December 9, 2018

A Jewish Guide to Summer Movies

If your summer activities include multiple trips to the multiplex, this calendar of films with Jewish themes, stars and filmmakers will help you plan what to see and when. Tribe members in bold.


Han Solo was killed off in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” but he’s young and very much alive in this prequel set a decade before “Star Wars.” Alden Ehrenreich plays the role that Harrison Ford made famous as the hero of “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which reveals how Solo, despite being kicked out of flight academy, became a galaxy-hopping space cowboy and met his Wookiee sidekick, Chewbacca. Ron Howard directs from a screenplay written by father-and-son team Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, and the cast includes Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau, voicing the CG alien Rio Durant (May 25).

Ehrenreich, whose credits include “Beautiful Creatures,” “Hail, Caesar!” “Blue Jasmine” and “Rules Don’t Apply,” got his start in only-in-Hollywood fashion. He made a funny video for a friend’s bar mitzvah that was shown at the party. Steven Spielberg saw it and arranged a meeting for the young actor with his casting director. That eventually led to roles on “CSI” and “Supernatural” and his first feature roles were in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Tetro” and “Twixt.”

A Los Angeles native who grew up on the Westside, Ehrenreich is of Ashkenazi-Jewish heritage with roots in Russia, Austria, Hungary and Poland. It’s another thing he shares with Ford, whose maternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Minsk in what is now Belarus.


Zoey and Madelyn Deutch in “The Year of Spectacular Men.” Photo courtesy of Mar Vista Entertainment.

This project is literally a family affair: The romantic comedy stars sisters Zoey and Madelyn Deutch and their mother, Lea Thompson (“Back to the Future”), making her feature directorial debut from Madelyn’s screenplay. Zoey and the sisters’ father, Howard Deutch, are among the producers. Madelyn (“Outcast”), who also composed the score, plays Izzy Klein, a recent college grad struggling to navigate the ways of the real-world and relationships, and turns to her mom and sister for support.

In other “Spectacular” instances of art imitating life, Zoey (“Before I Fall,” “Why Him”) plays an actress on the rise, and her former boyfriend Avan Jogia plays her actor beau. Zoey also stars in the Netflix romantic comedy “Set It Up” with Glen Powell, playing a pair of overworked assistants who scheme to get their demanding bosses (Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs) out of their hair by getting them to date (both films: June 15).


“Spiral.” Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group.

Much scarier than any horror movie because it’s all too real and happening right now, the documentary “Spiral” explores the rise of anti-Semitism and violence against Jews in Europe, specifically in France, where political, social and racial divisiveness runs deep. Presenting different perspectives, filmmaker Laura Fairrie follows people on different sides of the issue in France and the Middle East, and their stories are emotional, heartbreaking and chilling.

Among them: An Orthodox Jewish history teacher resists giving in to fear; a family of proud French Jews reluctantly emigrating to Israel; Orthodox settlers in the West Bank fear their Palestinian neighbors; young Palestinians want their land back; disenfranchised Black and Muslim Frenchmen; Dieudonné M’Balla Balla, a French-African Holocaust denier whose anti-Semitic rants and videos fuel terrorism; and the young prosecutor on a mission to send him to prison (June 22).


Paul Rudd in “The Catcher Was a Spy.” Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

Although his Major League Baseball career was less than stellar, catcher Morris “Moe” Berg’s secret occupation as a spy was a lot more exciting. It’s the subject of the thriller “The Catcher Was a Spy,” based on the book of the same name by Nicholas Dawidoff.

Paul Rudd plays Berg, a multi-lingual Jewish Princeton University and Columbia Law School graduate who joined the CIA-precursor the OSS in 1943. Although Berg participated in several covert operations during World War II, the film focuses on his mission to determine if German nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg was building an atom bomb for the Nazis. The cast also includes Mark Strong, Sienna Miller, Guy Pearce, Tom Wilkinson, Jeff Daniels and Paul Giamatti as Dutch-Jewish physicist Samuel Goudsmit (June 22).

Rudd returns to superhero mode in “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” a sequel to the 2015 blockbuster “Ant-Man” that finds him paired with the other titular insect (Evangeline Lilly) on a mission to rescue Wasp’s mother, played by Michelle Pfeiffer (July 6).


