Actor Seth Rogen and writer-producer Evan Goldberg, known for R-rated stoner comedies such as “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express,” make their debut as directors this week with “This Is the End.”
Rogen, 31, and Goldberg, 30, said that they wanted to push the boundaries of comedy by having actors play themselves dealing with an apocalypse in the film, which will be released in North America on Wednesday.
“It always seemed weird for all of us to all be in a movie and not acknowledge that we all somehow know each other, because we’ve been in so many movies together already. To me it was almost distracting that we didn’t play ourselves,” Rogen said.
“We’ve never seen it in a movie done like this, so it was exciting,” he added.
In the film, a group of Hollywood’s top young comedy actors including Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Mindy Kaling, Jason Segel, Michael Cera, Emma Watson and Danny McBride come together at a wild party at James Franco’s house.
The revelers are interrupted by the apocalypse. Fireballs ravage the Hollywood Hills, leaving a trail of destruction and a giant fire pit that swallows up many celebrity guests, including pop singer Rihanna, in front of Franco’s house.
Another year, another Woody Allen movie.
Allen’s latest picture, “Blue Jasmine,” is scheduled for a July 26 release, but we can get a sense of it now thanks to a trailer that was released this weekend.
With Cate Blanchett starring as a trophy wife whose husband (Alec Baldwin) turns out to be a Bernie Madoff-esque criminal, it looks like “Blue Jasmine” may be more drama than comedy, returning Allen to mid-career films like “Interiors,” “Another Woman” and “Husbands and Wives.” The fans satirized in Allen’s “Stardust Memories” may have preferred his “early, funny ones,” but given the resounding flop of last year’s “To Rome, With Love,” a return to serious might not be a bad thing.
Watch the trailer for ‘Blue Jasmine’:
WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange stole my intended headline for this post: “The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil.’” Or maybe it was a New York Times copy editor, who gave that title to Assange’s opinion piece accusing Google of technocratic imperialism. Either way, now I can’t use it for fear of plagiarism… or at least, a perceived lack of creativity.
The headline, a riff on the search giant’s motto, would have been perfect to sum up my impression of the new comedy, “The Internship.” “Wedding Crashers” duo Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson play nearing-middle age buddies and out-of-work analog-era watch salesmen, who manage to get into Google’s internship program, improbably prove themselves (who says you can’t teach an old dog some new hi-tech tricks?), and teach a group of geeky misfit college students some life lessons along the way. The movie is such a banal, formulaic and predictable comedy that it most certainly did not merit rushing to catch an advance screening at a movie theater located literally next to the Google campus in Mountain View, California.
I guess I was hoping for a meta-experience akin to the one I had while watching “The Social Network” at the very same theater, which is also not far from Facebook headquarters. But then again, what was I thinking? This is a story co-written by Vince Vaughn and directed by Shawn Levy of “Night at the Museum” and “Date Night” fame. Director David Fincher, Academy and Emmy Award-winning writer Aaron Sorkin and Oscar-nominated actor Jesse Eisenberg came nowhere near this production.
Craig Zisk’s first feature film, “The English Teacher,” which opened on May 17, starts out as a lighthearted inspirational comedy. It stars Julianne Moore as Linda, an unmarried 40-year-old high school English teacher in a small town.
Linda lives her life vicariously, through the heroines of the literary novels she reads and teaches. But her life changes when a former star pupil, Jason (Michael Angarano), returns after his efforts at playwriting in New York failed. He’s decided (or has been pressured by his handsome single father, played by Greg Kinnear) to give up on his dreams and go to law school. Linda can’t stand the thought of Jason abandoning playwriting, so she decides to mount his play. It all seems so obvious and straightforward — until the story takes a dark turn.
Zisk got his start working on Gary David Goldberg’s “Brooklyn Bridge,” the most wholesome and Jewish shows on television since “The Goldbergs.” He has been an executive producer — of “Weeds,” “United States of Tara” and “The Larry Sanders Show” — and a director whose credits include “Nip/Tuck,” “Entourage” and “Parks and Recreation,” among others.
Zisk spoke to The Arty Semite over the phone from California just four days after the birth of his twins, Noah and Oliver. He talked about starting out, transitioning from television to film and the difference between Texas Jews and the rest of us.
