The cast of "Fauda." Photo courtesy of Netflix.

MADE IN ISRAEL: How Israeli Shows Are Transforming Television


The impact of Israeli programs on American television has taken an almost biblical route: In the beginning, there was “BeTipul,” which begat HBO’s “In Treatment”; “Hatufim” begat Showtime’s “Homeland”; and Keshet Studios begat NBC’s “The Brave” and CBS’ “Wisdom of the Crowd,” both based on television shows born in Israel.

And now, through the proliferation of online streaming services such as Hulu, Amazon Prime and Netflix, Israeli concepts are dispersed throughout the world, being translated for international audiences.

“Israel’s influence on the global TV marketplace is remarkably disproportionate to the size of the country,” said Andrew Wallenstein, co-editor-in-chief of Variety. “It’s hard to believe a nation so small can have such a big impact.”

The vehicle for much of Israel’s entertainment impact on the world is Netflix, which isn’t just the home of “Stranger Things” and stand-up comedy specials. It’s also where subscribers access television shows and films from across the globe, including the two most recent straight-from-Israel TV success stories, “Fauda” and “Mossad 101.”

Both programs related to Israel’s intelligence agency are being spotlighted on the streaming service and at the upcoming Israel Film Festival, which runs  Nov. 5-21. New episodes of both dramas will screen as part of the festivities — “Mossad 101” on Nov. 15 and “Fauda” on Nov.  16 — before most audiences have a chance to see them elsewhere. A conversation about the state of the television market, with a panel of Israeli and American executives, will take place following the “Mossad 101” screening.

Netflix, boasting 109 million members in more than 190 countries, is a major distributor of both original Israeli content and repurposed Israeli formats, like the teen drama “The Greenhouse Academy,” the BBC drama “The A Word,” and the forthcoming original “The Good Cop,” a dramedy featuring Tony Danza. But in addition to exporting formats, the Israeli TV shows themselves are having a moment. KCET has been broadcasting “Hatufim” (“Prisoners of War”), and Hulu has announced distribution for the Israeli thriller series “False Flag.” Amazon Prime has “Srugim,” a show about Orthodox singles living in Jerusalem. Netflix also has “Mossad 101” airing in Hebrew with English subtitles, and the Arabic-and-Hebrew “Fauda.”

“It’s a credit to Netflix that it was willing to see if an American audience could take to a show that is part Hebrew, part Arabic,” Wallenstein said.

Netflix’s wide reach also means that “Fauda” and other Israeli TV shows are being seen in more countries than their creators ever could have imagined.

“It’s shown in 200 countries!” said Israel Film Festival director Meir Fenigstein, rounding up from Netflix’s official number of 190 countries. “There has never been an Israeli film shown in 200 countries.”

In addition to “Mossad 101” and “Fauda,” the festival is screening two other television shows, “Your Honor,” a thriller about a judge’s involvement with a notorious crime family, and “Harem,” a fictional tale about the phenomenon of cults and their destructive consequences. With so much Israeli material being sold to the United States, and with last year’s festivals in Cannes, Berlin and Toronto featuring TV programming, it was time for the Los Angeles festival to get in on the conversation, Fenigstein said.

For Netflix, things really got hot with “Fauda” (“chaos” in Arabic). The series lives up to its name, with chaotic relationships and situations that are ready to explode, sometimes literally, as a retired Mossad agent is reactivated into service to try to eliminate a terrorist who had been presumed dead. Episodes are laden with tension, violence and ethical justifications for deception.

When the show started airing in Israel in 2015, Larry Tanz, vice president of acquisition at Netflix, said he spent two late nights bingeing the series.

“It became clear to me that we should invest in a meaningful way to premiere the show globally, outside of Israel,” he said. “It’s brilliantly executed and also quite topical and relevant.”

Wallenstein said it’s no surprise that the foreign-language program has managed to find an audience in America — and beyond.

“Though it captures the story of just one region of the world, that drama taps into more universal themes that resonate even with those who don’t necessarily know what’s going on in the Middle East,” he said.

Netflix worked with Yes, the Israeli satellite channel that produced the show, on a multiseason partnership and the rest, as they say, is history. Local festival audiences will be treated to the world premiere, but Season Two will not be available on Netflix until March 2018.

“For many people watching, it’s very likely that it’s the first time they have ever seen an Israeli TV show,” Tanz said.

“It’s a credit to Netflix that it was willing to see if an American audience could take to a show that is part Hebrew, Arabic.” – Andrew Wallenstein

To Fenigstein, “Fauda” resonates because of its truth — specifically that of Lior Raz, the retired Israeli special forces soldier who co-created and stars in the show.

“He knows [that world] inside out,” he said. “He doesn’t even have to act. He’s playing himself.”

The show also portrays Palestinians in a very human way, Fenigstein added. “Even the Arab populations in other countries watching it, it looks real to them.”

Afghan-American actress Azita Ghanizada got hooked on “Fauda” after it was recommended by novelist Stephen King, she told the Journal.

“‘Fauda’ presented a balanced and nuanced perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fight against terrorism and the complication of geopolitics,” she said. “The humanity of the characters dove into a place that isn’t shared in most narratives surrounding the conflict, and the Muslim characters were deeply human, not the caricatures you often see in Hollywood films and TV.”

Ghanizada, founder of MENA (Middle Eastern North African) Arts Advocacy Coalition, added that “Fauda” “shared how complicated both sides of the conflict are, allowing me as the viewer to go on the journey with each character regardless of religion or national identity.”

“Mossad 101” (“Hamidrasha,” meaning “The Academy” in Hebrew) takes a different perspective — and tone. A scripted dramedy, it focuses on a training course for Mossad cadets.

“The series was used from the beginning as a platform through which we could show different Israelis from different perspectives getting to another Israeli melting pot, but this time, a very elite one: the Mossad training course,” said Daniel Syrkin, the show’s co-creator and director, in a Hebrew email interview.

“Mossad 101”

The first season featured diverse characters, including a Persian Israeli, a Russian Israeli, a genius psychologist, a startup millionaire and American-Israeli brothers from Los Angeles. The course is guided by a Mossad officer whose motives are suspect and whose work relationships are complicated. An essential question throughout the series: What would these cadets do to protect their country?

“We dealt less with the famous operations of the Mossad and more with the human aspect and allowed ourselves to do this with a wink — there was a lot of humor and lightness in the first season,” Syrkin wrote.

Several critics indicated that it was, perhaps, too light-hearted, focusing more on the competitive spirit and relationships between trainees than on the serious fact that they were training to seduce, kidnap and even assassinate targets. Syrkin said the second season — the first episode of which will have its U.S. premiere at the Los Angeles screening — had to be more serious and “more respectful of the legend of the Mossad.” This season, they’re still asking the question about love of country, he reports, but “the plot is bloodier, more suspenseful and has less humor,” and the shared enemy this season is “international Islamic terror — that’s not a group that any Israeli is ready to
joke about.”

Now that the show has a global audience, Syrkin said, “it excited me to think that the scenes we were shooting at that moment in Hebrew for an Israeli audience, that deal with Israeli dilemmas, will get to the wider world and interest also viewers that know very little about Israel.”

This could happen more often in the future, Netflix’s Tanz said, noting that the streaming service already has announced plans for more original series with “Fauda” creators Avi Issacharoff and Raz.

“Maybe we have increased the demand for Israeli TV by showcasing some of the best of it,” he said. “Israel, in particular, is a strong source of compelling content, so we expect to find more opportunities there.”

FILE PHOTO - 71st Tony Awards Arrivals New York City, U.S., 11/06/2017 - Actor Kevin Spacey. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/File Photo

Netflix cancels ‘House of Cards’ amid Spacey sex allegations


The Netflix series “House of Cards” has been canceled amid sexual allegations against its star, actor Kevin Spacey. Spacey is the latest celebrity to face allegations of sexual misconduct, as actor Anthony Rapp accused Spacey of sexually assaulting him at the age of 14.

Rapp, who is well-known for his role in “Rent”, told Buzzfeed that he attended a party at Spacey’s apartment in 1986. Later in the evening, Spacey and Rapp were the only ones left in the apartment. Rapp claimed that Spacey, who seemed to be inebriated at the time, “picked me up like a groom picks up the bride over the threshold” and placed him on a bed.

Rapp said he was eventually able to escape from Spacey’s sexual advancement, but his “stomach churns” every time he sees Spacey.

Rapp decided to speak out after the allegations against Harvey Weinstein came to light in order “to shine another light on the decades of behavior that have been allowed to continue because many people, including myself, being silent.”

“I’m feeling really awake to the moment that we’re living in, and I’m hopeful that this can make a difference,” said Rapp.

Spacey addressed Rapp’s allegation on Twitter, stating he had no memory of the alleged sexual assault.

“If I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all those years,” Spacey wrote.

“I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior,” Spacey concluded.

Journalist Yashar Ali tweeted that more allegations against Spacey would be forthcoming.

Ex-Chasids Find Strength in Their Brokenness


One of Us,” the story of three millennials at various stages of exiting the insular Chasidic community, is hardly groundbreaking within the subgenre of ex-Chasidic stories.

The stories are unique, but not drastically different from those we’ve read in ex-Chasid memoirs such as Shulem Deem’s “All Who Go Do Not Return.” Still, as the first widely released documentary film about this struggle, it’s a significant addition to the canon.

A picture is worth a thousand words and a film is worth 24 pictures per second. Movies move us.

On film, “One of Us” becomes something much bigger than powerful stories about three courageous people. In pop culture terms, it’s a cocktail of one part “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” one part “The Leftovers,” one part “This Is Us,” and a sprinkle of “Praying” by Kesha.

“One of Us” is a story about brokenness. Through the eyes of Luzer, Etty and Ari, we learn that their community is supposed to be perfect, but this perfection was the first thing that broke. Slowly, that imperfection broke each of them, too. But something incredible happens in the process. Their brokenness becomes their strength.

Luzer, Etty and Ari are like Kimmy Schmidt, the ex-cult member at the center of the Netflix sitcom. Each woke up one day in a world in which they know nothing — and the world where they know everything is gone. As Ari says, “I couldn’t Google how to Google because I didn’t know how to Google in the first place.”

Somehow, these people transcended their brokenness in a scary new world, despite missing decades of life experiences and knowledge. They were unbreakable.

Twenty-one years ago, “I’m there for you” was a punchline on “Seinfeld.” Now it’s our superpower.

“Life beats you up,” Kimmy Schmidt once said. “You can either curl up in a ball and die … or you can stand up and say, ‘We’re different. We’re the strong ones and you can’t break us.’”

“One of Us” is a story of that kind of strength.

