Posted by Larry Mark
At the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, it seems as if there are more films of interest to the Hebrew tribe this year than in the past, and as it so happens, the most prominent ones all start with the letter “H.” They are: “Holy Rollers,” about Hasidic drug mules (more on this later); “Hesher,” which revolves around a family in the midst of tragedy; and “Howl, ” about the gay, Jewish Beat Generation poet “Allen Ginsberg” (James Franco of “Spider-Man” and “Milk”), who was tried for obscenity for his work. So far, “Howl” has garnered the most attention at the festival, mainly because it was one of the opening night films.
Written, directed and produced by the acclaimed gay activist documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (“The Times of Harvey Milk,” “Celluloid Closet”) the drama began as a doc about Ginsberg and the fiftieth anniversary of the publishing of his provocative (some said obscene) poem, “Howl.”
At a Park City press conference, the directors described the creative obstacles they faced while making the movie – and how they hoped to break the filmmaking form in the same way that “Howl,” broke the poetry genre. Epstein recalled, “We’d been given this treasure, but now we were faced with how in the world do we actually do this? We started out with a traditional documentary approach, but it soon became clear we weren’t getting to the essence of Ginsberg. We had to find a way to bring together all these different elements - the text of the poem, Ginsberg’s life and ideas, this landmark trial - to create a multi-faceted picture of “Howl’s” creation and the world’s response. The thrilling part was that we were inventing the form as we went along.”
The directors, who were closely familiar with how screenplays get made in the editing room, chose to turn the film into three interwoven stories: the unfolding of the landmark 1957 obscenity trial; an imaginative, animated exploration of the poem; and the story of Allen Ginsberg finding his prophetic voice and a way to perform his masterpiece at a time when America was changing.
Franco, who was raised in Palo Alto, CA (and whose mom is Jewish) became interested in the beat writers at age 14; he always envisioned himself playing someone like Jack Kerouac, another literary iconoclast who with Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs is considered a pioneer of the Beat Generation. Franco recalled, “We were all so taken with the whole idea of ‘live, live, live.’ We were into ‘Howl,’ [Kerouac’s] ‘On The Road,’ ‘Naked Lunch,’ and we would go up to City Lights [book store] to see where it all started.”
Franco saw “The Celluloid Closet” at Palo Alto‘s Aquarius Theatre as a youth, so when approached about “Howl,” the combination of Epstein, Friedman and Ginsberg didn’t seem like the name of a Jewish law firm, but of a new passion project. Franco spent his own money during the film’s development phases to research the role and find ways to inject new vigor into the poem.
Having previously portrayed the actor James Dean and Harvey Milk’s real-life boyfriend, Scott Smith, Franco said he enjoys tackling real characters since he has to work harder to give them their due on screen.
One third of the film focuses on the 1957 San Francisco obscenity trial, The People v. Ferlinghetti, that the publication of “Howl” initiated. Prosecutor Ralph McIntosh (David Strathairn) set out to censor and ban the book, while defense attorney Jake Ehrlich (Jon Hamm) argued the case for freedom of expression. The case is argued before conservative Judge Clayton Horn (Bob Balaban), while Jeff Daniels, Treat Williams, Alessandro Nivola, and Mary-Louise Parker play the roles of some of the unusual witnesses who appeared during the case. (Today, it is still a violation of FCC obscenity rules to broadcast the words of “Howl.”)
Balaban previously faced censorship in one of his first feature film roles, “Midnight Cowboy,” which received an X rating as a result of an oral sex scene involving Balaban’s student character and Jon Voight’s cowpoke. It was later changed to an R rating after the movie received several stellar reviews.
With its experimental type of format, “Howl” has been receiving mixed reviews in the past 24 hours at Sundance. Friedman said, “As a film, “Howl,” is a lot of things, but I hope audiences will relate to it as the story of a man finding a way to be true to himself. Allen Ginsberg was searching for a way to express fully who he was - and, in doing so, he changed himself and the culture.”