Curt Schleier: You got your start in television through your friendship with Gary David Goldberg. How did that begin?
But that is not at all the case with the Coen brothers, who recently said quite definitively that there would be no sequel to the 1998 cult classic, whose popularity continues to grow.
“No, I don’t see it in our future,” said Ethan Coen at a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival last Monday. “I don’t think it’s going to happen … I just don’t like sequels,” added his brother Joel.
While Bridges and co-star John Turturro are game for a reprise of their roles in the film, the Coens are more focused on current and future projects — none of which are likely to involve hippie bowlers.
The filmmakers were in Cannes promoting their new film, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a melancholy comedy about a struggling folk singer in 1961 New York. John Goodman, whose “Big Lebowski” character Walter Sobchak will not be reminding us again that he doesn’t roll on Shabbos, has a role in the film.
“Big Lebowski” fans will surely not be pleased with the Coen brothers’ decision, but it looks as though they will just have to abide.
Orthodox filmmaker Rama Burshtein is a special case. Not only does she come from a community that frowns on film-watching — never mind film-making — but she has managed to create “Fill the Void,” a movie that has won awards and acclaim around the world. (You can read my recent profile of Burshtein here.)
Burshtein is not the only Haredi woman making movies, however, even if she is the most famous. In 2012 Tamar Rotem reported in Haaretz on the growing numbers of Haredi filmmakers in Israel, “a shadow industry in which the directors make films for women only, without subsidies and without establishment recognition.”
Such films, which must maintain a religious perspective, are usually not very good. Indeed, one of the most remarkable aspects of Burshtein’s film is that it breaks from the didactic mold, showing an artistically viable way for Orthodox artists to make films about themselves, rather than let others tell their stories for them. When I asked Burshtein about Haredi filmmaking, however, she argued against the notion that such movies represent some kind of “progress.”
“I’m not trying to connect with my Haredi community, they don’t need me for that,” she said. “It’s not about progressing or becoming ‘less primitive.’”
I have a lot of faith in the Coen brothers. But when I heard that their next film, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” was going to be about a singer-songwriter in Greenwhich Village during the folk revival, I was a little worried. If there’s a period ripe for nostalgia among beardy folk music types, this one is it, and I didn’t want to see the Coen’s talent squandered on an excursion into hippy-folky sentimentality.
Fortunately, early reports on the film from Cannes, where it premiered May 19, indicate that such is not the case. According to CBS, the movie was “met rapturously” and talk has already begun of Oscar nominations. Writing in Indiewire, Glenn Heath Jr. describes the film like this:
Set in early 1960s Greenwich Village at the dawn of the folk music revolution, the film opens with the bearded Llewyn performing in medium shot in a smoky beatnik bar. From the outset, his raspy musical voice is honest and vulnerable, two traits that seem to vanish the second he must deal with the real world in any discernible way. Even more interesting, the audience in the film doesn’t quite jive with Llewyn’s brooding and inclusive musical persona. The crowd’s lethargic faces look on in jest, proving the lack of connection between performer and patron. Much of Inside Llewyn Davis is about the often-futile attempts at translating original artistry into mass emotional consumption.
“Blazing Saddles” is generally regarded as Mel Brooks’s best movie: It was ranked sixth on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American comedies and it was nominated for three Academy Awards. “Best,” though, is a relative term. Brooks’s Borscht Belt-meets-absurdism style is so unique and so indelible that what we call the “best” is usually the first of his movies we fell in love with.
It’s safer to say that “Blazing Saddles” was Brooks’s most timely movie, even his most serious movie. And it’s as safe to say that there wouldn’t be a Mel Brooks installment of PBS’s “American Masters” (premiering May 20; check local listings) without “Blazing Saddles.”
The opening scene is terrific and justifiably famous. We see a mix of Chinese and black workers pounding hammers under the desert sun. Their vicious and idiotic white overseers demand they sing spirituals like they did when they were slaves. The workers huddle, break apart, and slowly we hear a sweet, beautiful voice: “I get no kick from champagne.” Almost before we can process the joke, Brooks lays a second one atop the first: the black workers join in, harmonizing with the lead singer. This isn’t one person singing Cole Porter; this is a full, sophisticated a cappella routine. Brooks continues to add inversion after inversion, but the jokes work because the first few bars of that unexpected, anachronistic song say so much about racial ignorance.
