An exciting time to be a Coen, says righteous ad
Chosen films

An exciting time to be a Coen, says righteous ad

Jen Setler backs up Israel, 'Hercules' doesn't have a sense of humor, but New Zealander Zoe Bell does have chutzpah

'Fargo' (Fox Home Video)
'Fargo' (Fox Home Video)

NEW YORK — Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest picture, “Inside Lleywn Davis,” has been named one of the best movies of 2013 by over 400 writers, bloggers and critics. At least that’s what it says in this ad and if you gaze at it long enough you’ll find my name, so it is, therefore, a good and righteous ad.

This pronouncement all but secures it the very specific and enviable position of getting nominated for a boatload of Academy Awards, winning none of them, and then everyone saying for years to come how it was better than the movie that actually took home the trophy.

One of the Coens’ more popular films from years ago, “Fargo,” is also making news this week, as the first images from the television spin-off were just released. The 1996 darkly comic, ice-bound crime caper which forever changed cinema’s relationship with chicken fricassee and wood chippers is the Coens’ first foray into television. (Though here’s some good bar trivia: Their first film, “Blood Simple,” was remade by Chinese director Zhang Yimou into a 19th-century epic called “A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop” that no one saw.)

“Fargo” will debut this spring on FX and stars Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman (Bilbo from “The Hobbit”) and Colin (fils de Tom) Hanks. It has no direct connection to any of the characters of the film, but is said to be in the spirit of the show.

It is set in Bemidji, Minnesota, not Fargo, North Dakota, however the movie wasn’t set in Fargo, either. (It was set in Brainerd, Minnesota.) Noted television director Adam Bernstein (of everything from “30 Rock” to the old “Baby’s Got Back” music video) is directing the pilot and the Coens are acting as executive producers. (My interpretation: They’re on board for a bit of quality control and are happy for a nice revenue stream from one of their older properties as their kids hit college age.)

The first images made their way to us via Yahoo, and we’ll just include the link here as the pics have such a large, paranoid watermark on them they’d look silly on our site.

'Fitness guru' Jen Selter (photo credit: courtesy)
‘Fitness guru’ Jen Selter (photo credit: Courtesy)

Other pics we’ve been looking at, purely for intellectual reasons, are those of Jen Selter, the Jewish-American High-Priestess of the Rear End.

The newest fitness and celebrity Instagrammer has ties to Israel (her step-uncle raises 12 children near Jerusalem) and seems to be handling her overnight fame with aplomb.

You can read what she has to say for herself in ToI’s mini-profile from behind and then join one of the 1.3 million people following her on social media.

Is there a proper, talmudic way to put on yoga pants during the high holidays? If the world was ever going to find out, it looks like now is the time.

New From Hollywood

The first weeks of January are historically the worst for new movies. This year is no exception. Luckily, all the end-of-year Oscar hopefuls are still in theaters, but there’s still some “counter-programming” happening. This week we’ve got some rough choices.

'The Legend of Hercules' (Summit Entertainment)
‘The Legend of Hercules’ (photo credit: Summit Entertainment)

The Legend of Hercules: Israeli archaeologists still find statues of the guy from time to time but after this dud of a film they may just brush the shattered pieces under a rock. Directed by Renny Harlin, who has yet to live down “Cutthroat Island,” and produced by the Israeli-backed Millennium Films, “The Legend of Hercules” looks to be the worst kind of bad movie — one without a sense of humor.

Cheap special effects abound, with the exception of the concrete abs on its star Kellan Lutz. Those take time and effort to make, we admit. (See reference to Jen Selter and her butt selfies above.) I can’t give you too many more specifics, as the movie was not screened for critics in time to file this report. The funniest thing about this sword-and-sandal epic is that a different Hercules picture from Brett Ratner starring Dwayne Johnson comes out in just a few months.

