Posted by Lauren Bottner, Hollywood Jew contributor
Oscar winning actress Natalie Portman is considering returning to the big screen for the indie movie Adaline, which would be her first since giving birth to her son, Aleph, this past June, reports Hollywoodnews.com. Portman, 30, has reportedly been offered the lead role in the film about a woman who stops aging after an accident. Eternal youth makes for a compelling fairy tale, but in this one, it is love that tempts Portman’s character to surrender her immortality. Read more at People.com.
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August 24, 2011 | 4:45 pm
Posted by Lauren Bottner, Hollywood Jew contributor
Well, not that drugs are ever the answer, but for the troubled singer Amy Winehouse, a toxicology report proved that illegal drugs were not the cause of her death. While the absence of illicit substances may please her family, it raises more questions than it answers as to what exactly happened to the troubled but talented “Rehab” singer. “It doesn’t make me feel the loss of my daughter any less, but we are pleased to be able to set the record straight to a certain extent,” her father, Mitch, told British tabloid, The Sun, as reported by Reuters.
Winehouse was found dead in her north London flat on July 23, 2011 at the age of 27, and the speculation was that it was either alcohol poisoning or a drug overdose that killed her. British tabloids, although not the most reliable sources, claimed that she spent the days before her death using drugs and binging on alcohol. Now, at least half of that claim proves unfounded.
Still, the report didn’t specify whether or not legal drugs were found, and alcohol was definitely present, whether it played a role in her death or not is unknown. Plus, the toxicology report was released only to her family, giving them the option to censor, or “protect” her legacy however they see fit. We all know that legal substances can often do just as much damage as illegal, especially when abused, but until a full inquest to be held on October 26 in London, the cause of her death is “undetermined”.
The singer, who had a long history of drug abuse and addiction, was featured in both the Sun and Mirror tabloids before her death with stories of her drinking; so needless to say, she had definitely fallen off the sobriety wagon. Mitch spoke during her funeral, saying that he believed Winehouse had “conquered her drug addiction three years ago but was trying to deal with a drinking problem” per Reuters.
Mitch Winehouse also said he plans to start a foundation in Amy’s name to help young people battling addiction reported the Jewish Post.
So the mystery continues…
August 22, 2011 | 4:42 pm
Posted by Lauren Bottner, Hollywood Jew contributor
Bad news for John Galliano, but good news for the Jews: Marc Jacobs, a Jewish boy from Jersey will replace Galliano as creative director of Christian Dior.
Galliano was ousted in March after he was caught on camera spewing anti-semitic hokum at a french restaurant Galliano Who knows, maybe it really was just the alcohol speaking, which was his defense in court. The position has been vacant since March and rumor has it (courtesy of Women’s Wear Daily - subscription only) that Marc Jacobs is on the short list. Currently Jacobs is the creative director of Louis Vuitton, but apparently he might finally be moving up in the world to the multi-billion dollar luxury brand. Ironically, Jacobs was considered for the Dior job in the 90’s, but lost out to Galliano. Now it seems CEO Bernard Arnault, head of luxury conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton is doing his own sort of mea culpa as the Jacobs brand flies of the shelves of stores like Neiman Marcus and Nordstroms.
Since the 90’s, Jacobs has bided his time designing two clothing lines: Marc Jacobs, the high-end couture and the easier-on-the-wallet Marc by Marc Jacobs label available at Bloomingdales and the like. Still, it had to be entertaining to watch his former competitor commit career suicide in an unglamour episode. It’s a shame for Galliano, whose contribution to Dior caught worldwide attention. Jacobs is stepping in at an opportune time because according to New York Times Fashion critic Cathy Horyn, Dior House left something to be desired at Paris Fashion Week last July.
Dior, after dismissing John Galliano, decided to go ahead with a couture show, using the house’s studio team.