Brokenness can make us curl up in a ball and die. That happens when the disappointment of discovering imperfections in the things we expected to be perfect is so crushing that we give up. “One of Us” is not the story of all those who were too broken to survive, those who didn’t make it out alive. It’s the story of survivors. Luzer, Etty and Ari are the ones who said, “We’re different,” when they realized their perfect world was a lie. Their brokenness didn’t break them.

Ironically, the insular Chasidic community was built by Holocaust survivors who refused to curl up and die. Their brokenness didn’t break them, either.

“One of Us” is the perfect film for the current pop-culture climate. Famous women in Hollywood silently suffered for years after they were harassed, abused, raped and controlled by powerful predatory men. Today, they are finding the strength to speak up.
Kesha became a symbol of this strength and her single “Prayer” has become an anthem of strength for this movement:

“I can make it on my own and I don’t need you / I found a strength I’ve never known.”

It’s spreading. Women around the world are supporting and empowering one another.
But how does it work?

It is surprisingly simple: Solidarity, empathy, validation and “being there” for one another just works.

Twenty-one years ago, “I’m there for you” was a punchline on “Seinfeld.” Now it’s our superpower.

“One of Us” shows ex-Chasids surviving and thriving because they have one another. They have Footsteps. They have Project Makom. They have us.

All of us will need superhuman strength during our lifetime. Life is fragile and things that seemed perfect betray us with their imperfections. Those moments can kill. Even if our bodies and minds survive, our hearts and souls can curl up in a ball and die. We all want to be the ones who channel our pain and turn a scream into a song. For that, we need to be there for one another.

The film’s most eloquent and beautiful moment comes at a Shabbat dinner. Ex-Chasids gather around an Old World table, eating traditional Chasidic Shabbos foods and singing traditional Chasidic songs.

They’re happy. They’re there for one another. That is power. That is strength.

“One of Us” is about us. Every ex-Chasid is one of us. Let’s be there for ex-Chasids. Let’s be there for all of us.

Actors Adam Sandler (2nd R) Emma Thompson (2nd L) and Dustin Hoffman pose with Director Noah Baumbach (L) before the UK premiere of "The Meyerowitz Stories" during the British Film Festival in London, Britain October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Artistic Types’ Family Dynamics Spark ‘Meyerowitz Stories’


In the opening scene of “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” oldest child Danny (Adam Sandler) is jockeying for a parking spot on the streets of New York City. Every time he almost finds a spot, it’s too small, or someone else takes it, and his frenzied turns of the steering wheel and screeching expletives at other drivers reach a life-or-death level of intensity.

By his side, his teenage daughter keeps her cool, encouraging him to just pay to park. But Danny won’t pay for parking. He’s convinced that when it comes to finding a place you fit into, the hard way is the right way, even if it kills you.

This is the opening salvo of Noah Baumbach’s latest film, with a stellar cast that includes Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Ben Stiller and Elizabeth Marvel as members of a complicated family, reuniting around the art show of the pater familias.

Although the film is billed as a comic saga, the laughs found in “Meyerowitz” come with a layer of sadness, where relatable family conflict meets the neglect and the hyper-scrutiny of artistic parents toward their children.

The source of all the family agita is the impressively bearded Hoffman as Harold, an artist who feels he’s not been given the credit he deserves for his life’s work. He lives with his fourth wife, the bohemian Maureen (Thompson, channeling a little of the wackiness of her “Harry Potter” character, Madame Trelawney), who is frenetic and always running away to artist retreats, escaping through alcohol or otherwise avoiding her problems.

Danny’s half-brother, Matthew (Stiller), is emotionally stingy, but his FaceTime calls with his child shed occasional light on the troubled state of his own marriage. The family hints that he could have pursued something more artistic, but the status-obsessed Matthew instead pursued a lucrative career that also benefits him: By removing any art from his professional life, he avoids comparisons to his father.

Danny, a failed musician, is simmering in sadness over the breakup of his marriage; his manic artist daughter, Eliza (Grace Van Patten), is off to college, where she makes student films, some with sexual themes, and sends them to her father, uncle and aunt. 

The Meyerowitzes are the walking wounded, literally and figuratively.

The third Meyerowitz sibling is Danny’s sister (and Matt’s half-sister), Jean, played by Marvel with an introverted, self-effacing, shrinking presence that signifies her trauma way before its specifics are revealed.

The Meyerowitzes are the walking wounded, literally and figuratively. Danny has a significant limp; Matthew has a regular cough that seems as if it might signify a late-breaking illness; and Harold’s recent physical injury catalyzes the siblings for more interaction than any of them wanted.

Despite the family name and the notable Jewish members of the cast, these stories have no specific Jewish content. But the rhythm of the neurotic conversations will feel familiar to many, regardless of their family origin.

Connected by fragile family ties and fragmented by family fractures and unfulfilled expectations, the Meyerowitzes don’t always get the concept of love and support right, but their family loyalty can help to recontextualize selected stories from the past and extend the narrative by crafting new ones.

Produced as a Netflix original, “The Meyerowitz Stories” is available on the streaming service beginning Oct. 13. It also will be in limited release in Los Angeles at The Landmark and the Laemmle Noho.

“Icarus” filmmaker Bryan Fogel runs through tests before his race through the French Alps. Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.

‘Icarus’ director points camera at doping scientist, international intrigue


Before Bryan Fogel embarked upon his debut documentary, “Icarus,” which revolves around Russia’s Olympic doping program, he was “desperate to not be the ‘Jewtopia’ guy.”

Fogel, 43, who grew up “Conservadox” in Denver, co-created “Jewtopia,” a comic play about a Jewish man who dislikes Jewish women and a non-Jew who wants to marry one. The play opened at the Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood in 2003 and became a hit. An off-Broadway production several years later enjoyed an often sold-out, three-and-a-half-year run. A “Jewtopia” coffee table book was published by Warner and dozens of “Jewtopia” plays were produced throughout North America.

But Fogel said that directing the 2013 movie version proved to be a “toxic experience” for him. The film was only briefly released in theaters and received poor reviews. Instead of launching his TV- and film-directing career, as he had hoped, “I came out of the film just completely beaten and really emotionally broken,” Fogel said. “I was really in a funk and a bit of a depression.”

As therapy, Fogel turned to his lifelong hobby of competitive cycling, a sport he avoided after a bike crash knocked out several of his teeth in a race when he was 19.

Then, in early 2013, one of Fogel’s cycling heroes, Lance Armstrong, admitted publicly that he had used banned performance-enhancing drugs throughout his winning of seven Tour de France titles, all the while evading detection. “So, I was going, ‘Wait, you tested him 500 times and you never caught him?’ ” Fogel recalled. “ ‘Like, are you kidding?’  So, I’m going, not ‘What’s wrong with Lance?’ [but rather] ‘What’s wrong with this bull—- system?’ ”

So, Fogel got the idea to film a documentary in which he would take the drugs, enter a major amateur cycling competition and see if he could beat the urine testing required by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

To do so, he sought out an expert to advise him on which drugs to take. One Los Angeles scientist declined Fogel’s request but recommended that he contact Grigory Rodchenkov, director of the WADA-approved antidoping lab in Moscow. The documentary chronicles how Rodchenkov eventually outlined Fogel’s doping regimen, even traveling to Los Angeles to smuggle the filmmaker’s urine back to his lab for testing. “All the labs in the world will be confused by your piss,” he gleefully tells Fogel.

The filmmaker goes on to evade detection as he competes in a grueling amateur cycling race through the French Alps.

Along the way, Fogel and Rodchenkov become good friends. But one day, Rodchenkov surprises Fogel by suggesting he view a 2014 German television documentary that features him in an exposé of Russian doping.

“I watched this thing and I went, ‘Holy s—,” Fogel said.

In November 2015, WADA published a report alleging Rodchenkov was the brains behind Russia’s Olympic cheating program.

In a Skype video call included in the documentary, the Russian scientist reveals to Fogel that he fears he might be assassinated for his allegations of a state-sponsored doping program. “I need to escape,” he says. Fogel promptly buys Rodchenkov an airplane ticket to Los Angeles — a round-trip ticket to avoid suspicion — and arranges for him to stay in a series of three safe houses in 2015 and 2016. “I felt a tremendous burden to protect him,” Fogel said.

Rodchenkov says he has wiped his laboratory computer clean but possesses three hard drives with thousands of incriminating documents. The filmmakers helped him hide the hard drives around Los Angeles, but the drives eventually were turned over to the FBI, the Justice Department and WADA, Fogel said.

Soon after fleeing to Los Angeles, Rodchenkov learns that two of his colleagues in the doping scheme died under mysterious circumstances in Russia. He is distraught and frightened by the news, as is Fogel. 

In the film, he tells Fogel meticulous details of how he and others arranged to thwart detection of doping at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia — cloak-and-dagger methods that included secretly swapping out dirty urine samples with clean ones.

Meanwhile, the FBI and U.S. Justice Department may want Rodchenkov to serve as a possible witness in their investigation of the Russian doping allegations, although Fogel is unclear about what the agencies’ goals are for investigating a case that involves another country.

Further into the film, Fogel helps the Russian scientist find attorneys and persuades him to go public with his knowledge, for safety reasons, by providing details to The New York Times. The Times runs a front-page story on Rodchenkov in May 2016. Thereafter, Rodchenkov says his relatives in Moscow have been interrogated, their passports seized and the family’s assets confiscated. Russian authorities also have instigated criminal charges against him.

 

In the film, we see Fogel representing Rodchenkov at a gathering of top WADA officials who want to know what the lab director did. “Is he sorry?” an angry scientist asks Fogel at the meeting. The filmmaker replies that Rodchenkov risked his life to reveal his documents, left his wife and children and all his belongings behind in Russia, and is now committed to telling the truth.

Meanwhile, Russian leaders deny — as they do now — that the state sponsored the doping project and insist that Rodchenkov was a lone wolf. Russian news media also run a number of stories on the scientist’s friendship with Fogel. “All the claims against the government, he did himself,” the Kremlin’s minister of sports says in a clip from a top Russian TV news show.

In July 2016, Rodchenkov went into protective custody with the FBI and the Department of Justice, which may use him as a witness or even prosecute him in their ongoing investigation, Fogel said. He added that he hasn’t seen or spoken to Rodchenkov in a year but has learned through the scientist’s attorney that Rodchenkov is OK, currently residing in an undisclosed location for his safety.

“Icarus” was well received at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. But a feature story in the Los Angeles Times suggested that Fogel portrayed the flawed scientist strictly as a hero — an interpretation Fogal disagrees with.

“I see him as a very, very complicated person because he’s lived a very, very complicated life,” Fogel told the Journal. “I think it’s easy from a Western perspective to go into the very simple good/bad, right/wrong point of view. But from a Russian perspective, from Grigory’s perspective, this was a guy who was born into the system … [and] the entire system was always doping and trying to avoid detection.”

