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Column Fri Nov 20 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2, The Night Before, Secret in Their Eyes, The Hallow, In the Basement & A Poem Is a Naked Person

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2

The Hunger Games films seem like an anomaly. They filmmakers managed to crank one out every year across three years, and they actually got slightly better with each new chapter. More importantly, they went from escapist entertainment about kids killing kids for sport to something far more substantial — a clear antiwar, anti-fascism statement that seems to make more and more sense in the times we're living in. Do we believe that in the not-too-distant future, a government (I'm talking about some government in the world) will sponsor games like this? Probably not. But do we believe that if a presiding government felt threatened, it would use citizens as human shields? Well, that's already happened.

Panem has become a world in which rebels are portrayed as terrorists, and dictators make themselves out to be caretakers of freedom, who believe that if you're not with us, you're against us. As the franchise has grown and evolved, it's gone from escapist science fiction to social commentary, and it's all the better for it with a substance to its screenplay, co-written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong (adapting Suzanne Collins novel). Almost as importantly as all of this, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 deals with the aftereffects of war in a very real way as well. There are characters here whose minds have clearly been shattered by being constantly attacked or threatened with attack — including Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who moves beyond simply being a run-of-the-mill action hero and opens up the Mockingjay as an emotional being who feels every loss of her comrades and suffers a great deal of survivor's guilt.

Mockingjay, Part 2 picks up fairly soon after the last film. Katniss is finally able to speak after nearly being choked to death by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who still believes her to be the ultimate enemy and consummate liar thanks to thorough brainwashing from President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Naturally, Katniss wants to mend things between her original Hunger Games partner, but Panem has bigger needs, which are outlined by rebellion leader, President Coin (Julianne Moore), and former Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in what will be his final on-screen performance).

More so than Mockingjay, Part 1, Hoffman's unshot scenes are a bit more obvious, which only adds to the heartbreak of seeing him this final time in a new film. There's an election sequence near the end that Plutarch was clearly supposed to be a part of; he's even name-checked. Perhaps his greatest absence is felt in a scene in which Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) visits Katniss and reads her a letter from a now-fleeing Plutarch. As good as Harrelson is, he's given the unenviable task of reading words written for Hoffman, and it's easy to hear his voice saying them. This isn't a criticism of the film at all — the filmmakers certainly handled his absence as best they could. It just makes you miss Hoffman that much more.

Mockingjay, Part 2 also opens up the true motives of President Coin a whole lot more. Her main concern is putting Katniss front and center as the Mockingjay to unite the district against Snow and the Capitol. And to do this, she casts Katniss as something of a propaganda figurehead more than an actual leader, shooting messages for the population to see in hopes of inspiring unity in the rebellion. Most of the film revolves around a small team of good-looking (by design, for the cameras) fighters moving miles behind the real fighters, in the interest of keeping Katniss safe. Included in this group are Gale (Liam Hemsworth, perhaps Katniss's true love), Finnick (Sam Clafin), Boggs (Mahershala Ali), Lt. Jackson (Michelle Forbes), and a few other familiar faces. Coin also decides to include the highly unstable Peeta in the mix, just to show that he's back fighting against Snow. The group makes their way cautiously through the leveled Capitol, avoiding traps and other dangers both above and below ground. One underground sequence involving a pack of creatures released to kill the rebels is utterly terrifying and especially well directed by returning helmer Francis Lawrence (who has directed all but the first of these films).

Friends and enemies die in great numbers. This isn't a film that makes it seem that war spares those closest to the main characters. Mockingjay, Part 2 is a fittingly darker and more thrilling chapter of the Hunger Games saga, and nothing quite wraps up the way you'd expect (unless you've read the books) — from Katniss's final confrontation with Snow to who (if anyone) Katniss ends up with as a love interest. Allegiances don't line up exactly how you'd expect, and certain fan-favorite characters are essentially sidelined to make room for actual substance. Katniss's sister Primrose (Willow Shields) and Johanna (Jena Malone) are still fairly sizable characters, but others — Jeffrey Wright's Beetee, Elizabeth Banks as Effie, Stanley Tucci's Caesar, and Paula Malcomson as Katniss's mother are mainly on screen for the vibe. I did like seeing "Game of Thrones" stars Natalie Dormer (who was in the last film) and Gwendoline Christie (who was not) get significant moments in this final chapter.

