the guidance of Alan Rothenberg) hosted the games but, beyond the Hispanic community, the nation’s interest was really only piqued by the world’s interest and in a proprietary concern of providing hospitality — it might just as well have been the cricket World Cup for all that mainstream America cared.

John Oliver’s primer about the evils of FIFA is one of the proofs of the current interest. The printed guides to the games in local papers across the country, The New Republic’s dedicated World Cup blog and The New York Times’s three front page stories over the past month are further proof.

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Why Soccer Creates the Best Middle East Dialogue

By Dan Friedman

Getty Images

Thinkers from Cass Sunstein to Eli Pariser in “The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You,” have elucidated the threat to social discourse posed by the Internet. Increasingly able to insulate ourselves from disagreement, we live in bubbles of like-mindedness. From whichever angle, it’s epistemic closure in sociological jargon, “bullshit mountain” in Jon Stewart’s terms.

Soccer is one of the few places that sworn enemies talk, argue, read each other’s news: interact. It’s not perfect, there are inequities, iniquities, pitched battles and tragedies but those narratives clash openly in the media as well as on the pitch.

Tamir Sorek’s book, “Arab Soccer in a Jewish State: The Integrative Enclave,” about the social norms of soccer in Israel is an attempt to analyze how Jewish and Arab soccer co-exist in Israel, in various different ways. And to see whether soccer, in such a conflicted part of the world, can have a constructive effect on the situation.

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Abraham Klein, The Greatest Soccer Referee

By Dan Friedman

Image courtesy Abraham Klein

Israel has reached the World Cup finals just once — Mexico 1970 — where, after losing to Uruguay and tying with Sweden and Italy, it failed to progress beyond the group stage. That year in Mexico, though, there was an outstanding Israeli success — referee Abraham Klein.

An unlikely figure to take charge of 22 iconic athletes, the Israeli Klein stood barely 5 feet tall. At age 36, he was one of the youngest referees at the tournament and a World Cup novice, to boot. And what was his first game? England — soccer’s mother country and World Cup holders since the previous tournament in 1966 — against Brazil, perennial contenders (winners in 1958 and 1962) and embodiment of the exuberant reinvention of the spirit of soccer as “the beautiful game.”

Over the span of the next four world cups (though he missed 1974) he would prove his worth as one of the world’s leading referees, officiating as linesman for the 1982 World Cup Final in Spain.

His highly meticulous and detailed system for refereeing is outlined in his book “The Referee’s Referee: Becoming the Best.” which, though a little tricky to get hold of, is a referees’ must-read.


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Terrorist Father, Ultra-Orthodox Mother

By Anne Joseph

The extraordinary documentary film, “Life Sentences,” was many years in the planning, says co-director Yaron Shani. Winner of the best documentary film at last year’s Jerusalem Film Festival, it will receive its UK premiere in London later this month during SERET, the Israeli Film and Television Festival.

“Life Sentences” tells the story of Nimer Ahmed, the son of Fauzi al Nimer, an Arab from Acre and an Israeli Jewish woman from Nahariya who married in the early 1960s after a whirlwind romance, much to the wrath of both their families. They had two children, Nimer, and a daughter. But without his family knowing, Fauzi Nimer was a notorious Palestinian terrorist who was eventually convicted of carrying out 22 terror attacks in Israel.

Nimer’s mother took her young children to Montreal where they embedded themselves among the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, never discussing their father or the life they had left. Now married to his Muslim cousin living in Acre, Nimer has two children of his own, and although his story could be construed as yet another casualty of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the film manages to delve deeply into the complexities of a life that beggars belief.

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POEM: 'Carlisle Street (The Last Ghetto)'

By Matthue Roth

You and me on Carlisle Street
feels so illegitimate, holding hands
strolling along stands of Tasmanian fruits and music stores
two bars, more urbane than urban
where the Jewish kids meet. flirt. buy each other drinks.
but always go home alone.

A rabbi once told us
always have guests for Shabbos dinner.
It’s a segulah for shalom bayis.

What that means in English is,
you fight less
with other people around.

On Carlisle Street
we are never alone
every five steps is
another long-lost friend
or the cousin of one.
To move a block
Takes hours.
We are the opposite Of a marathon.

Chana, 22 years old
and still single, anxiously
trades names of old flames
pairing up, kids flying out
as fast as photocopies

She’s the last in her class
to get married. She is an advertisement
for herself,
dressed in nostalgic black & white
getting more severe every year
like a bottle of wine
she poses with a picture of her husband
propped against her heart.
Now all she has to do
Is find him.

John lives alone with the ghosts
of his grandparents
in their old apartment. He is the wildest
kid we know, visiting exorcists and
death-rock shows, throwing footballs over
international borders, but at home
he is tender. At sunset
the three of them have tea
making dirty jokes that offend
none of their sensibilities.

