Long, Strange Trip To Enlightenment

A secular Jew journeys into the world of Jewish mysticism in ‘Kabbalah Me.’

08/18/2014 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week

If there is a more unlikely purveyor of Kabbalah than Steven Bram it’s hard to imagine who it might be. Bram, the producer, co-director, narrator and protagonist of the new film “Kabbalah Me,” which opens on Aug. 22, is a producer of sports films, a Jets and Rangers fan and a secular Jew who was raised in the classical Reform tradition. But when he approached his 50th birthday, he began to wonder about “the spiritual secrets of the universe.” He asked himself, “What am I doing here?” and realized that he didn’t have an answer.

Director Steven Bram dancing with chasids in Meron, Israel, during Lag b’Omer festival.

A Filmmaker Shaped By War

New film documents life and work of Samuel Fuller, who helped liberate the camps.

07/28/2014 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week

Samuel Fuller held the distinction of being the only Hollywood filmmaker/GI who participated in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp at the end of World War II. Already in his early 30s, Fuller (whose family name was changed from Rabinowitz before he was born) had logged several screenwriting credits before he volunteered in the wake of Pearl Harbor; his mother would send him a 16mm movie camera while he was overseas with the 1st U.S. Infantry, and with it he shot footage of his buddies, of the brutal combat he endured over the course of four years and, inevitably, of the camp at Falkenau.

Samuel Fuller on the set, in a scene from “A Fuller Life.”  Courtesy of MoMA.

‘Wish’: Hits, And Misses

Zach Braff plays dreamer, family man in new film chock-full of Jewish references.

07/21/2014 - 20:00
Jewish Week Online Columnist

In “Wish I Was Here,” Zach Braff’s character, Aidan Bloom, has a question that many Jewish parents share. How am I going to pay the children’s yeshiva tuition?

An image from Braff's Kickstarter campaign, which helped finance the film. Via

Editorializing Against Hitler

‘The Last Sentence’ focuses on a Swedish journalist who defied the Nazis.

06/16/2014 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week

With his latest film, “The Last Sentence,” which opens on June 20, the Swedish director Jan Troell revisits the world of his 1994 film “Hamsun,” again focusing on the reaction of the Scandinavian countries to the rise of Nazism in Germany. In a sense, one could say that “The Last Sentence” is the earlier film stood on its head: another biopic centering on a famous writer and the tensions within his personal and political lives. The difference is that Torgny Segerstedt, the protagonist of the new film, was as dedicated an anti-Fascist as Knut Hamsun was a supporter of Hitler. Otherwise, the films are strikingly similar in ways that are not altogether helpful.

Torgny Segerstedt (Jesper Christensen) and Maja Forssman (Pernilla August) in “The Last Sentence.”  Courtesy of Music Box Films

When Personal And Global History Collide

Common threads in Israel Film Center Festival and annual German series.

06/09/2014 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week

At first glance the second annual Israel Film Center Festival and the newest version of Kino! Festival of New German Films would seem an unlikely pairing of events. Even granting the long and complicated history of Jews and Germans, there have been years in which these two events have had little, if anything, in common. But this year, they not only overlap one another thematically and on the calendar, with both running June 12-19, they even share a film.

Scene from Nadiv Lapid’s “Policeman,” part of Israel Film Center Festival.  Courtesy of Israel Film Center

Seniors In The Promised Land

David Gaynes’ ‘Next Year Jerusalem’ chronicles the journey to Israel of eight residents of a Connecticut nursing home.

05/19/2014 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week

 “Next Year Jerusalem” is something of an oddity. The non-fiction film, which opened May 16, is a gentle film, almost placid in its understated serenity, a quiet portrait of a group of eight residents of the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield, Conn., who undertake a weeklong tour of Israel. As a subject for a feature film, this excursion is almost as improbable as the trip it documents.

Residents of a Connecticut nursing home tour Israel in "Next Year Jerusalem." Courtesy of First Run Features

What American Dream?

James Gray returns to themes of acculturation in ‘The Immigrant,’ this time drawing on his grandparents’ experiences.

05/12/2014 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week

James Gray announces his intentions boldly with the very first image of his new film, “The Immigrant,” which opens theatrically on May 16. As you might expect from the title, the first shot of the film is of the Statue of Liberty. But Gray stands the cliché on its head, showing us not the iconic picture of welcome but the back of the statue.

Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard in “The Immigrant.” Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

“Neighbors,” Soulmates And Israel

Seth Rogen discusses new film, solves Mideast conflict.

05/12/2014 - 20:00
Jewish Week Correspondent

Seth Rogen is known as a regular guy, but he hasn’t had a regular career. The 32-year-old actor, writer and director from Vancouver has starred in such films as “Knocked Up,” “Superbad,” and “Pineapple Express.” He joined pals Jonah Hill and James Franco in “This Is the End.” In his new film, “Neighbors,” he plays a married man who has to deal with the antics of a fraternity that moved in next door. In a phone interview, Rogen spoke about his bar-mitzvah attire, his one experience with anti-Semitism, and a circumstance in which he might actually save Justin Bieber’s life.

Seth Rogen gets down in “Neighbors.” Glen Wilson/Universal Pictures

‘Ida’ Takes Polish Filmmaker Back Home

Pawel Pawlikowski tells the story of a nun who discovers her Jewish roots.

05/05/2014 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week

Lodz, the Polish city in which Pawel Pawlikowski has set his latest film, “Ida,” has a long and checkered past in both Polish and Jewish history. It is, Pawlikowski says, “a peculiar place.”

Agata Trzebuchowska as the young nun in “Ida.” Courtesy of Music Box Films

Israeli Films Continue To Challenge National Policies

Critical portrayals of Jerusalem are increasingly popular, at home and abroad.

05/05/2014 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week

Every spring, as Israel Independence Day nears, I receive many requests from institutions seeking to screen a film that celebrates Israel. They’re not looking for one with a complicated or progressive view of Israel; they’re looking for a new, good old-fashioned, unquestionably Zionist film. As director of the Israel Film Center at The JCC in Manhattan, I try to see all the quality Israeli films, and every year I have a hard time finding such films to celebrate Israel Independence Day.

Ari Folman’s “Waltz With Bashir,” a critical look at Israel’s 1982 War in Lebanon. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classic
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