Easter with Tevye

I grew up in the kind of Jewish home where Santa Claus came on December 25 and a certain pagan rodent arrived on a seemingly random Sunday in the Spring, often accompanied by matzoh brie for breakfast if it was Passover.  Over the years, my inevitably confused interest in my Hebraic roots increased, and I quickly understood that the three holiest texts in Jewish scripture were the Torah, the Talmud, and Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof.

With a book by Joseph Stein, music and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick and drawn from stories by pseudonymous Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem, often called “the Jewish Mark Twain,” no Jewish wedding or bar/bat mitvah was complete without half the score. A particular must for even a lot of the non-Jewish weddings I’ve attended remains “Sunrise, Sunset.” The song, a succinct expression of the bittersweet feelings involved with watching beloved children turn into adults, remains the most effective technology for extracting tears from parents known prior to the release of “Toy Story 3.”

The tale of a goodnatured, deeply religious milkman trying to marry off his three daughters in the face of pogroms and the onslaught of history in early 20th century Tsarist Russia did roughly what “The Godfather” did for Italian-Americans (ethnic controversy notwithstanding) and “Roots” did for African-Americans, create a sense of history during a time when present day changes often seemed overwhelming. If you hadn’t seen “Fiddler,” as my mother’s friends inevitably called it, on the stage, you were suspect. If you missed the movie, you might as well get baptized.

All of which is just a longwinded way of saying that, when we the 40th Anniversary Blu-Ray edition of director Norman Jewison’s 1971 film of “Fiddler on the Roof,” genetics pretty much forced me to raise my hand for it, though it hasn’t been a favorite since the day I got my cinephile magic decoder ring. The slightly grainy and slightly gauzy film — director of photography Oswald Morris shot it entirely through a woman’s stocking and won one of the film’s three Oscars — looks as good as you can probably hope for on Blu-Ray, naturally, and John William’s solid but occasionally too-pretty adaptation of Jerry Bock’s score sounds nice, too, but the movie remains problematic for this viewer.

It’s not so different from a lot of other awkward stage-to-film musical translations of its time. Chiefly, Canadian director Jewison tries to adopt a realist approach to try to sell the highly theatrical material in the unforgiving medium of film, which might have been next to impossible regardless. Though Jewison retained much of the choreography by the legendary Jerome Robbins (“West Side Story”), setting it in real or real-looking locations is a doomed strategy. The best strictly musical scenes, like the famous “bottle dance” wedding sequence and the rousing “L’Chaim,” were shot on a London soundstage.

A solid cast led by Israeli actor Topol as Tevye, the milkman, and featuring Yiddish theater legend Molly Picon and future “Starsky and Hutch” star Michael Glaser (he’d add “Paul” to his name later) among many others, helps. Chaim Topol, who played the part on stage in London and Tel Aviv, is a better choice than the brash and notoriously difficult to control original Broadway Tevye, Zero Mostel, would have been. Among other issues, Woody Allen in “Annie Hall” was not the first movie Jew to break the forth wall and address the camera directly. No one would accuse Topol of underacting, but if it had been Mostel talking and singing at us about the importance of “Tradition,” the audience would have been forced into a defensive crouch.

Of course, there’s much more to than issues like cinematic style and acting to the ongoing appeal of “Fiddler on the Roof.” It remains popular not only in the U.S. but is still performed even in Japan, where the story of the breakdown of ancient traditions has had an oddly logical resonance. No amount of quibbling is going to kill the film version of “Fiddler,” nor should it.

Oh, and happy Easter if that’s your thing. Have a chocolate bunny for me.

  

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Happy movie Easter from Premium Hollywood

If Easter is your bag, here’s hoping you’re enjoying the day with your peeps. However, be extremely wary if too many of them suddenly appear…

Via Roger Ebert’s Twitter feed. And, yeah, “f–k–g GREAT” is an apt descriptor.

  

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Why do you think they call them “Titans”?