Why did Rodchenkov offer Fogel intimate information about his conspiracies on camera? He did so not only to save himself from potential Russian retribution, he wanted to come clean, the filmmaker said.

“He had had enough,” Fogel said. “He no longer wanted to live with this information.”

“Icarus” opens in Los Angeles theaters on Aug. 4 and is available on Netflix.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on March 28. Photo by Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

Daily Kickoff: Trump admin says Iran complying with deal | Israeli Houzz eyeing $5B+ valuation | Netflix says it’s found next ‘Homeland’


Have our people email your people. Share this sign up link with your friends

WHILE WE WERE ON PASSOVER BREAK — Betsy Rothstein of The Daily Caller wrote… “If any outlet is going to know how Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, are spending Passover, it’s a safe bet that Jewish Insider has located the White House afikomen.” [TheDC]

CNN’s Betsy Klein: “As President Donald Trump grappled with the realities of governing, leaks about infighting within his administration, and multiple international conflicts, two of his top aides, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, were far from the White House. The couple celebrated Passover at the Four Seasons Whistler in Canada, according to an article and exclusive photo in Jewish Insider.” [CNN]

“White House aides grapple with newfound celebrity” by Annie Karni and Tara Palmeri: “The Daily Mail pays photographers a daily rate to sit outside the Kalorama home of Trump’s older daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, tracking them as they come and go, sometimes in their gym clothes, two industry sources said. The fashionable First Daughter, who now is an official White House staffer, is part of the gray area of formerly famous people who are now aides, as opposed to aides who are newly famous.” [Politico]

DRIVING THE CONVERSATION: “Trump administration says Iran complying with nuclear deal” by Matthew Lee: “The Trump administration has notified Congress that Iran is complying with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama, and says the U.S. has extended the sanctions relief… The certification of Iran’s compliance, which must be sent to Congress every 90 days, is the first issued by the Trump administration. The deadline for this certification was midnight.” [AP

But… “Trump orders review of lifting sanctions against Iran: Tillerson” by Lesley Wroughton: “President Donald J. Trump has directed a National Security Council-led interagency review of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that will evaluate whether suspension of sanctions related to Iran pursuant to the JCPOA is vital to the national security interests of the United States,” Tillerson said in the statement. “It remains a leading state sponsor of terror, through many platforms and methods.” [Reuters]

FDD’s Mark Dubowitz tells us: “It underscores the commitment of the Trump administration to ramp up pressure on Iran, including through the use of increased sanctions tied to terrorism and other malign activities.”

Israeli Consul General in NY Dani Dayan: “As PM Netanyahu said in Congress: ‘[the sunset clause] creates an even greater danger that Iran could get to the bomb by KEEPING the deal’” [Twitter

Ben Rhodes‏: “Every day, the situation in North Korea makes clear just how preferable it is to have the Iran Deal in place.” [Twitter

“Mattis in Riyadh to boost US-Saudi alliance” by AFP: “Mattis arrived in Riyadh Tuesday afternoon, wishing to “reinvigorate” ties by listening to Saudi leaders and learning “what are their priorities”, the official said.” [DailyMail]

“US Defense Secretary to Arrive in Israel Thursday” by Tzippe Barrow: “Mattis begins his meetings in Israel with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who traveled to Washington in early March to reaffirm the strong military ties between the two allies. Mattis will also meet with President Reuven Rivlin and visit Jerusalem’s Yad VaShem Holocaust Memorial. On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with Mattis.” [CBNNews]

ON THE HILL — JI INTERVIEW: Congressman Anthony Brown (D-MD) discusses his political career, including the lessons he’s learn from his unsuccessful campaign for Maryland Governor, and from his military service in an interview with JI’s Aaron Magid. “My takeaway is never stop introducing yourself to the voters, but the other lesson was the same lesson my father taught me as a kid growing up is sometimes in life you are going to get knocked down and you won’t be successful in what you sought out to do,” said Brown. “But, if you believe in what you are doing: that is true whether you are running for office to serve, whether you are a doctor, lawyer, teacher or anything else. You have got to pick yourself up, brush yourself off and stay in the game. Teams that lost the Super Bowl don’t drop out of the NFL. They come back: season after season because that is the nature of life.”

Brown on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process: “My basic framework is that you can’t impose a solution. I do think that there has to be a bilateral agreement reached by the Israelis and Palestinians. Our role should be to encourage, cajole, prompt and incentivize that commitment. But, this is an agreement that has to be struck between the two parties. It cannot be imposed because then it won’t be lasting.” Read the full interview here [JewishInsider]

DRIVING THE DAY: “Republicans avoid big loss by forcing runoff in Ga. House race” by Robert Costa: “[Jon] Ossoff could find it difficult to sustain the momentum he witnessed this past week in a traditionally Republican district that has been in GOP hands since 1979….[Republican Karen] Handel’s showing was due to more than name recognition from her long tenure in state politics. She also benefited from $1.3 million in support from Ending Spending, a conservative advocacy group aligned with the billionaire Ricketts family.” [WashPost

“Ossoff Just Misses Flipping the 6th” by David R. Cohen, Michael Jacobs, Patrice Worthy and Sarah Moosazadeh: “The outcome keeps alive the possibility of Georgia’s first Jewish congressman since Democrat Elliott Levitas lost a bid for a sixth term in 1984… Although little was made of it, the election took place on a Jewish holiday, the eighth day of Passover, forcing observant Jews to vote early or not at all. Secretary of State Brian Kemp reported that 55,000 ballots were cast early in the congressional election; about 5,000 of those were mailed-in absentee votes.” [ATLJewishTimes]

2ND BAR MITZVAH? Alexis Levinson: “They’ve apparently hired a bar mitzvah DJ to emcee the Jon Ossoff election night party, where they are now playing ‘Celebration’ … Ossoff’s election night party is legit a bar mitzvah with a cash bar. Ppl are dancing, smiling, hugging. #GA06.” [Twitter

Ben Jacobs: “Pretty sure Jon Ossoff is using the playlist from his bar mitzvah for his election night party.” [Twitter]

“Billionaires, companies power Trump’s record inaugural haul“ by Nancy Benac and Julie Bykowicz: “After giving $5 million, Las Vegas gaming billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife had prime seats for Trump’s swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 20 and gained access to a private lunch with the new president and lawmakers at the Capitol… Steve Wynn, now chief fundraiser for the Republican Party, gave $729,000 through his Wynn Resorts… Billionaire investor Paul Singer, for example, gave $1 million after long expressing skepticism about Trump. He’s since visited the president at the White House.” [AP]

Jake Sherman: “THE KRAFT GROUP — Robert Kraft’s company — gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration. he’s at the WH today with his Super Bowl champ patriots.” [Twitter

“Trump’s reliance on billionaire adviser blurs ethics lines” by Isaac Arnsdorf and Josh Dawsey: “Billionaire investor Steve Schwarzman’s newfound status as a trusted outside adviser for President Donald Trump has created blurred lines in which the Blackstone CEO is offering guidance on policies that could boost the fortunes of his company and his personal wealth. The starkest example was Trump’s reversal last week on labeling China a currency manipulator… While many factors likely played into Trump’s decision, including the president’s desire to encourage China to get tough on North Korea, it also followed extensive advice Schwarzman had given the president on the topic, warning Trump against such a move. Even if Schwarzman was acting in the capacity of an economic expert, those policy changes directly help Schwarzman’s bottom line as CEO of Blackstone, the private equity giant. And Blackstone has gone so far as to warn its investors about the stakes of Trump’s China policy.” [Politico

“Ivanka’s brand prospers as politics mixes with business” by Erika Kinetz and Anne D’Innocenzio: “Ivanka has so many China ties and conflicts, yet she and Jared appear deeply involved in China contacts and policy. I would never have allowed it,” said Norman Eisen, who served as chief White House ethics lawyer under President Barack Obama. “For their own sake, and the country’s, Ivanka and Jared should consider stepping away from China matters.” [AP

PROFILE: “Meet The New York City Democrat Flacking For Ivanka Trump” by Steven Perlberg: “New York City political observers say that one of [Risa] Heller’s most striking traits is her fierce loyalty, clearly evidenced by her steadfast aid to Anthony Weiner… “If I had taken her advice at critical junctures even 5% of the time, I would have been infinitely better off. It doesn’t surprise me that people like the Kushners would gravitate toward her,” Weiner told BuzzFeed News… Heller became a rising star in New York political circles in the mid 2000s, when she arrived in Schumer’s office after communications guru Stu Loeser left for Michael Bloomberg’s mayoral reelection campaign. She stood out both for her aggressiveness even by Schumer’s intense standards; as a rare woman in a long line of aggressive young men who came up under the senator; and a fashionable figure in a schlumpy world.” [BuzzFeed

“With the ‘Democratic Invasion of the White House,’ Cuban Starting to Warm Up to Trump Presidency” by Brian Schwartz and Charlie Gasparino: “[Mark] Cuban gives Trump high marks for bringing into his inner circle what he considers moderate Democrats like [Gary] Cohn, Kushner and his daughter Ivanka Trump. “By my guess, 50 percent or more of non-military leadership in the White House are, or were recently, Democrats,” Cuban told Fox Business. “It’s a good balance.”” [FoxBusiness

NEXT MODERATE MOVE? “Top Trump confidant: Trump should make a deal with Ruth Bader Ginsburg” by Allan Smith: “Chris Ruddy, a confidant of President Donald Trump, told Business Insider in a Monday interview that Trump should cut a deal with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. His proposition: Replace her on the bench with Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s choice to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacated seat in 2016… “They would remove a very liberal Democrat with a moderate, consensus Democrat, who I think Garland is,” Ruddy added. “And I think it would be a huge move and a sign for Trump that he’s willing to break through the political ice.”” [BusinessInsider

OVER THE WEEKEND — “Rex Tillerson and family tour the Holocaust Museum” by Emily Heil: “The nation’s top diplomat, dressed in the weekend business uniform of khakis and a navy blazer, spent a couple of hours touring the permanent exhibit, a spy tells us, accompanied by his wife… Tillerson’s visit came during the holy week of Passover — and just days after White House press secretary Sean Spicer apologized for remarks in which he seemed to forget about the Holocaust.” [WashPost

TRUMP TEAM: “Tillerson’s stock rises in the White House” by Annie Karni: “[Elliott] Abrams argued that while Trump’s veto of his job at State was “taken to be a slap at Tillerson – I think that was a mistake. I don’t think my situation had anything to do with the president’s view of Tillerson. They spend an awful lot of time together.”” [Politico

“Trump learning to love Bush aides” by Tara Palmeri: “Eliot A. Cohen… predicted that more Bush alumni will feel comfortable coming into the administration if it continues to shift to the conservative mainstream… “As the administration is looking a bit more normalish, there will be more people who will be willing to go in,” he said. “What would be transformative would be if Bannon quits or is fired. I think that would be an indication that it will be somewhere closer to a Republican establishment administration. That will change a lot of people’s attitudes,” Cohen added.” [Politico

