Posted by Danielle Berrin
The word on the new film, “A Serious Man,” directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (aka “the Coen brothers”) is that it is, well, ‘seriously’ Jewish.
Writing from the recent Toronto International Film Festival, Vanity Fair contributor Michael Hogan called the film “seriously awesome”; but not without a caveat on its Jewish themes: “I’m not usually a fan of things that are super Jewish,” he writes. “Jewish I like,” he admits, but, “all that Fiddler on the Roof crap?” No thanks.
Also at Toronto, Sharon Waxman interviewed the Coens for her Web site, The Wrap, and asked them if they thought the public would see the film as “too Jewish.” Joel was apparently un-amused by the question and simply rubbed his eyes. Ethan gave it a bored stab, ignoring its substance: “If we were going to make it at a budget that was not crazy, it wouldn’t be.”
“The vein of fatalistic, skeptical humor that runs through so many of [the Coens’] movies,” writes A.O. Scott in his New York Times review of the film, “has frequently had a Jewish inflection, both cultural and metaphysical. Here, that inheritance, glancingly present in movies like ‘Barton Fink’ and ‘The Big Lebowski,’ is, so to speak, the whole megillah.”
While ‘A Serious Man’ refrains from the kind of sappy, overindulgent Jewish shtick that makes “Fiddler on the Roof” so beloved by many Jews (and probably intensely nauseating for just as many non-Jews), it still remains deeply entrenched in a Jewish milieu.
Rumored to be based on the biblical story of Job, ‘Serious’ tells the story of Larry Gopnik, a Jewish physics professor with a sweet-natured soul to whom bad things happen for no apparent reason. Gopnik lives a conventional yet depressing life among a Midwestern Jewish community that begins to fall apart when his domineering wife decides to leave him for a widower, a foreign-exchange student attempts to blackmail him for a passing grade, and the tenure board informs him that they have received unflattering letters about him, just as they are about to decide on his professorial future. Gopnik is also father to two self-involved teenages who largely ignore him and brother to a maudlin gambling addict who is threatened with arrest. When Gopnik is about to reach a breaking point, it is suggested to him that he go and see “the rabbi.” Gopnik then visits three rabbis, all of whom are either blithering caricatures, unavailable, or without real wisdom. None of them have an answer for Gopnik, which says something about the Coens’ attitude towards religion in general; it is unabashedly skeptical.
As Hogan notes, “All religion can tell him is that it’s God’s will. But is that really true? Why would God want to punish him this way? It’s impossible to say.” Hogan admires the film as “an extremely hard-headed meditation on love, faith, and destiny”—indeed, it is one without answers or rationale or even hope for divine redemption. That bad things happen in life is inexplicable and unavoidable, say the Coens, and religious faith is no real recourse for a man in need.
“What he encounters,” writes A.O. Scott, “apart from haunting music and drab suburban sacred architecture, is silence, nonsense and — from that metaphysical zone beyond the screen, where the rest of us sit and watch — laughter.” One of the biggest laugh lines in the film—that is oft repeated—is the expression of puzzlement that ensues when Gopnik’s wife insists on a “get”—a religious divorce document —“a what?” several characters reply, incredulously. The film is funniest when mocking many of the cultural norms experience by American Jews: boredom at services, ineffectual Hebrew schools and a near crippling fear of ascending the bimah for a B’nai Mitzvah (in the movie, Gopnik’s son nurses his anxiety with a drug induced haze).
The Coens may not have had the most enriching experience of Judaism—or religion—growing up as they did in a largely Jewish Minneapolis suburb in the 1960s, but the impact of their Jewish upbringing is evident. Secular, cultural Judaism is the lens through which they view the world, with all its bizarre and humorous idiosyncrasies, but alas, it is ultimately, a mostly empty enterprise. Are the Coens using the film to make a case for atheism? Scott wonders, “Are the Coens mocking God, playing God or taking his side in a rigged cosmic game?”
Well, they’re certainly working out some serious Jewish angst - Hollywood style.
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October 5, 2009 | 3:09 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Studio executives quiver at the sound of her name: Nikki Finke, the middle-aged, reclusive queen of entertainment journalism; famous for her brutal, blistering, takedowns.
Finke is the force behind Deadline Hollywood Daily, the three-and-a-half year-old blog she created that illuminates the dark underbelly of the entertainment industry. Finke is famous for breaking industry news before it happens—an executive once complained that Finke had written about his firing before it was carried out—and for getting insider scoop from the highest perches in Tinseltown. Finke is a well-traveled newspaper reporter who recently saw a big payday when she sold DHD to Mail.com for a reported $14 million. (Finke was later accused of bolstering her profile with inflated estimates.)
Hardly anyone in Hollywood will speak ill of Finke, so afraid are they of becoming the object of her ire (or the subject of one of her blog posts), which would make it difficult for any reporter to thoroughly profile her. But this week, The New Yorker’s Tad Friend gives it a shot. In the piece, “Why Hollywood Fears Nikki Finke,” he writes:
A combination town crier and volcano god, Finke evokes in her readers both anxiety and respect. One top studio executive says, “Nikki’s blog you have to check, and the others you have to delete from your in-box. She’s very, very, very accurate, extraordinarily so—you have a supposedly private conversation with two other people, and it’s on her site within an hour.” She usually posts five to ten stories a day, some of them just press releases or minutiae about elections at the Writers Guild, but many of them transfixing: anonymously sourced accounts of clandestine negotiations; photos of newly fired executives with red X’s slapped across them (after she’d broken the news of their impending demise); boasts of “TOLDJA!” when something happens that she predicted, or, anyway, half predicted; and helpful career advice (“Stick it where the sun don’t shine, you asswipe,” she recently counselled a CBS publicist).
