Category Archives: Movies

Getting the Train back on Track

Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow, was really everything I expected it to be – and more. As a fan of Apatow’s previous films and Schumer’s Comedy Central show, I anticipated the crude and vulgar humor. Still, the movie had heart. The film was truly laugh-out-loud funny and yet, I even got a little teary-eyed at the end. The film, the first that Apatow directed that he did not write himself, stars Schumer as a magazine columnist and Bill Hader – who brilliantly transitions from sidekick to leading man – as a sports physician. Schumer’s character profiles Hader’s Aaron — and the career-saving knee surgery he performs for athletes — for the stereotypical men’s magazine that she writes for. Amy sleeps with Aaron, but unexpectedly ends up falling for him.

TrainwreckAmy is the titular trainwreck. Following a speech from her father (played by Colin Quinn) who tells his children that monogamy is impossible, she grows up to drink a lot and sleep around. Not only does she think that true love is impossible, she focuses on “one night stands” because she doesn’t want to get too close to anyone. She worries about what will happen if she lets her guard down and lets other people into her life. If she never lets anyone in, then she will never get hurt.

Aaron refuses to let their relationship be a one night stand and has her stay the night, calls her the next day, and wants to see her again. She doesn’t know what to do. Amy begins to let her guard down, but having never cared for another, she still waits for them to breakup, eventually causing the breakup herself. The film concludes [spoiler alert] as so many romantic comedies do, with her realizing that she loves Aaron and works to reunite with him and get back together. She comes to understand that no relationship is easy or perfect, but she is still willing to try to make it work and attempts to change her ways.

As we prepare for the High Holy Days, one thing stood out to me – besides the brilliant comedic turns of John Cena and LeBron James: how others can help us change. Amy refuses to change, but it is only once Aaron enters her life that she realizes, because of him, that change is possible. The Hebrew month of Elul is focused change. This is our opportunity to do teshuvah, to let go of the past and change our ways. This is our opportunity to have a fresh start and be better in the year ahead. However, we often focus on self-reflection during this time of year. We are taught to do Cheshbon HaNefesh, an accounting of the soul, and focus on how we can change ourselves. Yet, we forget the impact that our actions have on others.

We are taught that we can’t control others; we can only control ourselves, so we should focus on ourselves. But we live in a world of interconnectivity, a world where we touch each other’s lives, a world where every interaction has consequences. As we seek to change, we have the ability to help others change. Every conversation, every interaction, every moment we experience with another –  those who we are closest to and those who are complete strangers – may influence us, and those we interact with, for the better.

Never underestimate your power to change and never underestimate your power to help others change as well.

moviepopelulimageTrainwreck, written by Amy Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow, was released in the United States by Universal Pictures on July 17, 2015. The film has already grossed over $100 million in North America and its opening weekend was the second biggest debut for Apatow. The film is Rated R for sexual content, partial nudity, and language. Viewer discretion advised.  

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

A Small Step Can Lead to a Big Change

Please excuse me for a second while I geek out. I got rid of my childhood comic book collection over a decade ago, but still love the comic book tales of my youth. I’ve loved seeing these stories come to life on the big screen over the past decade as Marvel launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, introducing movies about incredible – and under appreciated characters – like Ironman, Thor, Captain America, and the Guardians of the Galaxy, not to mention bringing them together for mega-event motion pictures like the Avengers films. I have seen each of the Marvel films in theaters – some more than once!

Yet, I admittedly questioned the studio’s decision to give Ant-Man a stand-alone movie. Ant-Man is certainly not one of the most popular Marvel superheroes, even if he was an integral part of the initial Avenger comic books. Funnyman Paul Rudd was an interesting choice to play the lead, but with rumors of turmoil in the writers’ room and on the set, with director Edgar Wright leaving the film over “creative differences,” this movie seemed destined to fail. I couldn’t see how Marvel could make an epic, interesting, action-packed, and funny film about a hero who shrinks down to the size of an insect to save the day. Boy, was I wrong!