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January 22, 2010 | 4:56 pm
Posted by Dikla Kadosh
The sharp-tongued Yenta-in-Chief, who graced the cover of The Jewish Journal last spring, is off and running in 2010 with a Jewish wedding to plan, a new season of her hit reality show on Bravo, a partnership with 1-800-FLOWERS and her very own Spark dating Web site, P.S. XOXO.
In a memorable episode of last season’s “Millionaire Matchmaker,” a disgruntled female client verbally attacked Stanger at one of the matchmaker’s exclusive mixers for millionaire bachelors. She questioned Stanger’s ability to lead others to love when the matchmaker herself (who is nearing the Five-O) hadn’t yet traversed the path of marriage.
Stanger’s brilliant rebuttal, months later, is a 4-carat heart-shaped diamond engagement ring from Israel. Fiance Andy Friedman is a local Jewish boy who lives in Encino, and is insisting upon a lavish, 500-guest, Jewish wedding. Stanger, famous for attending to the love lives of the wealthy and the wealthier, would actually prefer to elope, but she hasn’t won that battle. The couple is scouting local hotels for their tentatively scheduled summer 2010 wedding, which Stanger said will be “traditionally Jewish” with a chuppah, “semi-kosher” catering and the breaking of the glass. Asked if her old friend and debating partner, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, is on the short-list of rabbis for the ceremony, Stanger said, “No way. Andy wants someone…different…” And by different, Andy apparently doesn’t mean progressive, because Stanger has floated the idea of a female rabbi, and her fiance pretty much shot it down. “He’s more traditional than I am, though we both really love this one deaf, female rabbi in Thousand Oaks. She’s amazing.” The position is still up for grabs, so rabbis: send in your resumes, and make sure you include a professional headshot.
As for the all-important wedding dress, Stanger is looking at Badgley Mischka designs, as well as other notable designers. After the nuptials, Stanger will leave her beachside Marina del Rey home and head over the hill to a house the couple plans to purchase in Encino.
The new season of “Millionaire Matchmaker” just began, and Stanger promises plenty of Jewish millionaires on the show. In last week’s episode, the blunt and often forceful Stanger demanded that her millionaire client cut his “Jewfro” immediately. She called a hairstylist to come immediately, sat the client down, and ordered that his curls be chopped off. It’s just the way Stanger does business.
Inspired by a guilt trip I apparently (and unknowingly) laid on her during our interview last year—she recalls me asking why she limits her matchmaking skills to rich people only—Stanger decided to expand her outreach to include the average Joe. She teamed up with Spark Networks, the parent company of JDate, to launch P.S. XOXO, an online dating Web site with free profiles, dating advice and tips from the dating guru herself. “You don’t have to be a millionaire to sign up,” reads the intro to the site.
Since Stanger is a big proponent of old-fashioned romance, she’s also struck up a partnership with 1-800-FLOWERS, which now offers the “Matchmaker Collection” featuring Stanger’s picks for first date to engagement bouquets.
And now that she’s actually engaged, no one can question her expertise on that matter.
January 22, 2010 | 12:36 am
Posted by Larry Mark
My flight from New York City to Utah for the 2010 Sundance Film Festival was overbooked and very bumpy. Betty Davis was nowhere in sight. Unlike yesterday’s U.S. Airways Express flight from NYC to Kentucky, on which the pilot became worried about a Jewish teenager wearing tefillin, and forced the jet to land in Philadelphia, my Delta jet had no such problems, since we were an evening flight, and morning prayers were long over.
The forecast for Park City is for snow each day this week, which is great for the Olympic snowboarding team’s grand prix finals, but a little bad for filmgoers who will need to deal with some heavy flakes. But, no worries, since once you get through the snow, the sold-out theaters are screening 113 feature-length films which hail from 36 countries, with 82 world premieres, 44 first-time feature filmmakers – and plenty of films of Jewish interest.
One of the opening movies is “Howl,” directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, two nice Jewish boys who previously made award-winning documentaries on the “celluloid closet” and Harvey Milk. Now comes “Howl,” a feature film set in San Francisco in 1957, when the gay, Jewish, beat movement poet, Allen Ginsberg, (James Franco) read and published – you guessed it – his tome, “Howl.”