COMING SOON: “Abbas ready for visit to Washington” by Daoud Kuttab: “Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said April 14 that a Palestinian delegation will visit Washington in the second half of April to plan for the visit, which he said will take place early in May. The London-based al-Hayat said April 14 that the delegation preparing for Abbas’ visit will include senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and intelligence chief Majed Faraj. The lack of a firm date has led some Palestinian media to report that the visit has been postponed, but a US White House source quickly shot down this rumor, insisting that the visit is still on.” [Al-Monitor]

— “Al-Quds said Trump’s team has prepared a draft plan demanding that the Palestinians return to negotiations with Israel without setting any conditions and halt transfer of funds to the besieged Gaza Strip.” [Wafa

KAFE KNESSET — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: The hottest show in town today was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responding to the State Comptroller’s Report on Protective Edge in the Knesset. Several bereaved parents questioned Netanyahu and said they didn’t get the satisfaction of at least knowing that the mistakes leading to their sons’ deaths won’t be repeated. One bereaved father, Ilan Sagie, said Netanyahu “stabbed me in the heart and twisted the knife,” and pleaded “Why won’t you say you will fix the failures of Protective Edge?” Leah Goldin, mother of Hadar Goldin, a soldier presumed to be dead whose body is held by Hamas, broke down in tears while speaking to Netanyahu. The premier came off as patient, but at some times stern, explaining to Goldin, for example, that he is willing to make sacrifices to bring back her son’s body – but there is a limit. Bibi clearly knew there was no way for him to come out of such an emotional situation unscathed, and looked like he was having a difficult time.

Anyone reading haredi magazine Mishpacha over the last day of Passover in Israel, got to read about how much Netanyahu enjoyed seeing Hamilton on his last trip to NYC. Not only that, but Netanyahu said he made a suggestion to Lin-Manuel Miranda on how to improve the play. As Spamalot taught us, you won’t succeed on Broadway if you don’t have any Jews, so Netanyahu touted Hamilton’s Jewish connection. Bibi says he read that when Alexander Hamilton was a child in the Caribbean, his tutor was a Jewish woman, who taught him to recite the Ten Commandments in Hebrew. Later in life, Hamilton expressed admiration for the Jewish people, saying they have a “unique destiny” that is “part of God’s greater plan.” That, Netanyahu said, should go into the play. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

** Good Wednesday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Billionaire vs. billionaire: Israel’s Steinmetz sues Soros [ToI; Reuters] • Michael Bloomberg to fill event void left by Clinton Global Initiative [Axios] • Jared Kushner in Talks to Sell Stake in Real Estate Technology Company [WSJ] • The PPA Group teams with Israeli investor on Houston apartment complex [Chron• SeatGeek Raises $57M to Buy Israeli Firm TopTix [Billboard] • Bustle acquires Elite Daily from Daily Mail, rebrands as Bustle Digital Group [BI]

SPOTLIGHT: “Houzz Raising Funding at Valuation Above $5 Billion” by Erin Griffith, Leena Rao: “Houzz, an online platform for home remodeling and design services, is in the market raising a large new round of venture funding that could value the company at more than $5 billion, according to several sources familiar with the situation. The talks are early, but sources say the company could raise as much as $500 million. Asked to comment, a Houzz representative wrote, “It’s not true.” Founded in 2009 by Adi Tatarko and Alon Cohen, Houzz has raised $213 million in funding to date. The Palo Alto-based company’s latest round, a $165 million Series D in late 2014 led by Sequoia Capital, valued it at $2.3 billion.” [Fortune]

“Sheryl Sandberg: Option B and Life After Grief” by Belinda Luscombe: “The woman who urged the world to lean in is now under­taking a campaign to help people push on, to bounce back from horrible misfortune. Her newest book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, is a primer for those who are bereaved, to help them recover and find happiness. But it’s also a guide for the unscathed on how to help people “lean in to the suck,” as Sandberg’s rabbi puts it.” [TimeMag]

“Inside Mark Zuckerberg’s controversial decision to turn down Yahoo’s $1 billion early offer to buy Facebook” by Mike Hoefflinger: “Curious, [Andy] Grove followed up: “Where does that willpower come from?” Zuckerberg considered the question—possibly for the first time—and concluded simply, “Jewish mother.”” [BI

“Selling Mark Zuckerberg” by Nitasha Tiku: “The Facebook CEO’s likability blitz isn’t a presidential campaign, it’s a focus group for his 1.8 billion constituents — and part of a high stakes campaign to win your likes” [BuzzFeed]

“Here’s Why A Nonprofit Named For Anne Frank Keeps Attacking Trump” by Jessica Schulberg: “Keeping a low profile is not [Steve] Goldstein’s style. When he was 6 years old, he skipped school to stuff envelopes at the local Democratic headquarters for then-presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey, according to a bio he provided. He has worked on Capitol Hill for Democratic lawmakers Frank Lautenberg and Chuck Schumer… Despite his past work on Capitol Hill, Goldstein says “nothing could be farther from the truth” in response to accusations that he’s taken the Anne Frank Center in a partisan direction. The center goes out of its way to point out that it was Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt who denied Anne Frank entry to the U.S., and has defended members of the Trump family when they were unfairly attacked, Goldstein noted.” [HuffPost]

Michael Steinhardt, Birthright Founder and ‘Wall Street’s Greatest Trader’, to Light Torch on Israel’s Independence Day: “Michael Steinhardt, one of the founders of Taglit-Birthright and a man once dubbed “Wall Street’s greatest trader”, has been selected to light an official torch on Israel’s Independence Day, Israel announced on Wednesday. He will join Rabbi Marvin Hier, who took part in U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration, in lighting the torch for the Jewish diaspora.” [Haaretz

Netflix says it’s found the next ‘Homeland’ — “Netflix thinks its new series, Fauda, could rival the success of Homeland across the globe. Lior Raz — lead actor and series co-creator — speaks with CNN’s Samuel Burke in Israel about his own time in the security forces, a tragic terrorist attack that killed his girlfriend, and how Netflix has garnered a once small Israeli series global praise.” [CNN]

TALK OF THE TOWN: “Lawsuit targets neo-Nazi ‘troll storm’ against Jewish family” by Phil Drake and Seaborn Larson: “The lawsuit claims Andrew Anglin, publisher of the Daily Stormer neo-Nazi website with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month, provoked legions of his followers to send a “tsunami of threats” to Tanya Gersh and her relatives. Gersh is a Montana real-estate agent who fell out of favor with the mother of Richard B. Spencer, considered by many to be the founder of the alt-right movement… A monetary figure has not been attached to the suit although Gersh hopes to win at least $225,000 for three of the four counts asserted in the complaint.” [USAToday

MEDIA WATCH — “Bari Weiss Joins ‘New York Times’ Opinion Section” by Tablet Magazine: “Bari, who edited [Tablet] news and politics section from 2011 to 2013, moves to the Times from the Wall Street Journal, where she worked as associate book review editor and also wrote frequently about topics like political correctness and campus culture.” [Tablet• Hiring Anti-Trump Conservative Is Part Of New York Times’ Effort To Expand Opinion [HuffPost

“An Op-Ed Author Omits His Crimes, and The Times Does Too” by Liz Spayd: “Marwan Barghouti… was given five consecutive life terms after being convicted in an Israeli criminal court of premeditated murder for his role in terrorist attacks that killed five people… On Sunday, he wrote a piece for the Op-Ed pages of The New York Times to draw attention to a mass hunger strike for what he calls Israel’s arbitrary arrests and poor treatment of Palestinian prisoners…  A biographical sentence at the end of the Op-Ed simply says, “Marwan Barghouti is a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.” I asked Jim Dao, editor of the Op-Ed pages, about the decision not to include Barghouti’s crimes…  I see no reason to skimp on this, while failing to do so risks the credibility of the author and the Op-Ed pages. In this case, I’m pleased to see the editors responding to the complaints, and moving to correct the issue rather than resist it.” [NYTimes• Netanyahu slams New York Times over Barghouti op-ed byline [i24News]

SPOTLIGHT: “CNN’s Jake Tapper Is the Realest Man in “Fake News”” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner: “Tapper is on a diet… His diet consists, as basically all diets do, of pretty much just protein: protein shakes, protein snacks, protein protein. His friend Paul Rudd, who, Tapper says, got “really shredded” for Ant-Man, gave him the diet. Tapper follows it mostly, also doing cardio at the gym five times a week. “The modified Ant-Man” is what he calls it. I wonder what it says about us when Ant-Man is our superhero aspiration, but Tapper is realistic: “Paul’s a fellow 48-year-old Jew. This is achievable.” Fair.” [GQ]

BOOK REVIEW: “The Inside Story of the Clinton Campaign Disaster” by Bess Levin: “As Hillary thumbed through the pages, the [concession] speech struck her as tone-deaf. It’s too charged, she thought, too political… Jake Sullivan, her chief strategist took the lead in defending the tone. ‘Everything you said, we’re going to do in this speech. . . . But you have been saying for many months that he is temperamentally unfit and that he would be dangerous, and, if you meant it, you should say it. And you made a case that all these people’s rights and safety are in danger—if you meant that, you should say it.’ ‘It’s not my job anymore to do this,’ she said, her voice growing more forceful.” [VanityFair; Axios]  

TRANSITIONS — Fred Brown, Communications Director for the Republican Jewish Coalition, was hired by Dezenhall Resources, a crisis management and communications firm, to serve as a senior counselor. h/t Playbook

Sinclair Announces the Addition of Boris Epshteyn: Boris Epshteyn, a former White House aide and Trump campaign chief surrogate, has joined Sinclair Broadcast Group as chief political analyst and will provide analysis and insight on major political stories. [SBGI• Flashback: Kushner: We struck deal with Sinclair for straighter coverage [Politico

BIRTHDAYS: US diplomat from 1962 forward, then President of the Council on Foreign Relations (1986-1993) ultimately becoming the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (1993-1997), Peter Tarnoff turns 80… Literary theorist, legal scholar, author and public intellectual, has taught at Cardozo School of Law, Florida International University and University of Illinois at Chicago, Stanley Fish turns 79… Prominent Israeli criminal defense attorney who also served as the Attorney General of Israel (2010-2016), Yehuda Weinstein turns 73… Comedienne, actress and mental health campaigner in the UK, Ruby Wax (born Ruby Wachs in Chicago)… Overland Park, Kansas resident, Gloria Elyachar turns 57… Angel investment fund manager, who during his 12-year NFL career (1987-1998) won three Super Bowls, Harris Barton turns 53… Jerusalem-born historian, author, screenwriter, political commentator and senior lecturer at the Hebrew University, Gadi Taub turns 52… Israeli entrepreneur best known as the founder and former CEO of Better Place, an electric car company that raised $850 million yet was liquidated in a 2013 bankruptcy, Shai Agassi turns 49… French stand-up comedian and actor, Gad Elmaleh turns 46… Award-winning, film, televison and theatre actor, his official bar mitzvah was in 2015 at age 37, James Franco turns 39… Tel Aviv-born, now living in Toronto, entrepreneur, philanthropist, CEO and co-founder of Klick Health (a digital marketing firm in the medical field), Leerom Segal turns 38… Assistant Director of Campus Affairs at AJC: Global Jewish Advocacy, Seffi Kogen… Arthur Cohn… Jake Gerber