But it's Lawrence who carries the film as both its action and dramatic centerpiece. She's become a better and more confident actor since the series started, and she conveys a deep sense of pride, loss, regret and hope that I'm not sure she would have been capable of if the first film has required it. For sometimes decidedly different reasons, I've enjoyed each of the Hunger Games films, but Mockingjay, Part 2 wraps things up beautifully — not with a bang, but with a quiet, reflective look beyond the great war for the soul of Panem's citizens. Better than just a "Where are they now" footnote, the final sequence of this movie tells us a great deal about healing, both mentally and physically, after a long bout of sanctioned violence. It's decidedly action free, but that doesn't lessen the impact in any way. Nicely done, folks.

The Night Before

I find that comedies are the most difficult films to review, because humor is so subjective. You either find gross-out toilet humor funny or you don't; you either laugh at the more intellectual turn of phrase or witty observation or you don't; you either relish in the jokes that use the baggage brought by the individual actors or you don't. You either bathe naked in the more awkward style of humor that involves forcing real people into comedic situations (i.e. Sacha Baron Cohen's early films; the Jackass movies); physical comedies; dumb people doing dumb things; and the list goes on. And then there's the arrested-development brand of (often) male-driven films that have a great deal of heart at their core. Judd Apatow brought this style back into fashion, but his protégé, Seth Rogen, has refined it over the course of several films that he has written and/or produced since Superbad.

Rogen tends to go a bit more postal with the films he's had a hand in creating over the last 10 years or so (The Green Hornet, Pineapple Express, This Is the End, Neighbors, The Interview), but one of his finest creative efforts that worked as both comedy and drama was 50/50, the 2011 cancer-inspired movie directed by Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies) and co-starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The three have teamed up once again, adding 50/50 co-producer Evan Goldberg to the writing team (which also includes Levine Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir) and Anthony Mackie in front of the camera, all a little older but not necessarily wiser.

Perhaps more than any other Rogen creation, The Night Before isn't afraid to get dark in a more intimate way. In fact, the entire premise of the film — about three best friends since high school creating an annual holiday tradition of partying across New York City on Christmas Eve — has its origins in the death of Ethan's (Gordon-Levitt) parents, leaving him without a family at the holidays, with his pals Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Mackie) becoming his new Christmas caretakers (even though Isaac is Jewish). The end-all goal of the tradition has been getting tickets to the Nutcracka Ball, something these knuckleheads have never been able to do.

Above most other things, The Night Before is not just about getting older; it's about growing up and getting over hang-ups in our lives that have held us back. Ethan is the most guilty of this, especially since his parents' deaths, leaving him afraid to get close to anyone new, including the perfect girlfriend in Diana (Lizzy Kaplan), whose parents Ethan refused to meet, leaving her no choice but to break things off with him.

Isaac and his wife (Jillian Bell) are about to have their first child, and pro football player Chris has become incredibly famous and less able to hang out with his old friends, so the three have decided that this year will be their last one carrying out the Christmas Eve traditions, including stops at a favorite karaoke bar, dropping by the tree at 30 Rock, and just generally getting drunk as hell. But this year is special because Ethan has also managed to score (I believe "steal" is the better word) three tickets to the Nutcracka Ball, so they can send off their annual romp in style.

And while the overnight journey into complete debauchery is filled with a tremendous amount of laughs, the more interesting parts of the films involve each of the leads coming to terms with their fears and shortcomings as men. Ethan keeps running into Diana, who is having a rather crazy night with her best friend Sarah (Mindy Kaling), and realizes how much he still cares for her; Isaac can't stop taking drugs (supplied by his exceedingly supportive wife) and panics about how ill prepared he is to be a father; and Chris isn't being honest about why exactly his on-field performance has improved so much in recent months.