There really doesn’t seem to be any way around it, “Clash of the Titans” will almost undoubtedly win the box office race this Easter and Good Friday weekend. Just anecdotally, I can see that interest is high for a remake of a swords-and-sandals fantasy flick that is a sentimental favorite for lots of guys, even if the original film is not really seen as the strongest movie in the cannon of the great stop-motion effects man, Ray Harryhausen, who turns 90 this summer. I’ve been hearing and seeing fairly enthusiastic chatter about this film from French-export action-guy director Louis Leterrier everywhere for months, including at my local Food 4 Less a couple of nights back.

Clash of the Titans

Critics like our own David Medsker may excoriate it for not even having impressive effects, and the Rotten Tomatoes crew as a whole may give it an unimpressive 34%, but you can’t really stop a titan, can you? Moreover, critics seem to agree that, especially in the post “Avatar” world, the retrofitted 3-D is not worth the extra money and audiences will get just as big a kick — if kick, there is, to be had — in cheaper 2-D. But, in for a penny, in for a pound, I suspect, will be the way of things and the roughly 2,170 3-D screens will be mighty crowded this weekend.

Indeed, a returning jolly Carl DiOrio over at THR informs us that the consensus among the box office guru types is that the film could well bring in over $60 million. He also mentions in his weekly video that Easter is traditionally a rather strong weekend at the box office. So, on the weekend that commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as told in the Bible, hundreds of thousands of theoretically Chrisitan people all over the country will be seeing a movie that celebrates ancient pagan deities. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — I don’t really have a dog (or a god) in that particular spiritual fight. Still, maybe I should get a bit more worked up because Warner Brothers’ distribution Dan Fellman told DiOrio that: “We own males over and under 25…” All I can say as someone who falls into one of those categories, neither Warners nor Mr. Fellman own me and I think that’s actually kind of illegal. But, yeah, his movie will make some money and most of it will come from guys.

There are two other new movies coming out, but they both most definitely qualify as counter-programming and are primarily aimed at woman. Adult woman who are also African-American and the men who love them are pretty much the target demo for “Why Did I Get Married, Too?” — a sequel from the Tyler Perry ethnically targeted juggernaut.

Black Dynamite shows his softer side.I will point out, however, that alongside start Janet Jackson, Michael Jai White is in the cast. As everyone who saw him in “Black Dynamite” knows, if the Man wasn’t busy working overtime keeping him down, he’d already be a superstar. So, maybe I hope this does the usual Tyler Perry business and makes between $25-$30 million on a relatively low budget. The film hasn’t been screened for critics it appears. Why bother?

The PG-rated teen-centric weepy romance “The Last Song” starring Miley Cyrus, Greg Kinnear, and guest hunk Liam Hemswroth and adapted from a novel by the ever-popular Nicholas Sparks, who also co-wrote the screenplay, has actually been in theaters since Wednesday — what, you didn’t know that? The film has already done decent business from Ms. Cyrus’s devoted young fans and their moms despite predictably miserable reviews. Still, especially when Disney’s early take is discounted, it will still probably be fairly low on the b.o. totem pole come the Sunday estimates.

There’s no theater count up for it over at Box Office Mojo, and only a handful of critics have eve seen it yet, it appears (of them, currently 58% are favorable at Rotten Tomatoes) but the R-rated “The Greatest” open this weekend in apparently very limited release. Reviewer Jason Newman sure makes it sound like a solid, if heart wrenching, drama. It’s certainly got an outstanding cast with the eternally underrated Pierce Brosnan, the impossible to overrate Susan Surandon, mega-up-and-comer Carey Mulligan, and another potential superstar to be, Aaron Johnson of, dare I say it, “Kick-Ass.” Isn’t it weird that the spill-over notoriety from that couldn’t-be-more-different sure-thing hit will probably help this one move a few DVDs, at least?

Carey Mulligan and Aaron Johnson in

  

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