Then there’s Spencer Susser’s “Hesher,” about a father and son struggling to deal with a loss of their wife and mother, respectively, through the help of one of the most unlikely, tattooed, enigmatic young men. On the strength of his script the first-time filmmaker—who himself suffered the loss of his mother – drew prominent thespians Natalie Portman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (yes, both are Jewish) to star in his film.
Perhaps the most unusual movie of interest to the Tribe is Kevin Tyler Asch’s “Holy Rollers,” inspired by the bizarre-but-true story of Hasidic Jewish students who smuggled Ecstasy in the late 90’s, before September 11 made authorities more vigilant. Who would expect a nice Hasidic boy to be a drug mule? A shanda. The film promises to be a story of faith and “blind faith.”
At Sundance’s opening press conference, the battle was “RE:” Renewal, Rebellion, Rebirth, Remind, Recycle, Rejuvenate and more. For 2010, the festival is striving to get back to its independent roots, to be the great independent pause between the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, sort of like the Days of (cinematic) Awe between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
Robert Redford spoke about how festivals, as they grow, get frightened to try new things for fear of toying with past successes and revenues. In Redford’s opinion, the past few festivals were afraid to take chances and it “was in danger of flat-lining.” For this reason, Sundance is shaking things up in 2010. Instead of having a single opening night feature film, it is opening with one narrative, one documentary, and one shorts program. Another change is its section for “Next” films, films that are low budget or no budget, which still have interesting stories to tell, even if their production qualities are not what most audiences expect.
Documentaries of interest include “Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” about Jack Abramoff, the Washington D.C. super lobbyist and observant Jew who was convicted of corruption and fraud; “Freedom Riders,” about the 1961 fight against segregation in the American South; and “Joan Rivers - A Piece of Work,” directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, about the plentiful private dramas of comedian and entrepreneur, Joan Rivers.
Redford (who may I say was a true mensch when he walked into the audience after a press conference to embrace the film critic, Roger Ebert) said that he dislikes those in the media who are seeking a pre-festival scoop or opinion. He wants participants to digest the 10-day festival and then form a holistic opinion afterwards. Well, sorry, but I won’t wait for Day 10, so check back with me each day, as I figure out whether the Sundance rebellious cinematic “RE”birth is “RE”juvenating or “RE”petitive.
January 20, 2010 | 7:15 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The raging battle over Conan O’Brien’s forced termination from Late Night reeks of ancient rivalry.
Turns out, Conan and his arch nemesis, NBC titan Jeff Zucker were staunch competitors back at Harvard, where Zucker was editor of the Crimson newspaper and Conan ran the humor magazine Lampoon.
Apparently, the rival publications routinely played pranks on each other and one year, Conan decided to break into the Crimson and steal that day’s run of papers. Zucker was furious.
CNN business writer Patricia Sellers recounts the incident on her blog, Postcards, using an old interview with Conan from her 2007 profile of Zucker for Fortune magazine.
“Jeff went nuclear right away,” O’Brien recalled. “He called the police. Not the campus police, which were the kind and gentle police. He called the Cambridge police.”
O’Brien soon found himself spread-eagled, cuffed, and listening to his Miranda rights — in the hands of a Cambridge cop.
“I remember thinking that Jeff is a different species than I am,” O’Brien said, of course milking the story for comic effect. “That species could easily rip my throat open.”
Well, Zucker is one of the most competitive guys you’ll ever meet, He did not apologize to O’Brien. “Why would I?” Zucker told me, grinning. “He’s the guy who started it.”
This time around, it’s quite the opposite. Zucker’s ingenious idea to put Leno into primetime brutally backfired and his equally ingenious solution was to push out the little guy and alienate his network’s audience.
Now, the likable and towheaded talk show host has retaliated with something worse than legal haranguing (though there’s been that, too) and that is: populism.