Rather than do something modest — focused, say, on tailoring — or even skipping a season until a new designer could be hired, the house took the risk of exposing inferior work. The poorly designed clothes, in tutti-frutti shades, didn’t look, well, Dior. Even the woman who runs the front desk at my hotel noticed. “Why would a house like Dior use such an inexperienced designer,” she asked me. She didn’t know the details, and she didn’t have to.
If Jacobs does get appointed Dior creative director, Jezebel informs us that he’d be the “first American (and in fact the first non-European of any nationality) to design for Dior.” That he’s Jewish as well seems to add to his exotic cache.
A Jewish American takes his turn at a top Paris fashion house: tongues will wag.
August 17, 2011 | 9:18 pm
Posted by Lauren Bottner, Hollywood Jew contributor
Who knew a makeup-clad rock star could predict political outcomes?
Apparently Gene Simmons, a.k.a Chaim Witz, possesses magical predictive powers. The KISS frontman is promulgating his prediction for the 2012 presidential race by proclaiming Texas Governor Rick Perry will get his night in the White House. Simmons claims he has voted for the winning candidate in the past three presidential elections (Bush, Clinton, Obama), and earlier this week threw his weight behind Team Perry.
According to FoxNews.com, Simmons tweeted: “The next president will be Gov. Rick Perry” and later added, “Gov Perry worked for Al Gore and then switched to Republican. He will be our next President. I’ve never been wrong.”
The news that Simmons endorsed Perry hints at trouble for some Democrats, according to JTA (the Jewish Telegraphic Agency). Previously, the National Jewish Democratic Council believed Perry’s Christian conservativism would prove off-putting to Jews and reinforce the sense of voting Democratic. The NJCD recently accused Perry of conflating religion and politics while making it clear on their website, www.NJDC.org, that they will not be voting for Perry come Nov. 2012, believing other Jews would also flee toward other candidates.
Simmons doesn’t seem bothered by Perry’s religious views or he merely presumes his own promiscuity will balance out the Governor’s straight and narrow politics.
Still, even with his track record, best to rely on election day instincts than on Simmons’ crystal ball.
August 17, 2011 | 11:11 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “Imagination rules the world.”
A surprising credo to have come from the mind of a military man, but its provenance only reinforces the weight of its message. Even one of Europe’s great military masterminds knew that the ability to influence the human psyche is the ultimate form of power.
Hollywood is in the business of influencing. How people think, and what they think about, are conscious or unconscious components of any film. A docudrama that looks behind the scenes of the financial crisis, such as HBO’s “Too Big to Fail,” can be eye-opening and incendiary. A lifetime of watching romantic comedies can shape ideas about love.
It is a matter of debate as to whether Hollywood should be more deliberate with its power. After all, when hundreds of millions of people are forming ideas through subjects explored in the movies, shouldn’t moviemakers heed Napoleon’s words and consider their impact?
Filmmaker Marc Erlbaum, 41, a relative newcomer to the movie business, thinks so. But his belief in so-called message pictures goes even further, to advocate “positive, values-based films that can entertain and simultaneously uplift.” To that end he established Nationlight Productions (a play on “light unto the nations”) in 2009, a Philadelphia-based production company focused on creating inspiring and meaningful content for mainstream audiences.
A Philadelphia native, Erlbaum started his career in the family business, the national retail chain David’s Bridal, after graduating from the University of Michigan in 1992. But his heart wandered toward writing. After returning from a yearlong sabbatical in Israel and France, he had an epiphany.
“I went to the movies one Saturday night, and I couldn’t find a parking space — at midnight — and it occurred to me at that moment, that if you want to communicate with people, [film] is the medium,” Erlbaum said.
As he was developing his artistic palette, Erlbaum was also becoming more religious. He grew up Conservative, became involved with Chabad as a college student and now identifies as a ba’al teshuvah. “As I became more involved with Judaism and truly internalized ‘light unto the nations’ and tikkun olam, really having a duty to try and change the world, it became more and more clear to me that [making movies] was the best mechanism for doing that.”
