NEW YORK — Publicity engines for 2014′s movies are starting to rev up. In addition to the superhero tentpoles and the festival-ready prestige pictures, there’s also the highly subjective world of comedy.
Canadian-Jewish funnyman Seth Rogen will be trading in his party persona to play the square in the forthcoming “Neighbors.” Zac Efron is the head of a fraternity which moves into the house next door to the mild-mannered family man.
Wait, wait, wait. So, Seth Rogen’s in a movie where he plays the “old” guy? Oy vey, I think I need a minute to work that one out in my head.
Since “Neighbors” is a comedy, you can be sure other members of the Hebraic faith are in it – including Dave Franco, Lisa Kudrow, Ike Barinholtz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. (Actually, Zac “High School Musical” Efron’s paternal grandfather was Jewish, too. Who knew?) A new trailer dropped this week. The film comes out May 9, 2014.
Like I said, comedy is subjective. “Neighbors” looks like it has potential. Another well known Jewish film comedian released a trailer this week and it looks to me like the worst thing since diaper rash. That man is Adam Sandler and the film is “Blended.”
Sandler’s recent highs include “That’s My Boy” and “Hotel Transylvania,” and recent lows are “Grown Ups 2” and “Jack and Jill.” But it looks like he’s outdone himself in lameness here. The movie seems like an excuse for him and a bunch of little kids to run around rich peoples’ Africa making obnoxious comments. And for Drew Barrymore to embarrass herself. To be completely honest I had to click away on the trailer before the end. Maybe some time between now and May 23, 2014 I’ll try again.
Shonda of the Week
Jewish-American actor Shia LaBeouf really wants to be thought of as an artist. (It’s understandable, as most people know him as second fiddle to a talking, computer generated car.) Over the years he’s produced indie comics and short films and this week it was discovered that Mr. LaBeouf is a serial plagiarizer.
His short film “HowardCantour.com,” which played at Cannes in 2012, reached a wider audience when it went online this week. Within hours some recognized similarities to a Daniel Clowes comic far greater than any coincidence. Blocks of text, specific images and the plot in general were all lifted. Only the names were changed.
In addition to being unethical, it’s just dumb. Daniel Clowes may not be a household name, but the creator of “Ghost World” has a significant cult following. How did LaBeouf, who was passing this work off as his own creation, think he’d get away with it? Worse, when he went to apologize on Twitter, a number of Internet sleuths realized he yanked his canned response from a Yahoo Answers page concerning plagiarism. He plagiarized his apology for plagiarism!
LaBeouf made a similar gaffe earlier this year when his “open letter to Alec Baldwin” proved to have blocks of text yanked from a 2009 Esquire Magazine article. Further research has shown that some of his earlier comics have lines that bare considerable resemblance to Charles Bukowski and Benoit Duteurtre.
LaBeouf was last seen trying to laugh this off, posting further mea culpas on Twitter that were clear, obvious ripoffs from famous apologies by Tiger Woods and Robert McNamara (both listed in an easily-found-through-Google article from Time Magazine.) This last response comes as far too little, far too late. Anyone in the creative field must recognize the seriousness of plagiarism. As such, Shia LaBeouf is our Shonda of the Week.
New From Hollywood
Her: A conclave of Hollywood’s top Jews have collected to make one of the year’s best films in “Her.” Written and directed by Spike Jonze (born Adam Spiegel) and starring Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of Scarlett Johannson, “Her” is a remarkable sci-fi/romantic comedy hybrid that takes its far-out premise and goes to unpredictable and deeply emotional places.
Set in the not-too-distant future, Phoenix plays a lonely, confused mad who falls in love with his highly advanced computer operating system. Amazingly, the movie isn’t an essay on how we determine sentient life. Instead it merely shows the difficulties all new relationships face – and this one just has rather specific issues. Such as one person merely being a disembodied, hyper-intelligent voice.
This is a really smart, funny movie that offers great insight into “how we live now,” and one that will be discussed for years.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues: Smarmy, lunkheaded news reader Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is back and he’s brought his buddies, including the very handsome Jewish-American Paul Rudd, with him. Is this a real movie or just a collection of bits? Well, to be fair, let’s say somewhere in between. Some of the scenes – like Ron inadvertently creating the lowest common denominator conventions of 24-hour news – are quite funny. The endless scenes of Steve Carrell doing his dumb guy Brick Tamland are not. At all. Still, once this movie plays on an endless cable loop it’ll be fun to quote from it.
Currently in Theaters
American Hustle: Half-Jewish director David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”) delivers his slickest picture yet, a Scorsese-like treatment of the “Abscam” FBI sting of the early 1980s. Christian Bale stars as a sympathetic crook names Irving Rosenfeld. He wears a Star of David necklasce, a fair amount of belly fat and an absurd toupee. After he and his cohort (Amy Adams) are nabbed for making fake bank loans, they are pressed into service by the FBI to take down corrupt politicians. This is a fun movie that’s also just smart enough – focusing on themes of identity and the allure of theft – to make it a must-see.
Saving Mr. Banks: The Walt Disney Company has produced a movie about how awesome the Walt Disney Company is. Emma Thompson is the sharply-tongued P.L. Travers, author of “Mary Poppins,” and Tom Hanks is Uncle Walt. Travers is a woman in emotional turmoil who needs a lot of “mansplaining” to convince her to sign over the rights to her book – and thus open her heart to growth or forgiveness or something. Frankly, this movie is pretty vile and ought to enrage just about anyone who thinks about it too long. However, Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak, two of the finer Jewish character actors out there, are marvelous as the Sherman Brothers – the celebrated songwriting team in Disney’s factory. Their scenes are terrific.
Inside Llewyn Davis: Joel and Ethan Coen, possibly the finest filmmakers working today, have a new masterpiece on their hands with “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a look at a self-perpetuated failure set during the 1960s folk revival scene. (Very) loosely based on the life of Dave Van Ronk, Oscar Isaac stars as the titular troubadour, wandering the cold streets of Greenwich Village, too poor for a winter coat.
F. Murray Abraham (who is not a Jew, in case you were wondering) plays the Albert Grossman-esque figure in a Kafkaesque “Before The Law” sequence that is among the most striking scenes of the Coens’ career. Joel and Ethan also pay homage to a fellow midwestern Jew by the name of Zimmerman in a similarly memorable moment. This film is not to be missed.
Jules et Jim: One of the cornerstones of the French New Wave, Francois Truffaut’s adaptation of Henri-Pierre Roche’s loose autobiography shook off all known filmmaking conventions with its innovative technique and blithe spirit. This is mirrored in Jeanne Moreau’s character, who alternates her affection between the two men of the title. The film plays on Tuesday, Dec 24 at 21:15 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
Some interesting background on Oskar Werner, who plays Jules. He was born in Vienna and was opposed to the Nazi regime. He was drafted into the Wermacht, but was an intentional “screw-up” so as to avoid any advancement. He later deserted, married a Jewish woman and lived in hiding for the duration of the war.
Samsara: A curious film has been screening off and on for months at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. It is Ron Fricke’s non-narrative collage of images and sounds called “Samsara,” and if there’s been a better “head film” produced in the past few years I don’t know about it. Following up on his similarly themed “Baraka” (as well as the landmark “Koyanisqqatsi,” on which Fricke was the director of photography) this 2011 movie (shot on 70mm film) is an artistic portrayal of, among other things, different cultures and the outward manifestation of their spirituality. To be sure, it features a few “money shots” of the Holy City, as well as worshippers at the Kotel.
“Samsara” plays on December 20, 21, 25 and 27 at various start times.