On his own Terms, Coen brothers get gritty, Kennedy Center honors, Paltrow, Midler on tap

On his own ‘Terms’?

For more than 40 years, director-writer James L. Brooks has set the standard for the best in intelligent comedy — although sometimes he doesn’t rise to his own standard. Brooks, 70, began in TV, creating “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Rhoda,” “Lou Grant” and “Taxi.” In 1987, he made (directed and wrote) his first of his six films to date — three of which have been huge hits: “Terms of Endearment,” “Broadcast News” and “As Good as It Gets.”

“How Do You Know” (opening Friday, Dec. 17) is his first film since 2004’s “Spanglish,” a so-so movie starring Adam Sandler.

For years, most critics said that director-writer Nancy Meyers, 61 (“Something’s Gotta Give,” “It’s Complicated”) made “Brooks-like” romantic comedies that were good, but didn’t quite match Brooks’ wit or profundity. However, in the last decade, Meyers has had four hits in a row and the question now is whether Brooks can rise above “the Meyer” (sorry).

“How Do You Know” certainly has star power: Reese Witherspoon plays a pro softball player involved in a romantic triangle, and her suitors are a major league pitcher (Owen Wilson) and a corporate exec (Paul Rudd, 41). Jack Nicholson plays Rudd’s father.


Coen brothers get gritty

Opening Wednesday, Dec. 22 is a re-make of “True Grit,” the hit 1969 Western starring John Wayne, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.

Hailee Steinfeld, 14, plays Mattie, a young girl whose father is murdered. She won the role via a video audition tape. Fifteen thousand — yes, 15,000! — other young actresses submitted tapes for the role in a nationwide search. This is Hailee’s first feature film. Born and raised in Southern California, her Jewish father is personal trainer Peter Steinfeld, and her uncle is famous fitness guru Jake Steinfeld. Hailee’s mother, who is of mixed white, Filipino and black ancestry, isn’t Jewish. As of press time, I was unable to find out if Hailee was raised in any faith.


Kennedy Center honors

Each year, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., holds a gala to honor five artists for lifetime achievements. The gala was held earlier this month and will be broadcast on CBS at 9 p.m. Dec. 28.

This year’s award recipients included Broadway music composer Jerry Herman, 79. Herman is most famous for writing the music and lyrics for “Hello, Dolly” and “La Cage Aux Folles.” One of his lesser known but well-respected musicals is “Milk and Honey,” a 1961 show about a busload of Jewish widows who tour Israel with an eye toward “catching” a new husband.

Paul McCartney was also honored; the ex-Beatle isn’t Jewish, but his late wife, Linda Eastman, was. Since 2007, McCartney has been dating Jewish businesswoman Nancy Shevell (who is Barbara Walters’ second cousin). McCartney defied many when he gave a concert in Israel in 2008.


Paltrow, Midler on tap

Actress and part-time singer Gwyneth Paltrow, 38, is the subject of a “True Hollywood Story” premiering on the E! network at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 22. Her new film, “Country Strong,” opens in very limited release the same day, then opens nationwide Jan. 7.

It’s almost worth subscribing to HBO just to see Bette Midler’s New Year’s Eve special (starting at 9 p.m.). “The Showgirl Must Go On” features her wonderful mix of comedy and music, and includes Midler’s showgirls, the Harlettes, and a 13-piece band.

Columnist  Nate Bloom, an Oaklander, can be reached at [email protected].

Nate Bloom

Nate Bloom writes the "Celebrity Jews" column for J.