Erlbaum wrote and sold his first screenplay after attending a graduate writing program at Temple University. After that, he began producing small, local fare and premiered the feature mockumentary “Head Space” at the Philadelphia Film Festival. But it was reading conservative commentator Michael Medved’s inflammatory book, “Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values,” that fueled his earlier revelation about the power of film.
Medved’s polarizing screed took aim at Hollywood, accusing the industry of becoming a “poison factory” that assaults family values and glamorizes sex, violence and immorality. He argued that there was this huge, underserved audience in [middle] America that wanted more wholesome content,” Erlbaum recalled. For the aspiring filmmaker, the book was a rallying cry; more “positive messaging” carried a subtext that was widely interpreted to mean the incorporation of religious values.
Others consider the book an embarrassing disgrace. In a review for New York Magazine, New Yorker film critic David Denby famously wrote, “This is the stupidest book about popular culture I have ever read through to its conclusion.”
But Erlbaum saw potential. “All these Christian production companies started popping up around that time,” he said, “and I thought, ‘Well, why shouldn’t we have a Jewish production company?’ ”
Apparently the canard that Hollywood already is one giant Jewish production company didn’t cut it for Erlbaum. So he teamed up with local cinephiles and turned to wealthy Jewish philanthropists such as David Magerman, a venture capitalist with a doctorate in computer science, to finance his production company — for what he calls “filmanthropy.” Nationlight launched at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival with a Shabbat dinner for more than 100 guests, and their Facebook page currently counts nearly 56,000 followers. Last month, the company released its first feature film, “Everything Must Go,” starring Will Ferrell, to 220 theaters in 50 cities nationwide. (The film had a 76 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the online review site, and New York Times film critic A.O. Scott called it “sober,” “sad and satisfying.”) This weekend, their second feature, “Café,” starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, and written and directed by Erlbaum, opens at Laemmle’s Sunset 5 in Los Angeles.
Watching “Café” at a William Morris Endeavor screening earlier this year, the Jewish content was not immediately clear, though the film seemed, somehow, viscerally Jewish.
“Café” has a lot of talk about “the creator” and moralizes about “meaning,” and thematically addresses favorite religious tropes like the triumph of good over evil. The danger with this type of fare, especially among mainstream audiences, is that it can come off drippy, preachy and sanctimonious.
“I try to express [these ideas] metaphorically and allegorically so they don’t come across heavy-handed or didactic,” Erlbaum said. “Our goal was never to make Jewish films but to imbue films with Jewish values, concepts and philosophy,” he said.
For models, he looks to billionaire investor Philip Anschutz’s film production and publishing company Walden Media, which promotes children’s material with moral messages (“The Chronicles of Narnia”), as well as former eBay president-turned-social entrepreneur Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media, which focuses on social action films (“The Help,” “Waiting for Superman”).
“I think there has been a reluctance in Hollywood to be agenda-driven in your content,” Erlbaum said. “That’s sort of like a long-standing bias, that Hollywood is not about messaging, it’s about entertaining.”
“But as you’re entertaining, is there a way to incorporate a social agenda? Are we looking to escape reality or looking to benefit reality?”
Erlbaum is trying to do his part. He is also the founder of the Jewish Relief Agency, a 10-year-old food assistance organization that provides for the Jewish poor in Greater Philadelphia.
“If I weren’t religious, I wouldn’t be pushing so hard for this,” he said. “I think it’s my faith that makes me so ambitious to make this work.”
August 16, 2011 | 6:17 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
This ain’t your bubbe’s Ten Commandments.
Veteran Broadway director Philip William McKinley told Deadline.com’s Mike Fleming his next project will bring stories from The Old Testament to the big stage.
The Bible: The Beginning, a live show scaled for arena-sized venues that will use music, dialogue, tumblers, jugglers, singers, aerialists and fighters to re-enact the Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah’s Ark, Moses and his clash with the Pharaoah, the plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea, all culminating in the delivery of The Ten Commandments. The musical will be narrated by Gabriel the Messenger; Raphael the Healer; and Michael, Leader of God’s armies.
