Woody Allen? Oy, what did he do now? No, this time it’s Good For The Jews. The brilliant writer, director, actor and clarinetist made an off-the-cuff remark that managed to say, in about two sentences, what columnists and political theorists have been agonizing over for years.
While promoting his newest (and quite terrific) film “Blue Jasmine” he shared his opinion that it isn’t tough being Jewish in America.
“By the low standards of tolerance for Jews all over the world, America’s been a very tolerant country,” he concluded. He went on to say that “there are many people that disguise their negative feelings toward Jews, disguise it as anti-Israel criticism, political criticism, when in fact what they really mean is that they don’t like Jews.”
It should be noted, however, that Allen has never visited Israel. It’s possible that if he got stuck with a cab driver who refused to turn on his meter he’d sing a different tune.
NEW FROM HOLLYWOOD
12 Years A Slave: Bring a Tylenol to this profound and profoundly depressing work of true cinematic art. Some have called this slavery’s “Schindler’s List” and not without good reason. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s strong, nuanced portrayal of the real-life free man kidnapped and brought to the American South to toil and suffer will become the stuff of legend. There are no explicitly Jewish characters portrayed in this film – for which we should all be grateful. The film is directed by Afro-British Steve McQueen (director of “Shame” and “Hunger” and, yes, a different Steve McQueen) and written by African-American John Ridley (“Three Kings,” “Red Tails.”) It is produced by Brad Pitt (who has a small but significant role) and Israeli media mogul Arnon Milchan. Good on you, Arnie – this one is a mitzvah. 5/5 stars
The Fifth Estate: He started as a shyster, then became a pest, then became the new millennium’s advocate for free speech. Benedict Cumberbatch is striking as Julian Assange in this dumbed-down version of the WikiLeaks story. Watch in awe as he dashes off lines of code as techno music plays in various hip, underground settings. Even though we know 99.9% of all Internet innovation was created in Israel, there’s no mention of it in this film. 3/5 stars
Kill Your Darlings: Anglo-Jewish Daniel Radcliffe trades in Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for Columbia University in this quite good biopic of the Jewish poet Allen Ginsberg’s early years. The wide-eyed boy leaves his troubled New Jersey home only to become enraptured by the irresistible but no-good blond Lucien Carr (played by Dane DeHann.) Marijuana and bisexuality are one thing, murder is something quite different. The writers of the Beat Generation have been deified all out of the proportion, but this movie goes easy on the hero worship and just tells a story. 4/5 stars
Escape Plan: Living human growth hormone Sylvester Stallone is wise enough to let the abundantly entertaining Arnold Schwarzenegger get all the good lines in this cheap-looking yet entertaining action picture. There’s no prison that can hold Sly, a private security contractor who agrees to test out a new black ops super-Guantanamo. He is, naturally, “set up” (don’t ask why) so must team with the loose canon Governator who is already on the inside. Highlight: the first extended filmed sequence in which Ahhhhnold speaks in his native German. Jawohl!
Middle Eastern audience members may find one aspect of the film interesting: the prison has a Muslim contingent, and, indeed, a call-to-prayers is used as a major plot point. When the script determines that Faran Tahir’s character should be one of the good guys, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference is made to his ties to a “drug cartel.” Establishing that there are Arab detainees with no ties to Al Qaeda or international terrorism is, I suppose, something of a Peace Camp win for equality. 3/5 stars
Stories We Tell: The Canadian child actress-turned-teen-actress-turned-director Sarah Polley tries her hand at the personal essay film and delivers a rather accomplished and fascinating documentary. What begins as self-inquiry about her family (her mother died when she was quite young) turns into something quite extraordinary. The man she thought was her father turns out not to be – something she and her siblings always somehow knew without really knowing. “Stories We Tell” recreates the steps she took to meet her biological progenitor, who turns out to be a Jewish film producer from Montreal. 3/5 stars
Prisoners: Jewish-American Jake Gyllenhaal stars as an emotionally hollowed-out detective who will not rest until he finds two missing children in a sleepy Pennsylvania town. Hugh Jackman is a father who thinks the gears of justice move too slowly and takes matters into his own hands. A battle of what’s right vs. what-would-you-do plays out between these two, amid a gloomy, gray winter palate. Strong stuff, even if some of the whodunnit beats get a little silly. Paul Dano (also a villain in “12 Years A Slave”) is all kinds of creepy as the main suspect. 4/5 stars
The Congress: Ari Folman, the Israeli director behind “Waltz With Bashir,” returns with another animation/live action hybrid – this time delving into surreal, science fiction territory. Starting off in the not-too-distant future, Robin Wright (playing a version of herself) agrees to have herself scanned into a computer database that will own the rights to her image. Following a stream-of-consciousness line of logic, we then visit entertainment zones where virtual reality has totally conquered the mundane. This, then, explodes into a dystopian view of a society totally addicted to the possibility of dreams. This visually unmatched movie will either blow your mind or leave you completely cold. I say, go for it. 4/5 stars