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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, OCTOBER 23, 2009 PAGE 15A i .i .i By Naomi Pfefferman Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles When the 39-year-old film- maker 8pike Jonze began visiting the author and illus- trator ~Maurice Sendak at his rural Connecticut farmhouse years ago, Sendak often spoke of how his Jewish immigrant relatives inspired the toothy monsters in his children's classic. "Where the Wild Things Are." "Maurice was afraid they would eat him up," said Jonze, whose film adaptation of the book opened last week, along with an HBO documentary he made about his elderly friend. An exhibition, "There's a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak," meanwhile, is on display through Jan. 19 at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum. During those conversations ~and others around the dining- room table in Connecticut, Sendak described how the book actually began as an- other children's project, titled "Where the Wild Horses Are," which tanked when Sendak discovered he couldn't draw a horse to save his life. When his publisher acidly asked what exactly he could draw, Sendak flashed on memories of his immigrant relatives. who had fled Poland before the Holocaust and regularly invaded his Brooklyn home to devour everything insight. "These people didn't speak English," he ~id, in "Heads On and We Shoot." a book about the making of the movie. "They were unkempt. Their teeth were horrifying. Hair unraveling out of their noses. And they'd pick you up and hug you and kiss you, saying, 'Aggghh. Oh, we could eat you up.'" In Sendak's 1963 classic--a groundbreaking effort that did not play down children's real fears--the Wild Things recall his Jewish aunts, and uncles, albeit with claws and roll(ng yellow eyes. The mon- sters befriend a naughty boy named Max, who daydreams about them after being sent to his room without supper and tames them by looking into their googly eyes without blinking once. "That's what art is." Sendak said. "You don't make up sto- ries. You live your life.'" Jonze (born Adam Spiegel) took this advice when. after much urging from Sendak, he signed on to adapt the ~ook, whereupon he struggled with studio executives who reportedly disliked his ver- sion because "I was making a film about children, not a 'children's film,'" Jonze said. "Maurice urged me to make Max's Story my own." he added during an interview at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. where he wore sneakers with his suit and boyishly slouched in his chair. "Maurice said, 'You make this personal, you make this dangerous, you do not pander to children, and don't be overly reverential to the book." While the Max of the book is "incredibly brave, fierce. mischievous and loving--just like Maurice," Jonze said. the movie's Max is more vulner- able, hearkening back to the fil.rnmaker's own days as the sensitive child of parents who divorced when he was 2. Jonze won't discuss much more personal information, including his own Jewish background although he has admitted to being the great~great-grandson of Jo- seph Spiegel, who founded the Spiegel catalogue at the turn of the 20th century with his son, Arthur, and was the son of a German rabbi. The family business was sold, so it appears Jonze is not--as rumors have claimed--the heir to that business's fortune. Instead. he made his own way in the world, first in the skateboarding culture, then as a maker of influential music videos and two surreal but critically acclaimed, Oscar- winning films. "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation." released in 1999 and 2002. respectively. Itwas before he made either of those movies,'in 1994, that he met Sendak.who is 42 years his senior: Sendak's film com- pany had hired him to adapt the children's book, "Harold and the Purple Crayon," a t project that never came to fruition. But a friendship blossomed between the two artists, despite their age dif- ference, perhaps because both remained so tuned in to the emotions of childhood. "I've never regarded Maurice as a father figure, because he isn't that patriarchal," Jonze said. "When I first met him I was 25, and I loved him. but I didn't have the same conversations thatwewould havewhen Iwas in my 30s--I hadn't yet been through that much," he add- ed. alluding to the dissolution of his marriage to filmmaker Sofia Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola's daughter, in 2004. "He is wise and experienced, but he never stops questioning or struggling." "Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak," explores Sendak's preoccupation with death and with his legacy, among other obsessions, now that he is 81; it is among eight short documentaries short- listed to receive a 2010 Oscar nomination. "I just wanted to capture a portrait of this man that I love, so I would bring myvideo camera every time I went to visit him.~' Jonze said of the 40-minute documen- tary. And what has Sendak taught Jonze as an artist? "He doesn't care about publishing houses and movie studios and mega-conglomerate corpora- tions," Jonze said. "He only cares about an artist telling the truth." "Where the Wild Things Are" opens in theaters Oct. 16. For information on the documentary, "Tell Them Anything You Want," visit this article atjewishjournal.com. ! "Tell Them Anything You Want" will have an encore performance Oct. 30 on HBO2 and is available on demand. For details, check local list- ings. Naomi Pfefferman is arts & entertainment editor for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. are in By Jennifer Goldberg Jewish News of Greater Phoenix I almost didn't write this review. I walked out of "A Serious Man" with my mind racing, trying to process what I had just seen. I wondered how I could write about the film when I couldn't even figure it out. So we'll start with the ba- sics. "A Serious Man" is the new film by Joel and Ethan Coen. the filmmaking team that brought you "Fargo," "The Big Lebowski" and "No Country for Old Men." the latter of which won last year's Best Picture and Best Director Academy Awards. "A Serious Man" is their most autobiographical film, at least in terms of time and place. It is set in a Jewish com- munity in suburban Minne- sota (where the brothers grew up), in 1967 (the year Joel Coen was bar mitzvahed). Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlberg) is a physics professor who believed his quiet, middle- class life was going to stay predictable forever until, in short order, his wife declares her intention to leave him for a smarmy family friend, student tries-to bribe him for a better midtermgrade. his daughter begins stealing money from his wallet for a nose job, an anonymous writer sends damning letters to the committee deciding Gopnik's tenure, and his son chooses marijuana and rock music over studying for his upcoming bar mitzvah. Larry soon finds himself living at the Jolly Roger motel with his eccentric brother Arthur, who spends his time draining his sebaceous cyst and work- ing on a theory of probability called the Mantaculus. Wilson Webb Aaron Wolff (1) is Danny, the pot-smoking son of Larry Gopnik, portrayed by Michael Stuhlberg, in ",4 Serious Man," which is scheduled to open today at the Enzian Theater in Maitland. Larry, as might be ex- pected, wonders why all this is happening to him, and seeks the counsel of three rabbis, who are all unhelpful in different ways. One rabbi admonishes him to enjoy the small things in life, like the synagogue parking lot. even while his life is falling apart; one won't even see him (although the wisdom he imparts to another char- acter is one of the film's best moments); and another re- counts stories that confuse him while suggesting that some things simply cannot be explained. "Then why does God make us feel the questions?" Larry asks. Why, indeed. This might be the point of "A Serious Man:" that our questions about life are inevitable. necessary and not always answerable. The questions in the movie start in the fantastic opening scene. set in an Eastern European shteti, and continue through the entire film. Even the resolution is not a resolution, as two events in the last mo- ments of the film drive home the point that where there is life. there is uncertainty. This is a brilliant, moving film, one that you'll enjoy in the theater and think about long after you've left. The actors are wonderful in their roles, although you may only recognize a handful of faces; the Coens assembled a cast of stage performers, character actors and new- comers to make "A Serious Man" less about star power and more about story. And for a film about a man with an endless supply of troubles questioning the meaning of life and what's happening to him, it's pretty funny. For all of the questions. "A Serious Man" does make onething clear: the genius of Joel and Ethan Coen. This is one of their best films, which given their career, is saying somethihg. Go and see it. Jennifer Goldberg is the special sections editor of the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix from which this article was reprinted by " permission. By Dina Kraft TELAVIV (JTA)From the depths of an Israeli soldier turned middle-aged film- maker's haunted memories. the new award-winning movie "Lebanon" consists mainly of scenes shot from inside a sweat- and anxiety- soaked tank of Israeli army conscripts trapped behind enemy lines. Accepting the prestigious Venice Film Festival's top prize last month. Samuel Maoz. the film's writer and director, said the victory was for all those forever marked by the trauma of war. "l dedicate this award to the thousands of people all over the world who. like me. come back from war safe and sound." he said after winning the highest international honor ever bestowed on an Is- raeli film. "Apparently they are fine, they work, get married, have children. But inside, the memory will remain stabbed in their soul." Courtesy Samuel Maoz Samuel Maoz, writer and director of "Lebanon,' based the award-winning film on his experiences as a tank gunner during the first Leba- non War. "Lebanon," which opened last week in Israel. is part of a trilogy of internationally acclaimed Israeli movies on the first Lebanon War to have come out in the past three years. The films--"BeauforU' (2007) and "Waltz with Bashir" (2008) are the other two -are a reminder that the war's impact on Israeli society and the men who fought it is still being played out 25 years after the first Israeli tanks rumbled across Israel's northern border and intoa dif- ferent type of war than Israel had ever known. Launched in an invasion in the summer of ]:982. the war became Israel's first ex- perience fighting a guerrilla war. What originally was sold to the government by then- Defense MinisterAriel Sharon as a swift operation stretched into 18 years of fighting on Lebanese soil. The Israeli public began to question the war's goals as it stretched into what was called "the mud of Lebanon" and became known as Israel's Vietnam. "Lebanon people began to ask themselves why Israel was there, and it became symbolic as the Unnecessary War," Ye- huda Stav. a film critic at Israel's largest-circulation newspaper, Yediot Achronot. told JTA. That explains its appeal as a storyline, he said, just as Hollywood's films about Vietnam continue to capture the popular imagination of U.S. audiences. In films depicting Israel's earlier wars. there was little hint of the self-doubt and critique of Israeli society that began to emerge after the first Palestinian intifada in the late 1980s. Stav said. Movies at the time started to express an Israeli sentiment that came to be known derisively as "shoot- ing and crying" (in Hebrew. "yorim v'bochim') a label bestowed by anti-war Israelis on left-winge'l's who took part in what they viewed as ques- tionable military missions only to return and criticize the army and the government for what they themselves had participated in. The current wave of Leba- non movies in some ways continues the trend, Stav Etiel Zion Scene from 'Lebanon" illustrates the anguish of war. said, in particular "Lebanon" and"Waltzwith Bashir." Both wrestle with individual sol- diers' internalized, suppressed emotions reflecting traumatic events the filmmakers them- selves experienced fighting in Lebanon. A common denominator in the films is their view- point limited to one slice of the war: the experiences of individual characters. In the case of "Beaufort," it's the Film on page 23A L