LIFE Movie Review

LIFE is the type of movie that gives you faith in Hollywood.  The term “popcorn flick” is generally derogatory and expecting good acting from one is usually a pipe dream.  LIFE, however, takes that stereotype and turns it on its head.

Daniel Espinosa directs an excellent cast led by Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson.  Together, they prove a suspenseful alien movie may be well made and fun.

Often, these movies create character backstories with the express purpose of generating sympathy before killing off a character.  What LIFE does well is keep this device from becoming overly manipulative.  The story is clearly not in the character’s backgrounds, but the action on screen.  By keeping the backstory simple, it doesn’t detract from the real reason for buying a ticket: two hours of entertainment.

Casting Jake Gyllenhaal was a coups for LIFE, giving it indie film credibility to help elevate it from becoming “just” another alien movie.  Gyllenhaal garnered an Oscar nomination for his role in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and is known for selecting roles in interesting projects.

Ryan Reynolds, too, earned new respect with last year’s success of DEADPOOL, a character he worked to bring to the big screen for years.

Hiroyuki Sanada has won two awards from the Japanese Academy, the equivalent of the American Oscars.

In short, this cast served as more than place holders that absolutely anyone could have filled, as is frequently the case in this genre.  LIFE managed to transition from being a [derogatory] “popcorn flick” to a genuinely good suspense movie.  Perhaps, in fact, to the surprise of all involved.

For more about LIFE, take a look below:

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Emily Stern — Howard Stern’s daughter — on stage and off

Emily Stern is 6 feet tall and resembles her father, radio icon Howard Stern, but she does not aspire to a career in radio.

She says her interests lie in her spiritual and artistic endeavors: attending the Romemu (Jewish Renewal) synagogue and its Red Tent women's group in Manhattan; integrating Jewish practice into the Transcendental Meditation her entire family has practiced since she was young; studying the use of Balinese masks to create theater; performing and recording her original songs; and, currently, playing the lead in an offbeat science fiction rock musical, “Earth Sucks,” a meditation on global harmony.

In the musical — which runs Oct. 4-Nov. 2 at Art/Works Theatre in Hollywood — Stern, 25, plays Echo, an Earthling who falls in love with a fugitive alien and uses her music to save civilization from an evil pop diva. All the while, the character struggles with her relationship with her distant, if well-meaning, father.

“The element I like most is that the character comes to see things differently, and feels she has a voice and a place through her music,” Stern said during lunch. “And of course the relationship between the father and daughter … the elements of healing and wholeness that come through.” Stern's personal journey, in some ways, echoes that of her character.

She said she identifies with stories of transformation and revelation, in part, because she was raised in an atmosphere of “extreme concealment … a lot of things were private because it was the public eye.”

Stern experienced her father as a loving, protective parent; she says she was not explicitly forbidden from tuning in to his program (famous for its naked women and other outrageous scenarios).

“But there was the sense of 'You wouldn't want to listen; it's not your father.'” The suggestion was that Stern's public persona was an act, and that the real Howard Stern was an intensely private family man devoted to his then-wife, Allison, and three daughters.

When Emily secretly watched the radio show's late-night TV broadcast, she was confused by her father's high-energy, improvisational performance.

“I remember being like, 'That isn't my dad.  Who is this?' Then once I reached the age when it was maybe acceptable to listen … it really just wasn't what I was interested in, in seeing my dad that way, and also the content.”

As a child, Emily first performed in the choir at her Reform temple in Roslyn, N.Y., where she sang at children's services and Jewish camp. She continued to perform in high school; but studying acting at New York University did not mesh well with her intuitive approach to theater, she said.

She further felt lost then, she said, because her parents had recently divorced: “All the time there was my dad on the radio with women, doing whatever, I had such a strong knowingness and belief in my parents' marriage,” she said. “The loss of that bond between mother and father — I can't tell you how shattering that was.”

Asked if she foresaw the divorce, the actress responded, “Living this character on the radio, there's only so much you can say, 'It's not me' before you embody it — I think that's a bit of what happened.” She said she has come to understand that her father has been in the process of “integrating all selves,” which is important for every person to do.

After graduating from NYU, however, Stern said she “was spiritually at a point of real distress.” Besides the loss of her family life — including the celebration of Jewish holidays with all her grandparents — she felt artistically uninspired until she was cast in the play “Kabbalah,” at the Jewish Theatre of New York. The religious satire touched on celebrity obsession with Jewish mysticism, and Stern was cast as the female lead, pop superstar Madonna. Since the play involved revelation, the cast was required to appear nude at the end of the show.

Despite her father's warnings that the press would have a field day if Howard Stern's daughter performed naked, she said she accepted the role because she loved the production. Then “Kabbalah” received a terrible review in The New York Times and nude pictures of her surfaced on the Web. Emily said the director broke his promise to her by using her image and singling her out as Howard Stern's daughter for promotional purposes. She quit the show, the director spoke out against her in the press and Howard Stern's attorneys threatened to file a lawsuit in order to stop the director from continuing to trash her, she said.

At the time, her father said the nudity was not the issue: “[Emily] made a deal with a guy, and he betrayed her,” he told Larry King according to a CNN transcript, adding “In a kid trying to find her own identity, it's got to be rough. She's got a father who's very infamous … And I think it would be difficult to figure out who you are in life and all of that. And I think she has done a beautiful job of it.”