Another thing Rogen and his team are extremely good at is keeping track of who is hot (although not necessarily new) on the comedy landscape, and then fills many of the supporting roles in his films with these strong players. In addition to Kaplan, Kaling and Bell, The Night Before also features such favorites as Nathan Fielder, Illana Galzer, Jason Mantzoukas, Jason Jones, Randall Park, Tracy Morgan and even Rogen's constant companion James Franco, in a completely unexpected role. And let's not forget Miley Cyrus as herself. Perhaps the greatest casting in the entire film (leads included) is that of Michael Shannon as the ubiquitous Mr. Green, the guys' pot dealer since they were in high school, but who takes on the role as the all-seeing, all-knowing guardian angel of his flock of stoners. [In a recent conversation I had with Shannon, he described his role as the film's "Clarence."] Holy Jesus is Shannon funny in this movie.

Levine wisely keeps things moving, and unlike the Apatow films this one emulates, it has the decency to also be short (around 100 minutes). The film's most obvious flaw is the way everything wraps up far too nice and neat by the end of evening, so much so that you want to throttle someone for not coming up with maybe a few lingering doubts and questions for our heroes. Beyond that, The Night Before is a consistently funny film that dares to stick its toe in a few uncharted waters in between the drug humor, dick jokes and cracks about Rogen being Jewish. But the bottom line is, I laughed watching this — a great deal as a matter of fact. Each one of the leads brings something unique and necessary to the equation of both the friendship and the humor, and I was especially happy to see Mackie make so strong a showing. The film is warm-hearted, decidedly adult, and a near-perfect combination of very silly and appropriately serious, tied up in a nice bow.

Secret in Their Eyes

Based on the Oscar-winning 2010 Argentine investigative drama of the same name, Secret in Their Eyes tells the story of an unsolved murder that haunts those who looked into it more than a decade later for many reasons. The film is told in two parallel timelines, 13 years apart, but with the same players. In the older of the two, we meet Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Jess (Julia Roberts), who have both just begun their jobs as part of a Los Angeles-based counter-terrorism team, shortly after 9/11, so naturally they're spying on a mosque with closed-circuit cameras.

One night, they get a report of a dead body in a dumpster right next door to said mosque, and when they arrive to ascertain whether this is related to their investigation, they are horrified to discover that the body is that of Jess's teen daughter Carolyn (Boyhood's Zoe Graham). Although they should leave it up to the local authorities to look into, Jess and Ray also use their agency's resources to secretly track down leads, something the bosses aren't too happy with, since this means potential terrorist cases are going unworked.

The third member of their "team" is the new assistant D.A. Claire (Nicole Kidman), whom Ray takes an instant liking to, despite the fact that she's engaged. She's being pulled in different directions because she wants to help, but her boss (Alfred Molina) has been told that the prime suspect in the case is also a major confidential informant of fellow CT investigator and office asshole Siefert (Michael Kelly). "Breaking Bad's" Dean Norris plays Bumpy, a far more helpful set of eyes on the case, who isn't afraid to bend the rules a bit to get to this suspect. Naturally, the suspect is brought in, roughed up a bit, pretty much confesses, and then is let go when the needs of the country trump the needs of one mother to find her daughter's killer.

As the film begins, 13 years after those events, Ray is walking back into his old office, after leaving Los Angeles to take a job as head of security for the New York Mets. Some of the same faces linger, including Bumpy (chained to his desk after a workplace injury), Siefert (still an asshole), and Claire, who is now married and is the D.A. Jess is there too, but a little less so. It turns out that for the last few years in his spare time, Ray has been searching a database of mug shots, looking for the man who killed Carolyn, and he's pretty sure he's found him, recently released from prison, hiding behind a bit of plastic surgery. His guilt over the circumstances of the girl's death and the resulting screw-up with the suspect have never allowed him to stop searching.

Secret in Their Eyes glides between timelines, watching the procedural efforts of the team to find this killer, and the subsequent search in the present day, which seems to generate a bit less enthusiasm from all parties than Ray would have imagined, including Jess, who now lives a life of isolation in a secluded home in the woods. While there are individual scenes and performance moments that play exceedingly well, the film as a whole is so faithful at key junctures, I question the need for the remake at all — and I say that as someone whose knee-jerk reaction is not to pan every remake. The one big change from the source material is that in the Argentine version, the Ray character is writing a novel about the case and returns to reopen the case for far more selfish reasons. But clearly writer-director Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Breach) wanted Ray's motivations to be a bit more pure and less self-serving.

