Posted by Danielle Berrin
If four of her last five films are any indication, Scarlett Johansson leaves much to be desired on the silver screen (that is, if you’re actually interested in her performances), but on Broadway, she’s been getting rave reviews—and last night, won a Tony Award, her first, for her role in Arthur Miller’s tale, “A View from the Bridge.”
From the beginning of her Broadway debut, Johansson had her share of skeptics. There was much cynicism about her critical value to a play beyond the brightly lit marquee name that would surely boost ticket sales. And why not? With the exception of Woody Allen’s “Vicky, Cristina Barcelona” in which she essentially plays a witless bleached-blonde bimbo, her recent slate of films has favored the Blockbuster (“Iron Man 2”), the ensemble-star-feature (“He’s Just Not That Into You”, in which she plays another bimbo type) or the novel that should never have been made into a film in the first place (“The Other Boleyn Girl”, though in all fairness it did give us “The Hot Knishes”).
Critics have reason to lament the state of what has become a dull and dispiriting film career—and that Johansson, in particular, is handled with occasional disgust is because her breakout in “Lost in Translation” looked so promising.
No one expected much from her on the stage. Which was precisely when Johansson decided to unleash her sleeping inner-actress upon Broadway. Just after her Tony nomination, Charles Isherwood wrote in The New York Times that “Ms. Johansson’s forceful, intelligent and moving performance opposite Liev Schreiber in Miller’s common-man tragedy became a modest game changer, or at least a shutter-upper of the determined naysayers.” He continued, “Onstage she was vibrant and natural, but the performance went beyond a charismatic portrait of innocence to reveal far more delicate nuances…”
And last night, Johansson received Broadway’s highest honor—the Tony. It’s worth hoping that this might be the turnaround a young actress with a powerful screen presence may have needed to realign herself. Because while she may have Broadway street cred, she has yet to turn in a command performance for Hollywood worthy of that other golden gem named Oscar.
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June 10, 2010 | 11:26 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
No doubt two years from now we’ll be watching Steven Spielberg’s – or some other director’s - version of the flotilla debacle. This film will be provocative, widely hyped and amply written about. But what will it say? It’s hard to tell considering Hollywood’s deafening silence on matters related to Israel.
About a month ago, I was sitting in the boardroom of a $17 billion hedge fund in Century City, where Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was teaching some torah to a roomful of financiers (note: slight spoiler for my cover story next week). Inevitably, as groups of Jews are wont to do, the conversation turned to Israel, and one (right wing) banker suggested that the Obama administration’s attitude towards Israel is just like that of Steven Spielberg’s in “Munich.”
“When Steven Spielberg made that movie,” the banker began, “he took the position that [Israel’s retaliation] led to a whole cycle of violence in the Middle East, a cycle of violence that culminated in the twin towers being destroyed.” The banker was referring to the final scene in the film, where a mossad field agent (Eric Bana) and his handler (Geoffrey Rush) discuss the outcome of what they’d done in killing the terrorists who had killed Israeli athletes. They scene seemed to be asking, ‘Can you put an end to violence by resorting to violence? What is the ultimate outcome of fighting fire with fire? And there, the banker felt, was Spielberg’s answer: the World Trade Center towers looming in the background, exuding both grief and foreboding in their reminder that cycles of violence don’t actually have endings.
“Why this is so outrageous is because Spielberg bought into a self hating Jew’s screenplay – what’s his name? The guy who wrote ‘Angels over [in] America’ who was quoting as saying Israel was a mistake?” Here, the banker was referring, of course, to playwright Tony Kushner who is the definition of a self-hating Jew if you define it as someone who is brilliant and talented, and honestly wrestles with the complexities of their relationship to Judaism and Israel in their work. Then again, what kind of Jew are you if you’re not wrestling with the gap between an Israel that is real and the idealized promised land of the Hebrew bible?
Where Hollywood, and Spielberg and Kushner, deserve credit—whether you agree with their “position” or not—is in their creative processing of complexity. A concept the American Jewish community at large has trouble grasping. A lot of times when our emotions our involved, nuance gets ransacked by party-line extremism (an email I received this morning boasted of links promising “three Peter Beinart ‘smackdowns’ – Beinart, for those who don’t know, is a writer and commentator, both a lover and critic of Israel, who has written much recently about Israel’s shortcomings and in doing so, demands it do better).