BIRTHWEEK: Editor of Commentary magazine, columnist for the New York Post, John Mordechai Podhoretz turns 56… NYTimes White House reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis… Chabad Rabbi, founder and executive director of the Aspen Chabad Jewish Community Center, Mendel Mintz turns 42… Political director for AIPAC’s Florida region, Evan Philipson turns 28… RNC’s Jonathan R. Brodo… VP and Deputy General Counsel at Scholastic Inc, Mark Seidenfeld

Gratuity not included. We love receiving news tips but we also gladly accept tax deductible tips. 100% of your donation will go directly towards improving Jewish Insider. Thanks! [PayPal]

Illustration courtesy of Netflix

‘Five Came Back’: When Hollywood went to war


In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Europe and Asia became embroiled in conflict. The American public, remembering the horrors of the First World War, were reluctant to enter into another bloodbath. American military and political leaders needed to make clear what was at stake. So they turned to Hollywood.

“Five Came Back,” a three-part docu-series premiering March 31 on Netflix, tells the stories of five directors who interrupted their lucrative careers to go to the front lines of battle.

In the prewar years, more than half of American adults went to the movies at least once a week, and this quintet of artists — John Ford, Frank Capra, William Wyler, George Stevens and John Huston — were responsible for some of the biggest blockbuster films of their time. Their popularity helped drive box office attendance for their war films, which in turn mobilized a divided America to support the war effort.

Rather than use traditional war-related interview subjects, such as historians, family members and veterans, “Five Came Back” takes a novel approach. It pairs one of five contemporary directors — Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo Del Toro, Paul Greengrass and Lawrence Kasdan — to each of the five WWII-era filmmakers. The depth of the younger directors’ knowledge about their subjects is impressive, and they reflect on the influence these earlier directors had on their own careers.

“Each of them participates on an epic scale in the grandest interventions and the largest war the world has ever seen,” del Toro says in the film.

This project came out of a long collaboration between Laurent Bouzereau, director of “Five Came Back,” and Spielberg. Bouzereau was tapped by Amblin Television in 1995 to make a documentary for the re-release of Spielberg’s comedy “1941.” The project coincided with the rise of home entertainment, first with LaserDiscs and then DVD, and film distributors were looking for special features to add to the films.

“There was a real need for documentary filmmakers like myself to document older movies and also new productions,” Bouzereau said.

Bouzereau made retrospective documentaries about “Jaws” and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” as well, and then, beginning with “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” Spielberg asked him to join him on set to capture the filmmaking process. He also made a documentary about Spielberg’s longtime collaboration with composer John Williams included with a just-released music score box set.

Through Spielberg’s connections, Bouzereau forged his own relationships with filmmakers like Brian De Palma, Roman Polanski and William Friedkin, and has documented more than 150 films.

The Netflix documentary is based on journalist Mark Harris’ best-selling 2014 book “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War.” Harris wrote the script for the documentary and took an active role in the making of the film.

“It’s not only about Hollywood, it’s about history. So there’s a real responsibility toward it,” Bouzereau said. “I had to embrace the subject matter and make sure it was faithful to the book, and also cinematic.”

The filmmaker-experts speak directly to the camera. Bouzereau used documentarian Errol Morris’ “Interrotron” technology; it enables the director to shoot through a simple two-way mirror with a video monitor mounted under the camera lens, enabling him to film his subject while making direct eye contact from the exact same angle. This approach adds an additional level of intimacy and drama. Bouzereau resisted using the technology at first but came around to the idea after trying it with Spielberg and seeing the results.

The film is structured chronologically, weaving together the stories of the five filmmakers. Their paths cross at some points, as in the case of the Normandy invasion, when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe, sent George Stevens and John Ford to film the D-Day landing. The images preserved the memory of that historic event, and influenced future films, including Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.”

The series is divided into three parts, each roughly an hour. Meryl Streep provides the narration. Bouzereau and his editing team combed through more than 100 hours of archival and newsreel footage, watched more than 40 documentaries and training films directed and produced by the five directors, and reviewed clips from 50 studio films and more than 30 hours of outtakes and raw footage from their war movies.

Part 1 covers the buildup to the war, including the United States’ hesitation to enter the conflict and the prewar feature films that established these filmmakers as major Hollywood auteurs. It also explained the government’s rationale for wanting to incorporate the directors into their plans, especially to counter the work of Leni Riefenstahl and other Axis-power filmmakers.

“Cinema in its purest form could be put in the service of propaganda. Hitler and [his minister of propaganda Joseph] Goebbels understood the power of the cinema to move large populations toward your way of thinking,” Francis Ford Coppola says in the movie.

Part 2 shows each filmmaker finding his place in the war, doing something that had never been done before: showing American audiences exactly what it was like to serve on the front lines of battle. The films had mixed receptions at the box office, but they showed audiences a gritty portrayal of combat that differed from the glorified battle scenes of earlier feature films. The films revealed how a soldier’s life can be terrifying at times, and at other times monotonous.

Part 3 covers the D-Day invasion and the culmination of the war. It also includes shocking footage inside the Dachau concentration camp. The images are unforgettable: corpses piled up like garbage, survivors in states of shock, and the brutal mechanisms of extermination. George Stevens had to convince his crew to keep filming, to understand that these pictures would serve as an indictment and official record of the Nazi death camps. Some of the films were shown during the Nuremberg trials.

“These documentaries that the five filmmakers made were powerful for American audiences,” Spielberg says in the film. “These filmmakers that came back with footage about the truth of that war were changed forever.”

“Five Came Back” is a stark reminder that when U.S. soldiers went to fight and die for their country, Hollywood went along with them and brought the reality of the war home to Americans. For the first time, the film industry lent its storytelling abilities to a patriotic purpose, and it changed the course of history.

Fauda is currently streaming on Netflix. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Podcast – FAUDA: the Israeli Netflix TV hit with co-creator Avi Issacharoff


From HBO’s In Treatment to Showtime’s Homeland, Israel has become a prominent exporter of quality content for the American television industry. As an emerging studio, Netflix wasn’t about to miss out. They set their eyes on Fauda.

Fauda is one of the most successful and critically acclaimed Israeli TV shows in recent years. It tells the story of Doron, a member of a covert anti-terror unit in the Israeli military, whose world is split in two, between his undercover identity and his life back home.

Three months ago, Netflix acquired Fauda for global distribution. Avi Issacharoff, Fauda’s co-creator and an analyst of Middle Eastern affairs for Walla News and The Times of Israel, joins 2NJB to tall about the show and its worldwide success.

Direct Download

Rachel Bloom. Photo by Nino Muñoz/The CW

‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ star Rachel Bloom brings a fresh, feminist approach to Jewish comedy


When it comes to Rachel Bloom, it’s hard to know whether to start with the sex or the Jewishness. Both seem to ooze out of her, like a classic starlet of the Yiddish theater in which burlesque comedy could arrive in a voluptuous feminine package.

Consider the music video “You Can Touch My Boobies,” which has more than 5 million views. Bloom plays a Hebrew-school teacher who appears in a dream to seduce her kippah-wearing bar mitzvah student, Jeffrey Goldstein. Clad in a black bustier and fishnets, she rides around in a toy car shaped like a giant breast — with a nipple for a hood ornament — crooning, “We’re gonna have some fun tonight.” No need to check the locks, she tells Goldstein, because — wink, wink to American Jewish dining habits — his parents are out at Benihana. But Jewish guilt is never far behind, and suddenly, Golda Meir appears to scold Jeffrey for his fantasies: “You have brought shame on your family and the Jewish people!”

In the tradition of Woody Allen, Bloom has deftly translated the American-Jewish experience — its neuroses, obsessions and culturally distinctive lexicon — into mainstream entertainment. As a writer and actress, Bloom routinely probes aspects of her identity — relishing, mocking, exuding sexuality and Jewishness — both in the prolific collection of music videos she posts on YouTube, as well as on the CW show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” a musical romantic comedy that she co-created and stars in.

[Watch Rachel Bloom’s Jewiest music videos]

In Rachel Bloom, we have a female heir to the neurotic, outsider Jew who is constantly negotiating identity through sex and ethnic baggage. There are strains of Philip Roth in her work — a sex-obsessed Jew feeling ever out of place, trying to grow up and fit in. And what we gather from Bloom, a millennial, is that although political frissons have somewhat altered the American-Jewish makeup, a generation later, communal preoccupations are the same.

The 29-year-old is an expert at channeling the tropes of her male artistic and literary forebears, where sex and Judaism coalesce and collide as integral, paradoxical and indispensable to the human experience. But she upends theses legacies with something new and utterly transgressive: a female point of view.

“I think a lot about Fanny Brice’s aesthetic,” Bloom told me when we met for coffee last month in Silver Lake. “Her whole thing was Yiddish, Yiddish, Yiddish. I did 23andme [the genetic test] and I’m 97 percent Ashkenazi Jewish. Yiddish is what I connect to.”

The comparison to Brice (the comedian-actress immortalized in the movie “Funny Girl”) is apt — except for the fact that Bloom, unlike Brice, writes all of her own material. In just two seasons of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” Bloom has written or co-written more than 80 original songs. “That’s more than four Broadway shows,” she said.

Rachel Bloom (second from left) is Rebecca Bunch in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Photo by Mike Yarish/The CW

Rachel Bloom (second from left) is Rebecca Bunch in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Photo by Mike Yarish/The CW

 

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” tells the story of Rebecca Bunch, a tenacious, Harvard-educated Manhattan lawyer. After a chance encounter on a New York sidewalk with a guy she dated at summer camp, she becomes unmoored, determined to pursue her crush all the way to the West Coast. She walks out of her high-paid, partner-track job and follows the object of her affection to his hometown — West Covina. Last year, the role earned Bloom a Golden Globe award.

The day we met, Bloom had just wrapped the show’s second season, which is now available in its entirety on Netflix. She declared a recent episode “the most Jewish episode we’ve ever done.” In Season Two, Rebecca finally ensnares her lifelong obsession, the under-employed, none-too-bright Asian-American Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), and makes him her boyfriend. Before long, they’re heading together to Scarsdale for a bar mitzvah, and Rebecca frets nervously over how her family and friends will receive them. “Will Scarsdale Like Josh’s Shayna Punim?” asks the episode’s title.

