Posted by Danielle Berrin
While L.A. Jews are busy cleaning out their chametz, residents of the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s Woodland Hills Retirement Community are battling for their right to have a second Passover seder.
Sharon Waxman, editor of TheWrap.com, emailed this weekend with news of this disturbing story, which some are calling a denial of religious freedom. According to The Wrap, the MPTF has traditionally hosted two seders, one on campus, for long-term care residents with less mobility and another at a separate location open to all residents. But this year, MPTF CEO Bob Beitcher announced that there weren’t enough Jews in long-term care to warrant a second seder in that location and moved to consolidate to a single campus-wide event.
Some see this move as one in a long chain of events that indicate major changes afoot for the MPTF. For months, it has been said that the MPTF plans to close their hospital and nursing home due to a $10 million budget shortfall.
Tensions rose to a boiling point last January when former CEO David Tillman was forced to resign after a tax return revealed that he was receiving almost $1 million in compensation as the facility struggled with insolvency. Soon after, Beitcher replaced him and set in motion controversial plans to phase out the hospital and long-term care facility.
This would be a sad day for Charlie Chaplin, who helped found the MPTF in 1921 along with Hollywood luminaries Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith. Long before the era of Obamacare, those stars saw a need to take care of industry brethren who fell on hard times. Since then, the MPTF has become an industry provider of healthcare, child care, residential living and long-term care for the elderly.
It’s understandable that the current economic climate is forcing the institution to make serious and hard changes—Jewish non-profits all over the country have had to scale back on essential services in order to continue operating. But cutting a small seder that brings joy and convenience to elderly Jews in the sunset of their lives? Come on.
Read more about the Passover scandal at TheWrap.com:
“It’s all part of a plan to close the hospital and nursing home,” Melody Sherwood, whose mother is a long-term care resident, told TheWrap.
Concerned that the failing health of many members of the long-term care community would prevent them from attending the religious observance across campus, family members and friends of residents offered to hold and host a seder on the second night of Passover, March 30.
They also arranged to pay for a professional chef to prepare a traditional seder meal, but that offer was turned down by Beitcher on Monday, who asserted that every effort would be made so that all who wanted to attend the ceremony could.
“If they’re trying to save money, it’s not going to cost them anything,” Sherwood said. “They are turning down any donations that are earmarked to keeping the home open, but at the same time they’re saying they can’t afford to continue.”
Further angering families of many of the long-term care residents was the move to host the seder at 11 a.m. Passover seders are supposed to be held in the evening, after sunset.
“It would be like celebrating Christmas on Dec. 27,” Sherwood said.
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March 23, 2010 | 11:19 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
After a six year engagement, Sacha Baron Cohen, 38, and Isla Fisher, 34, finally tied the knot at a small Jewish ceremony in Paris last week.
Fisher underwent a 3-year conversion process in order to marry Cohen in a traditional Jewish ceremony.
“I will definitely have a Jewish wedding just to be with Sacha,” Fisher told the London Evening Standard in 2004. “I would do anything—move into any religion—to be united in marriage with him. We have a future together, and religion comes second to love as far as we are concerned.”
The couple has a 2-year-old daughter, Olive who was present at the wedding along with a reported 6 other guests. Immediately afterward, an ecstatic Fisher emailed her friends to share the news and one of them thought it best to send the message to the tabloids.
March 21, 2010 | 10:39 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
In what is already an epic and delightfully offensive stroke of genius, The Simpsons are headed to Israel. That’s right—it’s the Simpsons family vacation to the holy land. And the Simpsons being the Simpsons, it’s best not to expect any soft peddling on the magnitude of this occasion—this isn’t an anodyne ski trip—but rather, a revelatory experience for Homer, who will discover that he is the rightful messiah.
Oh, and even better: Sascha Baron Cohen guest stars as their churlish Israeli tour guide.
For once, Jews, Christians and Muslims will be united –- in anger at Homer Simpson, who believes he’s the messiah in an upcoming episode of “The Simpsons.”
Set to air nationally on March 28, the Sunday before Passover begins, which is also Palm Sunday, “The Greatest Story Ever D’ohed” finds the Simpson family visiting Jerusalem with a surly Israeli tour guide voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen.