Raze: Rarely do stunt performers produce and star in their own feature films, and rarer still are they ever women. So, for sheer chutzpah points alone, we salute New Zealander Zoe Bell for getting this film into theaters. Unfortunately, it’s kinda terrible, unsure whether to be grindhouse exploitation fun, or a serious look at male oppression and exploitation. The conceit is ludicrous — a centuries-old secret society that kidnaps physically fit young woman and forces them into deadly hand-to-hand combat until one emerges victorious. Admittedly some of the stunts are impressive, but this is a nasty, meaningless film. My cursory research shows no Jews in prominent places in the making of this one. We dodged a bullet this time.

Currently Showing

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 man 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.

'American Hustle' (Columbia Pictures)
‘American Hustle’ (photo credit: Courtesy Columbia Pictures)

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 named Irving Rosenfeld. He wears a Star of David necklace, 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.

'Blue Jasmine' (Sony Pictures Classics)
‘Blue Jasmine’ (photo credit: Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

Blue Jasmine: Out-of-the-closet Zionist Woody Allen‘s 45th film as a director (but who’s counting?) is further proof that he shouldn’t think of retiring yet. Flashing backwards and forwards in time (and between New York and San Francisco), Cate Blanchett is fantastic as the hollowed-out socialite ruined by scandal and forced to move in with her working-class sister (Sally Hawkins). While the film has more than its share of funny moments, this is a remarkable and sad character piece – backstory, really, to every cracked individual you meet who seems to have once had their life put together. Look for a short but surprisingly effective supporting role from Andrew Silverstein, who you may remember as Andrew “Dice” Clay.

'Blue is the Warmest Color' (photo credit: courtesy)
‘Blue is the Warmest Color’ (photo credit: courtesy)

Blue Is The Warmest Color: The Steven Spielberg-led jury at this year’s Cannes Film Festival awarded the Palme D’Or to this three hour emotional workout about first love. Adele Exarchopoulis is unforgettable as a timid girl finding herself sexually and intellectually, projecting her heart and soul onto an older woman played by Lea Seydoux. The film currently has a swarm of controversy around it (its Tunisian-French director Abdellatif Kechiche and Seydoux can’t be in the same room right now) but in time all that will fade. This is a striking and true movie, rich with heart and brimming with authenticity. Yeah, yeah, yeah, so there are a lot of (very) risque sex scenes, but if Spielberg says it’s kosher it’s gotta be okay, right?

The Great Escape: Steve McQueen, Donald Pleasance, Charles Bronson and other assorted Allied POWs are held in a German camp. They are duty bound to make escape attempts, to divert resources from the Nazi war machine. The result is one of the all-time mid-century classics. Jewish-American composer Elmore Bernstein composed the score, the one featuring the plucky tune that’ll stay in your head for a week after seeing the film. “The Great Escape” is showing at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on Sat January 11 at 11 am and Tuesday January 14 at 6:30 pm.

'The Fireman's Ball' (Criterion Collection)
‘The Fireman’s Ball’ (Criterion Collection)

The Fireman’s Ball: The greatest single work from the Czech New Wave is, in my opinion, this 1967 satire from director Milos Forman. Set at a small town’s annual party for the volunteer fire department, the deadpan comic exploits (which range from the extremes of elevated wit to doofiest lowbrow) was a clear enough political critique that Forman was forced into exile. While there is no particular Jewish content per se, it remains one of the finest takedowns of Eastern European Communism which, in case we need reminding, was a system that was not, on the whole, Good for the Jews. Showing at the Haifa Cinematheque on Wednesday January 15 at 8:30 pm.

Fight Club & Inexplicable:
David Fincher’s cult film about angry-at-the-world type A men (featuring Anglo-British Helena Bonham Carter as a love-struck goth-y chick) gets a little more credit it than it deserves, but it does have some good scenes and clever writing. A special screening at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Monday January 13 at 7 pm will be preceded by a new short film from Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & the Arts director David Tauber, whose 26 minute project “Inexplicable” is said to have been influenced by the Brad Pitt/Edward Norton flick.

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