What Rebecca does not expect is that her overbearing mother (played expertly, as always, by Tovah Feldshuh) warms quickly to Josh, learning to call him a “Pacific Islander” instead of “Oriental,” and teaching him how to make and pronounce challah. But rather than quell Rebecca’s anxiety, her mother’s acceptance intensifies it, as if to say: If a Jewish mother approves, something is definitely wrong. Rebecca’s anxiety then shifts from Josh’s outsider status to her own: At the bar mitzvah, it isn’t the non-Jewish Josh on trial, but Jewish tradition itself.

Far-fetched? More like autobiographical. Bloom herself never really felt she belonged.

“I’m a West Coast Jew, so there’s always this feeling of, like, ‘What are my roots?’” Bloom said of growing up an only child in Manhattan Beach. Religious observance was anathema at home, but, Bloom said, “We talked about being Jewish a lot, we talked about Christian oppression a lot, and for as long as I can remember, my father’s been telling me to read ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.’

“[My] family felt like East Coast Jews: I was not allowed to swim in the ocean because my mother was afraid I’d drown. My parents were wary of me being in the sun because of skin cancer. I loved musical theater, Stephen Sondheim, Woody Allen. Plus I had obsessive-compulsive disorder,” she said. “All of these things combined made me feel like an outsider living in a beach community where everyone is surfing and bleach-blond. They don’t even have a word for anxiety.”

During the episode in Scarsdale, which aired in January, Rebecca is on edge the entire time. At the bar mitzvah party, she is constantly rolling her eyes and whining about how “miserable and terrible” Jews are. When her childhood rabbi, played by Patti LuPone, asks if she’s found a synagogue in California, Rebecca replies that she doesn’t believe in God, so it’s not on her to-do list. “Always questioning,” the rabbi replies gleefully. “That is the true spirit of the Jewish people!”

Rebecca is most disheartened that the boy she brought to shield her from Jewish communal rituals is actually quite enjoying himself. She can’t understand why Jewish psychological mishegoss is not blatantly apparent to him.

“You don’t understand,” Rebecca tells Josh. “You are — forgive me — a non-Jew from the West Coast. Let me explain how it goes. East Coast: dark, sad. West Coast: light, happy. These people don’t understand what fun is. Trust me.”

Josh and Rebecca (Vincent Rodriguez III and Bloom) sing to each other in an episode where Josh later meets her family and friends at a bar mitzvah party. Photo by Scott Everett White/The CW

Josh and Rebecca (Vincent Rodriguez III and Bloom) sing to each other in an episode where Josh later meets her family and friends at a bar mitzvah party. Photo by Scott Everett White/The CW

 

That’s when the horah begins — “a fun dance!” Josh exclaims — but while the traditional klezmer music plays and everyone happily clasps hands, Rebecca’s view that tragedy is never too far from the Jewish psyche is proven when the rabbi sings: “Now it’s time to celebrate / Grab a drink and fix a plate / But before you feel too great / Remember that we suffered.” The song, appropriately titled “Remember That We Suffered,” is not only the defining Jewish number of the series so far, but perhaps the most Jewishly astute musical number since “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Ironically, Bloom said it is the absence of personal Jewish suffering that has enabled Jewish exploration in her work.

“People who came over here from Europe watched their families being murdered because of Judaism,” she said. “They were terrified for their lives because of Judaism. And they came to an America that was still quite anti-Semitic, so of course they wanted to assimilate. I’ve never really suffered anti-Semitism. Sure, sometimes people call me a kike online or whatever — because people say horrible things on the internet to everyone. [But] I have never been afraid for my life because of my heritage. And that gives me the freedom to talk about it.”

Like most American Jews, Bloom fits firmly into an assimilated framework, describing her Judaism in mostly cultural, secular terms. Being Jewish is “Mel Brooks!” she said. “The feeling of being an outsider, the being cold in restaurants, the guilt, the anxiety.” She said her husband, Dan Gregor, grew up “Conservadox” on Long Island and attended yeshiva until eighth grade, but ultimately left the religious life. As a couple, they celebrate with occasional holiday meals, but a question about shul attendance got a deep, resounding “Noooo.” Not even on the High Holy Days?

“I love thinking about the fact that it’s the High Holidays,” Bloom said. “But at end of the day, he and I are both secular people. I do not believe the Torah is the word of God — I believe it’s very interesting, and that it informs my entire heritage, and there are things to be learned from it, but I do not believe the universe cares if I have a cheeseburger.”

Bloom earned her musical theater bonafides at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she led the school’s sketch comedy group, Hammerkatz. A year after graduating in 2009, she made a splash with the self-produced music video, “F— Me, Ray Bradbury,” about a young woman who fantasizes about the science fiction author and masturbates while reading his stories. Bloom’s character alternates between sex kitten — dressed like Britney Spears in “ … Baby One More Time” — and sci-fi geek, turning down a date to stay home and read.

“When I started doing musical comedy, I realized that a lot of pop music, even though I love it, does not represent how people actually are,” Bloom said. “Bradbury” was her attempt to “reconcile what I thought I should be like with what I actually was like. And I found more people [related] to the latter. More people feel like outcasts, and feel like they don’t fit in. All of us feel some form of imposter syndrome.”

After “Bradbury” went viral, Bloom continued to release a string of music videos, as well as the album “Suck It, Christmas,” a collection of Chanukah songs co-written and produced with her husband and her writing partner, Jack Dolgen. In “Chanukah Honey,” a parody to the tune of “Santa Baby,” Bloom again plays come-hither sex kitten to a Jewish love interest who “got an MBA from Penn — Amen” but, unfortunately for her, dates Japanese women. Replete with references to the JCC, bat mitzvahs and camp, Bloom tempts her crush to “Come and flip my latkes tonight” as she rolls around on the floor in a blue-and-white Santa outfit. Of course, with Bloom, being a good Jewish girl, sex isn’t all she’s after: “But seriously,” she asks as an aside, “do you want kids?”

In “Can Josh Take a Leap of Faith?” — the Season 2 finale — Bloom’s character, Rebecca (right), is all dressed up for her big day when complications ensue. Photo by Michael Desmond/The CW

In “Can Josh Take a Leap of Faith?” — the Season 2 finale — Bloom’s character, Rebecca (right), is all dressed up for her big day when complications ensue. Photo by Michael Desmond/The CW

 

On her first trip to Israel last year, Bloom said, she played her Israeli tour guide some tracks from the Chanukah album, thinking he’d get a kick out of it. “We wrote a song about cantors, but no one in Israel talks about cantors,” she observed. Bloom was surprised to discover that even though she “loved” visiting Israel, she didn’t really relate to it. “It was really crazy to be in a country for all Jews, but Israel is not my culture,” she said.

Because she is an Ashkenazi Jew, European persecution is much more her thing, and it pops up in the animated video “Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song,” a feminist send-up of Disney fairy tales. While searching for her prince, Bloom encounters little Jews hiding out in the forest. “I never did ask you, why do you hide in the forest? Oh, I see, to hide from people trying to kill you!”

The video caught the attention of screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, who penned “The Devil Wears Prada” and “27 Dresses.” She arranged to meet Bloom; together, they solidified the idea for “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and promptly sold the pilot. Bloom had her big break into Hollywood.

What followed was a crippling period of anxiety and depression. “Mental illness runs rampant in my family,” Bloom said, “and no one has ever dealt with it.” The actress speaks openly and publicly about her struggle with anxiety — and not the kind treated as a kitschy Jewish trait, but a debilitating affliction. To tame her illness, she does cognitive behavioral therapy and practices meditation. She also sees a psychiatrist.

“I think keeping things taboo, keeping things secret, for me, that’s when things get bad,” she said. “When you learn to deal with anxiety, you think about what you actually know to be true versus what you tell yourself. These catastrophic thoughts, do you actually think those things are going to happen?”

The angst dates back to middle school, where Bloom said she was bullied. “I never felt pretty,” she said. “I wanted to be pretty, but I felt disgusting. And people told me, ‘You’re ugly; you’re a loser.’ It was the way I dressed, I cut my own hair. Then in eighth grade, I started to get boobs and I got more positive attention. And that only continued to grow. So I feel like I have a perspective on being a sexual being, as someone who hasn’t always been that. I appreciate it, but I also see the absurdity of it: Suddenly I have value because sacks of fat on my chest grew?”

Bloom’s interest in the way sex shapes identity is a constant theme in her work, a trait she shares with male Jewish predecessors like Woody Allen and Philip Roth. But her approach to sex constitutes a radical departure from the conventions of Jewish sexuality that have been canonized in film and literature — mainly by men. Whereas Jewish men typically have dealt with feelings of extreme sexual alienation, Bloom offers the bliss of sexual possibility. Where her male counterparts were ensorcelled by sex, Bloom is determined to demystify it.

At the end of the “Bradbury” video, instead of allowing a reference to Bradbury’s book “Something Wicked This Way Comes” to serve as pun, Bloom trades the erotic for the mechanic: “And by come, I mean ejaculate,” she declares, as if giving a science lesson.

Sex gets the same biological treatment on her show, which has featured numerous musical numbers that deal with the more visceral, uncomfortable truths about sex. “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” is about the difficult, unpalatable things women do to groom themselves for a date — and includes a bloody scene of anal waxing. In the sardonic hip-hop number “Heavy Boobs,” Bloom salutes and ridicules her ample bosom by dressing as a scientist holding up plastic bags filled with breast fat. The song “Period Sex” needs no explanation.

“The reason I’m so open and honest and brassy and ballsy about this s— is because my goal, if there’s a goal that I have as an artist, would be to make us all realize we are all just animals on this earth made of guts, who are all just trying to survive and get along,” she said.

If the defining feature of Jewish sexuality until now was sexual inadequacy, Bloom has rewritten the script. A child of the post-feminist generation, she is fully awake to her sexual power. But rather than use it strictly to seduce, she subverts the male gaze by drawing attention to the body’s anatomical indignities. It’s as if she’s trying to warn young Jeffrey Goldstein that his sexual fantasy will likely end with a urinary tract infection.

“There might be a tiny part of me that’s still a little afraid of being sincerely sexy because then you risk looking foolish,” Bloom said. “It’s much easier for me to be brassy-funny-sexy because there’s a protectiveness to that, and I don’t want to feel taken advantage of. It’s all about control.”

Bloom at the Golden Globes in January. Twice nominated for ‘Girlfriend,’ she won in 2016. Photo by Jen Lowery/via Newscom

Bloom at the Golden Globes in January. Twice nominated for ‘Girlfriend,’ she won in 2016. Photo by Jen Lowery/via Newscom

 

With lipstick and a dress, Bloom can easily play the bombshell. But off-screen she’s content in a gray T-shirt and bomber jacket. When we meet, she isn’t wearing an ounce of makeup, another way she peels back the curtain on the many façades of being female.