McKinley is best known for directing Hugh Jackman in “The Boy from Oz” and for saving “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” from near disaster (on “Lion King” stage director Julie Taymor’s watch, the production was plagued with all sorts of financial and safety catastrophes). McKinley has a proven knack for spectacle and theatrical hi-jinks. He will re-team with Spider-man producer Michael Cohl to bring “The Bible” on a U.S. arena tour.
McKinley expected to take on something small after Spider-Man, only to change his mind after a three-martini dinner with stage actress Judy Kaye. “I told her I’d done The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, and she said, well, there’s nothing left then but The Bible,” McKinley said. “The more I thought about it, I realized that we could take these stories that have big morality themes and put them in a style of contemporary performance.”
While this production is intended for the stage, Hollywood has a history of valuing the bible at the box office. According to boxofficemojo.com, Cecil B. DeMille’s iconic film, “The Ten Commandments” starring Charlton Heston as Moses, grossed nearly $66 million in 1956, which adjusted for inflation, would today amount to approximately $523 million. The Jewish historical drama “Exodus” which functions also as biblical allegory grossed close to $22 million in 1960, which today would equal about $158 million, according to the-numbers.com. And even though we love to hate him, who can forget Mel Gibson’s 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ” which cost $30 million to make and raked in more than $370 million at the box office, proving once again that there is an appetite for the ancient.
At a discussion panel about Hollywood’s relationship to Israel, sponsored by the World Alliance For Israel Political Action Committee (WAIPAC) last September, former William Morris agent David Lonner, now the CEO of Oasis Media Group, and former Paramount Pictures chief Sherry Lansing discussed the benefits of translating Torah for Tinseltown.
“I think there’s a gigantic market for biblical stories,” Lonner said, citing Gibson’s “Passion” while admitting its perceived “anti-Semitic tracks” disturbed him. Still, it “showed that there is a tremendous audience in the evangelical community in this country and around world” that form a marketplace for biblically-inspired drama. “There are certainly stories in the biblical canon that could lend themselves to great [movies that have], epic scope, epic battles, mythology – you just need to find the right filmmaker.”
Lansing added that two of her favorite films in recent years were “Lebanon” and “The Concert” which she described as addressing contemporary Jewish issues.
Jewish tradition is rife with rich storytelling. Filmmaker Marc Erlbaum, who founded Nationlight Productions, a company whose sole aim is to develop values-based film content, told me he believes there is a vast untapped market in America that craves inspired, meaningful storytelling (but you’ll have to check back tomorrow to read the interview).
Earlier this summer, Israeli singer Idan Raichel encapsulated the rich, rare quality of the biblical canon when he told the New York Times: “I use the Bible because all the most important and beautiful things have already been said, so that the best that I can probably do is repeat them,” he said. “There is simply no greater love song than what you find in the Book of Psalms.”
August 15, 2011 | 3:45 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
With a simple sentence, Maureen Dowd caused quite a stir between Washington and Hollywood last week, when she wrote that filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal were “getting top-level access to the most classified mission in history” for their movie about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
The suggestion that the collaboration would yield electoral benefit (“Just as Obamaland was hoping, the movie is scheduled to open on Oct. 12, 2012 — perfectly timed to give a home-stretch boost to a campaign that has grown tougher,” Dowd wrote) led to swift consequences.
Last Wednesday, Rep. Peter T. King (R, N.Y.) called for an investigation into the alleged exchange, and the Obama administration, along with the filmmakers, subsequently issued statements denying a campaign ploy.
White House spokesman Jay Carney called the claims “ridiculous,” sneered at Hollywood, and took aim at King, who is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security: “I would hope that as we face the continued threat from terrorism, the House Committee on Homeland Security would have more important topics to discuss than a movie,” Carney said.
Bigelow and Boal, who collaborated on the Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker” issued a joint statement that did not so much deny that they had received special access, but rather, insisted that it came from several administrations, not just the Obama White House.