A tragic love story between two Palestinians living under Israeli occupation received a standing ovation at the Cannes film festival on Monday and broke new ground as the first film fully funded by the Palestinian cinema industry.
“Omar” by director Hany Abu-Assad, known for the 2005 award-winning film “Paradise Now,” is a political thriller interwoven with a story of trust and betrayal as two lovers are torn apart by Israel’s secret police and Palestinian freedom fighters.
Omar, a baker, is in love with Nadia, the sister of his friend Tarek who is a Palestinian fighter on the West Bank.
Arrested and humiliated by the Israeli military police, Omar, played by Adam Bakri, joins Tarek and colleague, Amjad, in a mission to kill an Israeli soldier and ends up imprisoned, tortured, and under pressure to betray his friends.
Earmarked a traitor, he starts to doubt Nadia’s fidelity, especially as she is also pursued by Amjad, and his life falls apart as he is pursued across the ravaged Palestinian landscape.
Abu-Assad said he was delighted by the reception his film received at Cannes, where picky critics are known to boo films that do not meet their expectations, and he hoped the festival would help gain international attention for “Omar.”
Not everyone has Zack Galifianakis renting an apartment for them, or Renee Zellweger paying to furnish it. But then again, not everyone is Mimi.
Mimi is an 88-year-old woman who, until very recently, lived in a laundromat on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, Calif. She is the subject of a film being made by Israeli actor and director Yaniv Rokah. Now entering post-production thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, “Queen Mimi” tells the story of how this feisty octogenarian, who was once a San Fernando Valley housewife, ended up living on the streets of Los Angeles for almost a decade before taking up permanent residence at Fox Laundry 18 years ago.
“When I first came to L.A. seven years ago, I would be heading every morning to work at Caffe Luxxe on Santa Monica Avenue. It was 5 a.m. and the street would be dark and empty, but I would always notice Mimi waking up in the laundromat,” Rokah recalled in a phone conversation with The Arty Semite.
“I started talking to her, and we became friends. She is such an interesting person, and I decided I’d better capture this before she’s no longer with us.”
The first trailer is out for Ari Folman’s new film, “The Congress” (see here for background), and though I hate to say it, it’s a little disappointing.
I’ve been looking forward to this movie for ages, mainly because it seems like the perfect creative pairing.
Folman, in his 2008 film “Waltz With Bashir,” used groundbreaking animation techniques to create a movie of impressive psychological depth and intensity.
“The Futurological Congress,” the book by Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem on which “The Congress” is based, is a hallucinatory look at a possible future in which humanity has drugged itself with psychoactive chemicals in order to make an overpopulated, resource-exhausted world bearable to live in.
I was hoping that combining Folman’s animated storytelling technique with Lem’s multi-layered dystopia would produce something like Satoshi Kon’s “Paprika,” another animated exploration of the mind’s slipperiest states.
Danish director Susanne Bier is on a roll. Her 2006 film, “After the Wedding,” was nominated for an Academy Award the next year, and her 2010 movie “In a Better World,” won the best foreign film Oscar and a Golden Globe in 2011.
Her latest film, “Love Is All You Need,” stars Pierce Brosnan as an ex-patriot Brit living in Copenhagen, and Trine Dyrholm as a hairdresser dealing with the ravages of breast cancer and with her husband’s affair with a younger woman. They meet in sunny Sorrento, Italy, where their children are to be married to each other. Despite its dark overtones, the film is full of romance and hope.
“Love Is All You Need” opened in New York and Los Angeles May 3 before spreading across the country. Bier, in the United States to promote the film, spoke to The Arty Semite about the movie, the Oscars and growing up Jewish in Copenhagen. The one thing she didn’t want to talk about is anti-Semitism there today.
Curt Schleier: It is such an unusual story. Where did the idea come from?
Susanne Bier: Both [my writing collaborator Anders Thomas] Jensen and myself have been approached to do something on the topic of cancer.
People asked you to do a cancer movie?
Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann brings to life F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel, “The Great Gatsby,” which opens in U.S. theaters Friday before unspooling at the Cannes Film Festival on May 15.
The film reunites Luhrmann with actor Leonardo DiCaprio, with whom he last worked on the big screen adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo + Juliet” in 1996.
