Spielberg eyes the West Side, Wahlberg’s by the Bay
Chosen Films

Spielberg eyes the West Side, Wahlberg’s by the Bay

Plus: naval battles, European hotels, talking dogs and the best Jewish joke of the year (so far) -- and the Shin Bet

Production still from 'West Side Story"'(courtesy: United Artists.)
Production still from 'West Side Story"'(courtesy: United Artists.)

NEW YORK — “Something’s Coming.” That sound you hear is a thousand musical theater snobs arching their brows as one. Steven Spielberg, the full-time mensch and part-time filmmaker, has announced that he’s “taken an interest” in doing a remake of “West Side Story.”

The original film, a sure contender for one of the five best Broadway musicals adapted to celluloid, is a version of “Romeo and Juliet” updated to the modern era – which in the early 1960s meant the gritty neighborhood that was the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan. Don’t look for it now, because all but one holdout tenement building has been razed and replaced by multimillion dollar offices, high-rise apartments, fancy restaurants and, ironically, Lincoln Center.

I say ironically because Lincoln Center still has a spiritual association with the late conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, who wrote the score to “West Side Story.”

Bernstein is just one of a cavalcade of Jews who worked on this legendary film. Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics (and could have retired off of “Hey Officer Krupke, Krup You!”) Jerome Robbins (nee Rabinowitz) was the choreographer and Ernest Lehman wrote the script.

If Spielberg’s version would modernize ‘West Side Story’ to today, would ‘Somewhere’ have a rap break?

The question remains if Spielberg’s version would further modernize it to today and, if so, would “Somewhere” have a rap break in the middle?

Before purists get too upset, there’s something you should know about Mr. Spielberg. He, like Martin Scorsese, likes to have a lot of potential projects spinning in development at once, and then decide at the last minute which he is going to pursue. “Lincoln,” for example, was announced as Spielberg’s next gig back in 2001, but didn’t come out until 2012.

In other news, Jewish-American pyromaniac and filmmaker Michael Bay blasted the Internet with a wall of fearsome metal this week by unleashing his newest trailer.

Somehow while we weren’t paying attention this meshuggenah went and made a fourth – a FOURTH — “Transformers” movie.

The fact remains that these loud, long and idiotic films about talking cars make an awful lot of money. I guess something happens to us in the summer where we all get collective amnesia and buy a ticket. It’s like, I never remember making the conscious decision to see a “Transformers” movie, and yet, somehow, I end up going.

The new one is out this summer – when you really crave a theater’s air conditioning – and the trailer’s loaded with Mark Wahlberg and the American flag.

New from Hollywood

Eva Green takes aim in "300: Rise of an Empire" (courtesy: Warner Bros.)
Eva Green takes aim in “300: Rise of an Empire” (courtesy: Warner Bros.)

300: Rise of an Empire: Israeli commercial director Noam Murro makes his first big Hollywood splash with this very entertaining albeit extremely stupid follow-up to Zack Snyder’s “300.” It isn’t a prequel and it isn’t a sequel – it’s more of a “sidequel,” focusing on the Persians’ naval assault on Greece that happened concurrently with Xerxes battle with Leonidas at the Hot Gates seen in the last movie. Franco-Jewish actress Eva Green is calling the shots for the Persians as Artemisia, and she just loves the role. She’s big, bold and beautiful, and anyone who wants to see a woman kicking butt and taking names must catch this film. (Even if she is, technically, the villain.)