According to Entertainment Weekly, the statement read:
“Our upcoming film project about the decade long pursuit of Bin Laden has been in the works for many years and integrates the collective efforts of three administrations, including those of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, as well as the cooperative strategies and implementation by the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. Indeed, the dangerous work of finding the world’s most wanted man was carried out by individuals in the military and intelligence communities who put their lives at risk for the greater good without regard for political affiliation. This was an American triumph, both heroic and non-partisan, and there is no basis to suggest that our film will represent this enormous victory otherwise.”
While it is true that some of Obama’s highest approval ratings came with the news of Osama bin Laden’s death, the result of an expert raid carried out by United States SEALS on his watch, the morale boost was soon upstaged by a demoralizing debt crisis. Whether the movie will sustain its subject matter’s power and relevance a year from now is uncertain—not to mention dependent upon the quality of its realization on screen. But still, if White House cooperation with Hollywood serves Obama’s campaign, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Why shouldn’t a Hollywood movie have political impact?
Unlike a free press, Hollywood is not one of those institutions upon which democracy depends. It is a for-profit industry that can promote or deride whatever causes, ideas or people it chooses. It can also choose to promote nothing at all. The only legal sensitivity here is whether or not any of the aforementioned administrations—Obama’s, Clinton’s or Bush’s—shared classified information with undeserving parties. But once those parties have that information, it’s up to them to decide what to do with it. And there’s nothing morally wrong with Hollywood taking a side.
Perhaps Peter King is upset because he wants Michele Bachmann to become president.
UPDATE: A reader wrote:
I don’t believe Rep. King is focusing on the morality of Hollywood taking a side; rather, his contention seems to be about whether the Obama admin should be providing certain classified info to Hollywood filmmakers. The criticism of King from those on the Left reminds me of their accusations during the Bush II years that free expression was being stifled, while at the same time the Dixie Chicks, Green Day, Michael Moore et al where making mucho dinero and gracing the covers of Time and Newsweek.
While I agree that King was concerned about whether the Obama administration had shared classified information, I do think it was opportune, not to mention melodramatic, for him to call for an investigation. Just because Maureen Dowd wrote that the filmmakers were getting special access does not mean they were getting “classified” information. Would the Obama administration be so foolish as to share classified documents with Hollywood, who will presumably broadcast that knowledge for anyone to see? Nicholas Schmidle’s account of the raid in the New Yorker was as well informed as it could have been, and Schmidle admitted he had not interviewed a single SEAL. No one called for an investigation there. But the insinuation that this film could in some way help Obama’ campaign prompted King to act, and the assumption of a congressional investigation is that something unlawful or illicit took place.
August 12, 2011 | 2:38 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
A new book exposes juicy details about Hollywood tycoon Arnon Milchan, who has produced as prolific a list of hit movies as could be expected of any major studio: Pretty Woman, JFK, Free Willy, A Time to Kill, L.A. Confidential, City of Angels, Fight Club, Unfaithful and Mr. and Mrs. Smith are among the 110 credits I counted on imdb.com (Read the list; it’s impressive).
But before he became one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers, he was an Israeli intelligence operative, leading a double life as an arms dealer who, according to the book, “Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon Arnon Milchan” established front companies and secret bank accounts to funnel nuclear arms parts purchases to Israel.
In an excerpt published on The Daily Beast, authors Meir Doron and Joseph Gelman recount Milchan’s introduction to the Israeli intelligence world when he was in his mid 20s.
As Milchan grew [his late father’s fertilizer] business, he had come to the attention of up-and-coming politician Shimon Peres, who introduced Milchan to Benjamin Blumberg, nicknamed Israel’s “prince of silence,” the head of LAKAM (a Hebrew acronym for the Science Liaison Bureau). LAKAM’s very existence was unknown to the United States at the time.
Milchan’s recruitment in the 60’s was gradual. “It was almost a glamorous thing to be involved,” he acknowledged in a March 5, 2000 60 Minutes interview. “Everybody looked to me as a James Bond.”