DiCaprio stars as Jay Gatsby, a millionaire pining for a lost love, played by Carey Mulligan, during the height of the hedonistic 1920’s. Tobey Maguire and Joel Edgerton also star.
Luhrmann, 50, spoke to Zorianna Kit about working with DiCaprio and his collaboration with rapper Jay-Z on the film’s soundtrack.
Zorianna Kit: What was the difference between working with DiCaprio on “Romeo + Juliet” some 15 years ago and “The Great Gatsby” now?
Baz Luhrmann: Back then, he was very gifted, but he was a boy. Now he is a man and true partner in creativity. He’s been on film sets since he was a child and so he’s only ever known film culture. He knows what is a waste of time and he knows where to put the energy. He’s extremely exigent.
Only in New York could a troupe of Jewish and Dominican kids team up with a Broadway legend on a musical production about a Latin dictator’s rescue of Jews during the Holocaust.
But it’s a true story. And a new documentary called “Sosua: Make a Better World” chronicles the collaboration of 20 prickly teens in Washington Heights with stage giant Elizabeth Swados on a play about the unlikeliest of subjects: The 1938 rescue of 800 German Jews by Dominican strongman Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. Sosua was the Dominican town where the refugees eventually settled.
For Sosua co-director Renee Silverman, the film’s setup mirrors real-life challenges in Washington Heights, the uptown neighborhood where the kids live and where she herself settled in 2008. “I live on Bennett Avenue, which is 60% Jewish and 40% gentrified,” she told The Arty Semite. “On the other side of Broadway lives the largest population of Dominicans outside the Dominican Republic. And we rarely interact.”
But by the end of the film — with self-evident symbolism — the kids are singing in unison. “It’s a tremendous story,” she said. The Forward caught up with Silverman in Manhattan, where she works as a freelance producer for the German television network ARD.
Michael Kaminer: The film draws out the contradiction between Rafael Trujillo’s rescue of Jews and the murder of thousands of Haitians under his rule. Did most of the kids you worked with consider him a hero or a villain?
Two Jewish-themed films fared well at the 2013 German Film Awards (known as the Lolas) April 26 in Berlin.
“Hannah Arendt,” famed German director Margarethe von Tratta’s film focusing on four years (1960-1964) in the political theorist’s life, won the Silver Lola for best film. The film deals with the period during which Arendt, a German-Jewish refugee, went to Jerusalem to cover Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann’s trial for The New Yorker. Her articles were followed in 1963 by the controversial book “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.”
The film has enjoyed positive reviews for von Tratta’s direction, and especially for German actress Barbara Sukowa’s portrayal of Arendt, which won her the Lola for best actress.
The three Israeli films at this year’s Tribeca Film Festiva, which ended April 28, reflect an eclectic mix of genres, visions, and views about Israeli culture and the world at large. Two of the films deal with victimization, abuse and culpability.
“Big Bad Wolves” starts out promisingly, with a suspenseful slow-motion opening sequence, as three youngsters play hide and seek near an abandoned cabin in the woods. The audience knows something terrible is going to happen, and indeed, the scene ends with one of the girls gone missing, though her bright red shoe is found. The single shoe is a vivid and evocative touch, hinting at the sudden violence she may have encountered.
Eventually her headless corpse is discovered. She is the most recent victim in a series of grisly murders committed by a pedophile who brutally molests young girls before beheading them. The police believe they have solid evidence against a wimpy religious studies teacher whom they were forced to release on a technicality. Played by Rotem Keinan, the would-be rapist-killer is at once pathetic and creepy.
Regrettably, the film becomes graphically violent, though comedy is thrown into the mix. Between shattering the toes of his intended prey, one of the characters enjoys a cup of soup with his father who arrives on the scene. They talk about mom.
The film’s directors, Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, whose debut film “Rabies” was Israel’s first horror flick, are clearly influenced by the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino’s genre-blending aesthetic. And like their American counterparts, they’re offering social commentary. According to their own statement the film’s characters emerge from a society that is so paranoid that the victim inevitably becomes the out-of-control victimizer.