Executive producer Al Jean, who has been with “The Simpsons” since its launch in 1989, says the episode focuses exclusively on the family’s experiences in Jerusalem and doesn’t venture into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“It’s a 20-minute show, so there’s a limited scope,” he said.
Instead, Jean says the writers drew on their own Israel experiences to create a Jerusalem that’s fanciful but relatable to real life in the Holy Land.
Read the rest of the story at Geekheeb
March 19, 2010 | 1:03 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Tell me, where are the Inglourious Basterds when you need them?
Weeks after winning the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in the “The Blind Side,” Sandra Bullock finds out that her faithless husband has been engaged in an 11-month affair with Michelle McGee, a heavily tattooed bimbo who shoots porn films out of her home. And if that weren’t enough for disgust, revenge and heartbreak, this morning TMZ delivers a worse blow: a group of appalling photographs of bimbo McGee posing as a Nazi. See that knife in her mouth? Someone should really warn her to stay away from The Bear Jew.
There are other rumors about McGee—that she’s all about white power and she salutes Hitler and that she’s altogether deranged. Judging by these pics, I’d say the rumors are correct.
Poor Bullock. Talk about getting blindsided.
Taylor Swift’s swastika shock
March 19, 2010 | 10:27 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
For over a year now, billionaire corporate raider Carl Icahn has been buying up shares of Lionsgate films in an incremental takeover. But the wait may be over: This morning, Icahn announced—to heck with slow moving progress—he wants all of Lionsgate, and now, please.
I haven’t followed the drama play by play, because let’s face it - it’s the same story over and over and over again. But I started watching Icahn last October when it became clear this battle would not end well for the mini-major.
Here’s a recap from a year ago, Feb 25, 2009 (notice how much hasn’t really changed):
A potentially explosive power struggle is brewing over at Lionsgate films where billionaire investor Carl Icahn is scooping up shares of the financially troubled company. Icahn’s ownership of the mini studio has rapidly increased from 4% in October 2008 to 14% as of February 2009. He’s been buying the stock at a deeply undervalued price, which sunk to dismally low levels after Lionsgate reported $93.4 million in losses last fiscal quarter.
If you’re unfamiliar with Icahn, Wikipedia’s bio should illuminate:
Carl Celian Icahn (born February 16, 1936) is an American billionaire financier, corporate raider, and private equity investor. His net worth is US$14 billion as of 2008, making him the 46th richest man in the world.
Icahn has a notorious penchant for buying distressed companies, railing against their CEOs and then reaping sweet financial rewards. When he increased his Lionsgate stake from 4% to 9% back in October, Nikki Finke’s issued the following caveat to Jon Feltheimer, Lionsgate’s president: “Be afraid. Be very afraid, Jon Feltheimer.” Despite the troubles, Feltheimer is staying “upbeat” as he told me at a recent Lakers Game. But with the latest news, in which Icahn notified the SEC he might shake things up on their board, we’ll see how long that lasts.
From this morning’s The Wrap:
By Dylan Stableford
Billionaire corporate raider Carl Icahn has upped his offer to Lionsgate, offering to acquire all of the studio’s outstanding shares.
Last week, Lionsgate rejected Icahn’s offer to acquire 13.2 million shares—about 30 percent of Lionsgate—for $6.00 per share, or $79,986,520.
The studio’s board of directors voted unanimously against the unsolicited offer, calling it “financially inadequate,” “coercive” and “not in the best interests of Lionsgate and its shareholders and other stakeholders.”
And yet, I bet Icahn is putting in his champagne order—another Jew takes over in Tinseltown.
March 18, 2010 | 5:58 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Didi Benami, a 23-year-old singer/waitress from Knoxville, Tennessee is the first Jewish woman to make it to the top 12 on “American Idol.”
Born to a family of Israelis, Benami is not the first Jew to snag the spotlight on America’s most popular show—both Elliott Yamin and Adam Lambert blazed that trail—but she is the first to croon with the voice of a woman. And so far, she’s receiving due praise.
