Albert Brooks: Defending My Life

STREAMING REVIEW:

HBO/Max;
Documentary;
Not rated.
Featuring Albert Brooks, Rob Reiner, Jon Stewart, Sharon Stone, David Letterman, James L. Brooks, Brian Williams, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Sarah Silverman, Larry David, Cliff Einstein, Judd Apatow.

“Do you know what time it is?” my old man wauled, the force of his footsteps as he bounded towards the living room causing the shoulders of the dining room chairs to clack together.

It was coming up on 11 p.m., and the reason for Larry’s rude awakening was the fit of uncontrollable laughter that had suddenly overpowered me. “What’s so goddamn funny?” he demanded. “Albert Brooks,” I replied while pointing to the couch. “Sit down and watch.”

The comedian’s legendary “Danny and Dave” routine, in which the overconfident ventriloquist unashamedly moved his lips, was re-created in Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, but does anyone remember Al and Buddy? Albert jury-rigged a face to the back of a Fisher Price Speak and Spell and a new ventriloquist act was born. Johnny Carson never stopped laughing. Neither did dad. A snippet from this singularly monumental father and son bonding moment and more can be found on HBO’s Albert Brooks: Defending My Life, now streaming on Max.

For director Rob Reiner, the task couldn’t have been simpler: a few days spent in Matteo’s Restaurant interviewing a lifelong friend in simple reverse angles. Reiner got to leave the restaurant to conduct interviews. Albert didn’t. For die-hards, there isn’t much new to uncover, although this is the first time I’ve heard Albert discuss his father’s passing. Harry Einstein, a comedian who went by the name “Parkyakarkus,” died famously in the middle of the Friars Club Roast of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Then there’s the subject of his birth name, Albert Einstein. The fourth son in the family reasoned it took his father so long to name a child Albert because he wanted to make sure that the theory of relativity wouldn’t be proven wrong. Brian Williams surmised his parents named him Albert because they wanted him to spend the rest of his life getting beaten up for his lunch money.

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I have spent the greater portion of my adult life defending the comic (and at times cosmic) genius of Albert Brooks. The reasons why most Americans shun spastic Jerry Lewis and gamy Howard Stern are fairly obvious: Detractors either dislike them or they despise them. Certainly Albert didn’t provoke the same spirit of disregard. From the start, he was branded an “acquired taste.” Didn’t they catch-on to his conceptual slant on “The Ed Sullivan Show”? What about “The Albert Brooks Famous School for Comedians,” the perpetually too-hip-for-the-room swipe at showbiz sycophancy that first aired on PBS’s “Great American Dream Machine.” I find it almost impossible to put into words the effect this eight-minute short had on me. Only a crazed original could have left such an indelible brand simply by spoofing artless industrial films. I was at that point in my upbringing where I was beginning to seriously question the merits of many of the fleeting showbiz funnymen whom I grew up blindly accepting as icons. Were Allen and Rossi really that funny? “Hello, Dere.” Okay, I chuckled the first few times. The same goes for Wayne and Shuster. I used to wait for those two Canadian cutups to appear on the Sullivan Show. The W.C. Fields Box Set Vol. 2 has a television “documentary” on the Lord of the Grampian Hills that’s hosted by W & S. I defy you to get through it.

Albert saw (through) them all. He inverted the “serious” Jerry Lewis and played it for laughs. I didn’t know it at the time, but long before “SCTV” alum Dave Thomas “owned” Bob Hope, Albert was helping to interpret the violently insane thought transmissions emanating from Toluca Lake. Before Albert, I’d just as soon stare at a blank wall than watch a Bob “For Texaco” Hope special. Mind you, this was long before I embraced his collaborations with director Frank Tashlin and some of Hope’s stronger pre-TV vehicles (The Lemon Drop Kid, Son of Paleface, The Big Broadcast of 1938). I found nothing funny about the man and it took several years before I realized just how funny the fact that he wasn’t funny was. I can’t tell you how many hours of Hope’s TV work I have in my collection. Hope was probably the single finest example of showbiz royalty flying on auto-pilot to ever scan an idiot card. Once I tapped into this, I couldn’t stop taping, darlin’.

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Though Brooks was originally considered the West Coast’s answer to Woody Allen, the latter’s name is fleetingly mentioned by Larry David. One need only do a side-by-side comparison of Modern Romance and Annie Hall to understand which film packs more honesty, structural integrity, and sheer visual storytelling. Albert is now, always has been, and always will be Woody’s cinematic superior. Woody’s recurring themes are all cerebral, and visually speaking, the major difference between the “early, funny films” and his later dramas can be traced to the director’s ability to eventually afford imposing cinematographers. Without the collaboration of a quality DP, Small Time Crooks, Allen’s comedic nadir, shows zero structural or visual advancement over Take the Money and Run, his 1968 directorial debut. In Woody’s defense, not all great comedic directors are formally faultless (Preston Sturges and Frank Capra come to mind) and therefore should be studied for their ability to draw on laughter as a means of chipping away at societal pretense.