Unsurprisingly, Finke has not reacted favorably to being written about; it’s far easier to be author than interviewee. And so she complains. Writing on her blog earlier today, she disparaged not only Friend for his piece, but also, the New York Times’ David Carr who profiled Finke in July, around the time she sold her Website. She also knocked the erudite literary magazine for kowtowing to Hollywood pressure:
I’m too superficial to read The New Yorker because it’s so unrelentingly boring. Even the cartoons suck these days. So back in 2008, soon after the writers strike ended, I said no when The New Yorker first approached me to cooperate for a profile. Fast forward to this summer, when the mag was desperate to liven up this week’s dullsville “Money Issue” with some Tinseltown mockery…the article is a superficial clip job, no better than David Carr’s rushed Page One profile on me in The New York Times recently. As I expected, it’s an amusing caricature, only occasionally true but hardly insightful. Still, I’m relieved that The New Yorker didn’t lay a glove on me. I found Tad Friend, who covers Hollywood from Brooklyn, easy to manipulate, as was David Remnick, whom I enjoyed bitchslapping throughout…But I wasn’t the only one able to knock out a lot of negative stuff in the article without even one lawyer letter, email, or phone call. I witnessed how The New Yorker really bent over for Hollywood. NYC power publicist Steven Rubenstein succeeded in deleting every reference to Paramount’s Brad Grey. Warner Bros and Universal and DreamWorks and William Morris/Endeavor and Summit Entertainment execs and flacks and consultants also had their way with the mag. (They were even laughing about it. When I asked one PR person what it took to convince Tad to take out whole portions of the article, the response was, “I swallowed.”) At Harvey Weinstein’s personal behest, his description of me as a “cunt” became “jerk”.
The story on Finke opens with an anecdote about Finke’s rival, Sharon Waxman (whom I profile in next week’s Journal), who launched The Wrap, a competitive entertainment news site that aspires to an industry-news takeover. But for now, Finke is getting all the press. And Friend’s one-liner about Waxman wasn’t very flattering: “Waxman covered Hollywood for the Times from 2003 to 2007; though her reporting occasioned a number of corrections, she is aggressively self-confident,” he wrote. The posturing of Finke and Waxman as rivals is somewhat valid—they’re both angling for scoop and desperately to beat each other to the breaking-news punch—but their enterprises are incredibly different. Finke is, by most measures, a single, powerful blogger and her site is just as notorious for news as it is for gossip and speculation. Waxman has put together an ambitious news project that aims to become the next Variety. IT is rumored the two were once friends, though now, they are bitter enemies—at least online, where they are free to berate each other at will.
Check back tomorrow for more on Finke’s debut in The New Yorker…
More Nikki Finke on Hollywood Jew:
Nikkie Finke sells Deadline Hollywood for $14 million
Turf Wars: Waxman and Finke duke it out
October 1, 2009 | 4:22 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Turns out, Adam Lambert is even more of a nice-Jewish-boy than we thought. The up-and-coming rock star and ‘American Idol’ sensation is using his newfound fame for a cause.
Through DonorsChoose.org, an online charity site representing public schools in need, Lambert has raised over $232,000 for education. According to the site, his efforts will reach more than 90,000 students and the nearly 2,000 donors have come from Lambert fan sites all over the web.
The project is yet another reason to love Lambert, who, despite his fast rise hasn’t forgotten his roots. And even though many celebrities attach themselves to charities to demonstrate public goodwill, by the tone of the video below, Lambert seems as genuinely invested in this project as he is in black nailpolish and eyeliner. Can we say ‘mensch’?
Here he thanks his fans for donating their dimes:
October 1, 2009 | 1:31 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
J.J. Abrams, known in Hollywood as a multi-hyphenate (i.e. writer/director/producer) and responsible for such TV hits as “Alias” and “Lost” as well as the movies “Mission: Impossible” and “Star Trek” has just sold a new spy drama to NBC. Abrams has a history in espionage—“Alias” starring Jennifer Garner was a five-season success—but his new series borrows a theme from the movie “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” featuring two lead characters who are “married and deeply in love,” writes The Wrap.
Read more at The Wrap:
“Alias” creator and “Mission: Impossible” director J.J. Abrams is getting back into the spy business, teaming with writer Josh Reims (“Felicity”) for an action-adventure-romance series that generated bids from three networks.
NBC appears to have snatched up the project after some late-night negotiating. The Peacock agreed to a rich deal for the show, people familiar with the talks said. That likely means there will be significant penalties attached at the pilot and series stages of development.
People familiar with the script describe the Abrams- Reims project as a “fun romp” in the vein of past classic TV spy adventures. The two main characters are spies who are also married and deeply in love.
Abrams and Reims have worked together before on “Felicity” and the Abrams-produced “What About Brian.” More recently, Reims has worked on ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters” and “Dirty Sexy Money.”