Earlier this week, scores of Conan fans took to the streets and rallied on his behalf, despite the fact that Zucker’s plans weren’t likely to reverse. Not to mention, the story’s shamed forsaken hero would still go home with a $40 million paycheck.
Conan’s strategy—that is, coming off as a naive little boy who just had his pail and shovel snatched away by the kindergarten bully—is paying off in droves. Because in the end, he’ll walk away with a pretty sweet deal, and get a new show on another network a year from now.
And Jeff Zucker will still be the arrogant, overpaid network boss who has to sell a badly damaged product.
January 19, 2010 | 10:35 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Mel Gibson took Ricky Gervais’s Golden Globe dig with a lot more aplomb than he displayed this morning on KTLA.
In an interview with reporter Sam Rubin about his upcoming film, “Edge of Darkness” Gibson got a little testy when Rubin referenced “what happened before”—aka Gibson’s 2006 drunken anti-Semitic tirade.
“Some people are gonna welcome you back and other people are gonna be like ‘He should never come back,’” Rubin said.
“Why?” Gibson deadpanned.
“Because of what happened before..”
“What happened before?”
“..the remarks that were attributed to you…”
“That were attributed to me, that I didn’t necessarily make,” Gibson said. Then he stumbled a bit. “I gather you have a dog in this fight?”
“You have a dog in this fight? Or are you being impartial?” Gibson asked.
At which point a voice in the background groaned “okay” or something like that and Gibson concluded, “Well I’m back and I hope people will graciously accept me back.”
By “people” Gibson means all the people he continues to offend by denying he ever said anything offensive. Rubin, who was clearly taken aback during the conversation, said he wished he would have confronted Gibson head on. “As both a Jew and a human being, I was really offended by what he said in 2006; it never really seemed to me that he apologized,” Rubin told his colleagues at the anchor desk. He said he’s still “in conflict” over the issue and “should have told” Gibson.
Does Mel deserve to be absolved of his sins?
You be the judge:
January 18, 2010 | 4:43 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I wasn’t surprised when Jason Reitman won the Golden Globe for best adapted screenplay last night; I was surprised that someone named Sheldon Turner did, too. Until last night, I had never heard of Sheldon Turner. I guess I was too busy anticipating George Clooney’s screen time to pay enough attention to the opening credits of “Up in the Air,” but then again, I thought I already knew the screenwriter of “Up in the Air.”
But things, especially in Hollywood, are rarely what they seem.
According to a timely piece in the L.A. Times yesterday, deciding who gets screenwriting credit on produced movies is a fairly complicated web. And it looks like Hollywood’s favorite young Jewish director got caught amidst some suspicious activity.
The Times writes that throughout awards season, Reitman has been taking sole credit for writing “Up in the Air”—a screenplay supposedly inspired by his own special find, a Walter Kirn novel he discovered at Book Soup. In truth, a film version of that novel has been in development for years, and in particular, a screenplay written by Sheldon Turner. Turner wrote “The Longest Yard,” an installment in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise and has been recently hired to write “X-Men Origins: Magneto.”
That he’s getting more attention for his predicament with Reitman than for any of his work is proof that there’s no such thing as bad press. In a weekend, Turner has gone from a complete unknown to someone on the public’s radar.
Long before Reitman had ever read “Up in the Air,” Turner had adapted Kirn’s book into what insiders say is a close version of the finished product. Reitman ended up writing his own draft anyway, though no one quite knows how Reitman’s screenplay became a movie that looks a lot like Turner’s original. In order to get the matter settled, the two writers were brought to arbitration at the Writers Guild, where in the end, the guild ruled in Turner’s favor.
So far, neither parties are commenting on the matter, though Reitman did step aside last night to allow Turner to the podium first.
The question is: Is Reitman the menschy, well-regarded talent we think he is? Or is he just like everyone else in Hollywood, susceptible to the same power-grabbing impulses?