According to the New York Times’ Michael Cieply, Milchan’s ties to the arms industry has long been an open secret in Hollywood: Milchan had “tantalized Hollywood with his dual identity as a producer of popular movies and a businessman tied to the arms industry,” Cieply wrote. But his work as an Israeli intelligence operative, whom Fox News described as “one of the most important secret agents that Israeli intelligence had ever fielded,” is the book’s main revelation.
According to the book, Milchan became vital to intelligence operations mainly for orchestrating weapons transactions that raked in “hundreds of millions of dollars in commissions that in fact would fund LAKAM and Mossad activities.”
It was May 1985 when Milchan’s ties to the arms business first became public. A Newsweek reporter called Milchan at his Paris apartment after Richard Kelly Smyth, the president of a California-based Israeli intelligence front company, had been indicted for shipping nuclear bomb detonators to one of Milchan’s Tel Aviv companies.
Milchan’s company had pushed him hard for the krytrons and knew perfectly what they were for—even though it was illegal to export them from the U.S. without a U.S. State Department munitions license. Milchan’s Heli Trading Ltd. had ordered 14 shipments totaling 810 krytrons from 1979-82. Now U.S. Customs and the FBI had moved in and the entire Milco operation was in jeopardy. Milchan feared that a politically ambitious and publicity-hungry U.S. prosecutor would come hunting for him, he told us.
After a short conversation with the Newsweek reporter, in which Milchan pleaded ignorance, he booked the ﬁrst available ﬂight to Tel Aviv. Within hours, TV crews were camped in front of his penthouse and the phone was ringing off the hook.
There was one call he could not avoid—from his mother, Shoshanna. “Everyone is calling my son an arms dealer,” she said, bursting into tears. “It’s embarrassing.”
Arnon was devastated.
“Mother, it’s not like I’m instigating wars in third-world countries and shipping them guns,” he told her. “I’m doing this to help our country.”
The book has also caused a stir for its celebrity gossip tidbits. One bit has Milchan on-the-record (he interviewed with the authors but did not officially “authorize” their account), talking about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s budding romance during the filming of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” – when, as some may recall, Pitt was still married to Jennifer Aniston. According to the book, Aniston kicked Pitt out of the house and Milchan offered Pitt a room at his Malibu mansion.
One of the book’s more scandalous items is a part about Milchan closing down a Tel Aviv nightclub to impress a woman. For this exclusive, private party, Milchan booked one of Israel’s “up-and-coming rock bands, the Lions.”
The bass player for the band was a penniless, unknown, long-haired hippy, who later in life would become a multi-billion-dollar media tycoon in the United States and one of the largest donors to the Democratic Party: Haim Saban[.]
At the end of the performance, rather than invite the band to mingle with partygoers, Milchan banished them to the kitchen, which Saban has never forgotten. He told the authors: “We could only peek through the kitchen doors like lowly servants. We then went up and finished our second set and were escorted immediately from the club through the back door. That’s the way it was in those days, uppity Ashkenazim here, lowly Sephardim there. That’s how I met Arnon Milchan for the first time.”
Milchan, of course, remembers things quite differently. He claims Saban was trying to seduce the beautiful French woman he had been courting that night.
“[S]uddenly I hear behind my back a conversation in French. I turn around and I see Haim Saban, the bass player, chitchatting in French with Brigitte from the stage. Some kind of connection was made and I don’t understand a word of French, and she’s talking back to him and he seems to be charming her – the person I’m dancing with! Basically, he was hitting on her from the stage. So after the set I sent them to the kitchen. That was the farthest place from Brigitte that I could think of. If Haim Saban hadn’t hit on her, he would have stayed with all the ‘Ashkenazim.’ It’s that simple.”
The book goes from party scenes and Hollywood sets to Iran, the former Soviet Union and even South African apartheid, revealing the exhilarating if not divided life of an international powerbroker. Milchan’s gift for seamlessly skirting the bounds between entertainment and warfare as if all of his life played out on a movie set is perhaps his greatest talent. It is a wonder it was real.