So while the rest of the engaged Jewish community smacks each other down over who was right and who was wrong in the flotilla mess, attempting to justify the behavior of this side or that side, and getting ultimately very, very lost in a vicious cycle of rhetoric, Hollywood is quietly sitting out on the sidelines. But let’s not confuse silence with disinterest. Because two years from now, with the benefit of hindsight—after they’ve sifted through all the information and emotion—Hollywood might present us with a film that will help us re-think our own immovable attitudes.
June 8, 2010 | 10:24 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I’m not sure why MTV insists that two female stars kiss at their movie awards every year, but lo and behold, they do.
It all began with Britney and Madonna and their kiss heard round the world, and continued this year with Scarlett Johansson and Sandra Bullock, a special treat for members of the tribe since Johansson is like the Jews’ very own barbie doll. And Bullock – besides having been married to a man who liked to dress as and sleep with a Nazi impersonator—gets Jew-props for having her newly adopted son circumcised.
The backstory for this year’s kiss is that Bullock was nominated with Ryan Reynolds, Johansson’s husband, for their smooch in “The Proposal.” And since Reynolds couldn’t be there, Johansson wanted a kiss of her own.
After some subdued and silly scripted flirting, Bullock grabbed Johansson’s face and went in for the kiss—but only after she debunked the latest tabloid rumors swirling around her divorce from Jesse James. When the exploitative sexual tactics concluded, Bullock did her tikkun and suggested everyone pray for the people impacted by the Gulf oil spill.
Oh, Hollywood, always so civically minded even in the throes of passion.
Watch the kiss:
June 3, 2010 | 1:18 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I met Noa Tishby a few weeks ago at the Israeli Leadership Council’s annual fundraising hoo-ha at The Beverly Hilton. She was a vivacious presence, fiercely outspoken and obviously beautiful, with matte red lipstick lining her powerful mouth. Though she’s not a household name, Tishby has made her mark as an actress, a model, and most recently, as a producer for the HBO series “In Treatment,” which, thanks to her, became the first Israeli series to head overseas and become an American entertainment. Tishby also counts herself as an involved citizen—she is deeply connected to the Jewish and Israeli communities in L.A. and is active in AIPAC and the ILC. Yet despite the Americanization of one of Israel’s brightest young stars, she is at heart a passionate sabra. So when the bells of international condemnation rang after the flotilla debacle earlier this week, Tishby, who served two years in the Israeli Defense Forces, took to her blog to vent. And like many other Israel lovers and supporters before her, is aggrieved at international intolerance for Israel’s flaws.
Being a pro peace Israeli is a hard thing to do - but I’m doing it anyway
by Noa Tishby
I don’t usually do this. I am not a politician nor am I a military or governmental official or an expert on such matters. I am just an Israeli citizen based in the US working all over the world, and as such I only have my personal opinions and my own point of view. As a voter, I am located to the moderate left of the political map. I was born and raised in Israel with real coexistence between Arabs and Israelis and a true faith that peace is right around the corner. I was taken to demonstrations against the Israeli occupation and visited my mother’s Muslim friends around the country. I support a two state solution and the Palestinian’s right for land, peace and prosperity. However, even as a lefty raised, peace loving, kumbaya singing eternally optimistic why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along Israeli kinda gal - my nerves in the past ten years have been stretched super thin by the constant violence against my country.
I was devastated to learn of what had occurred on board the Flotilla to Gaza recently. People losing their lives is always a terrible outcome - in fact the worst possible outcome. My heart goes out to the families of those who lost their lives in the fight that followed the IDF boarding the Mavi Marmara. I served in the Israeli army for two and a half years and as such know first hand the the IDF moral codes and its rules of engagement. The way it was initially depicted in the world media didn’t make sense to me. It was not my country, not my army, not my people. Little by little and way too late the picture started to get clear.
If you don’t live in Israel, just think about what it would feel like to live with a small 9/11 every single day. Imagine rockets being fired from Mexico into San Diego and Los Angeles - every day. Not fun, and you are bound to loose your patience at some point. And Israel did. Which country would have let 7000 missiles fall on its citizens before retaliating?