“When I learned sketch comedy, I felt like I suddenly had to become a dude, because that’s the culture of comedy,” she said, lowering her voice to sound like man. “Dude, bro, f—.’ There is a certain adopting of a façade when you are anything other than the majority, and I think that gives you an understanding of others who are oppressed.”

If feminism bequeathed to her a creative benefit, Bloom said, it is “the freedom to say what I want.”

Her fearlessness certainly resonates with her Jewish audience, which goes bananas every time Bloom explodes an old stereotype. After she took on the meaning of Jewish American Princess in the “JAP Battle” rap, a female writer for the Jewish online magazine Tablet ecstatically declared, “I am FINALLY THE DEMO OF A THING. I have never been the demo of a thing!”

But ultimately, a Jewish audience may not be enough to sustain even a critically acclaimed show.

“I’m not afraid to make my show Jewish,” Bloom said, “but at the same time, my show is the lowest-rated show on network television. So while specificity is important to good art, I don’t know how much of a mass appeal there is in openly talking about Judaism.”

In the past, Jewish artists like Allen and Roth could be rueful about their Jewishness, perhaps a little bit ashamed. But not Bloom. Instead, she seems to revel in it. And she’s not prepared to stop anytime soon. At the end of our meeting, Bloom was rushing off to start work on Season Three. It’s not just a job for her, but a community, a purpose, a spiritual salve.

“For most of my life, I’ve kind of felt like I don’t really have a place, and the success of this show not only draws me to people who have also felt like that, but it makes me feel I have a place to fit in. It’s cathartic to realize I’m not alone.”

Netflix streaming comes to Israel, 129 other countries


Israelis will now be able to stream “Orange Is the New Black” and “Breaking Bad.”

Netflix, the video-streaming and mail-order video service that increasingly produces its own content, announced Wednesday it is now available in Israel and 129 other countries, several media outlets reported.

“Today you are witnessing the birth of a new global Internet TV network,” co-founder and chief executive Reed Hastings said at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, according to the Times of Israel. “While you have been listening to me talk, the Netflix service has gone live in nearly every country in the world except China, where we hope to be in the future.”

Programming is primarily in English, with support in Arabic, but not Hebrew.

Until Wednesday, the 18-year-old American company’s streaming was available in 59 countries outside the United States, including Canada, Japan, and much of Latin America and Europe.

According to Haaretz, not all Netflix content will be available in Israel. For example, “House of Cards,” whose broadcasting rights have already been sold to other entities in Israel, will not be offered.

Netflix subscriptions in Israel will range from $7.99 to $11.99 per month, Haaretz reported.

How one man’s funny business is fueling the growth of streaming comedy specials


“I just beg people. All day, all day,” Brian Volk-Weiss said only half-jokingly, as he hung up a phone that rang just as he began to describe what it’s like being one of America’s most influential (not his words) executives in the big — and growing bigger — arena of streaming stand-up comedy specials.

Volk-Weiss didn’t say who was on the other end of the call, just that it had been a show-runner for an NBC Sports show on car auctions. And he didn’t say exactly what the call was about, but judging by what he was saying — “What percentage of your decision is due to the money?.If we reduced the weeks even further, would that make a difference?.As you can tell, I really want to make this work.”— the talent was getting cold feet, and Volk-Weiss was offering his all to make sure the deal didn’t fall apart.

Volk-Weiss is the president of production of New Wave Entertainment and the head of its offshoot, Comedy Dynamics, the nation’s largest independent producer and distributor of one-hour comedy specials, and one of Netflix’s top sources of stand-up comedy shows. 

His job is to find the talent, then keep them happy, while dealing with managers and agents, closing deals and, along the way, making money for New Wave.

New Wave launched Comedy Dynamics in 2014, and Volk-Weiss’ credits include Jim Gaffigan’s “Obsessed,” Aziz Ansari’s “Buried Alive,” Marc Maron’s “Thinky Pain” and Bill Burr’s “I’m Sorry You Feel That Way.”

Volk-Weiss grew up in New York and moved out to Los Angeles in 1998 after graduating from the University of Iowa; he still has a healthy dose of his New York accent, along with that city’s high energy level. Tall, slim and slung across a black-leather chair in his office, Volk-Weiss described New Wave as the General Electric of entertainment.

“GE makes alarm clocks and submarines,” Volk-Weiss said. “There are millions of companies that do what we do separately. I am not aware of another company that houses everything [we do] under one roof.” 

The “everything” includes editing bays, computer-generated imagery robots, color and sound correction, and virtually anything that’s part of the post-production process. “If Jim Gaffigan says he wants to come in and work at 5 o’clock, and he has to be out at 8 o’clock, everything’s ready to go,” Volk-Weiss said. 

The one thing that New Wave and Comedy Dynamics don’t have in the Burbank headquarters is a sound stage for the performances. But that doesn’t preclude the company from going anywhere with a sound stage to produce a special (Washington, D.C.’s Warner Theatre, for example), meaning that from pre-production through filming through post-production, Volk-Weiss is involved. And he and Comedy Dynamics even produce content for their top competitor, Comedy Central — New Wave and actor/comedian Kevin Hart have a deal to air three of his specials on Comedy Central, then stream them on Comedy Dynamics’ channels on Hulu, Roku, Amazon Prime and other platforms.

“We’re trying to be the most respected, prestigious comedy brand out there,” Volk-Weiss said. Right now, Comedy Dynamics is the third-most  popular channel on Roku.

“No .1 is Comedy Central. No 2 is Looney Tunes,” he complained, “which, in my opinion, should be in children’s programming — and then it’s us.”

Volk-Weiss stopped managing in 2012 in order to focus on producing, but two years earlier, in 2010, while he was still doing both, his first major step into the production waters gave him a small taste of what was to come — a five-figure advance to comedian Tom Green that had Volk-Weiss’ name on it.

“That advance we made to Tom Green … I probably didn’t have a good night’s sleep for six months,” he said. “It was terrifying.”

Now, he said, five years and hundreds of comedy specials later, “At least once a week, I make a seven-figure guarantee,” Volk-Weiss said. “I sleep like a baby. It’s a nonissue.”

Married, with two kids, Volk-Weiss’ relationship with Judaism goes about as far as his bar mitzvah, more than two decades ago. “To say I do not practice,” he said, would be a “tremendous understatement.” He explained by sharing the story of his beloved grandfather (a picture of whom he carries around in his wallet), who escaped Vienna before the Nazis’ annexation of Austria in 1939, made it to New York aboard a boat from Barcelona and, shortly thereafter, Chicago, where he met his future wife (and Volk-Weiss’ grandmother), while Kristallnacht was occurring across Germany.

“When he got back from the war, he was not all about being Jewish, so he raised my mother, who raised me to …,” Volk-Weiss said, searching for a way to explain his secular upbringing. “Use this as the metaphor or the microcosm: When you fill out the form, and the thing comes, ‘What’s your religion?’… click ‘Other.’ ”

He said that before he and his wife married, they both understood that he’d have plenty of late nights at the office or out at shows, or in New York, or on the phone.

The call he received where he had to “beg” the showrunner is, he said, “the epitome of phone calls I never received in my life until about 18 months ago and now receive a couple times a week.“If I am successful in your eyes or other people’s eyes and I was asked to explain that success,” Volk-Weiss said, “it is saying ‘yes’ to that phone call again and again and again for 17 years.”

A-List stars return for ‘Wet Hot’ prequel


If you’re reading this, you probably already know some “camp people” — people who talk about camp in superlatives, elevating camp memories to the level of scripture: The time one camper convinced another that she was singing on a cassette tape, when it was really Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner.” That other time when a particularly clueless Israeli staff member was left behind at a rest stop during a field trip. Two campers who started calling a third “Raoul,” “Duke” or “Marcia” after randomly deciding she might have multiple personality disorder. 

No doubt about it — camp is also super-weird.

Camp alumni remember those days as a mix of adolescent awkwardness, obsession with camp activities, peer pressure, friendship and (especially for the boys) fart jokes. This essential DNA of summer camp is also the twisted helix of “Wet Hot American Summer,” a 2001 film that plunged deep into the strange, identity-forging and utterly unforgettable last day of the fictional Camp Firewood. 

Just like some of the awkward campers who blossomed over the years, “Wet Hot American Summer,” or “WHAS,” started out slow but eventually found its footing as a cult comedy. And thanks to Netflix, “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp,” a season of eight prequel episodes, launches this weekend.

The “WHAS” head counselor (or in Hollywood language, writer-director) is David Wain, known for collaborations with Michael Showalter (Wain’s co-writer and co-creator on the Netflix series) and Michael Ian Black, both of whom appeared in the film and are back for the prequel series.

The original film featured a stellar cast of actors who were relatively unknown in 2001. Today, though, Paul Rudd is Ant-Man, Bradley Cooper is a multiple-time Oscar nominee, Amy Poehler is a powerhouse, Elizabeth Banks is a director, the list goes on. To interest this star-studded a cast in a reunion project might have seemed impossible, but Wain, who lived in New York for 26 years and moved to Los Angeles two years ago, had been setting the stage for a potential “WHAS” revisit for years in small ways. 

“I’d run into people and say, ‘Someday we’re going to do a prequel,’ ” he said in a phone interview. “When we made the determination that we want to do it as a series on Netflix, we called everyone and everyone said yes.”

The prequel episodes also incorporate some new characters, including Lake Bell as a girl who has just come back from Israel, Jon Hamm as a government assassin, and Wain as an exotic and ludicrously tan Israeli counselor. 

“An Israeli counselor seemed like an obvious important thing to add to the mix,” Wain said. “It was such a memorable part of my camp experience, drawing a specific type of person who didn’t necessarily want to be there but got a deal to travel in the U.S. if they worked at camp.” 

Wain tapped into his camp memories to play the role. “There was a specific brand of arrogance that I always remembered — I channeled that accent and attitude.” 

Hebrew-speaking “WHAS” fans might have seen a hint of Wain’s new role in the trailer; in listing “FDOC’s” stars, the last one is in Hebrew — “v’gam [also] David Wain.” 

“I would love to say that I had anything to do with it, but Netflix people came up with the entire trailer themselves,” Wain said. “It’s the first time in my experience where they showed me the trailer and I said, ‘That’s great; no notes.’ That’s what you want when you’re working with a studio — it makes a difference.” 

Wain admits that the inspiration came from his and Showalter’s experiences in summer camps — for Wain it was Camp Modin in Maine and Camp Wise in Ohio. 