Woody Allen may not be the big, bad Jewish intellectual middle-America perceives him to be, but he is definitely an above-average thinker with a devastating sense of humor. Woody’s my cranky celluloid Rabbi and I am always eager and curious to hear his observations on the modern world. Alas, film comedy must first and foremost be judged on formal presentation, not laugh quotient. Aside from being one of the funniest men alive, Albert Brooks is also a master visual storyteller. As with all great comics he is constantly aware of his body placement in the frame. His timing is impeccable; no one cuts a comedy quite like Albert. When it comes to using film as a means of comedic expression, Albert is closer in style and spirit to Keaton and Tati than Woody is to Chaplin.

The one film in Albert’s canon that goes largely overlooked is Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. The premise was pure genius: In order to bring about peace through understanding, Albert is asked by the government to travel to Pakistan and compile a report on what makes the locals laugh. It’s the greatest Bob Hope vehicle that Hope didn’t live to star in. Albert presents a self-eviscerating overview of his career and no one is more aware of their ‘Q’ rating (the measure of a celebrity’s name recognition) than Albert. Hindus might not place the face, but everyone knows the voice of Nemo’s father! Albert took comedy seriously enough to actually attempt a breakdown of just what makes us laugh. You didn’t see it. Nobody saw it. The title terrified distributors and exhibitors. The moral of the story turned out to be: Don’t release a film with the word “Muslim” in the title that soon after 9/11. Sony Pictures Classics refused to release it. At a time when movie comedy was defined by wedding crashers and 40-year-old virgins, Albert and Warner Independent’s stab at bringing logic back to laughter was a resounding flop at the box office.

Jon Stewart called him the first alternative comic. According to Brian Williams, “It is about time for a Hollywood reassessment of the gift to moving pictures and television that Albert Brooks is.” As much as one enjoys watching the carousel of clips and listening to friends lavish praise, there’s no happy ending to this story. I’d rather be watching an Albert Brooks film than a film about Albert Brooks. The greatest cinematic tragedy in my lifetime is not the conversion to digital, nor is it studios’ dependence on comic books to do most of the heavy lifting. The awful truth is, we’re coming up on 20 years since Albert Brooks stepped behind a camera.

‘The Problem With Jon Stewart’ to Go Weekly Starting March 3

 Jon Stewart’s Writers Guild Award-nominated current affairs series “The Problem With Jon Stewart” will premiere new episodes in a new weekly format on Apple TV+ starting March 3.

The series previously appeared biweekly.

In the Apple Original series, Stewart takes a deep dive into some of the most enduring, deeply-entrenched issues of our time. “The Problem With Jon Stewart” explores complex topics through the differing perspectives of stakeholders, experts and individuals confronting these challenges. Previous episodes address veteran care and burn pits, preserving individual freedom, the American economy, and America’s gun crisis.

In upcoming episodes, Stewart and his team will discuss navigating the stock market, climate change, how to achieve racial equality and mainstream media versus sensationalism.

The weekly companion podcast expands the conversation from each series episode, featuring staff writers from across the show who have conversations with activists in the space and share facts on the issue.

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“The Problem With Jon Stewart” is hosted and executive produced by Stewart through his Busboy Productions. The series is executive produced by showrunner Brinda Adhikari, alongside Stewart’s longtime manager James Dixon, and Richard Plepler through his Eden Productions, which has an exclusive overall production deal with Apple. Chris McShane is co-executive producer, Lorrie Baranek is supervising producer, and Chelsea Devantez is head writer.

9/11 Doc ‘No Responders Left Behind’ Coming to Discovery+ Sept. 9

The 9/11 documentary No Responders Left Behind will debut on Discovery+ Sept. 9.

It follows the work of the men and women, including first responder and 9/11 social activist John Feal, FDNY hero Ray Pfeifer, and 22-time Primetime Emmy award-winner and former host of “The Daily Show” Jon Stewart, in their fight to get health benefits and compensation for 9/11 first responders.

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Shot over five years, the documentary reveals the unwavering fight by members of The FealGood Foundation and their leader John Feal, who mobilizes the campaign in the fight for healthcare and benefits for the thousands of responders who are suffering with life-threatening and financially devastating illnesses from toxins released at Ground Zero after 9/11.