AntManMarvel made the right move by having the film focus on Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), the second incarnation of Ant-Man, while still choosing to keep Dr. Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) as an integral part of the story as well. The film tells the tale of Lang, a down on his luck ex-con, recently released from prison who attempts to find a stable job to support his daughter. He ends up getting recruited by his old cellmate Luis (played by the hilarious Michael Pena, who stole the show), to break in to a safe. Thinking the safe was full of cash or diamonds, Lang agrees, but it turns out that all he finds is the Ant-Man suit. Hank Pym orchestrated this whole thing to try to convince Scott Lang to become the new Ant-Man.

The technology allows anyone wearing the suit to shrink down to the size of an ant, and gives them super strength – after all, ants can withstand 5,000 times their weight. Pairing the suit’s abilities with the ability to control the actions of different types of ants through radio frequencies, Lang is tasked with stealing the Yellowjacket suit, the attempt of Darren Cross, Pym’s former protégé, to replicate the Ant-Man technology. Pym’s point is that groundbreaking technology in the right hands can change the world for the better, but if it ends up in the wrong hands, it can have a devastating impact.

Ant-Man was the most entertaining Marvel film since Captain America: Winter Soldier, and most fun film since the original Iron Man movie. Ultimately, this film was a film about teshuvah, about repentance and change. Scott Lang was a criminal. He tried to change his ways, but was pulled back into the criminal world.

The ant-man suit allowed him to change for the better, but the suit is also a metaphor for each of us. In order to be a hero, he didn’t need to become an overpowering green giant like the Hulk or become a super soldier like Captain America. He needed to become small, for the greatest changes we make are often the smallest.

We think that in order to change during this High Holy Day season, we need to reinvent ourselves. We believe that our lifestyles and work habits need to change. We fail before we even start, fearing that we can never truly change in the way that we seek. However, a small change can make a great impact. Do not seek to completely change. However, a small change – an ant-sized change, if you will – may have a deep and long-lasting impact. It’s the small steps that allow us to truly change our ways and change who we are.


Marvel’s Ant-Man is Rated PG-13 for violence, language, and suggestive humor.

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. OIitzky

Embracing How We Feel on the Inside

I have soft spot for Pixar movies. When many friends suggested that Inside Out was a little too serious and intense for my preschooler (not to mention that most of the premise would probably go over her head anyway), I still insisted on seeing the film. Ever since Toy Story came out twenty years ago, I have never missed seeing a Pixar film in theaters. It may be odd for grown adults to go see an animated film without kids in tow, but I wasn’t going to miss this film. Every Pixar film has successfully made me laugh and cry, with brilliant and unique stories. I also knew that with characters voiced by the likes of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, and Lewis Black, this movie would be hysterical.

What I was not prepared for was how emotional I would get seeing the film, and how important its message is. Inside Out opened on June 19th, 2015 with a huge opening weekend, bringing in over $90 million.

InsideOutThe movie tells the story of a young girl Riley whose family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, California. Imaginatively told through the manifestations of her five emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger – we see how the emotions of this young happy girl change as she adapts to a new house, a new school, new friends, and a new life. Much of the film centers on these emotions traveling from ‘headquarters’ to the ‘five islands’ of her conscious that are powered by core memories to retrieve lost memories. During their journey, we learn of the importance of our multiple emotions.

Joy (voice by Poehler) is the leader of Riley’s conscious, telling the other emotions what to do, and it makes sense, since Riley seems to be a pretty happy kid. However, with the difficult move, we see more and more sad memories entering her conscious. Joy tries hard to fight off the fear, sadness, disgust, and anger that Riley feels, however, it is ultimately Sadness that take control of ‘headquarters’ and saves the day, prompting Riley to return home instead of running away.

Sadness reinstalls Riley’s core memories and in doing so, the young girl cries to her parents, confessing that she is sad. She ends up leading a more emotionally balanced life, with core memories that are created that share multiple emotions. This animated film is more than a cute, fun, and imaginative look on how we think and feel. This film reminds us that we can’t always be happy all the time. We aren’t supposed to be. Furthermore, during those times when we feel sad, we shouldn’t suppress our emotions. We shouldn’t put on a face. We shouldn’t mask our emotions. Rather, we need to be able to cry, and scream, and be sad. Our sadness defines who we are just as much as our joy does.