If you haven't seen the original film, the truth about and fate of this new/old suspect might be a bit shocking, but if you have seen it, then you already know where the film is headed, so a great many plot details and insane twists are going to deliver less of a jolt than they deserve. Still, the performances are solid, even if a couple of the emotional outbursts seem both actorly and would clearly impact the outcome of any case that might be built — Jess jumping into the dumpster with her dead daughter's body would destroy evidence; Ray pounding on the face of a suspect might be grounds for releasing him. As detail-oriented as the story can get, certain character choices don't make sense for smart people.

Secret in Their Eyes maintain the atmospheric, rather chilly look of the original film, and that certainly adds to the overall creepiness of the work. But such an approach can also result in keeping audiences emotionally distanced from the characters, and sadly, that's the case here. You feel bad for their situation, but we're never given a shot at getting to know these folks enough to want the same things they do. It's a workable drama, and these are all tremendous actors, but it all feels like going through the motions of a great story rather than committing to telling it in a smart or interesting way.

The Hallow

Steeped in Irish folklore and featuring a nasty, black, spiky ooze covering nearly every square inch of each location, the feature debut of visual artist-turned-director/co-writer Corin Hardy plays it smart by not rushing its audience into the true nature of the horror at work or what its intentions are regarding a family of newcomers to the forest in which it is set. The Hallow follows the travails of Adam Hitchens (Joseph Mawle), a conservationist who has been relocated with his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) and infant son to a small town deep in the woods and bogs of the Irish countryside. He hasn't even been in town a month, but he's already noticed a sickness in some of the trees in the thick forrest that surrounds his home — something that will require them to be cut down in great numbers to stop the spread of what he believes is an aggressive fungus.

Once the townsfolk are made aware of Adam's job and intentions, the make their displeasure known, especially neighbor Colm Donnelly (Michael McElhatton), who tells tale of the creatures and forces that dwell in the Hallow who will resist any attempt to have trees removed or too much attention paid to their little corner of the woods. One night, the window in the baby's room breaks and some unseen entity trashes the room a bit before vanishing, triggering a call to the local law enforcement (Michael Smiley), who doesn't believe in the legends of the area, but doesn't entirely discount them either.

The Hallow takes a good half of its modest running time to give us a real sense of what's really going on, leaving open the possibility that the strange noises and other disturbances at their humble millhouse are simply angry neighbors harassing this new family. But after a couple of violent attacks in the dark and fleeting glimpses of inhuman shapes dashing between the trees, it becomes clear that some misshapen humanoid creatures are living in the woods intent on snatching the Hitchens's child. The story itself takes place only over a couple of harrowing days and nights, but by the beginning of the second evening, the terror sets in and the danger is quite real.

Hardy and co-writer Felipe Marino not only wisely keep us from seeing these monsters in any detail for quite some time — although the visual effects makeup is extraordinarily grisly — they also don't give us too much information about the nature or origin of this roving band of snarling beasts. In addition, details about the black ooze that seems to play a role in the creatures' chemistry is kept to a minimum, although it seems clear that it is essential to spreading whatever disease they and much of the surrounding wildlife have.

With the helps of his low-light-capable cinematographer Martijn van Broekhuizen (whose use of figures in the shadows to establish high tension is exquisite), director Hardy establishes a undeniably terrifying final act, with woodland creatures closing in (not unlike the underground dwellers in Neil Marshall's masterful The Descent) and the dynamic between the husband and wife... substantially changed over the course of the film. Clare steps up to become the unexpected hero of The Hallow, protecting her child and urging Adam to pull it together and save his family. The fear and tension throughout the work is undeniable and unmistakable, thick with anxiety and raw fear.

Extracting many a scream from a simple use of what you see — or think you see — as well as a masterful sound design from Steve Fanagan, The Hallow makes great use of its small number of settings, spending the majority of the film either in the woods or in the couple's small, fragile cabin, which features its own infestation of creeping, squishy ooze. And the only thing more cringe-worthy than the black muck in this film is the moment someone puts their hands on or in it to remove it from whatever its obstructing. A sequence involving Adam stripping away the ever-expanding mass from under the hood of his car is wonderfully repulsive.