Last night, judges Randy Jackson, Ellen DeGeneres, Kara DioGuardi and Simon Cowell variously said: “You’re on fire”; “You have an amazing voice”; and “You’re beginning to show us the kind of artist you are.”
Indeed, Benami has a sweet, folksy voice that sounds smooth as honey on her better notes—but she’s no Adam Lambert. Benami has succeeded based on raw talent, Hollywood looks and likability but she ultimately lacks the star power to win “Idol.” And even if she does, she won’t be the first talented female to flop on her foray into the commercial market—does anyone remember Katherine McPhee? Or that Steven Spielberg was so excited about her win he even called her?
To her credit, however, Benami is one of the strongest stars this season, though Season 9 lacks the showmanship and electricity of previous competitions. Of course, that could all change in the coming weeks and months as the pool narrows and tensions rise on the way to the “Idol” crown, but so far, Benami is no more than a strong singer in a weak season.
Check out some of Benami’s performances…
Top 12 performance “Play With Fire” by The Rolling Stones
Audition “Hey Jude”
Top 12 women “The Way I Am”
March 18, 2010 | 5:37 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Directing her next film, of course!
According to Variety, producer and director Ivan Reitman will direct Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher in a romantic comedy currently called “Friends With Benefits.”
Production begins in May and release is set for next January, which already tells us about low expectations for the film. What good movie has ever been released at the end Oscar season?
The last film Reitman directed was “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” in 2006, starring Uma Thurman.
Isn’t it just awesome when your son gets you nominated for an Oscar and it totally revives your career? Reitman is also set to direct “Ghostbusters 3.”
Portman’s upcoming slate includes the adventure comedy “Your Highness,” Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan,” and Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor,” Variety reports.
March 18, 2010 | 5:16 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Director Bryan Singer, who is credited with launching the “X-Men” film franchise did so with an unexpected Jewish twist: he set the opening scene of a comic book adaptation at Auschwitz.
It’s the last place you’d expect to find emotionally tortured mutants with superpowers, but the move wove a box office gamble into gold. And as a result, the comic book genre was given grit, severity and seriousness in popular culture.
Singer, who was raised Jewish in New Jersey is largely responsible for the change and is will soon reclaim the franchise he built with “X-Men: First Class.”
According to the L.A. Times:
From those first moments, “X-Men” set itself apart from the entire Hollywood history of comic-book adaptations and marked the beginning of this current era of fanboy cinema, which has dominated the box office and elevated San Diego’s Comic-Con International into something resembling a Cannes for capes.
“The opening, it really was a declaration of intent,” producer Lauren Shuler Donner said of that sequence, which showed a terrified young boy exhibiting mutant powers as his family was separated by German guards. “It said to the audience this is a serious film, grounded in the realistic and the historic and somewhat dark. It was so smart. And it was all totally Bryan.”
That would be Bryan Singer, the director of “X-Men” and its first sequel, who was sitting next to Shuler Donner in her office on a recent afternoon. The pair both had big smiles on their faces—they had been reunited by an invitation to reminisce about the legacy of the July 2000 release, which they were happy to do, but the conversation kept veering into giddy plans for the future. Singer is returning to the “X-Men” universe, it’s clear now, for a project called “X-Men: First Class”; it’s all just a matter of timing.
Singer not only brought the Holocaust to the comic book world, he used social and political allegory to shine a light on homosexuality.
How did Fox respond to Singer’s plan to start a superhero movie with a Holocaust scene and infuse it with subtext about the struggle of homosexual teenagers in modern America? Singer said there were really no battles to be won. “There was no particular expectation, really, or pressure—it wasn’t an enormous budget—and there was no template because these characters were not Superman or Batman. There was no issue of content or even tone.”
Singer, who is both gay and Jewish, understood the outsider status of “X-Men’s” mutants and infused his films with depth and metaphor. Although the first film made the least amount of money, Singer proved his artistry in an otherwise formulaic genre. The Times writes, that although both Brett Ratner and Gavin Hood gave “X-Men” a shot, The New Yorker’s film critic David Denby valued “the liquid beauty and the poetic fantasy of Singer’s work” over the others.