“It was easily my most positive and lasting Jewish experience,” Wain said of camp. “My favorite things about being Jewish were the way they celebrated Shabbat at camp, that they set off one day in a different way. Midday Friday, people start to take a shower for the first time in a week, then we had dinner and singing; it was more relaxed, everyone was together. It was cool to have that and a beautiful Havdalah service under the stars. That’s the kind of Jewish thing that I relate to. I don’t think I experienced that in any other part of my life.” 

Fans will be happy to revisit the wacky reality of Camp Firewood, and get the “origin stories” for most characters, answering questions we didn’t even know we had: How did Gene (Christopher Meloni) become the deranged camp cook? How do Andy (Rudd) and Katie (Marguerite Moreau) get together? What kind of connection do Susie (Poehler) and Ben (Cooper) really have? Will Coop (Showalter) ever find true love? And why is Lindsay (Banks) even there? 

Thanks to Netflix and this TV binging cultural moment, newbies and superfans alike can watch the film and the series back-to-back — all told, this journey through the Camp Firewood canon should take about seven hours. 

The prequel provides plenty of opportunities to misdirect viewer expectations and to subvert and play within the clichés of movies — a cataclysmic event threatens to destroy everything; a cabin in the woods hides a secret; a boy likes a girl but is afraid to tell her. But throughout, the writers call our attention to the absurdity of it all, reminding us repeatedly that most characters — even the counselors — are supposed to be 16 years old (even though most of the actors were in their 30s the first time around). The timeline — with the movie and the episodes each representing a solitary day — is also outrageous, and yet resonant for those who know that in camp, a single day can be a lifetime. 

Fans of other off-kilter comedies that were resurrected for Netflix will remember the disappointment of “Arrested Development’s” fourth season; the producers took a risk with an inventive approach different from that which fans had come to love, spending each episode focusing on one character’s perspective, and the result wasn’t what the fans had hoped for. Based on the six episodes available to the media for prescreening viewed by this writer, the new “WHAS” series has taken great care to weave together several stories in each episode, creating an overall narrative arc that is more linear than that of “Arrested Development.” The episodes can certainly be seen as individual episodes, but the action progresses like a film with occasional breaks. 

Will this be the last we’ll see of Camp Firewood? As we all know from our camp experiences, a lot can happen between the first and last day of summer, setting the stage for future installments. So will there be a “WHAS: Color War” or “WHAS: Visiting Day”?

“If this goes well,” Wain said, “it’s possible.”

‘Orange is the New Black’: The best Jewish moments from the new season


Mild spoilers ahead

Orange Is the New Black” protagonist Piper Chapman may no longer have a Jewish husband, but that doesn’t mean that Judaism isn’t a huge part of the new season of the Netflix hit. In fact, religious identity is one of the biggest themes of Season 3, as many of the inmates look for something to cling to, whether it be Norma’s (Annie Golden) cult or, in the case of Cindy Hayes (Adrienne C. Moore), Judaism. It’s not all that surprising: The series creator, Jenji Kohan, is Jewish, and Judaism also played a big role in her previous series, “Weeds.” We break down the best Jewish moments of the season, but if you didn’t have a chance to binge watch the entire season this weekend — congratulations, you have a life! — proceed with caution. Mild spoilers follow.

Cindy’s One-Liners

Since the quality of food at the Litchfield prison has hit rock bottom now that it is all pre-packaged, kosher is the only decent option. When Cindy asks for a kosher meal and is accused of not being Jewish, she replies, “You think you know my life? Shabbat Shalom, bitch!” That’s just the start of some great lines from Cindy in her quest for edible food, including “Shanah tova and hava nagila. It is good to be chosen,” “Jesus ain’t the messiah. He ain’t come yet,” and (in response to someone asking if a seat is taken), “Yeah. We’re saving it for Elijah.”

Caputo stands up to Danny

As the rest of the inmates catch on about the kosher meals, Danny (comedian Mike Birbiglia) from the private corporation that now owns Litchfield notices there are a lot more kosher meals on the purchasing order. He asks Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow), the assistant to the warden, how there can be so many Jews at Litchfield. Caputo responds, “I know. It’s confusing, right? We used to have them wear the Stars of David, but we had to stop doing that after World War II. I don’t remember why.

Rabbi tests the inmates

All the Jewish stereotypes come out when the “Rent-a-Rabbi” interrogates the inmates to find out who is really Jewish, but it’s impossible not to laugh at lines like Lolly (Lori Petty) saying, “I think you all are doing a wonderful job controlling the media. I mean we. We are doing a wonderful job.” But the highlight is when Cindy tells the story of her upbringing using plot points from “Annie Hall” and “Yentl.” The rabbi tells her, “Miss Hayes, while I am heartened that you appreciate the works of Woody Allen and Barbra Streisand, I think you’ve confused cultural Judaism with committed Jewish belief. Also, I hear Mandy Patinkin can be difficult to work with.”

Jewish sister

In the end, the only prisoner who is allowed to keep getting the kosher meals is the nun, Sister Jane Ingalls (Beth Fowler). She says, “The Abrahamic religions are pretty much all the same until you get to Jesus.” Touché.

Cindy converts

When Cindy decides to actually convert, she takes it seriously and gives the rabbi a beautiful speech: “Honestly, I think I found my people. I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell. And if I was good, I’d go to heaven. And if I’d ask Jesus, he’d forgive me and that was that. And here y’all are saying there ain’t no hell. Ain’t sure about heaven. And if you do something wrong, you got to figure it out yourself. And as far as God’s concerned, it’s your job to keep asking questions and to keep learning and to keep arguing. It’s like a verb. It’s like … you do God. And that’s a lot of work, but I think I’m in, as least as far as I can see it.” When the rabbi tells her she can be a Jew and she cries, it is obvious how far this storyline, which started as comic relief, has come.

Cindy’s mikvah

Cindy can’t technically complete her conversion because there is no naturally occurring body of water in prison to use as a mikvah. But at the end of the finale, a hole is accidentally left open as the fence is being fixed and the inmates get to go into the lake. It’s one of the most touching moments of the series for all the characters, but especially for Cindy, who takes the opportunity to use it as a mikvah.

Emmys comedy race takes edgy turn as cable outnumbers networks


When ABC's “Modern Family” vies for its fifth consecutive best comedy Emmy award on Monday, not only will it battle the beloved geeks of CBS' “The Big Bang Theory” but also a bunch of irreverent, foul-mouthed characters from cable and Netflix.

For the first time in Emmy history, networks are outnumbered by cable and online streaming outlets in the coveted best comedy series category, a sign of a growing appetite for comedy free from the confines of network TV.

“Modern Family” made waves when its contemporary family dynamic and gay couple appeared on Walt Disney Co's ABC in 2010. But today, along with CBS Corp's “The Big Bang Theory,” it would be considered a safe choice for Emmy voters.

The network stalwarts are joined by two previous cable nominees: the dark and sometimes melancholy comedy “Louie” on Twenty-First Century Fox's basic cable FX, and HBO's “Veep,” a political satire rich with curse words from U.S. Vice President Selina Meyer.

And then there are the newcomers, like HBO's technology satire, “Silicon Valley,” where startup culture gets a dose of gross-out humor.

“In order to get people to love a show, you need to alienate some people, whereas network shows in general have a business model where they have to go for the middle,” said Alec Berg, executive producer and writer for “Silicon Valley,” nominated in its first season.

“They need to get the most people, but unfortunately that costs you the people who are super passionate.”

The other new kid in the comedy race is “Orange Is the New Black,” the darling of Netflix's original summer programming. The series is based on a real-life story about a women's prison, with situations that often stray far from laughs.

To date, HBO's sexually explicit female-driven “Sex and the City,” which won the best comedy Emmy in 2002, is the only cable show to do so.

A FRESH 'ORANGE'

Much of the difference between a broadcast network comedy and a cable show comes down to advertiser interests, which networks must cater to, but premium cable channels such as HBO and ad-free streaming platform Netflix can avoid. This leads to content that pushes the boundaries, said Berg.

“People are getting more used to watching things in places where there are no FCC (Federal Communications Commission) guidelines, there are no censors and there are no standards and practices people sitting around,” Berg said. “Those (guidelines) are starting to feel very antiquated.”

For Netflix, which entered the Emmy race just last year and has a total of 31 nominations this year, “Orange” may just be its “Sex and the City,” after scooping up 12 nods.

“'Orange' has the dramatic element, it has the feel of its time and it has a strong ensemble of women,” said Glenn Whipp, awards columnist for the Los Angeles Times. “It feels fresh.”

“Orange” may also have benefited from the buzz surrounding its second season release in June, which coincided with the Emmy voting period.

But “Modern Family” still holds its place as a frontrunner for many awards predictors, who believe the ABC show will win its fifth best comedy Emmy on Monday as it continues to reflect contemporary family dynamics and featured a gay wedding in its latest season. Whipp said traditionally, Emmy voters tend to select more conservative choices within the comedy field.

“The show is just going to be hugely appealing to voters because it makes a social statement, but it is done in an audience-friendly way,” said Whipp. “It is both a critical and a commercial, popular success.”

Editing by Mary Milliken and Tom Brown

Jew(ish) movies streaming on Netflix: March 2014


Here is a list of Jewish (and Jew-ish) films that are being streamed on Netflix this month:

1. Ghostbusters II

Jewish connection: Harold Ramis, director

2. The Bad News Bears (original)

Jewish connection: Walter Matthau, actor

3. The Blair Witch Project

Jewish connection: Joshua Leonard, actor

4. Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Jewish connection: Stanley Kubrick, director

5. Bugsy

Jewish connection: Bugsy Siegel was Jewish in real life

6. Devil in a Blue Dress

Jewish connection: Walter Mosley, author of the book

7. Dirty Dancing

Jewish connection:  Jennifer Grey, actress

8. Girl Interrupted

Jewish connection:  Winona Ryder, actress

9. The Long, Hot Summer

Jewish connection: Paul Newman, actor

10. Over the Top

Jewish connection: Menahem Golan, director

11. Robin Hood: Men in Tights

Jewish connection: Mel Brooks, director

12. Spider Man

Jewish connection: Sam Raimi, director

13. True Grit (2010)

Jewish connection: The Coen brothers, directors 

‘Arrested Development’ season 4 arrives


In less than two weeks the fourth season of “Arrested Development” premieres on Netflix. It’s been seven very long years since the last episode, but if this trailer is any indication, the Bluth family is still the most delightfully dysfunctional Jewish family to ever be portrayed on screen.

Are George Micheal and Maeby actually hooking up? Did Michael move? Is Buster about to undergo some major separation anxiety? Is Gob still turning (magic) tricks? Is Tobias still acting? And what’s up with Kitty?

The good news: With all 15 episodes streaming at once, we’ll have answers to these questions very soon. The bad news: WIth all 15 episodes streaming at once, it’ll all be over very soon, too.

+