When he was barely out of his teens, Martin Landau was already a successful cartoonist working for the New York Daily News. In fact, the young artist was being groomed by the paper as its next theatrical caricaturist. Landau knew that if he got the job, he would never give it up.
The time: 2003. The place: Black Site — Undisclosed Location. A battered man strung up by his wrists is being questioned by an interrogator. When he refuses to answer, he is forced to the ground and held down by three men wearing ski masks. A black towel is wrapped around his face, and the interrogator pours water from a pitcher over the towel while shouting questions at his prisoner: “Who is in the Saudi group? What’s the target? When is the last time you saw bin Laden?”
Alan Arkin is not an actor who seeks individual glory. But that hasn’t prevented the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from singling him out several times. This year, Arkin has again been nominated for an Oscar, this time as best supporting actor for his work in the critically acclaimed “Argo.”
The time: 2003. The place: Black Site: Undisclosed Location. A battered man strung up by his wrists is being questioned by an interrogator. When he refuses to answer he is forced to the ground and held down by three men wearing ski masks.
On Feb. 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, tragically taking the lives of all seven astronauts on board. Among those who never returned home were Israeli Air Force Col. Ilan Ramon — Israel’s first and only astronaut — and a miniature Torah dating back to the Holocaust.
This has been a good year for filmmaker Ira Sachs. His new feature, "Keep the Lights On," received a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and won the prestigious Teddy Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. And while the intensely personal, autobiographical film centers on a tumultuous love affair between two men, Sachs believes audiences will relate to the human experience of relationships shared by all couples.
“I am the Wolf Man!”
This proclamation was not made by Lon Chaney Jr., who starred in the 1941 film “The Wolf Man.” Nor was it pronounced by Benicio Del Toro, who takes on the title role in the 2010 remake of the horror classic. These words belong to Curt Siodmak, the prolific writer and Jewish refugee who created the original screenplay for “The Wolf Man” while working for Universal Studios in the 1940s. Like many Jews in Germany, Siodmak and his wife, Henrietta, were forced to flee from their homeland after Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in the 1930s. And it was that experience — being a Jew in Germany during that black period — that inspired Siodmak’s most enduring story.
"I remember at an early age being told in school that Jews were a minority in the world," filmmaker Azazel Jacobs mused. "And I remember just not believing that because I lived in New York City and thinking they must have things wrong because I was surrounded by so many Jews. That was the whole world to me."
For Safdie, filmmaking is an extended family affair. His brother Benny, whose own short film was screened at Cannes, is part of the merry band of movie makers at Redbucket Films, which Sadie describes as "kind of like a tree house for kids who wanna grow old together."
When writer/director Morgan Spurlock ("Super Size Me") discovered he was going to become a father two years ago, he was concerned about the tumultuous state of the world into which his child was being born. Spurlock's wish was to give his child a safer and more harmonious place to live. So, after a crash course in combat survival, the filmmaker set off on a journey through the Middle East to find the one man who has shaped the world's perception of that region in recent years: Osama bin Laden. The results of that quest are documented in his new film, "Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?"
"I have a strong kinship with Abbie Hoffman," admitted Brett Morgen, writer and director of the semidocumentary film, "Chicago 10." "I haven't seen anyone in my lifetime that spoke to me the way he did." It was during the 1969 Chicago conspiracy trial that Hoffman and his co-defendants were dubbed "The Chicago 8." The radical group also included Yippie co-founder Jerry Rubin and Tom Hayden, a future California assemblyman and state senator. While researching his film, Morgen found an interview with Rubin that said they should be called the Chicago 10 because their lawyers, William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass, were charged and sentenced for contempt. Taking his cue from Rubin, Morgen named his film "Chicago 10."
Gary David Goldberg did not set out to be a screenwriter. He was already 30 when a teacher at San Diego State University guided him toward the profession. That fateful nudge set Goldberg on his path to becoming a successful writer/producer and director of a string of films and television shows that include "Spin City," "Brooklyn Bridge" and the phenomenally popular sitcom, "Family Ties."
When Jason Reitman decided to become a filmmaker, he was not only following the path of his father, producer-director Ivan Reitman, but that of his heritage as well.
"I think Jewish people are great storytellers," the 30 year-old film director said. "Celebrating our heritage and our holidays has so much to do to with storytelling. We've survived so long, partly on our ability to tell stories. I love to make people laugh, and I've always had an attraction to telling stories."
The Rat Pack's impromptu shows, an intoxicating hi-ball of songs, dance, jokes and alcohol, are part of Vegas legend. Now, more than 40 years later, Angelenos will have the chance to experience a dead-on recreation of those legendary nights, at the Los Angeles premiere of "The Rat Pack -- Live at the Sands" at the Wilshire Theatre Beverly Hills.
Tamara Jenkins knows firsthand what an overwhelming task it is to care for a parent suffering from dementia. While she was in her mid-30s, she had to help care for both her father and grandmother during their final days in a nursing home. She also knows that no matter how grave a situation might be, there are always sparks of humor surrounding it. So it's no surprise that her new film, "The Savages," addresses that very subject and does so with a healthy dose of comic perspective.
"Eight in 10 Americans know two all-beef patties are in a Big Mac, but just over four in 10 -- 41% -- can't name 'Thou shall not kill' as one of the Ten Commandments," according to a 2007 study. Those not-too-surprising results reported by Kelton Research is why producer Frank Yablans is convinced that this is a critical time to have a studio producing educational, faith-based films. "We hope to educate young people and families as to where all civilization came from," explained the 72-year-old Hollywood veteran. Yablans, born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, said he had a "typical New York Jewish upbringing." For more than 50 years, he has toiled in the film industry, steadily rising through the ranks to president of Paramount Pictures in the early '70s. "The Godfather," and "Chinatown" are just a few of the titles that made it one of the most critically acclaimed and profitable studios of that period. But now, he has turned his focus and passion to his new company, Promenade Pictures, whose first production, a computer-animated film, "The Ten Commandments," is scheduled for release Friday, Oct. 19.
The Warners predicted, correctly, that "The Jazz Singer" would be "without a doubt, the biggest stride since the birth of the industry." But the film's importance may not rest solely on the fact that it was the first sound film. It was also the first film to boldly address the assimilation of immigrant Jews into American culture.
In May 2006, Harlan Ellison received the Grand Master Award from The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, taking his rightful place among such literary giants of the genre as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury. And now the celebrated writer is the subject of a new documentary, "Dreams With Sharp Teeth," the title taken from a three-volume collection of Ellison's stories.
The Ten Commandments have been around for a long, long time. Ever since the 13th Century B.C.E., to be exact. Yet in all this time there have only been two major live theatrical motion pictures made about them; the 1923 silent version and the 1956 epic starring Charlton Heston, both directed by Cecil B. DeMille. But neither one of them had many laughs. Now, after 3,000 years, writer/director David Wain has delivered unto the world a scathingly funny and irreverent take on the commandments in his new film "The Ten."
Alan Arkin is no more a stranger to playing curmudgeons than he is to receiving award nominations.