Admittedly, the movie begins following a familiar horror pattern — rather than simply leave at the first sign of trouble, this couple decide to be tough and stick it out, even after its clear that something has its sites set on their baby. But a combination of creatively realized, organic-based monsters, regional mythology, and a seriously scary final act make The Hallow essential viewing for lovers of the scary. There are subtle nods to classic terror films throughout (including a few choice dedications in the credits), as well as a ridiculously fun during-credits stinger that offers one more shock for the road. The film opens today in Chicago at the Music Box Theatre.

In the Basement

In all honesty, for about the first 15 minutes of the new Ulrich Seidl (the Paradise trilogy, Dog Days, Import/Export) film In the Basement, I didn't know if I was watching one of his expertly observed documentaries or one of his carefully crafted feature films, featuring eccentric characters doing bizarre things. Seidl makes both styles of film so compellingly that, rather than look it up, I was keen to figure it out on my own. It took me a while to accept that people doing some of the things we see in this examination of the hidden lives people have in their basements would ever open up their secret worlds to a filmmaker, but sure enough, that's exactly what they've done. And the results are often fascinating and occasionally startling.

Set in his native Austria, the film allows us an opportunity to peer into the darkened sublevel of homes and people's psychological depths. Some of the subject are touching, in particular a woman who keeps life-like baby dolls in their coffin-like boxes on shelves, and pulls them out to talk with them, pamper them, sing them lullabies, and put them back in their box until the next day. But if you've ever seen a Seidl movie, you know he's interested in something a bit more twisted. The most unsettling characters aren't the S&M couple, in which the dominating mistress hangs small weights onto her male slave's testicles. No, the one that disturbed me was the tuba player who likes to gather his four-piece brass band in his basement and play tunes while surround by a massive collection of Nazi memorabilia. This guy never voices his opinions about Nazi policies or values, so there's a chance he just enjoys the collection as a collection, but it's easy to read a great deal into his silence on the subject.

I don't know what Seidl's feelings are toward his homeland, but a few of his subjects seem chosen as a means of criticizing certain pockets of dangerous types in the society. One man has a shooting range in his basement and clearly fancies himself a type of gunslinger. He's shown drinking heavily with his gun-toting pals, talking about how dangerous it is to allow so many foreigners into Austria, especially from the Middle East. Good times. Next to these characters, the guy who has filled his basement with the heads of dozens of exotic species that he has hunted and killed seems downright tame.

This decidedly adult film (which carries a "some images may be disturbing to more sensitive viewers" warning) isn't just a display-case work, where we can stare at the freaks and comment upon their lifestyle. There's a distinct attempt by Seidl to dig a little deeper and allow his subjects to talk about what they're up to away from prying eyes. Some fare better than others, and I was genuinely moved by a couple of the S&M interviews (yes, there is more than one couple) who explained the role of tenderness amid punishment and mild torture. It's a tough watch at times, but I dare you to take your eyes of the screen. Seidl knows exactly what he's doing, and what's he has produced is endlessly captivating. In the Basement opens today in Chicago for weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

A Poem Is a Naked Person

Some music documentaries want to make sure you are painfully aware of context — who everyone on screen is, where everything is taking place, and what every song is that you're hearing. But after about five minutes of watching the long-lost A Poem Is a Naked Person doc about Oklahoma phenom Leon Russell, I'd like to make a case for throwing the audience into the deep end and being totally immersed in time and place. What I write in this review is more background than I had when I began watching this film, commissioned by Russell (he's even seen giving instruction to the cameramen) in 1974 and directed by then-first-time filmmaker Les Blank, who also edited and went on to do such moving documentaries as Burden of Dreams and The Blues Accordin' to Lightnin' Hopkins.

Aside from the embarrassing wealth of great concert footage of Russell and his loose but tightly rehearsed band, the movie also attemptis to capture the Oklahoma that the musician grew up in. As a result, we get a scrapbook of shots revealing everything from the religious and spiritual backbone of the community to local fairs to a group of onlookers waiting for a building to get demolished and then rummaging through the debris for choice artifacts. We also get random drop-bys in the studio or concert stage by the likes of George Jones and Willie Nelson, which only adds to the impressive musical selections. Perhaps my favorite/least favorite random sequence is of a local boa constrictor enthusiast feeding both a baby chick and full-size chicken to his pet. Nothing says good eatin' like watching a snake unhinge its jaw to fit a chicken's wiry feet into its mouth.