Olivia Thirlby and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in “Damascus Cover.” Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment.

Twenty-one years after it was published, author Howard Kaplan’s best-selling first novel, “Damascus Cover,” finally makes it to the screen with a top-tier cast including John Hurt in his final film performance. Set in 1989, the espionage thriller stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Israeli spy Ari Ben-Zion, who is given the mission to smuggle a Jewish chemical weapons scientist and his family out of Syria to safety in Israel. Hurt portrays Miki, Ben-Zion’s boss at the Mossad, and Olivia Thirlby plays the love interest, an American photographer. Several Israeli actors are also in the cast, including Igal Naor (“Munich”), Neta Riskin (“Shelter”) and Shani Aviv (“Beauty and the Baker”). Directed by Daniel Zelik Berk, the film, shot in Morocco, won four awards at the Manchester Film Festival in England and swept the Boston Film Festival, earning six awards there last year (July 20).


Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling in “Ocean’s 8.” Photo by Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros.

Josh Radnor (“Rise”) stars in “Social Animals” as a lovable loser who meets his soul mate (Noël Wells). Just one complication: He’s married to someone else. The relationship comedy also stars Carly Chaikin of “Mr. Robot” and “The Handmaid’s Tale’s” Samira Wiley (June 1).

After a 21-year hiatus, Jeff Goldblum reprises his role as chaos theorist Ian Malcolm in “Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom,” which picks up four years after “Jurassic World” and involves a volcanic eruption that threatens the dinosaurs of Isla Nubar (June 22). Goldblum is also in “Hotel Artemis,” about a secret hospital for criminals in 2028 Los Angeles. Jodie Foster runs the place, and Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jenny Slate and Goldblum are among her nefarious clients (June 3).

“Oceans 8” flips the gender on the “Oceans” crime caper franchise, with Sandra Bullock as Debbie Ocean, mastermind of a plot to steal the $150 million diamond necklace an actress (Anne Hathaway) will wear to the annual Met Gala. Handpicked for their particular criminal expertise, her crew includes Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna and Sarah Paulson. Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit,” “The Hunger Games”) directs from his own story and screenplay (June 8).

In the dark thriller “Under the Silver Lake,” Andrew Garfield investigates the mysterious disappearance of a new neighbor who vanished the day after their date. The “Hacksaw Ridge” Oscar nominee is the frontrunner to win a Tony Award next month for his leading role in “Angels in America” on Broadway (June 22).

Rob Reiner directs “Shock and Awe,” about journalists seeking the truth about the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that the George W. Bush administration used as the pretext for the U.S.-led coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003. Reiner appears as Knight-Ridder news agency chief John Walcott, and Woody Harrelson, James Marsden and Tommy Lee Jones play the reporters (July 13).

A sheltered wife and mother named Agnes (Kelly McDonald) comes into her own when she discovers her talent for solving jigsaw puzzles in “Puzzle,” directed and produced by Marc Turtletaub and co-written by Israeli Oren Moverman (“The Dinner”). Austin Abrams, whose credits include “Jewtopia,” “The Walking Dead,” “Paper Towns” and “Brad’s Status,” plays Agnes’ son (July 22).

Dracula (Adam Sandler) takes his clan on a cruise in the animated “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation,” also featuring the voices of Mel Brooks as Drac’s dad, Vlad, Andy Samberg as son-in-law Johnny, and Fran Drescher as Eunice, the bossy Mrs. Frankenstein (July 13).

Jonah Hill plays sober coach to a quadriplegic cartoonist (Joaquin Phoenix) in the dramedy “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” based on a memoir by John Callahan. Jack Black portrays the drinking buddy responsible for the car accident that put Callahan in a wheelchair (July 13).

Teaming with Kate McKinnon in the action comedy “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” Mila Kunis gets mixed up in international espionage when her CIA spy ex-boyfriend becomes the target of assassins (Aug. 3).

In the vein of “Love, Actually,” “Dog Days” tells intersecting tales about L.A. dog lovers. The ensemble cast includes Adam Pally as a musician tasked with puppy-sitting his sister’s Labradoodle (Aug. 3).