We spend the month of Elul reflecting on who we are and how we feel. We try to be optimistic and put on a smile. We try to stay positive. As we strive to reconnect with God, we strive to be happy and think about the blessings we have in our lives. However, we need to be comfortable being fearful of God, being angry with God, and crying with God as well. We need to be okay reflecting on the sadness along with the joy. Our experience preparing for the New Year needs to be more than simply saying that last year was great and next year will be even better.

The month of Elul allows us to let go of the past, to dry away our tears, and cast away our sorrows, just as we cast breadcrumbs in the water during Tashlich. Elul gives us permission to begin again. But we can’t do this if we only focus on joy. We must acknowledge the importance – and blessing – of sadness as well.


Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out is Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action.

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. OIitzky

Life’s Impossible Mission

I saw the recently released Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation last week. The film, like the previous four in the franchise, was funny and suspenseful, with unbelievable action sequences – so unbelievable that it only happens in a movie. Produced by sci-fi god J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions, the film brought in $55.5 million in the United States during its opening weekend and has already grossed over $375 million worldwide. The film is fun and the franchise is still strong, twenty years (does that make you feel old?) after the first Mission: Impossible’s release.

MissionIMpossibleLike the previous films, Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt of the IMF, the Impossible Missions Force, a covert ops team who does the jobs that others cannot. This movie was no different, with Ilsa Faust (played by Rebecca Ferguson) counting on Hunt to do the job she couldn’t, retrieve something for the head of the terrorist organization, the Syndicate. While [spoiler alert] she is a MI6 agent in deep cover in the syndicate, she is still trying to uncover this document for MI6. Lane, the head of the Syndicate, is on to Faust, but he too can’t get the information he needs without using Hunt. It seems the mission is an impossible one for all except for him. Yet, the head of the CIA (played by Alec Baldwin) attempts to disband the IMF for he is quick to point out that Hunt and is crew seem to fail half of these impossible missions. He believes that it is not about success. Rather, they are just lucky that they succeed when they do.

The Hebrew month of Elul, which we are just beginning, begins the period of the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe and Amazement, a period of reflection and renewal. We spend this month leading up to the High Holy Days reflecting on the year that has passed and thinking about what the New Year ahead will look for us. Yet, every year, Elul after Elul, we spend this time attempting to do what seems to be life’s most impossible mission: to change. We try to change and we fail. We try to change, yet we remain the same.

Still, year after year, we try again. We believe next year will be different. We believe we will be different. And we know we will fail. In the words of the Kol Nidre at the very beginning of Yom Kippur, we admit that we will break promises and vows. We admit that our efforts to change will fall short. This is because too often we try to change and become something that we are not. We must be true to ourselves. We should not try to be something else or someone else. Instead, our attempts to change should focus on ourselves. We should attempt to be the best version of ourselves. Instead of comparing ourselves to others and trying to be like them, we should accept who we are and be proud of who we are. Otherwise, our failed attempts to be like others will just cause us to self-destruct, much like the mission assignments in the films.

I invite you to spend this month trying to change, but not trying to change to be like someone else. That is an impossible mission. Try to change to be more like the truest version of yourself.


Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is directed by Chirstopher McQuarrie. It was released by Paramount Pictures in the United States on July 31, 2015. It is Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity.

For more “Torah To Go” check out Rabbi O’s blog here.

-Rabbi Jesse M. OIitzky

This Is Where I Need You

The weekend before the holiest days of the year for the Jewish community, the High Holy Days, a movie focused on one of the most sacred acts in the Jewish community hit theaters. Written by Jonathan Tropper (based on the book of the same name that he also wrote) and directed by Shawn Levy, This Is Where I Leave You has an all-star ensemble cast including Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shephard, and Jane Fonda.

