During Hanukkah, sometimes you just want to stay home and relax with children, especially given the pressures imposed by COVID regulations, and Cellcom TV is showing some well-loved children’s movies throughout the holiday. These include the modern classics, Toy Story, The Lion King and Frozen, and the first Disney animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. There is also Moana, the live-action Mulan, Wreck-It Ralph and Onward, a Pixar film about two brothers that came out just as the pandemic started and was shown in theaters only briefly.
If you enjoy the Turkish telenovela channel, you’ll want to catch the Netflix series, The Club, set in and around an Istanbul nightclub in the 1950s, and featuring a Jewish heroine. Matilda (Gökçe Bahadir) was convicted of a serious crime and sentenced to life imprisonment, but she gets an early pardon and wants to head to Israel and start a new life. An influential friend tries to convince her to get to know the daughter she gave birth to in prison and has not seen in 17 years. The daughter, Rasel (Asude Kalebek), has grown up to be a bit of a wild child and Matilda keeps an eye on her while working at the nightclub of the title. Much of the dialogue is in Ladino and the series has gotten high marks from the Turkish Jewish community for its accuracy. It is similar in many ways to other Netflix soapy period pieces such as High Seas and Cable Girls, but the Sephardi background makes it more interesting, and there are mobsters and music that are fun as well.
The late 1990s are having a moment on both the small and big screens. Last month, David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, which started running in 1999, released a Sopranos prequel feature film, The Many Saints of Newark. Sadly, it was a disappointment, focusing on characters such as Christopher Moltisanti’s father, and other stories that just didn’t merit a full-length film. But watching the parts about a teen Tony (played by the late James Gandolfini’s son, Michael) may make you long to see the show that changed everything about what we expect from television again. Perhaps the prequel will nudge some of the networks or streaming services to rebroadcast the series.
Another series that started in the late 1990s, Sex and the City, is getting its own small-screen series reboot, And Just Like That, which will be premiering in Israel on Hot 3 on December 9 at 10:30 p.m. and will then become available on Hot VOD and Next TV. As has been widely reported, it will feature Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristen Davis) but not Samantha (Kim Cattrall). Not much has been revealed about the plot, but it features some ethnically diverse characters, as well as younger ones, and in the trailer, Carrie says, “Life is full of surprises.” One sad surprise is that Willie Garson, who played Carrie’s friend, Stanford, and who appears in one episode, passed away in September.
And although it has not generated the kind of buzz that other seasons of American Crime Story have, American Crime Story: Impeachment, about the late 1990s Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, which just concluded on Yes Drama, was awfully good and improved with every episode. The show, which perhaps should have been titled, “All the President’s Women,” focuses on the betrayal of Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) by her older colleague, Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson), who taped the conversations they had about Monica’s affair with President Clinton (Clive Owen, who might not seem like the logical choice for the role but who was quietly superb). Lewinsky was one of the producers of the series, and so it’s surprising that Tripp is portrayed quite sympathetically. Tripp belongs to a generation where women who took time off to have children were shunted into the secretarial track and she sees herself as one of those indispensable office staff members who knows everything about everyone. But she sustains a deep, narcissistic injury when she is moved out of the White House and sent to an especially dull job in the Pentagon. Much of the early episodes show Lewinsky and Tripp either in drab government offices, where they gossip on breaks, or curled up in their respective homes, gabbing on their land lines about Lewinsky’s frustrating romance with the president, which brings to mind the old saying, attributed to Frank Zappa: “Life is like high school with money.” Just as dating drama can mesmerize a high school, Lewinsky’s phone chats about her boyfriend Bill led to the second impeachment of a US president, and it all happened because she trusted her girlfriend completely.
The later scenes as Lewinsky is questioned and coerced into testifying before a grand jury are extraordinary, bringing back the insanely intrusive nature of the proceedings; she is made to tell every single detail of each encounter. As she looks out at the grand jury, who become the closest thing she can have to a therapy group, and admits her feelings of guilt, it’s an absurd and touching moment. Feldstein and Paulson give two of the best television performances in recent years, and Edie Falco, whom you may remember as Carmela on The Sopranos, is also quite good as a tough-minded Hillary Clinton. The series is now available on Yes VOD.
In Ridley Scott’s new movie, The House of Gucci, currently playing in theaters, about the machinations of the clan that owned the luxury fashion house, every time a character sits down, a waiter appears with an espresso. Watching the overlong movie last week, I kept wishing someone would deliver an espresso to my seat and I realized that the 157-minute long movie would have been greatly improved by being broken up into episodes and shown as a television series. Not only could you pause it and make yourself a cup of coffee (or an espresso, actually) if you wanted, but they could have added a little more character development, perhaps an episode about how designer Tom Ford managed to put the brand on the high-fashion map again.
The characters speak English with Italian accents (audiences in Italy are reportedly hysterical because to them, Lady Gaga, who plays a working-class schemer who marries the Gucci scion played by Adam Driver, sounds more Russian than Italian) in a way that seems like a skit on Saturday Night Live. At one point, Jared Leto, who plays Driver’s weak cousin who has delusions he is a great designer, talks about someone being “scared like a little moose” and it was only when I read the Hebrew subtitles that I realized he meant “mouse.” Speaking of Driver and Leto, both got their big breaks on TV, in Girls and My So-Called Life respectively, so this is yet another case where actors become small-screen stars and move onto careers as movie stars. While they give good performances in the film – Leto may well get an Oscar nomination and possibly another win – neither is Italian, nor is Jeremy Irons, who plays Driver’s father in the film, so I was wondering: Isn’t this time for Italians to start kvetching about non-Italian actors playing Italians on screen, as some Jews now complain about the casting of gentiles in Jewish roles? Similarly, in The Many Saints of Newark, Corey Stoll (House of Cards) and Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead), who are Jewish, play Italian characters. So far, Italian Americans don’t seem to mind this so much.