Below is a 2006 profile of Singer written by Jewish Journal contributor Robert David Jaffee:
Bryan Singer’s first real understanding of evil came when, as a boy of nine or 10, he dressed up as a Nazi one day while playing a World War II game with his German neighbors in Princeton Junction. He came home wearing a swastika.
Singer’s mother admonished him, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when his junior high school social studies teacher, Miss Fiscarelli, taught an entire unit on the Holocaust, that he gained a greater understanding as to why his mother had been so troubled. That class changed Singer’s “whole perception of what people are capable of anywhere,” he said.
It also left a mark on a boy who would grow up to become a Hollywood director whose films, including X-Men, X-2, and this summer’s highly anticipated Superman Returns, deal with the human capacity for evil and for persecuting outsiders, whoever they may be.
“Whether you’re an immigrant or you’re born in the heartland,” said Singer, “at some point we all feel like an alien.”
Of the famed Man of Steel, first introduced to comic book readers in the 1930s, Singer said, “He’s kind of the ultimate immigrant. He comes from a foreign place, adapts to the value system, and has a special relationship with his heritage.”
That might sound like heavy baggage for a film about a superhero, but Singer wouldn’t be the first to read deeper meanings into comic book adventures.
Singer sees Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster — two Jews who were sons of immigrants — as a Judeo-Christian hero, part Moses, part Jesus. Like Moses, Superman is the boy dispatched down the metaphoric river to be discovered in the cornfields, if not the reeds, of the Midwest. Like Jesus, he has a kind of doubling with his father, voiced in the new film as in the 1978 Superman by the late Marlon Brando, who says, “The son becomes the father, and the father becomes the son.”
Superman first entered popular culture when the Nazis were beginning to assert their power in Germany. He “never cleared up the problems in Europe,” Singer said. “He handled small problems; he served by example.”
Over the decades, however, through numerous incarnations in comic strips, television shows, and films, Superman began tackling worldwide catastrophes, as he does in Singer’s new film.
As Michael Chabon suggested in his novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Siegel and Shuster, in conceptualizing Superman, may very well have been inspired by the Golem, a mythic figure in Jewish folklore who could vanquish all evil.
The 40-year-old Singer calls Superman Returns a “dream project” and said “it was a fantasy of mine to have Kryptonian blood,” not surprising for a man who in the 1970s loved watching reruns of the Superman TV show starring George Reeves. But Singer did not read comic books as a child. To this day, he suffers from dyslexia, which still impedes his efforts at reading. He does like to read short stories, but he did not even know about the X-Men until he was assigned to direct the first movie of that franchise.
Like Superman, the mutant heroes and antiheroes in the X-Men movies are not simply stand-ins for illegal immigrants. They are heroic, if in some cases demonic, fantasies of the outsider in all of us.
As a gay, adopted, agnostic Jew, Singer has always been drawn to the otherness of these superheroes, though he chuckles when asked about a recent Los Angeles Times article that highlighted Superman’s gay appeal. “If you look at my career,” he said, “I’ve probably never made a more heterosexual movie before.”
A graduate of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School and the cinema school at the University of Southern California, Singer had his breakthrough with The Usual Suspects, in 1995, which was hailed for its plot twists, subversion of the noir genre, brilliant ensemble cast, and an Oscar-winning performance from Kevin Spacey.
Singer followed that with 1998’s Apt Pupil, in which Brad Renfro plays a high school student obsessed with the Holocaust and with a former Nazi.
Then came X-Men and X-2, anti-McCarthyite allegories that featured Sir Ian McKellen, the Nazi in Apt Pupil, as a Holocaust survivor, who, like Darth Vader, has turned to the dark side.
Superman Returns is a film with a long and troubled past. Over the last decade, numerous actors and directors were attached to the film, whose budget, like its superhero, seemed to know no bounds. None of that history worried Singer, who got a chance to reshape the storyline. It also helped that he used some of his regular repertory of actors, such as Spacey, playing yet another notable villain: Lex Luthor.
While Singer wants as broad an audience as possible to enjoy the film, he particularly wants “older people and women to have an emotional experience,” he said. Superman Returns opened June 28 nationwide.