This-Is-Where-I-Leave-You-PosterIn the film, the four Altman siblings, all struggling in different ways in life, come back together at their childhood home after their father dies. They spend the week together, fulfilling their father’s final wish and request, to sit shiva (the traditional Jewish week of mourning following a funeral) for him. Ironically, their father, who requested that his children sit shiva, was an avowed atheist. Was the family patriarch trying bring together his estranged family, even after he left this world? Or was he, even though he did not believe in God or ritual, asking his family to turn to ritual as we so often do, during times of mourning and loss? Maybe, he just knew the importance of coming together.

This premise is set up to bring the family back under one roof, so we can watch a story unfold about family dysfunction and the hilarity that ensues as a result.

The movie has only gotten lukewarm reviews but the film still offers us an important lesson about the importance of coming together. We may fight and argue. We may distance ourselves from our family, from those closest to us. Yet, it is at times of need, at times of loss, mourning, and grief when we must come together, when we need each other the most.

Community is truly defined by how we come together, for each other, at the high points and low points in life, how we celebrate together and how we mourn together. Jews, and those who have cast their lot with the Jewish people, throughout the world will gather together in synagogues in the coming days for the High Holy Days. We may not entirely connect with the liturgy. We may not understand the themes and messages found in the narrative of the Torah reading. We may not fully understand what our relationships with the Divine are or how we each struggle with those relationships. Still, we come together. For many, we also come together with extended family and deal with the dysfunction – the blessings and sometimes challenges – that come with extended family being under one roof, just as we witness in this film.

But the tension, the disagreements, and the dysfunction do not prevent us from coming together because if we don’t come together then what’s the point? Judaism cannot survive on a deserted island. One can continue to believe. One can be alone and still have faith. But without community, without coming together, Judaism – and faith in general – cannot survive. So we come together, in joy and in grief, and at this time of year, for holiday celebrations. We come together to celebrate a new year and as we celebrate, we let go of the past that has caused such dysfunction in the first place. We come together because we depend on each other. We come together because we need each other. So let us come together during this holiday season, as family, as friends, as community. Let us lean on each other. Let us raise each other up. Let us find renewed strength of body and soul together. Because this is where I need you.


Please Note: “This Is Where I Leave You” produced by Spring Creek Productions and 21 Laps Entertainment and distributed by Warner Bros. premiered on September 19, 2014 in the United States. The film is Rated R for language, sexual content, and some drug use. Viewer discretion advised.

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Give A Little Bit… And Let Go Of A Lot

After over twenty years, one of the most popular Young Adult science fiction novels finally made it to the big screen. The Giver was published in 1993 and in the years and decades that followed, it seemed that Lois Lowry’s dystopian novel was required reading for almost every student in the country. It became so popular as a young adult novel that many adults chose to read it as well. With the successful transition of many young adult dystopian futuristic tales to the big screen (like The Hunger Games and Divergent), The Giver seemed like a natural hit. It would have a whole generation of new fans. Those who read it in school twenty years ago would flock to the theaters as adults to see it as well!

TheGiverThe film of the same name, starring Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, and Brenton Thwaites, was released on August 15th in theaters. However, it did not catch on with fans of the novel and was a bust. While films like The Hunger Games had huge opening weekends at the box office, The Giver only grossed $12.3 million in its opening weekend, finishing a distant fifth. Through it first month in theaters, the movie has only grossed $33 million domestically and only received a 33% rating on the fan critic website, Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie, which is only loosely based on the original source material of the book, is set in the year 2048. After war, the community got rid of colors, races, ethnicities, and feelings. Memories from before that event was erased from all citizens’ minds. Jonas (played by Thwaites) must receive those memories form the past from The Giver (played by Bridges). The Receiver of Memory is the only individual in the entire community who has these memories and as a result, must advise elders and government leaders on what decisions to make because they are equally unaware of the past.