Read more at the L.A. Times:
The genesis story that Jason Reitman tells is by now well-honed. He discovered Walter Kirn’s novel “Up in the Air” in the independent bookshop Book Soup and spent a long time whipping a script into shape before getting behind the camera. “When I started writing this screenplay,” Reitman told NPR, “we were in the midst of an economic boom, and by the time I was finished we were in one of the worst recessions on record.”
What he hasn’t been saying as much was that the script was actually already in development for several years, first as an independent project and then at Fox, before he became involved, and screenwriter Sheldon Turner wrote an entire draft before Reitman put pen to paper. Turner’s draft would be recognizable to anyone who’s seen the finished film; significant elements from it, sources who read it say, appear in the finished movie.
The invention of George Clooney’s whippersnapper partner played by Anna Kendrick, for instance, came from Turner (in Turner’s version it was a man; another writer who wasn’t Reitman later changed it to a woman). A key plot point about a laid-off worker committing suicide came from Turner. And while Reitman invented many memorable lines, sources noted Turner made his mark too: he was responsible for the trademark line from George Clooney’s character to laid-off workers about founding an empire. Turner and Reitman separately declined to comment.
This all could have been fairly typical; Hollywood films, after all, often are the result of people drafting off predecessors’ work. Except when it came time to allot credit, Reitman maintained that the substantive work on the movie was his and that he shouldn’t share credit with Turner. The two went to arbitration in front of the Writers Guild, which ruled in favor of Turner and handed him a credit. Turner is also nominated for an adapted screenplay Golden Globe, where, if he wins, he will share the podium with Reitman.
Still, Turner has mostly stayed out of sight on the awards circuit, and it’s rare to hear Reitman, who has been ubiquitous on that circuit, mention him at all. [UPDATED 10:07 PM: Reitman and Turner just won the Critics Choice prize for best adapted screenplay. They both came to the stage but, in what could only be described as an awkward moment for Turner—who trailed Reitman by about five seconds in coming to the podium—only Reitman spoke, thanking several people but failing to acknowledge the credited writer standing next to him. Turner looked like he wanted to speak, but Reitman finished and began walking off the stage, the exit music began playing and Turner again trailed behind Reitman, not having said anything.]
January 18, 2010 | 1:29 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Jews everywhere are disgruntled that “Schindler’s List” didn’t win a Golden Globe this year. And if that weren’t bad enough, the three-hour ceremony sponsored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association didn’t feature a single close-up—let alone a sighting—of Steven Spielberg. Which is why Hollywood Jew picked out the Top 6 other reasons to watch the 2010 Golden Globe Awards.
6. Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick looking as in love as ever even after they lost it all to Bernie Madoff last year.
The couple kissed multiple times before a giddy Kevin Bacon took to the stage for his best actor in a TV movie win for HBO’s “Taking Chance.”
5. An Austrian named Christoph Waltz winning best supporting actor for playing The Jew Hunter in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”
In iconic actor style, Waltz blithered on about how Quentin Tarantino flung his world into a new orbit, or something. Then he thanked Harvey Weinstein and Lawrence Bender.
4. Meryl Streep’s (non-Jewish) Jewish guilt
Streep drew on the ever-powerful mother figure for strength during a week in which massive human disaster and red carpet fripperies competed for airtime. “She had no patience for gloom and doom,” Streep said of her mother. “I’m not like that: I come to Golden Globes weekend and I am really honestly conflicted how to have my happy movie self in the face of everything that I’m aware of in the real world…That’s when I have my mothers voice coming to me saying, ‘Shoot some money to Partners in Health [a health care organization dedicated to underserved communities], put the dress on, and be damn grateful that you have the dollars the help.”
3. Matt Weiner’s one-up on Drew Barrymore
After Barrymore gushed over winning an award in a room she’s frequented since she was age 7, Weiner said, “I too was in this ballroom when I was 7-years-old. It was for a Bar Mitzvah. It rained. And everybody’s hair was just as curly as tonight.”
