Can Elizabeth Banks make ‘Pitch’ even more ‘Perfect’?
Chosen films

Can Elizabeth Banks make ‘Pitch’ even more ‘Perfect’?

Our critic hears rumors of a Golem-style addition to the ‘Fantastic Four,’ and advises you to stay home on ‘Labor Day’ and avoid ‘That Awkward Moment’

Pitch Perfect (photo credit: courtesy Universal Pictures)
Pitch Perfect (photo credit: courtesy Universal Pictures)

That sound you hear is a generation of theater kids squealing as one – in perfect harmony.

The wildly popular a-Capella romantic comedy “Pitch Perfect,” which capitalized on the popularity of “Glee” and girl power tropes to become an unexpected runaway hit, has a sequel is in the works. This time actress Elizabeth Banks, who had a small role in the original, will direct the cheery Anna Kendrick/Rebel Wilson vehicle.

Banks, a convert to Judaism, is currently enjoying success as her role of Effie Trinket in the “Hunger Games” films expands. (She went from baddie to sympathetic baddie in the last one.) She’ll now join the woefully small ranks of women directors of large(ish) budget Hollywood films. Considering what a success “Pitch Perfect” was with just Anna Kendrick and a cup, we’re hoping Banks provides her with an entire place setting during this go-round. Just imagine the possibilities!

Jewish a-Capella group the Maccabeats are primed to make their homage video.

Meanwhile, there are rumors down on Yancy Street.

Any day now we’ll hear casting about the reboot of “Fantastic Four.” The Golem-like Ben Grimm (better known as The Thing) was one of the first explicitly Jewish characters in comics. He even had a late bar mitzvah. An Internet leak last week said that Jewish-American actor Josh Gad was being eyed for the role, but this talk was quickly clobbered by the actor himself. He took to twitter to issue a denial, joking he was too busy preparing for the role of young Luke Skywalker in the next “Star Wars” film.

Ben “The Thing” Grimm (photo credit: courtesy Marvel)
Ben “The Thing” Grimm (photo credit: courtesy Marvel)

The “Fantastic Four” reboot, out in June 2015, is the follow-up film for Jewish-American director Josh Trank, whose superhero “found footage” film “Chronicle” was a great success. That film co-starred African-American Michael B. Jordan, and there have been similar rumors that he’ll play Johnny Storm aka The Human Torch. In the comics he and his sister (Sue Storm, aka The Invisible Girl) were white, though this was more “default” than a chosen ethnicity. Will comics fans lose their mind if there is a breach with canon? I think so long as Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) has graying temples all will be well.

New From Hollywood

We’re in February, but it’s still the dead zone for new releases. Assuming you’ve seen all of 2013’s Oscar contenders, here’s what’s washed up on Q1’s shores.

Labor Day (photo credit: courtesy Paramount Pictures)
Labor Day (photo credit: courtesy Paramount Pictures)

Labor Day: Ivan Reitman’s son presents a new film starring Barbra Streisand’s stepson based on a novel written by J.D. Salinger’s former girlfriend. That’s a lot of connection with some top Jews, but anything’s worth discussing instead of the meat of this fairly rancid film. A Lifetime Network chick flick at best, this silly love escapade takes place in a country home when an escaped jailbird hides out with a lonely single mother and her father figure-less son. For a few days they play house, which involves making a lot of pies. Then reality crashes in. As a book, maybe it works. As a movie, it is risible. Paramount Pictures is dumping this high profile picture (Kate Winslet is the lead) in February, which ought to tell you something.

That Awkward Moment: The part-Jewish teen heartthrob Zac Efron stars in the first movie ever named for a social media hashtag. There’s no way this will sound embarrassingly out of date in two years! The film features rising Jewish star Miles Teller and “Fruitvale Station”’s Michael B. Jordan who, along with Efron, are three “bros” who fight to stay true before “hoes.” Alas, affairs of the heart trump such fellowship, and the hoes in question start to disrupt the aforementioned bros. Results are awkward. Disclosure: I didn’t actually see this movie, but I heard from solid sources that it’s terrible.

Tim’s Vermeer: Unless he called action and cut using sign language, Jewish-American magician Teller (of Penn & Teller) actually speaks. He directed this clever documentary, which co-stars his loquacious longhair chum, as well as their comrade Tim Jenison, an inventor and computer pioneer, who strives to recreate the painting techniques of the Dutch Master Johaness Vermeer. This film proves that any subject – even the boring process of copying a painting – can be fascinating and funny in the right hands.

Currently in Theaters

Her (photo credit: courtesy Warner Bros.)
Her (photo credit: courtesy Warner Bros.)

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.

Grudge Match: Alan Arkin schlumps along as Sylvester Stallone’s old Jewish trainer in this alter kaker special. Stallone, forever the nice guy, is an unemployed steel worker given once last chance to settle the score against his old rival, played by loveable loud mouth Robert De Niro. The movie is 100% by the numbers and has no surprises, but if you like having a movie on while you do other things around the house, this is a reasonable one to watch. (You can’t bring your ironing into the theater, though, so you’ll have to wait for DVD.)

Delivery Man: The sin of Onan catches up to Vince Vaughn in ways not predicted in the Book of Genesis in this lighthearted and emotional comedy. Twenty years ago, Vaughn’s character David Wozniak was a frequent donor at a sperm bank. For reasons that are never fully explained, his seed was used over 500 times, thus giving him a whole platoon of offspring. Despite an anonymity clause in the contract, his spawn are pushing a class action lawsuit through to meet their mysterious father.

It’s a far-fetched and somewhat sappy film, but ultimately ends with a warm, humanist message. As unlikely as it may seem, you may find yourself moved.

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.

Hester Street (photo credit: courtesy HVE)
Hester Street (photo credit: courtesy HVE)

Hester Street: Joan Micklen Silver’s rich portrait of Jewish-American life on New York’s Lower East Side is essential viewing about the Jewish experience. Starring a young Carol Kane and based on a memoir by Abraham Cahan, this low budget black and white picture feels less like a movie than some sort of time capsule. Much of it is in Yiddish. The Jerusalem Cinematheque’s presentation on Saturday February 1st at 11am will feature a concert of traditional klezmer music and a lecture from Professor Eliyahu Schleifer.

High Noon: One of the greatest American Westerns was written by a Jew (Carl Forman), produced by a Jew (Stanley Kramer) and directed by a Jew (Fred Zinnemann.) Hopalong Cohen, indeed! Gary Cooper stars as Marshal Will Kane, who will not stand down against revenge-seeing Frank Miller even when the rest of the town has left him to fend for himself. The movie plays out in (close to) real time and is a master class in filmmaking. It’s one of the all time greats and, so long as you check your spurs at the door, you have an opportunity to see it on the big screen at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Sunday February 2nd at 7pm and the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on Thursday February 6th at 7 pm. (Oh, and the memorable music was written by Dimitri Tiomkin, another Jew, too.)

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