Emily Stern is aware that in Los Angeles the spotlight will again be on her as Howard Stern's daughter; cruel remarks have already appeared on at least one Web site.

But, she said, “I don't necessarily have to be an image of any person. I can be a human being and that's a good thing…. That's huge for me to feel.”

Click here to read Emily Stern's blog.
earth sucks emily stern

Lucas Revolution and Emily Stern in 'Earth Sucks'

Allosemitism (noun) — Jews as the perpetual ‘other’

WEIMAR, Germany (JTA)—I learned a new word this summer—“allosemitism.”

Coined by a Polish-Jewish literary critic named Artur Sandauer, the term describes a concept with which I am quite familiar—the idea of Jews as the perpetual “other.”

Allosemitism can embrace both positive and negative feelings toward Jews—everything, as the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman put it, “from love and respect to outright condemnation and genocidal hatred.”

At root is the idea that, good or bad, Jews are different from the non-Jewish mainstream and thus unable to be dealt with in the same way or measured by the same yardstick.

The word cropped up during a recent symposium on Jewish and Roma (Gypsy) cultures that I attended here as part of a project called, significantly, “The Other Europeans.”

It was gratifying to find a term that so aptly describes the ambivalent ways in which Jews are regarded. And it was amazing to me that I hadn’t come across it earlier, considering all my reading and writing on the subject, not to mention my experiences over the past decades as a Jew in Europe.

We all know about anti-Semitism and the historic demonization of Jews. But anti-Semitism can be counterbalanced by an idealization of Jews and Jewish culture that also can be divorced from reality.

“People who think Jews are smarter than everyone else don’t have Jewish relatives,” my brother Frank likes to quip.

The Other Europeans project examines some of these issues by focusing on the relationships between Jewish and Roma cultures, particularly in the realm of music.

The project statement doesn’t use the term “allosemitism.” Instead it describes Jews and Roma as having “transcultural” European identities “in both fact and imagination.”

This, it states, has led to the condemnation of both groups as “rootless,” “parasitic,” “degenerate” and worse, as well as to continuing anti-Semitic and anti-Roma outbursts. At the same time, it notes, “the same transcultural character of Yiddish and Roma music is romanticized and embraced by contemporary ‘world music’ pop culture, which frames it as subversive and transgressive and therefore ‘hip.’ “

The Other Europeans project is the brainchild of the musician Alan Bern, an American who has been based in Berlin since the 1980s.

It is sponsored by three Jewish culture festivals—the Weimar Yiddish Summer Weeks, which Bern directs; the annual Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow, Poland, which this year marked its 20th anniversary; and the KlezMORE Jewish Music Festival in Vienna.

All three present and teach Jewish music and culture to a predominantly non-Jewish public.

Bern, a key figure in the klezmer music revival over the past two decades, is a thoughtful observer of the sometimes uneasy cultural dynamics between Jews and non-Jews in Europe.

“You define culture through interactions,” he told me during one of our many conversations. “What defines something is often the point of view from which you regard it.”

How to define what is “Jewish” provides endless fodder for debate in post-Holocaust, post-communist Europe. Jews are few here now; Jewish communal life, though reviving in some places, is in flux; and Jewish cultural expression is often embraced or even perpetrated by non-Jews.

Strict halachic definition may suffice for the religiously observant. But for Jews and non-Jews alike, that has always told only part of the story. And indeed, as experienced so drastically in the Shoah, definitions of what, or who, is Jewish often come from the outside.

Is there, as the concept of allosemitism implies, a “certain Jewish something” that does so set Jews apart?

The Jewish Museum in Munich has mounted an exhibit this summer actually called “That Certain Jewish Something.” It takes a creative and rather provocative approach to explore the intangibles that can imbue objects, situations and even individuals with a sense of Jewishness.

The museum called on the public to bring in an object the people felt had “a certain Jewish something” about it with a written statement about why they had chosen that item. More than 120 people, most of them non-Jewish or with only distant Jewish roots, answered the call. All the objects were delivered on one day, June 22, and then arranged in display cases with the stories behind them.

The resulting, wide-ranging collection, as the museum puts it, provides “a multifaceted view into a very personal and modern picture of Judaism.” Some of the objects are explicitly Jewish: menorahs, an old container for matzah, kitschy shtetl figurines, family silverware marked for meat and dairy, a Ten Commandments paperweight, a comic book called “Shaloman.”

But for many of the items—a flashlight, a rock, a tablecloth, a necklace, books, paintings, an ordinary pair of sneakers—“that certain Jewish something” is revealed only through their meaning to those who selected them.

A set of faded snapshots shows a smiling, bespectacled fellow attending a party in a Mexican costume. The man who brought them in had found the snaps when he moved into a new apartment, and they apparently showed the previous tenant, a Jewish man who had passed away.

An 11-year-old boy brought in a shirt from the Bayern-Munich football team because he had read that the team’s president before World War II had been a Jew.

The ordinary pair of sneakers belonged to a Jewish man. They in fact are a tangible symbol of the force of his faith: He wears them to the synagogue on Yom Kippur, he wrote, as they are made of cloth, not leather, which is prohibited on the holiday.

That allosemitic, “certain Jewish something” is in what they represent, or how they are represented, not in what they actually are.