Jewish celebrities roundup: Director reimagines Peter Pan; HBO adapts Philip Roth novel

Winona Ryder stars in the new HBO series ‘The Plot Against America,’ based on the novel by the late Philip Roth.  Photo: Michele K. Short/HBO  

By Nate Bloom, Special to the Jewish Light

At the movies: ‘Wendy’ and ‘The Hunt’ 

The low-budget indie film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” was the surprise hit of 2012. This almost mystical story about how a young girl survived a major Louisiana flood won many major awards and scored four Oscar nominations. BENH ZEITLIN, now 37, received nominations for best director and best adapted screenplay.  His second film, “Wendy,” is a wildly reimagined re-telling of the Peter Pan story and is slated to open March 13 at the Tivoli Theatre. 

In Zeitlin’s version, Wendy is kidnapped and taken to a mysterious tropical island where no one grows old. Advance reviews are mostly good. As with “Beasts,” Zeitlin is highly praised for the other-world atmosphere he creates via photography and sets and criticized for uneven storytelling. Zeitlin, who directed “Wendy,” wrote the screenplay with his sister, ELIZA ZEITLIN, 34ish (who also was the production designer). Their parents (father, Jewish; mother, Protestant) are both folklore experts and college professors. Benh had a bar mitzvah. 

The new film “The Hunt” is loosely based on the famous short story “The Most Dangerous Game.” The film follows 12 strangers who wake up in a clearing, not knowing where they are or how they got there. They discover that they have been chosen to be hunted in a game devised by a group of elites. The cast includes Betty Gilpin, Hillary Swank, Emma Roberts and IKE BARINHOLTZ, 43. 

It was directed by CRAIG ZOBEL, 44, and co-written by DAMON LINDELOF, 44, the co-creator/writer of “Lost” and “The Leftovers.” The film opens nationally on March 13.

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New streaming/cable choices 

March 16, HBO airs the first episode of its six-part series “The Plot Against America.” It’s based on the novel of the same name by the late PHILIP ROTH. The novel and series posit an alternative American history in which Franklin Roosevelt is defeated in the 1940 presidential election by Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator who was, in real life, a xenophobic isolationist. Lindbergh turns the nation towards fascism, tinged with more than just a little anti-Semitism. The impact of the nation’s new policies is told via its effects on New Jersey working class Jewish family, called the Levins in the HBO series. 

The story is mostly told through the perspective of Philip Levin, a 10-year-old boy. The cast includes MORGAN SPECTOR, 39, as Herman, Philip’s father and WINONA RYDER, 48, as Evelyn, Philip’s aunt. “Plot” was co-created DAVID SIMON, 60 (“The Wire”) who wrote or co-wrote four of the episodes.

On March 2, The New York Times published a long profile of the unlikely career of DAVID BURD, 32, AKA rap star “Lil Dickey.”  A Jewish guy from Philly, he got good grades and went to work for an ad agency after college.  However, he really wanted to be a comedian. He always had a talent for rapping and in 2011 he tapped into his bar mitzvah money ($6,000) and began making (self-financed) comedic rap videos. In 2013, he released his first rap video (entitled “Ex-Boyfriend.” It’s on YouTube and is quite risqué). The video went viral and got a million hits within 24 hours of posting. Burd told Jimmy Kimmel on Mar. 3, “That was the best day of my life.”  Hit albums followed and now he has a semi-autobiographical TV series called “Dave” (began March 4 on FXX cable; also on Hulu).

The NBC drama “Council of Dads” starts on March 24 (9 p.m.). The lead character, Scott Perry, is the loving father of four. A serious health scare moves him to recruit three of his closest male friends to step-in as “back up dads” for every stage of his family’s life. These men agree to devote themselves to supporting and guiding Scott’s family through thick and thin  — just in case he ever can’t be there to do so himself.

The series is based on “The Council of Dads,” a best-selling book 2010 book by BRUCE FEILER, 55. He and his wife, LINDA ROTTENBERG, 54, a prominent business consultant, have identical twin daughters. In 2008, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Feiler wrote letters asking six men from all passages of his life to be present through the passages of his young daughters’ lives and assist them. They all responded positively. Feiler, who is now cancer-free, has written about many topics, but he’s best known for “Walking the Bible,” the best-selling book published in 2006 (and subsequently a very popular PBS series) about Feiler’s 10,000-mile journey tracing the events and places mentioned in the Torah.