My cousin Karl
80 years old next month and never married,
I’m his closest relative
and I’m never here
drinks coffee and talks
to waitresses 60 years younger than he is
tells them he’s the president of the USA

They never doubt it.
He’s earned this retirement
a conductor on Melbourne trains for 30 years
and 5 years in Nazi slave camps
now he sits in his old barrack-mate’s café
Glick’s Bakery and bagels that don’t taste like bagels,
they taste like bread
He’ll sit there for hours like a fishing net,
waiting for people
to trickle in.

I know where he is. I’ll bite.
I like stories,
and it’s nice to be legitimate
for a change.


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When an Economic Crisis Hits Home

By Anne Joseph

There are times when Tom Shoval’s debut film, “Youth,” is deeply uncomfortable to watch. Set in an unnamed central Israeli suburb the film shows two teenage brothers who kidnap a wealthy girl in order to solve their family’s growing financial crisis. Tense, foreboding and menacing from the opening frame, the film, which won best feature at last year’s Jerusalem Film Festival, will receive its UK premiere later this month as part of SERET, the London Israeli Film and Television Festival.

“Youth” reflects Shoval’s close relationship with his brother, who is four years his junior and with whom he shares an almost telepathic relationship. ‘We have a very strong connection. He knows what I’m thinking even before I speak or the other way ‘round. We also look very similar and sometimes people confuse us,” he told the Forward. He describes being curious about the nature of their bond and decided “to try and translate this connection into cinema.”

The experience of economic hardship that befalls the family in the film also has autobiographical overtones. When Shoval’s father lost his job — a victim of the struggling middle class in Israel — he lapsed into depression and Shoval describes the ensuing tension in the family home. “My parents were trying to protect us, they didn’t really tell us what was happening. We were told that everything was going to be okay but my brother and I felt that something deeper and more frightening was going on.” It was a shock to see his father, his role model, suddenly becoming a shadow of himself, he says.

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'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' and the Future of Television

By Eitan Kensky

Summer is the cruelest cultural season. With that in mind, ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) is a new occasional series highlighting movies, TV shows, books, comics and everything else we might have missed in the past few months that we can catch up on in the next few.

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was last year’s best new sitcom. Watching is now a moral imperative.

Husks of series that ended too soon litter Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime: unwatched critics’ darlings; cult shows that never proselytized; dramas that took too long to find their rhythms; the doomed and the criminally “ahead of their time.”

TV economics never made sense. It was never easy to launch a show, find an audience, maintain quality, keep the cast intact and sober, and hit the cash money of syndication. Today it’s nearly impossible. Kevin Reilly, the programmer at Fox who championed “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and the maddeningly inconsistent “The Mindy Project” is now the “outgoing chairman of entertainment.” The business is changing, but no one knows where it’s going. What will advertisers pay for streams and how will they count them? How many days after an episode airs are ads still effective? The one metric that everyone agrees on is how many viewers watch a show live, or (who can be picky!), the same day. Numbers of viewers that would have been laughable decades ago are now hits.

But unless you like business stories, ignore conversations on the future of television. Fans of TV who want to make the medium better should instead concentrate on this maxim: Watch what matters to you live. Do not wait until the season ends or when the DVD comes out or a show hits Netflix. Make watching the shows that matter to you the day they air a priority and pray that there are enough of you. Tell your friends when you think something is good. Otherwise “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” will die.

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Learning the Wrong Lessons From the Rosenbergs

By Curt Schleier

Photo: Rahav Segev/Photopass

There are lessons to be learned from “Ethel Sings,” the new play about the Rosenbergs running through mid-July in Manhattan.

The most obvious is about the dangers of governmental overreach. Also: less is more. And both playwright Joan Beber and director Will Pomerantz would do well to learn that.

“Ethel Sings” is a potentially powerful story burdened by totally unnecessary over writing and directing. It’s been a little over six decades since the couple were executed, but much of their story remains hauntingly familiar.

Ethel (Tracy Michailidis) and Julius (Ari Butler) meet at a Young Communist League. She wants to become a singer; he wants to change the world. In a country where anti-Semitism and racism flourish, he sees communism as a beacon of hope.

Ethel is less enthralled with politics and concerned that her husband’s affiliation keeps getting him fired. She urges him to quit the Party.

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Doug Liman on Action Movies and Shabbat With Dad

By Curt Schleier

Doug Liman made his reputation directing “Swingers,” a film that helped establish the viability of independent film, not to mention the careers of Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau. His personal favorite is “Go,” a movie he knows “no one saw.”

But certainly Liman is best known as an action director: “Bourne Identity,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and now, “Edge of Tomorrow.”

The movie stars Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt and is already the best reviewed of Liman’s films; it will restore luster to Cruise’s career, tarnished recently by “Oblivion,” “Rock of Ages” and “Knight and Day.”

Liman grew up in Manhattan, the son of Arthur Liman, who led the Iran Contra investigation. Liman spoke to the Forward about the art of making action movies, what Cruise is really like, and how Shabbat dinners with his dad prepared him for Hollywood.

Curt Schleier: Is there a secret to making action films?

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