Month: February 2007

Entertaining America: Jews, Movies & Broadcasting

What good could possibly come from a big fat coffee table book describing how Hollywood is run by Jews? Well, this one is sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary and co-edited by J. Hoberman. So I guess it’s okay. It’s more than okay, it’s fascinating. There’s the usual stuff about Nickelodeons and the furriers from the east moving out to California. And page after page of “Oh, I didn’t know he was Jewish”-type bios. There are in depth chapters about the fascinating love of “Seinfeld” in Idaho, how Otto Preminger created America’s perception of Israel with “Exodus” and let’s not even get into the layers-deep discussion of early Jewish film actors assimilating by donning blackface. (The freaky lengths to which this discussion goes is a theory that Sammy Davis Jr., upon converting to Judaism, was donning “whiteface”. . .or something.) Most enlightening is the chapter of Gertrude Berg a/k/a Molly Goldberg. She basically invented the sitcom and personally wrote every script of her decades-long radio, TV, theater and film career. There’s a photo of her surrounded by thousands of bound works — enough to shame any writer who can’t get off his ass and figure out an ending to that dopey screenplay. (Also: Chaplin wasn’t Jewish, but Marlilyn Monroe converted so technically she...

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Robot Stories (2003), Greg Pak, A-

It’s definitely weird that it has taken me this long to see Robot Stories, considering that it was shot by my friend Pete. The good news is that the next time I see him I can let him know with no bullshit how great a movie this is. And. . .like. . .really unique, too. A compendium of four shorts, all to do, in some way or another, with robots. But, like, not really. I mean, someone who hates sci-fi would still like this movie. Each of the shorts is really touching in their own way, and the last one, dare I say, is quite profound. The first three shorts feel like very good shorts; the last one is a slice of genuine European Art Cinema. With robots. Kinda....

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Happy Times (2000), Zhang Yimou, B+

A wonderfully bittersweet film about friendship and community. The premise is straight out of Preston Sturges (plus a good 65 years and moved to Beijing.) And while it may get a little maudlin at times (and the collection of wacky friends may feel like a play from the “Full Monty” playbook) I can’t imagine there’s a person out there who wouldn’t enjoy and feel moved by this...

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Slums of Beverly Hills (1998), Tamara Jenkins, A-

If you are going to do something as ordinary as a “coming-of-age” story it needs to be done right. “Slums of Beverly Hills” is filled with warm, wonderful, real characters, and, while there may not be much in the way of “plot,” there are still plenty of twists and turns. And it is hilarious. Real slap-your-sides rewind-the-tape funny. I watched this twice in one day, because I wanted Ann to see it when she got home. I think she liked it even more than I...

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Camp Hollywood (2004), Steve Markle, B

This feature-length doc feels more like a pilot for a reality show, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Shifting from inspiring to devastatingly depressing and back again with the alacrity of a tetherball tournament, we meet the inhabitants of a low-rent residential hotel for wannabes in Hollywood. Some actually have potential to become well-known actors, some are just delusional. Others are just old and weird. (Dear God, why is Tom Hulce’s father from “Amadeus” there and who is that freak of an alcoholic broad with him?) I haven’t spent too much time in LA, but I’ve gotten some nice juicy doses in my day. It’s a lot like this. A...

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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Before anything: KHAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNN!!!!!!!! Now, much like my review of Star Trek: The Motion Picture I give this the perfect 5-insignia rating. Yet these two films are complete opposites. ST:TMP vies for some heady, arty, lofty shelf space next to “2001.” ST:TWOK wants to swash your buckle! (Real quick, again: KHAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNN!!!!!!!!) You have to be insane not to like this movie. It’s got Ricardo Mantelban’s enormous rubber breasts, for god’s sake!!! The action scenes are dynamite, the effects are great, the gross ear-monster going in Chekov’s ear is disgusting and everyone goes around quoting Melville. Is there anything not to like?? Now — readers — because I am always honest with you, I will share these facts. I’ve been pretty stinkin’ sick with flu all week. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this sick — certainly not in years. I watched ST:TWOK after a night of coughing and misery and with a *lot* of behavior-altering cherry-flavored medication flowing through me. So that must be the reason I found myself breaking into tears. Three times. At the end, of course. And when Scotty’s nephew got killed (when he turned to McCoy and said, “Ah know yuh tried” I just turned to jelly.) And — and this is really embarrassing — when Kirk first sees the Enterprise. I dunno. . .something about the music. Oh, man, I need...

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Jordan Hoffman is a New York-based writer and film critic working for The Guardian, Vanity Fair, Thrillist, Times of Israel, NY Daily News and elsewhere.

He is the host of ENGAGE: The Official Star Trek Podcast, a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and challenges you to a game of backgammon.

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