It’s a Wonderful…Chanukah!


As Chanukah approaches, check out these movies that tell the tale of the holiday, or at least embody the spirit of it.

Was Braveheart foolish enough to brave critics and take on the tale of Judah Maccabee?

Apparently not, because Mel “Braveheart” Gibson — whom some critics would have preferred to see boiling in oil rather than making a movie about the miracle of oil — never made the flick as he threatened to.

If he didn’t have the passion for the menorah, others certainly have.

Not that there’s been a rush to buy up Chanukah-related scripts; Hollywood treats the holiday more humbug than ho-ho-ho. But there have been the occasional movies/TV episodes that treat the festival in a festive enough light to warrant attention.

Adam Sandler was crazy enough to do one such number — and Eight Crazy Nights surprised enough people that it was fun and contributed to the holiday canon.

As Chanukah approaches, it’s worth a check of what’s available to, if not tell the tale of the holiday, at least get into the spirit of it.

DVDs and streaming allow viewers to sit back and relax over the duration of Chanukah and take it all in.

And Chanukah’s not just for kids, of course — there’s enough out there to keep the whole family feeling warm and toasty about the saga of Jewish bravehearts fighting the good fight so many eons ago.

And for those who have their fill after a few nights, there are a number of DVDs coming out in the next two months that, while not dreidel-driven, at least will offer good viewing — and make for great presents — once all the latkes have been consumed.

Let’s start it out with an old Disney favorite: Full-Court Miracle is indeed a miracle of making muscle out of mush, a slam-dunk treat.

Based on the true story of Lamont Carr, a University of Virginia bigtime basketball star, the fictionalized 2003 tale focuses on his being signed as B-ball coach by the Philadelphia Hebrew Academy (Barrack officials, don’t go scratching your heads and checking your files; he actually coached at a Boca Raton Hebrew day school) to straighten out their jagged Judah Maccabee wannabes, leading them to the holy land of defeating teams much more equipped to do battle on the basketball court. Chanukah gets a lot of shout-outs and symbolic situations in this terrific family flick, available on Amazon for streaming.

It’s Disney again with Heck of a Hanukkah, part of the Disney Channel’s Even Stevens series. This 2000 edition eyes Chanukah through the scope of a Jewish version of It’s a Wonderful Life, with the main character, Louis Stevens, played by onetime Jewish hotshot Shia LaBeouf, being led back in time by his Bubbie Rose (the delightful Donna Pescow, doing far better here than in the back seat of Saturday Night Fever) to help the self-doubting Louis realize the world is a better place with him in it.

What could hammer home the theme of holding out for a hero better than The Hebrew Hammer of 2003. Adam Goldberg plays the slick sleuth (giving the shaft to all pretenders to the throne of Jewish dude who’s “Part Man. Part Street. 100 Percent Kosher”) — trying to rescue Chanukah from the duplicitous machinations of a sadistic Santa (who else but Andy Dick?).

Say it ain’t so, Yussel! There Is no Such Thing as a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein (1994) is a short — 21 minutes — but effective tale of what it means to grow up Jewish in the shadow of a Christmas tree. Based on a popular children’s book, this film can cause discussions that go on well beyond the eighth night.

And, of course, there’s Eight Crazy Nights, Sandler’s crazy kugel of a 2002 movie about the holiday that is as cute and fan-based as his chutzpahdik Chanukah Song.

For those seeking great gifts — and would rather it be something to slip into a DVR than sit alongside the Mensch on a Bench — here are intriguing offerings coming out the next couple of months from which life lessons can be gleaned or — miracle of miracles — be reveled in for sheer enjoyment:

Planes: Fire & Rescue: It’s the little plane engines that could as these animated piston-packin’ planes prove their heroism by saving Piston Peak National Park from wildfires. (Now available)

The Adventures of Merlin: A BBC package of the mini-series that explains the mythical life of the legendary hero who had magic to do. (Now available)

How to Train Your Dragon 2: Truly an amazing accomplishment; a wonderful sequel to the enthralling original that has life lessons and somewhat of a shocking ending. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes — and life forms. (Now available)

• Disney Presents Studio Ghibli: Three of the more amazing anime art works crafted by the iconic Hayao Miyazaki of Japan. Disney wished upon a star and got it by landing him in their studio offerings. Here are the three most current, offered individually: The Wind Rises, which one respected movie site called the “greatest animated film the cinema has ever seen”; Princess Mononoke, with its incredible take on the theme of man against nature; and Kiki’s Delivery Service, a coming-of-age self-discovery tale. All three are targeted at family viewing, with the universal theme of heroes overcoming man-made obstacles. They are helmed by the director who spirited away the Oscar for animation in 2002 courtesy of his haunting, spectacle-saturated Spirited Away.

Guardians of the Galaxy: A merry Marvel Comics entry in the holiday season in which the peripatetic Peter Quill becomes an outer space Judah Maccabee, forming an unusual alliance of mavericks to save none other than the universe. (Dec. 9)

The Boxtrolls: A delightful literary-based box-full of quirkiness about the underground put-upon Boxtrolls surfacing to educate a community that irrationally fears them. You don’t have to have a love of cheese — the fermented wheels of fortune that sustain the community — to appreciate the creativity and resourcefulness of this modern Chanukah tale-with-cheddar. (Jan. 20)

Michael Elkin is features editor of the Jewish Exponent. This article originally appeared in the Chanukah Gift Guide.


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