At the movies
“The Greatest Showman,” a musical that tells the story of P.T. Barnum, opened on Dec. 20. The 19th-century popular entertainment entrepreneur is played by Hugh Jackman.
The film’s 10 songs were written by the team of Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, both 32 and on a hot streak. Their show “Dear Evan Hansen” swept this year’s Tony musical categories. They also won the best song Oscar. Three “Showman” songs were released in October and one, “This Is Me,” is turning into a big hit. It’s been nominated for the Golden Globe for best original song.
A bunch of other films open on Friday, Dec. 22, including “The Post,” a historical drama about the role of the Washington Post in publishing the Pentagon Papers, secret government reports on the Vietnam War, in 1971. Meryl Streep stars as publisher Katharine Graham (Graham’s father was Jewish, but she was raised in her mother’s Christian faith). Tom Hanks plays Post editor Ben Bradlee. Appearing in big supporting roles are Alison Brie, 34, as Lally, Graham’s journalist daughter; David Cross, 53, as top Post editorial writer Phil Geyelin; and Michael Stuhlbarg, 49, as Abe Rosenthal (1922-2006), top editor of the New York Times.
Daniel Ellsberg (played by Matthew Rhys) was the military expert who gave the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and portions to the Washington Post. It’s often assumed that Ellsberg, now 86, is Jewish. His parents were born Jewish but became Christian Scientists, and Ellsberg was raised in that faith.
The film was directed by Steven Spielberg, 71, and co-written by Josh Singer, 44 (co-winner of the screenplay Oscar for “Spotlight”). Spielberg and Singer just received Golden Globe nominations for “The Post” (director and screenwriter, respectively).
A different kind of film, “Bright,” is a fantasy-action movie that posits a world where mythical creatures (elves, etc.) really exist. Capsule plot: Human LAPD officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) is paired with Orc Deputy Nick Jacoby (Joel Edgerton). “Orcs” are troll-like beings. The pair finds an ancient magic wand with incredible power. Ike Barinholtz, 40, plays another human cop. The original screenplay is by Max Landis, 32, the son of director John Landis, 67 (“Blues Brothers,” “Animal House”) and John’s wife of 37 years, top costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, 65.
“Father Figures” focuses on fraternal twin brothers (Owen Wilson, Ed Helms) whose eccentric mother (Glenn Close) raised them to believe their father died when they were young. When they discover this is a lie, they set out to find their father and learn much about their mother. The supporting cast includes Oscar-nominee June Squibb, 87, and Harry Shearer, 73. This film marks the directing debut of Lawrence Sher, 47. He’s long been one of the best comedy film cinematographers around (“The Hangover” and many others).
“Pitch Perfect 3” follows the new adventures of the Bellas, a female a cappella singing group. Now all college grads, they reunite for an overseas USO tour. Hailee Steinfeld, 21, returns as singer Emily Junk. The “singing guys” aren’t in this sequel, so we won’t see 2016 Tony Award winner Ben Platt, 24, romancing Emily again.
Kennedy Center Honors
The Kennedy Center Honors, for lifetime achievement in the arts, were presented on Dec. 3 and CBS will broadcast the gala awards ceremony at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 26. The honorees are dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade, singer Gloria Estefan, hip-hop artist LL Cool J, musician-singer Lionel Richie and legendary TV writer-producer Norman Lear, 95 (creator of “All in the Family” and many more hit series). Here’s one little-known footnote: Lear is probably the last World War II vet the center will honor. He flew 52 missions as a gunner and radio operator on a bomber plane and was highly decorated.
Fun without the gelt
Listen, a Jew has to make a living, and if most Americans are toy-buying crazy in December, well why not try and sell them a toy? This year’s hottest-selling toy was invented by a Jew. L.O.L Big Surprise! is a group of toys that come packed in a ball-like package and kids really have to work to get all the toys out. The concept is based on popular YouTube videos of kids opening presents. L.O.L. has been advertised only on YouTube. The inventor, Isaac Larian, 63, a Persian Jew, came to this country in 1971 virtually broke. The Power Ranger figures and Bratz dolls have made him a billionaire.