[SPOILER ALERT] Eventually, Jonas released memories back to the community. The lessoned he learned and the community realized, is something we must hold unto as well. Just because the past is painful, that doesn’t mean we erase it. Forgetting is different than erasing. In Deuteronomy 25, a portion of the Hebrew Bible that Jewish communities throughout the world read last week, we are reminded of the terrible attack on the biblical Israelites by the people of Amalek. Scripture commands us to blot out that memory and still, not forget it.

How do we blot out the memory but not forget it? During the Hebrew month of Elul, we are encouraged to admit our mistakes, repent, and start fresh as a changed person and individual. We begin anew. In order to do that, we must let go of the past. We let go of the pain and heartache that the past has caused us and that we have previously caused others. But we do not forget. If we forget it, then we repeat the past. If we forget it, then we never change; we just end up returning back to our previous state. We remember such painful memories because they made us who we are – and who we strive to become. But we also have the courage to let go, and to begin again.

moviepopelulimagePlease Note: “The Giver” starring Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, and Brenton Thwaites, was produced by Walden Media and distributed by The Weinstein Company. The movie was released in theaters on August 15, 2014 and is Rated PG-13.

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Guard Yourself and Guard the Galaxy

There is no doubt about it – this summer’s biggest movie was Marvel’s Guardian of the Galaxy, which was #1 again this weekend at the domestic box office. It has grossed almost $300 million domestically and over $586 million worldwide, even though it hasn’t even premiered yet in the likes of Japan, China, or Italy. 

This movie about a ragtag team of criminals seemed like a ragtag movie itself, surprising even hardcore comic book fans with its success, surpassing the original releases of Marvel Cinematic Universe heavyweights Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America. It even surpassed its Marvel summer competition, the much hyped sequels Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

The movie is full of action, adventure, great special effects, and a surprising level of comedy. Telling a story that is less well-known than that of Marvel’s other successful superhero franchises, and getting audience buy-in, is much to be celebrated. Bradley Cooper voicing a raccoon with a machine gun and singing along to the catchy music of the film are just added bonuses.  

Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy...Milano..Ph: Film Frame..?Marvel 2014The story is enjoyable, but somewhat complicated. It is like a more colorful and vibrant Star Wars tale, with Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt, playing a Han Solo-like Star-Lord. Quill, leads a motley crew of space bandits. Quill steals an orb that he attempts to sell. [SPOILER ALERT] Comic book fans get a thrill learning, after the Collector’s inspection, that the orb is actually one of the six infinity stones, hinting at greater things to come in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The maverick nature of his theft and actions leads one to think that these Guardians are only concerned with themselves. However, in reality, they sacrifice their own well-being for others.

Peter follows Gamora into outer space, giving her his helmet — without it his power is limited —  in order to survive. Later, Rocket, risks his own safety for the sake of the group, crashing the Milano through the Dark Aster. When the Dark Aster crash lands on Xander, the tree-creature Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, sacrifices himself to save the group. When it looked like Ronan was about to destroy Xander, Quill again risks his own well-being, and distracts Ronan, so that Rocket and Drax could destroy Ronan’s warhammer.

Part of being part of a group is understanding and accepting that you must look at for others, not just for yourself. In fact, in the case of these Guardians of the Galaxy, in often means looking out for others, even if that means sacrificing yourself. 

During this month of Elul, we are taught to take responsibility for ourselves and for our own actions. However, how often do we really stop to take responsibility for the actions of others? We don’t. It doesn’t make sense to do so. How can we take responsibility for what another does or does not do? Yet, taking such responsibility is exactly what our liturgy tells us to do. 

On Yom Kippur, when we publicly, and communally, confess our sins and wrongdoings, we do not do so as individuals. During the confessional prayer, we bang our chests and declare: We have sinned. We have transgressed. We acknowledge the mistakes of others just as they acknowledge the mistakes that we have made. For if they did not intervene, if they did not speak up, if they did not look out for us and try to help us, then they are equally responsible. If we did little to help others, then we are responsible as well. 