Watching Russell simply hanging out backstage can occasionally be enlightening as well. He seems to surround himself with two kinds of fans and admirers: good ol' boys who are thoroughly drunk and slightly aggressive and dirty hippies who love spouting their vague philosophies at Russell and getting more of the same right back. The film does sometimes identify these people, but never actually tells us if they're in a band or are some local celebrity or are just a hanger on looking for free weed. And that's actually okay, because in many ways, our glimpse into Russell's life is as much of a blur of faces, smoke and music as it likely was for him.

Behind his piano, Russell was part Elton John (who was coming up at the same time as Russell), part Dr. John, part Southern shaman who turned any space into a revival. If the stories are true, Russell disliked this film so much that he held it back from release, due in large part to the "asides" taking up so much of the film. But the film has been fully restored, and is an amazing, too-long-delayed tribute to a great musician who very few people actually know from this period in his career. A Poem Is a Naked Person is not your standard-issue concert film or music doc; it's an utterly unique, near spiritual experience that's about as funky as you can get on top of it. The film opens today in Chicago for just a handful of screenings over the next week at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

 
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Jeb / November 20, 2015 7:10 PM

This is another racist movie where fat ugly Seth Rogen plays an explicitly Jewish character, while good-looking Jewish actors (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lizzy Caplan, this time) play non-Jews. As a matter of fact, despite being the son of two Jewish parents, Gordon-Levitt has never explicitly played his own ethnicity once in his entire 30 years of acting. Is there a problem, Joey?

This is the same racist trick Rogen pulls every time. He always casts himself as an explicit Jewish character opposite non-Jewish characters played by good-looking Jews (Paul Rudd, James Franco, Dave Franco, Zac Efron, Halston Sage, etc.).

And this new film is from the same studio, S.S.ony, that released last year’s Fury, about fighting Nazis during WWII. Fury starred no less than four Jews (Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, Jason Isaacs, and Shia LaBeouf), yet none of the characters were Jewish and Jews and the Holocaust were never mentioned. Gee, maybe they should have cast Seth Rogen as a “funny” Jewish soldier who died early on in the film.

Actors of fully Jewish background: Logan Lerman, Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mila Kunis, Bar Refaeli, James Wolk, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julian Morris, Adam Brody, Esti Ginzburg, Kat Dennings, Gabriel Macht, Erin Heatherton, Odeya Rush, Anton Yelchin, Paul Rudd, Scott Mechlowicz, Lisa Kudrow, Lizzy Caplan, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Gal Gadot, Debra Messing, Robert Kazinsky, Melanie Laurent, Shiri Appleby, Justin Bartha, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Margarita Levieva, Elizabeth Berkley, Halston Sage, Seth Gabel, Corey Stoll, Mia Kirshner, Alden Ehrenreich, Eric Balfour, Jason Isaacs, Jon Bernthal, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy.

Andrew Garfield and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are Jewish, too (though I don’t know if both of their parents are).

Actors with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dave Franco, James Franco, Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Daniel Radcliffe, Alison Brie, Eva Green, Joaquin Phoenix, River Phoenix, Emmy Rossum, Rashida Jones, Jennifer Connelly, Sofia Black D’Elia, Nora Arnezeder, Goldie Hawn, Ginnifer Goodwin, Amanda Peet, Eric Dane, Jeremy Jordan, Joel Kinnaman, Ben Barnes, Patricia Arquette, Kyra Sedgwick, Dave Annable, Ryan Potter.

Actors with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, who themselves were either raised as Jews and/or identify as Jews: Ezra Miller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alexa Davalos, Nat Wolff, Nicola Peltz, James Maslow, Josh Bowman, Winona Ryder, Michael Douglas, Ben Foster, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nikki Reed, Zac Efron, Jonathan Keltz, Paul Newman.

Oh, and Ansel Elgort’s father is Jewish, though I don’t know how Ansel was raised. Robert Downey, Jr. and Sean Penn were also born to Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers. Armie Hammer and Chris Pine are part Jewish.

Actors with one Jewish-born parent and one parent who converted to Judaism: Dianna Agron, Sara Paxton (whose father converted, not her mother), Alicia Silverstone, Jamie-Lynn Sigler.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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