2. Jason Reitman’s Nice Jewish Boy act
During his acceptance speech for best screenplay (which he shares with writing partner Sheldon Turner) for “Up in the Air,” Hollywood’s favorite Jewish boy went all oooey gooey over his family – and a certain gentile named George Clooney. “George, you’re one of the greatest men I’ve ever met in my life; I’m so proud to know you and be your friend,” Reitman said. Star-kissing aside, the writer/director also gave high praise to his wife, Michele, who converted to Judaism. “People like how I write women,” Reitman said. “I could never write women if it wasn’t for my wife; you are the fuel to my creative fire, Michele.” But let’s be honest, what half-decent Jewish boy doesn’t put his parents first? “And most importantly, [to] my mother and father: You taught me how to be the man I am; you taught me to be the storyteller I am.” To his father, fellow multi-hyphenate Ivan Reitman, he said, “Dad, I am so proud to share this movie with you, to produce with you, I hope we can do many more. I love you, thank you for everything.”
1. Host Ricky Gervais shames everyone – especially Mel Gibson
Proudly holding up his beer for the cameras, Gervais declared, “I’ve had a couple; honestly, I like a drink as much as the next man—unless the next man is Mel Gibson.” And, taking it like the disgraced former movie star that he is, Gibson shrugged it off with a grunty “Allllright.” Then he said, “I’m here to talk about ‘Inglourious Basterds’” – wait, really?! Mel Gibson is presenting the year’s most overtly Jewish movie??? —- “Or as actors call them, directors.” Aaaaaah, that’s better.
[Correction: Jason Reitman’s wife, Michele, is Jewish. She converted before their wedding.]
January 14, 2010 | 4:11 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Right now, the executive offices at NBC Universal look like this: A whole bunch of Jews arguing.
The latest report in the dispute between Conan O’Brien and NBCU over the “Tonight Show” timeslot change pits some of Hollywood’s top Jewish talent—and top Jewish egos—against one another.
At the top of totem pole is Jeff Zucker, the arrogant NBC chief who’s clinging to his pride—and his post—by a thread. It was Zucker’s idea to move a “retiring” Jay Leno from his number one spot at “The Tonight Show” to primetime, and to promote Conan O’Brien to the coveted 11:35 p.m. spot in order to bolster the network’s dismal ratings. The gamble failed, and now, Zucker is desperate to pawn off the blame.
But at an important meeting at NBC last Tuesday, Zucker didn’t bother to show up. Instead he sent his underlings, Jeff Gaspin and Marc Graboff, co-chairs of NBC Entertainment, to negotiate with “Team Conan.” Gaspin, whom the Jewish Television Network honored in 2008, presides over programming, and Graboff, a native Angeleno and member of Stephen S. Wise Temple heads business affairs.
Zucker phoned it in from New York.
That’s probably because he didn’t want to face stalwart litigator Patty Glaser, whose frequent description as a “pitbull” is used affectionately. Glaser, whom I interviewed last August, is representing Conan O’Brien, along with his William Morris Endeavor agent, Gavin Palone, whom Nikki Finke called “a rabid dog” and WME board member Rick Rosen. According to Finke, Ari Emanuel did not attend, but with Glaser in the room, his infamous negotiating powers are hardly necessary.
If rabbinic tradition is any precedent, these negotiations could go on forever. The network could stick to its guns in a blazing display of hubris; Glaser could threaten a lawsuit that (with her fees) could cripple NBC way beyond the payouts it would owe Conan or Leno for breach of contract. According to Finke, canceling Conan would cost the network $60 million and canceling Leno would cost $80 million.
With some of the best Jewish minds in the industry at work, one might hope for an honorable outcome—or even reconciliation. But asking Hollywood to put business ethics ahead of its own bottom line is anathema. This is a town so obsessed with money, it has no real measure of what anything – or anyone – is really worth.
More on the Hollywood players embroiled in the late night controversy:
Behind the scenes of NBC’s ‘Tonight Show’ flap
Who is attorney Patty Glaser?
Ari Emanuel: The Superagent
Jeff Gaspin honored by JTN with Vision Award [photo]
Ari Emanuel, A Mogul on the Rise
“West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin on his agent Ari Emanuel