Jewish celebs: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Ambulance,’ Ben Schwartz as Sonic and more


Jake Gyllenhaal stars in ‘Ambulance.’

NATE BLOOM, Special to the Jewish Light

Two big-budget films with a Jewish connection opened last week and are still in theaters: “Ambulance,” an action-thriller, and “Sonic: The Hedgehog 2,” a combination animation and live-action film that is appropriate for “children of all ages.” 

Here’s the capsule plot of “Ambulance”: William Sharp, an African American war vet, needs $231,000 for his wife’s surgery. He turns to his adoptive brother Danny (JAKE GYLLENHAAL, 41), a career criminal. Their attempt to rob a bank goes wrong — they shoot a police officer and flee in an ambulance carrying the wounded police officer and an EMT. 

Last February, Esquire magazine interviewed Gyllenhaal. He told “Esquire” that it was time for him to “do some big action movies again”—and that’s the type of films that “Ambulance” director MICHAEL BAY, 57, makes (“Transformers,” “Pearl Harbor”). 

The Esquire article also reported that Gyllenhaal had recently attended a Hanukkah celebration hosted by his mother, screenwriter NAOMI FONER, 75. The article said that his sister, MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL, 44, was at the Hanukkah party, and she gave her brother a lovely mezuzah as a holiday present.

In 1988, Foner’s original script for “Running Empty” was Oscar-nominated. This year, Maggie Gyllenhall was nominated for best adapted screenplay (“Lost Daughter”).

The first Sonic Hedgehog film (2020) was based on a popular video game of the same name. It was a huge box-office office hit despite getting mixed reviews (story not so great; cast very good). The title character is a “humanized” blue hedgehog who can travel at supersonic speed. He’s a good guy who wants to help people. Sonic is animated in the original and in the sequel.

BEN SCHWARTZ, 40, voiced Sonic in both Sonic flicks. Schwartz has had many film and TV roles, but it hard to cite a role everyone knows. I best remember him in his recurring role as Jean Ralphio-Saperstein (what a name!) on “Parks and Rec.” HENRY WINKLER played his father, a doctor, and JENNY SLATE, played his crazy sister, Mona-Lisa Saperstein.

Reprising their original Sonic film roles are Jim Carrey (as Sonic’s arch enemy) and James Marsden (as a sheriff who is a friend of Sonic).

ADAM PALLY, 40, makes his “Sonic” debut in “Sonic 2.” He plays a deputy sheriff who serves under Marsden’s character. Pally is a real-life pal of Schwartz. The two have long been in a three-man comedy improv troupe that performs on stage now-and-again.

Every year, around Pesach, ABC airs “The Ten Commandments,” the 1956 blockbuster about the life of Moses and the Israelites flight from Egypt. This year it will be shown on April 17, starting at 6 p.m.

In a March column, I said I was recently contacted by Cantor RISELLE BABETTE BAIN, 74, who played “Young Miriam” in the film. I just concluded a long interview with Bain and her life story is truly amazing—and “celebrity laden.” Just too much “good stuff” to relate in this week’s column.

But do watch the “Ten Commandments” and look for Bain in the scene in which Young Miriam steps into the Nile River and puts the basket holding the baby Moses into the river. Actually, Bain told me, she wasn’t in a river. She was in a big tub filled with warm water.

In the film, it seems like Miriam is looking out on the Nile. But Bain wasn’t really doing that. It was a special effect. She was actually looking at director Cecil B. DeMille, who told her exactly what do (facial expressions, etc.)

By the way, Debra Paget, who played Joshua’s Jewish love interest, is still alive. She’s 88. Bain told me that Paget had beautiful blue eyes, but DeMille didn’t think a biblical Jew should have blue eyes. So, she had to wear contact lenses that made her eyes look brown. It’s very rare when a non-Jewish actress is “forced” to look more Jewish. It has been far more common for Jewish actors to do things that make them look more stereotypically “All-American.”

Bain’s father, ABIE BAIN, fought for the light heavyweight boxing championship of the world and another real life “fighting Jew,” Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, is back on Netflix. A couple of years ago, they streamed his hit Ukrainian comedy series, ‘Servant of the People,” and, for obvious reasons, Netflix recently brought it back. It originally aired in the Ukraine in 2015-2019.

Capsule Plot: After a Ukrainian high school teacher’s tirade against government corruption goes viral on social media, he finds himself the country’s new president. Clearly, life imitated art when Zelensky was elected the (real) President of Ukraine in 2019.