Ricky Jay is a polymath of the dark arts. A master of sleight-of-hand and considered by some to be one of the greatest magician living today, he is also a historian of magic, a collector of rare books, a lecturer, a film and television actor, and a co-creator of the firm Deceptive Practices, which supplies “arcane knowledge on a need-to-know basis” to film, TV and theatrical companies by using magic and illusions to solve production challenges.
Finally, he is the subject of a fascinating new documentary, “Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay,” which opened in New York on April 17.
A combination of extraordinary archival performance footage and a series of lengthy interviews with Jay, it reveals a man who was introduced to magic by his grandfather, then left home at 16 and was taken under the wings of some of the greatest magicians of the time.
Jay spoke to The Arty Semite about discovering magic, his mentors and the Jewish influence on magic and magicians.
Curt Schleier: In the film, you mention that you wanted the magician Al Flosso to perform at your bar mitzvah, and your parents arranged that as a surprise. That seems like a big deal, yet you didn’t seem to get along with your parents. You called it “the only kind thing I remember.”
Although Ari Folman’s “The Congress” didn’t make the main competition at the upcoming Cannes International Film Festival, it will open the Director’s Fortnight sidebar, the festival announced yesterday. The film is reported to be part-animated and part-live action, and stars Robin Wright, Paul Giamatti, Jon Hamm and Harvey Keitel, among others.
Folman, an Israeli filmmaker, is best-known for his Oscar-nominated 2008 film “Waltz With Bashir.” The new movie is based on “The Futurological Congress,” a satirical science fiction novel by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem. In the novel, Lem’s hero Ijon Tichy travels to the Eighth Futurolgical Congress in Costa Ricato to discuss the overpopulation of Earth, among other ills. During the Congress a guerilla insurrection is put down with the use of new psychotropic chemical weapons, a foreshadowing of things to come.
According to early descriptions, Folman’s adaptation seems to have little to do with the original storyline. Deadline.com reports that Wright plays an actress who agrees to be digitized and turned into a virtual figure by a Hollywood movie studio, retaining no rights to her likeness. Although that plot is absent from Lem’s novel, I’m curious to see what Folman does with Lem’s surreal narrative and satirical themes. Based on his track record, I think it’ll be interesting.
Was the 2006 kidnapping, 24-day long torture, and murder of 23-year-old French-Jewish cell phone salesman Ilan Halimi by a suburban Paris gang fueled by anti-Semitism? In the new documentary film, “Jews & Money,” there’s no doubt about the answer.
In the film we see lawyers arguing over the validity of anti-Semitic hate crime charges, but filmmaker Lewis Cohen’s starting point is obvious. The story of Halimi’s murder and its aftermath serves as a springboard for the history and development of Western anti-Semitis, and the adoption of its elements by Islamists and others opposed to the State of Israel.
In particular, it is the gang leader’s admission that Halimi was targeted because of the belief that all Jews are rich, which sets the stage for the filmmaker’s investigation of this invidious canard.
Cohen told an audience at the first screening of the film’s final cut on April 17 at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco that it was the topic of Jews and money, and not the Halimi case specifically, that first interested him. He said he hadn’t thought much about the origin of the stereotype until he took an extended trip to Europe about five years ago. He decided he wanted to focus on the subject, and when someone told him about Halimi, he realized the crime was an excellent framing device.
The Cannes International Film Festival announced the lineup for its main competition today, and the film I was hoping for most isn’t there.
Still, there are movies to look forward to. Chief among them is “Inside Llewyn Davis,” by Joel and Ethan Coen, about a Bob Dylan-esque Greenwich Village singer-songwriter in the 1960s, which is supposed to be loosely based on Dave Van Ronk’s memoir, “The Mayor of MacDougal Street.” And Roman Polanski’s “Venus in Fur” will be competing, based on David Ives’s Tony Award-winning play of the same name.
What won’t be screening is “The Congress,” a part-animated, part-live action film by Israeli director Ari Folman. That’s the same Ari Folman who made the spectacular “Waltz With Bashir” in 2008, which did premiere at Cannes and which went on to be nominated for an Oscar as the Best Foreign Language Film.
“The Congress” is supposed to be based on “The Futurological Congress,” by Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, though plot synopses floating around the Internet make it sound totally different. If it’s anything like the spirit of the book, however, it should be phenomenal. We’ll just have to keep our eyes on Venice, Toronto and Berlin.
Watch the trailer for ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’:
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