During Elul, we are taught to guard ourselves, to reflect on who we are and who we want to be. We are taught to guard our words and our actions, but we also must guard others as well. We must look out for others, we must step up and protect others. To truly take responsibility is not just taking responsibility for ourselves; it is taking responsibility for all of humanity. May we come together as a group, despite our differences. May we see each other as brothers and sisters, fulfilling the vision of the Psalmist. And may we always guard each other, because to guard yourself, is to guard those around you as well. 



Please Note: “Guardians of the Galaxy” starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and Dave Bautista, as well as the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, is Rated PG-13. The film, produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios, is the most successful and highest-grossing movie of the summer. A sequel is already in the works.  


– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky


Edge of Today

It took more than two months, but Tom Cruise’s summer blockbuster, Edge Of Tomorrow, finally crossed the $100 million domestic box office mark. The film was deemed a disappointment following its opening weekend when it got trounced by the teen tear jerker The Fault In Our Stars. Yet, by reaching the $100 million mark, the film is certainly a success. In fact, it has been one of Cruise’s most successful films in almost a decade. It is Tom Cruise’s most successful non-Mission Impossible film since 2005’s War Of The Worlds.

I also believe the film was so successful because it was surprisingly entertaining. Previews made it seem like it was an odd pairing of part Starship Troopers and part Groundhog Day, about a soldier (Major William Cage, played by Cruise) who is thrown into battle in the not-so-distant future in an “us or them” combat mission against the aliens that have already destroyed a large percentage of humanity. 

Being sent to battle even though he was never a combat soldier, Major Cage dies almost immediately. Yet, much like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, he wakes up at the beginning of the day he dies and starts that day over. Like a character in a video game, he tries to get further every time. With each death, he learns something new, realizes to not make the same mistake twice, and as a result, succeeds where he previously failed. Along the way, he falls in love with special forces warrior Rita Vrataski (played by Emily Blunt). The two work together since Vrataski previously experiened what Cage was dealing with, which was apparently a side effect of being covered in the Alpha Mimic’s blood upon being killed.  

EdgeofTomorrowThe story was more suspenseful than one would expect from a humans vs. aliens action flick. What fascinated me most about the film though was Major Cage’s attempt time and time again to have a “do-over.” He was able to fix his mistakes. [SPOILER ALERT] Yet, as far as he got, as many “do-overs” as he had, he still felt that he and Vrataski were destined to be killed by the aliens. He could delay the inevitable, but didn’t think he could change it. 

If only we could have “do-overs” in life. If only we could make mistakes and not have to worry about the impact or consequences. Instead, we would just keep trying over and over again until we eventually got it right. Life would certainly be a lot easier. But that is not real life. We do not get to rewind and rewrite the script. Life is not a Nintendo game that keeps resetting until Mario saves the princess. Even if we were to get a “do-over” and avoid those makes, the impact would still be felt. Major Cage avoided mistakes and yet still felt that he was only delaying the inevitable. Even in “do-overs,” we still deal with consequences. 

As we look back on the year that has passed and analyze that which we are proud of and that which disappoints us, we accept that we cannot take back what we said, what we did, how we acted, or whom we hurt. We cannot change the consequences of our actions. Attempting to do so only delays the inevitable. We cannot focus on the past. We cannot worry about the future. Instead, we focus on whom we are and how we act today, in the moment. 

Maybe we get “do-overs” after all. We do not go back in time. We do not get to replay interactions over again and change the script. We do, however, get clean slates. Teshuvah, repentance, allows us to let go of those past mistakes and leave them behind. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, many Jews follow the custom of participating in a Tashlich ceremony, in which bread crumbs are thrown into flowing waters. The bread symbolically represents our previous mistakes that we are tossing away. We are starting fresh. We are getting a “do-over.” We cannot start from the beginning and change the past, but we each have the ability to shape the present. We are on the edge of today. We only get one shot at today. How will you shape the present?


Please Note: “Edge Of Tomorrow” starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, and Bill Paxton is Rated PG-13. The film, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, has grossed more than $100 million domestically and well over $300 million worldwide. “Edge of Tomorrow” will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD in the United States on October 7th, 2014. 



– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Forget about Future Past. Focus on Future Present.

One of the most talked about and anticipated superhero blockbusters of the summer was X-Men: Days of Future Past. Part of the excitement was a result of the movie’s plot, based on The Uncanny X-Men comic book story arc from the early 1980’s of the same title . The movie also serves as a sequel to 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand and the 2011 franchise reboot, X-Men: First Class. The storyline also brings together the younger and older versions of some of X-Men’s most iconic characters, with, as a result of Wolverine’s time travel, both James McAvoy  and Patrick Stewart starring as Professor Xavier and Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen starring as Magneto.

X-Men_Days_of_Future_Past_posterThe movie begins in an apocalyptic future in which Sentinel robots have exterminated the majority of the world’s mutants. The remaining X-Men have even joined forces with Magneto and his band of villains, to help each other try to survive. In 1973 Mystique assassinated the creator of the Sentinels, in an attempt to prevent this mutant destroying robots. The assassination backfired though. Following the assassination, she was captured, and the government used her shape-shifting DNA to make the Sentinels invincible and all powerful.

The solution is to have Ellen Page’s Kitty Pryde use her powers to send Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine back to 1973 (or at least send his consciousness back in time since he never ages) and prevent Mystique from assassinating the Sentinels’ creator. Like the Butterfly Effect theory, their belief is that stopping this assassination will change the course of history.

[SPOILER ALERT] They were right. Wolverine saved the day, as we knew he would. The Sentinels disappeared from the future entirely and we see a future in which the mutants are living and teaching in Professor Xavier’s previously destroyed and abandoned School for Gifted Youngsters in peace and harmony and even characters that were killed in prior films, like Jean Grey and Cyclops, are alive and well.

The movie is exciting and was one of the best reviewed films in the X-Men franchise. Aside from the fighting, explosions, and CGI special effects, the plot is an opportunity to complete change our past, something that all of us wish we could do. If only we could all have a mutant send our consciousness back in time to change our past mistakes. If only we could go back in time and right our wrongs. If only we truly understood the long term impact and consequences of our actions maybe we would’ve acted differently in the first place. But there is no going back in time. There is no changing the past to shape the future.

This time of year has never really been about changing the past. Rather, the Hebrew month of Elul and the Days of Awe, are about accepting our mistakes of the past. We accept the past and acknowledge that our actions and in some cases, inactions, have brought us to this moment. The beauty of the Jewish New Year is that it is an opportunity to begin anew. We are renewed and refreshed. We have a clean slate. Through teshuvah, repentance, we not only seek forgiveness from God and from those that we have wronged, but we seek forgiveness from ourselves. Once we truly can forgive ourselves for past mistakes, we are able to focus on who we are in the present. What the future holds is determined by our actions here and now. While we cannot change the past, we can begin anew by changing who we are and how we act in the present. May we have the strength to forgive ourselves for mistakes of the past and the courage to do true teshuvah, in order to change who we are in the present.



Please Note: “X-Men: Days of Future Past” starring Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, and Michael Fassbender is Rated PG-13. The film, produced by 20th Century Fox, has grossed over $230 million in North America and over $740 million worldwide.



– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

Lights, Camera, Hanukkah

The mission and vision of the Pop Elul Project continues throughout the Hanukkah season. I am excited to share that the Hollywood Journal has asked me to write a Hanukkah column for their “Holy Wood” section. The column, “Lights, Camera, Hanukkah,” focuses on the gifts of Hanukkah.


Instead of focusing on the material gifts that one gives and receives, “Lights, Camera, Hanukkah” magnifies the true gifts of the holiday that we are grateful. With each night of Hanukkah, we light another candle on the Menorah, and celebrate another gift.  Like the Pop Elul Project, this also shares the messages of our faith and tradition through the lens of Pop Culture. I invite you to check out the first night’s gift: The gift of light in the darkness, with a little help from Thor: The Dark World and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You can view it on the Hollywood Journal’s website here. Check back each night of Hanukkah for an additional gift.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.