The Grand Budapest Hotel: The wonderfully fastidious filmmaker Wes Anderson is back with another quirky and affected comedy-drama. This time it is a story within a story within a story within a story (really) set in a make believe Eastern European nation just before World War II. While it is mostly madcap chases and outrageous production design, the rise of fascism and its ethnic hatreds loom in the background. This is a gorgeous picture and its roundabout way of addressing the horrors of the mid-20th Century are disarmingly effective. Notable Jewish actors like Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum and Adrien Brody make appearances.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Mr. Peabody & Sherman: The know-it-all talking dog and the upbeat kid you may or may not remember from the breaks of the “Rocky & Bullwinkle Show” are back. And back in time! This wacky kids’ film is loaded with 3D animated action, dopey puns and anachronistic historical humor. (Oh, so THAT’S why Mona Lisa is smiling!) It also features one of the best Jewish jokes I’ve seen in a movie for quite some time. Mr. Peabody & Sherman are in Ancient Egypt and have to rescue little Penny from getting married to King Tut. (Don’t ask.) Mr. Peabody gets a megaphone and stands inside of an enormous idol and pretends to be Anubis, the God of Death. He demands the girl be freed. The crowd shouts back no. In a big angry voice (and, remember, this is a cute little dog wearing glasses) he warns that he will bring plagues if his demands are not met.

Cut to a guy in the crowd who turns to his wife and, with a Yiddish accent, says “Oy, again with the plagues? Ve should never have moved to Egypt!”

Well, I laughed at least.

Particle Fever: It’s a big movie about something tiny. This documentary film, one of the best in months, details the years-in-the-making discovery of the Higgs-Boson, also known as the God Particle, at the Large Hardron Collider in Switzerland. Jewish-American physicist David Kaplan is your guide through the complex theoretical positions as well as the overwhelming engineering achievement that is the seventeen mile underground track. Even if you know the outcome, the climax is the most exciting movie of this nature since “Apollo 13.” (Points to me for not saying “it’s a smash!”) Read our interview with Kaplan and the film’s director here.

Bethlehem: The Ophir-winning film is finally out in the US. This rich, emotional and action packed story about a Shin Bet operative and his young Palestinian informer does more to crack open the heartache and frustration at the center of Israel’s security issues than a hundred op-eds. The Palestinian groups are shown as riddled with in-fighting and corruption, while the Shin Bet is presented as blighted by an ends-justify-the-means ethical contradiction. Meanwhile, individuals suffer as larger forces pull the strings. A must see.

Currently Playing


Non-Stop: Legendary Jewish-American action producer Joel Silver has teamed up with Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra and Irish actor Liam Neeson for another of Neeson’s meaty bruiser roles. This time he’s an air marshal battling his personal demons and a demented hijacker who is somewhere on a trans-Atlantic flight. The movie is dumb as toast, but undeniably fun, especially once Neeson stops texting and starts using his fists. Seat belts required.

Son of God: A compressed version of the popular “Bible” mini-series mixed with new footage, “Son of God” is a straightforward, boring and cheap telling of the story of Jesus. Lifeless and dull, it ticks the boxes of the New Testament’s greatest hits (all the big lines are there!) and doesn’t pull its punches in making Caiaphas and the high priests of Jerusalem look like big fat jerks. Not just a bad movie, but bad for the Jews. Read more in depth here.

Happiness: This collection of short stories from Jewish-American director Todd Solondz is just about the most uncomfortable time at the movies you could ever have. And yet, you can’t turn away. Everyone is miserable in this roundelay of dysfunctional relationships that range from the mildly perverse to the criminal. Solondz’ trick is portraying everyone with humanity, making all these wretched characters a little bit sympathetic. Even the child molester, which remains just as controversial as when the movie first came out in 1998. Screening at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on Saturday March 8 at 2 pm.

"Harold and Maude." (courtesy: Paramount Pictures.)
“Harold and Maude.” (courtesy: Paramount Pictures.)

Harold and Maude: Cinema’s great May-December romance. Bud Cort’s Harold, a disaffected rich kid at the height of the Vietnam War, falls in love with Ruth Gordon’s Maude, a 79-year-old free spirit. Cat Stevens’ folk tunes and an unpredictable philosophy made this one of the first true cult films of the 1970s. This classic by director Hal Ashby was one of Jewish-American producer Stanley Jaffe’s greenlit movies during his short but important stint as the head of Paramount Pictures. Screening at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Tuesday March 11 at 8:30 pm.

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