At the movies
“Café Society,” directed and written by Woody Allen, 81, stars Jesse Eisenberg, 32, as Bobby, a Bronx Jewish neurotic who heads West in the 1930s to work for his uncle, a powerful Hollywood agent (Steve Carell). There he falls in love with Vonnie, his uncle’s mistress (Kristen Stewart). She doesn’t return his affection and he returns to New York, where he works for his gangster brother (Corey Stoll, 40) as a nightclub manager. He turns the club into the hottest ticket in town — the place where “café society” must go. Appearing as Bobby’s mother is Jeannie Berlin, 66, the daughter of comic legend Elaine May, 84. Berlin got an Oscar nomination for playing the sad-sack wife in “The Heartbreak Kid” (1972). Entertainment Weekly recently ranked all of Allen’s 46 films and placed “Society,” which opened in the Bay Area on July 22, in the middle at No. 22.
On the other hand, many top critics are hailing “Indignation,” which opens on Friday, July 29, as the best film made from a Philip Roth novel or short story (“Goodbye, Columbus” is considered the next best. Most of the other six films are described as terrible, including “Portnoy’s Complaint”). The story begins in 1951 when the Korean War is raging and many, like the central character Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman, 24), go to college to avoid the draft. Marcus is a Jew from New Jersey who wants to get away from his neurotic father, a kosher butcher, and he accepts a scholarship offer from a small, conservative Ohio college. There he becomes infatuated with a beautiful student with mental problems. Meanwhile, he clashes with a dean about mandatory chapel attendance, creating friction that has a profound effect on his life.The film was directed and written by James Schamus, 56, who earned a BA, an MA and a Ph.D. in English at U.C. Berkeley. He’s known as the partner of director Ang Lee on films like “Brokeback Mountain.” “Indignation” is Schamus’ debut as a director.
Shalom to an honorary tribe member
Director, writer and producer Garry Marshall died on July 19 at 81. In 2006, San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick LaSalle gave a good review to “Keeping Up with the Steins,” a comedy directed by Garry’s son, Scott (whose wife is Jewish), about a family coming together to celebrate a bar mitzvah. Marshall played the boy’s elderly Jewish hippie grandfather. LaSalle, who calls himself Italian American in the review, noted: “It may come as a surprise that Garry Marshall is not Jewish but Italian — his family is from Abruzzo. And he doesn’t try to act Jewish for the role — that’s really him. Marshall just happens to be a Jewish-seeming Italian, a sort of Harvey Keitel in reverse.”
Actually, LaSalle was just a bit off — Marshall’s father was Italian Catholic, but his mother was not, and he was raised Protestant. However, as Marshall details in his 2012 autobiography, “My Happy Days in Hollywood,” his Jewish connections began early and were lifelong. His Bronx neighborhood was all Italian and Jewish; his building, almost all Jewish. His childhood baseball team included his buddy Martin Garbus, now 81. Garbus is a legal scholar and the father of documentary maker Liz Garbus, 45. Fast-forward to 1961, and Marshall began finding big-time success writing sitcoms with (the late) Jerry Belson. Then they began creating series, and the second, “The Odd Couple” (1970), was a hit. The first series Marshall created alone, “Happy Days” (1974), became a monster hit. I’ve often thought that if Marshall were Jewish and not just Philo-Semitic, he wouldn’t have been bold enough to cast so many Jewish actors — both stars of “The Odd Couple” were Jewish, as were five of the seven lead actors in “Happy Days.” So, in tribute to Marshall, you must rent “The Flamingo Kid” (1984), the first flick he directed and wrote. Marshall perfectly captured the milieu of an overwhelmingly Jewish beach club circa 1965 — and it’s a good movie, to boot.
Columnist Nate Bloom, an Oaklander, can be reached at email@example.com.