As a result of the violence, Israel and Egypt had put a blockade, trying to control arms, missiles and amunitions from reaching the Iran sponsored terrorist organization Hamas which controls Gaza.
However, the Flotilla was not about bringing actual aid to Gaza, it was about the confrontation. A video form the Turkish TV which aired the night before the event shows the organizers of the Gaza flotilla announcing in advance their intention of using violence against Israeli forces if the latter tried to prevent the ships from reaching Gaza. This intention was expressed in interviews given by the head of the IHH, Bulent Yildirim, to Turkish television stations on the last night of the voyage, as the ships approached the coast. Here it is, in Turkish from the IHH website.
The entire flotilla “Aid mission” was not organized by harmless puppy lovers. It was primarily the IHH - a violent, extremist group which supports terrorist organizations under the guise of humanitarian activity. From the Telegraph UK “one of the main groups involved in the flotilla that was raided by Israeli commandos on Monday was the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief, which is a radical Islamist group masquerading as a humanitarian agency”
I am an entertainer. I’m an actress and a producer. I am an artist. I am a lefty wuss. I do not want war and more importantly, the people of Israel do not want war no matter what it looks like in the world media at the moment. However, the world needs to understand that this is a matter of survival. Israel is the only Democracy in the middle east and as such it is trying to play by the rules of the western world, only to be confronted by a completely different ball game played on the other side over and over again… It is impossible to fight an enemy which is not affraid of dying.
I have been singing peace songs in the streets of Tel Aviv for years. Me and all my friends - in fact my whole country was going to do what we could to bring Peace to our region. We have been trying to reach a peace agreement for years, only to be left standing alone at the negotiation table while the other side chooses a conflict and not a solution. I do not always support my government’s actions and I criticize it freely when I think it screws up. No doubt that there is a lot more that the Israeli government can do, I of course have many questions about this incident, not the least of which is “why choose this particular method of stopping the boat?” However in this event, both Netanyahu and Ambassador Michael Oren have apologized immediately for the casualties, not defending the country. Unfortunately this flotilla was a clever PR ambush and Israel fell into it, and fell hard as the organizers achieved their terrible objectives.
I believe that we can reach peace in my country. I know most people on both sides want it more than anythinng else. I do not know how to get there, but I know we can find a way.
Be open to debate, listen with your ears and not your pre-conceived stories, and be prepared to change your mind.
Neither Israel nor the Palestinians are going anywhere. Let’s all find a way to make it work, lest it all comes tumbling down on everyone.
June 1, 2010 | 2:44 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Chris Rock isn’t Jewish, but he certainly talks about Jews quite a lot.
Just before I interviewed him for The Guardian last month, he appeared on Bill Maher’s show and talked about his childhood. At Maher’s probing, he recalled the traumas of his high school experience, having been bussed from an all black neighborhood to an all white school where he was subsequently picked-on. And yet Rock couldn’t recall the formative racism of his youth without drawing parallels to another minority in town, who (believe it or not) he said, had it worse.
Rock: Yeah, yeah. The school I went to—junior high, high school and grade school—were pretty Italian and Irish, and so they beat up the blacks and they beat up the Jews. So I would kinda be friends with the Jewish guys….I used to work at the NY Daily News and it was like ‘On The Waterfront’ where they pick you and there’s no rhyme or reason to why they pickin’ anybody. Well it was Italians first, then the Irish, then the blacks then the Jews and that’s in ‘89, ‘88, ‘87, ‘89.
Maher: The blacks were ahead of the Jews?
Rock: The blacks were ahead of the Jews, even then. So it’s always been me and some Jewish guy…
Likewise, Rock couldn’t talk about his comedy without talking about his Jewish brethren. When I asked him if he thought there was a “black humor” the way there is Jewish humor, he bristled: “I think more white people come to see me do stand-up than most white comedians cos comedy’s just comedy,” he told me. “I don’t consider myself a black comedian. I am a comedian.”
But can you have such a universalist attitude when race figures so prominently in your routine? “I don’t talk about race any more than Jackie Mason talks about being Jewish,” he insists. “Is Jon Stewart a Jewish comedian?” he shoots back. “Or a political comedian? I watch the guy all the time; he says three jokes and if the joke doesn’t kill, he’ll say something Yiddish. God bless him. We’re all comedians; we’re all brothers.”
Read more Chris Rock here.