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Hollywood Now: New Movies The Judge, Whiplash, Fury & Jane the Virgin’s Justin Baldoni

Teller & Simmons
Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

From Whiplash to Fury

If you usually equate drum solos with bathroom breaks, the terrific new film Whiplash will change your tune. Miles Teller, who’s Jewish via his father’s side, plays young Jewish drum prodigy Andrew Neyman, whose obsessive determination to make it as a jazz musician has a major obstacle in a frighteningly passive-aggressive professor (J.K. Simmons) who drives him to the breaking point. Both actors are Oscar-worthy in the drama, which was a hit at Sundance, and Jewish actor Paul Reiser shines as Andrew’s sympathetic father. Playing now in select cities, Whiplash opens in wider release in the coming weeks.

The cast
From left: Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Brad Pitt, Michael Peña  & Jon Bernthal. Credit: Giles Keyte/Sony Pictures

In the intense and brutal World War II drama Fury, Brad Pitt leads an armored tank crew caught behind enemy lines that includes Shia LaBeouf (from an interfaith family) as a Bible-quoting soldier and Jewish actor Logan Lerman (Noah, Percy Jackson) who is excellent as the rookie gunner. Jason Isaacs, also Jewish, plays the platoon captain in the movie, which opens October 17.

The Downeys
The Downeys at their wedding

Team Downey

Robert Downey Jr. is Jewish on his father’s side and his wife Susan Downey is Jewish (née Levin)—they married in a Jewish ceremony in 2005. They’re partners in business too, and the first film from their Team Downey production company to reach theaters is The Judge, an absorbing courtroom and family drama starring Robert as a self-absorbed, hotshot Chicago lawyer who returns to his Indiana home town for his mother’s funeral and stays to defend his estranged father (Robert Duvall), a judge, in a hit-and-run case.

Both actors are superb, as is the stellar supporting cast, which includes Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton, Vera Farmiga, Jeremy Strong and Dax Shepard. Team Downey has several projects in development, new movie versions of Perry Mason and Pinocchio (with Downey as Gepetto) among them.

Jane the Virgin‘s Justin Baldoni

Jane the Virgin star Justin Baldoni has an out-of-the-ordinary interfaith background. “My mom was Jewish and became a Baha’i before she met my dad, and when they fell in love he became a Baha’i. When I was in my teenage years I became a Baha’i,” he relates. “But we celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas, as an ode to our grandparents. Baha’is have some amazing holidays and we did those too. It was a wonderful thing to grow up in an interfaith family.”

Justin Baldoni
Justin Baldoni. Credit: Tyler Golden/The CW

Baldoni explains that “In the Baha’i faith we believe that all religions are one so it’s important for me to know about everything—Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Mohammed. It’s a beautiful thing. Baha’is believe that we are known by our deeds—it’s not about what we say, it’s about what we do. So it’s all about our service to humanity.”

Now married to a Swedish woman, also Baha’i, he doesn’t celebrate Jewish holidays now but is proud of his Jewish ancestry. “My grandfather was in WWII and a lot of my family was killed in the Holocaust,” he notes. “One of my aunts was a survivor.”

Baldoni (Charmed, Everwood), who plays a rich hotel owner and inadvertent father of the mistakenly inseminated young woman of the title in Jane the Virgin, calls the new CW show “Kind of my comeback to acting. I took a break to start my production company, Wayfarer Entertainment. We create socially conscious, inspirational content. The project that we’re most known for is a series calIed My Last Days. I took two years and spent time with people that were dying from terminal illnesses. We wanted to tell their stories in a way to inspire others to live. It’s a show about living told by people who are dying. It’s the most-watched documentary series in the history of YouTube. Thirty million views.”

His next projects include TV and feature documentaries. “We’re developing reality content that we think is going to make a difference and inspire people to be the best version of themselves,” he says. “We’re all about being of service to each other. We have to use what we have to do good.”

Gerri Miller

Gerri Miller wrote and reported from Los Angeles about celebrities, entertainment and lifestyle for The Jewish Journal, The Nosher, Hadassah and others. A New York native, she spent a summer working at Kibbutz Giv’at Brenner in Israel and attended High Holy Day services at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood every year.


Author: Gerri Miller