At the movies
“Florence Foster Jenkins” is based on the true story of a New York heiress (played by Meryl Streep) who, due to a medical condition, couldn’t hear her own singing voice — just the sounds in her head. Jenkins was such an important socialite and philanthropist in the 1940s that nobody had the nerve to tell her how awful her opera singing was. However, things came to a head when she gave a concert at Carnegie Hall before a packed house. Co-starring as Jenkins’ pianist is Simon Helberg, 35 (“The Big Bang Theory”). In an interview, he said director Stephen Frears, 75 (“The Queen”), cast him mostly because he is a trained pianist and wouldn’t have to fake it. Helberg also revealed another talent: He is a karate black belt. The movie recently was featured on “CBS Sunday Morning,” and if the film lives up to its clips and its interesting backstory, it should be a hoot. It opens Friday, Aug. 12.
Also opening the same day is “Sausage Party,” an R-rated animated movie about a sausage leading a group of other foods on a quest to discover existential truths. Seth Rogen, 34, who co-wrote the film, voices the part of the leading sausage. Also playing a sausage is Jonah Hill, 32. Some characters have cute names, like Sammy Bagel Jr. There’s also one named Gefilte Fish. One blogger noted that the plot sounds like something from “SNL.” We’ll see whether the premise will sustain a feature-length film.
“Equity,” another film opening on Aug. 12, has been praised as the first to show Wall Street women engaging in cutthroat, high-finance deals. Women are not just peripheral characters here, as they are in similarly themed films like “Wall Street” or “The Big Short.” The script is by Amy Fox, 40, who wrote the play and screenplay for “The Heights” (2005). “Equity” was co-produced by Alysia Reiner, 46, who is one of the film’s three leads (Reiner plays the nasty assistant warden Fig in “Orange Is the New Black”). She’s married to actor David Alan Basche, 47 (“The Exes”). Also appearing in a biggish part is Sophie von Haselberg, 29, who is Bette Midler’s daughter. (Sophie’s father was born in Argentina, the son of a Jewish mother and a German father.)
While the Games are on, here are my answers to two frequent Olympic queries. First question: Why are there always Jews in fencing events? Answer: 50 Jews have won Olympic medals in fencing, a remarkable total. Fencing is an urban sport and Jews by and large are an urban people. More to the point, years ago I read that Jewish college students in Hungary, Germany and Austria started this cultural tradition in the late 19th century. They were constantly insulted by non-Jewish classmates and, per school tradition, would challenge their “insulters” to a fencing match. Reportedly, so many Jews became skilled in fencing that some non-Jewish college clubs prohibited their members from “honoring” Jews by letting them answer an insult with a fencing match.
The second most frequently asked question: “Why are there so many Jewish Olympic swimmers?” Answer: 42 Jews have won Olympic medals in swimming, another remarkable total. My sense is that Jews generally like and respect swimming as a sport and an activity — it’s healthy, nonviolent and ideal for a protective Jewish parent. There is even respect for swimming from the ultra-Orthodox. They know that the Talmud (Kiddushin 29a) specifies three skills Jewish parents must teach their children: Torah, how to make a living, and how to swim.
Three Jewish Olympic athletes were not noted in my Aug. 5 column: Seth Weil, 29, from Menlo Park, a rower on the “Men’s Four” team, which is given a good chance of medaling; New Jersey’s Sam Ojserkis, 26, the coxswain for Weil’s team (if the team gets a medal, Ojserkis gets one, too); and Felipe Kitadai, 27, a judo athlete from Brazil. He won a bronze medal at the 2012 Games and a bronze at the 2009 Maccabi Games in Israel.
Columnist Nate Bloom, an Oaklander, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.