Jewish talent to watch this Holiday movie season

Nate Bloom, Special to the Jewish Light

A film re-make of “West Side Story” opens on Dec. 10. The film was directed by STEVEN SPIELBERG, 74, and the screenplay was written by TONY KUSHNER, 65. They first worked together on Spielberg’s acclaimed film “Lincoln” (2012), which earned Kushner an Oscar-nominated for his “Lincoln” screenplay, and Spielberg a best director nomination. They also teamed-up for “The Fabelmans,” a semi-autobiographical film about Spielberg’s “coming-of-age” years that will open in 2022. Spielberg directed and co-wrote the original screenplay with Kushner.

Here’s a little bit about West Side Story’s “very Jewish” origin story. Around 1955, choreographer JEROME ROBBINS pitched the idea of a modernized musical version of “Romeo & Juliet.” Romeo would be a young Irish Catholic guy, and Juliet would be a Jewish teenage Holocaust survivor. “Everybody” eventually agreed that this update didn’t work. It was too much like “Abie’s Irish Rose,” a schmaltzy hit play about a Catholic/Jewish couple. Not long after, news stories appeared about gang fights between white kids and recent Puerto Rican immigrants. They decided to make Juliet (Maria), Puerto Rican, and Romeo (Tony), a native-born white guy.

The Broadway creative team was “all Jewish”: Robbins directed and choreographed; ARTHUR LAURENTS penned the “book” (story, dialogue); LEONARD BERNSTEIN wrote the music; and STEPHEN SONDHEIM, who died on Nov. 26, age 91, penned the lyrics. The Broadway musical (1957) was a smash-hit, as was the 1961 film. The new film is “still” set in the ’50s. It retains the original score and closely follows Laurents’ “book.”

Corey Stoll speaking at the 2014 San Diego Comic Con International, for “The Strain”, at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. (Gage Skidmore, Wiki Commons)

COREY STOLL, 45, has a supporting role as police lieutenant Schrank and Ansel Elgort, 27, co-stars as Tony. Elgort has an interesting Jewish background. My sense is that he’s secular.  Ansel’s mother is of non-Jewish background. His mother’s mother was sent to a Nazi concentration camp for saving Jewish children. Ansel’s father, ARTHUR ELGORT, 81, is a well-known fashion photographer. Arthur’s father was Jewish but his mother wasn’t born Jewish. Arthur made comments in an interview that make me believe he was raised Jewish and that’s its possible his mother converted to Judaism.


“The Humans,” had a very limited theater opening last week and, at the same time, began streaming on Showtime. It is based on a one-act play by Stephen Karam that won (2016), the Tony for best play. The film was written and directed by Karam, a Scranton native of Lebanese Christian background.

Very basic plot: Brigid Blake (BEANIE FELDSTEIN, 28), a musician, a musician, and her boyfriend, Richard (Steven Yuen), live-in a run-down Manhattan apartment. Brigid’s parents, Erik (Richard Jenkins) and Deidre (Jayne Houdyshell) drive-in from Scranton to celebrate Thanksgiving with Brigid. They are joined by Aimee, Brigid’s sister (AMY SCHUMER, 40), who is a lawyer in Philadelphia, and Momo (JUNE SQUIBB, 82), Erik’s mother, who is suffering from Alzheimers. Gradually, a lot of family secrets and problems are exposed.

On Dec. 1, HBO begins streaming the documentary “Adrienne,” about the life of actress/writer/director ADRIENNE SHELLY (1966-20006). Shelly’s death was the subject of headlines when it became clear that she did not commit suicide, as the police first thought, but that she was brutally murdered by a construction worker in her building. Her husband, ANDY OSTROY 62, directed the HBO film and he is a major character in the film: He pushed the police to re-investigate Shelly’s death; he raised their daughter, SOPHIE, now 17; and he founded a big arts foundation bearing Shelly’s name.

Shelly was born Amy Levine and grew-up on Long Island. She gained some fame as the star of several well-received indie films in the 1990s. However, she’s best remembered for “Waitress,” a film that she wrote and directed that was released just after her death. This feminist comedy/drama got very good reviews and, in 2015, a musical version of “Waitress” opened. It ran on Broadway for four years.

Sarah Jessica Parker. Photo: Georges Biard

The HBO Max series “And Just Like That” (a “re-boot” of “Sex and the City”) begins streaming on Dec. 9. SARAH JESSICA PARKER, 55, who plays star character Carrie, is in the re-boot, as is EVAN HANDLER, 60, who plays Harry, the Jewish husband of star character Charlotte (who converted to Judaism before marrying Harry). Sad to note: WILLIE GARSON, who played Stanford, Carrie’s gay friend, was reported to be in the re-boot earlier this year. But it’s unclear if Garson filmed any episodes before he died (Sept. 17) of pancreatic cancer.

“Bakin’ It” is a six-episode series that will begin streaming on the Peacock channel on Dec. 2. New episodes premiere each successive Thursday. It appears that this show will be part of the “free section” of Peacock offerings — not the paid subscriber part.

The exciting news is that the first episode is a Hanukkah baking competition. Here’s the show’s basic premise: eight teams, each consisting of two home bakers, are tasked with creating baked goods for the holidays (which basically means Christmas after the first episode). The teams are made-up of spouses, siblings, and good friends. They can win cash prizes if their creation is the favorite of the judges.

The judges are four elderly grandmothers with baking experience. Here are their names as related by People magazine: Anne “Grandma” Leonhard, Norma “Bubbe” Zager, Sherri “Gigi” Williams, and Harriet “Nana” Robin. I believe that Zager is the same (Jewish) “Norma Zager” who has frequently contributed articles to the Jewish media on various subjects.

The hosts are MAYA RUDOLPH, 49, and ANDY SAMBERG, 43. The advance publicity says they will not just host, but will “provide comedic and musical commentary on the action.”