Apple TV+ Getting Jon Stewart for New Current Events Series

Jon Stewart, who won 20 Emmys skewering national politics and other issues on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” is returning to TV and mobile screens with a new current events series on subscription streaming service Apple TV+. Stewart, who handed over the reigns of “The Daily Show” to Trevor Noah five years ago, has largely stayed out of the limelight since, spending time with his family, supporting military veterans and 9/11 first responders, and directing movies — including most-recently Irresistible, with Steve Carell and Rose Byrne.

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Each 60-minute episode of the untitled show, which begins in 2021, will focus on one topic of national interest, similar to what John Oliver —a former correspondent for Stewart’s “Daily Show” — does in 30 minutes on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.” Each episode will include a podcast companion piece.

Notably, Stewart is an executive producer for “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on CBS.

‘42’ Joins ‘Black Panther’ on ‘Watched at Home’ Chart as Viewers Remember Chadwick Boseman

A second movie starring Chadwick Boseman, Warner’s 42, debuted in the top 10 on the weekly “Watched at Home” chart for the week ended Sept. 5, joining the Disney-distributed Black Panther, which joined the chart the prior week.

Chadwick died of cancer at the age of 43 on Aug. 28. In 42, he portrays baseball great Jackie Robinson; in Black Panther, he plays a Marvel superhero. Coincidentally, Major League Baseball Aug. 28 celebrated Jackie Robinson day, with all players wearing No. 42, which no doubt added exposure to that particular Boseman film.

The weekly Watched at Home chart, which tracks transactional video activity (both digital and on DVD and Blu-ray Disc) compiled from studio and retailer data through DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, saw 42 debut at No. 9. Black Panther, which had been No. 9 a week earlier, rose to No. 6.

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Robin’s Wish, a Vertical Entertainment documentary about the life and death of late comic actor Robin Williams, bowed at No. 16 on the weekly “Watched at Home” chart.

Two films newly released to DVD and Blu-ray Disc, Lionsgate’s action thriller Rogue, with Megan Fox as a battle-hardened mercenary, and the political satire Irresistible, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, also appear on the chart for the first time.

Rogue (No. 12) finds Samantha O’Hara (Fox) leading a team of soldiers-for-hire on a daring mission to rescue hostages from their captors in rural Africa.  They wind up stranded and have to battle not only brutal rebels but also a horde of enraged lions.

Irresistible (No. 19) was written and directed by Jon Stewart and features a cast headed by Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper, Mackenzie Davis and Topher Grace. Carell portrays a campaign strategist who runs a Democratic mayoral candidate (Cooper) in a small right-wing town. The film, from Focus Features, was rerouted from a May 2020 theatrical release by the coronavirus pandemic and instead debuted in June on premium VOD. It became available through regular digital channels on Aug. 18.

Both Rogue and Irresistable were released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc Sept. 1.

Also new to chart is Warner Bros.’ Beetlejuice (No. 18), spurred by the film’s Sept. 1 release on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.

The top five remain unchanged from the prior week. Paramount’s popular TV drama series “Yellowstone,” long a favorite among home viewers, again took the top three spots on the chart, with RLJ Entertainment’s The Tax Collector remaining at No. 4 and Universal’s The King of Staten Island again at No. 5.

  1. Yellowstone: Season 1 (Paramount)
  2. Yellowstone: Season 2 (Paramount)
  3. Yellowstone: Season 3 (Paramount)
  4. The Tax Collector (RLJ Entertainment)
  5. The King of Staten Island (Universal)
  6. Black Panther (Disney)
  7. Trolls World Tour (Universal/DreamWorks)
  8. Harry Potter Complete 8-Film Collection (Warner)
  9. 42 (Warner)
  10. The Silencing (2020, Lionsgate)
  11. Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
  12. Rogue (Lionsgate)
  13. The Outpost (Screen Media)
  14. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (MGM)
  15. The Vanished (2020, Paramount)
  16. Robin’s Wish (Vertical Entertainment)
  17. 1917 (Universal)
  18. Beetlejuice (Warner)
  19. Irresistible (Universal)
  20. Made In Italy  (IFC Films)

 

Source: DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group
Includes U.S. digital sales, digital rentals, and DVD, Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD sales for the week ended Sept. 5.

‘Irresistible,’ ‘Rogue’ Top Slate of New Disc Releases, While ‘Beetlejuice,’ ‘Goonies’ Bow on 4K Ultra HD

The political satire Irresistible, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, and Lionsgate’s action thriller Rogue, with Megan Fox as a battle-hardened mercenary, top the slate of new disc releases available Sept. 1.

Written and directed by Jon Stewart, Irresistible features a cast headed by Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper, Mackenzie Davis and Topher Grace. Carell portrays a campaign strategist who runs a Democratic mayoral candidate (Cooper) in a small right-wing town.

The film, from Focus Features, was rerouted from a May 2020 theatrical release by the coronavirus pandemic and instead debuted in June on premium VOD. It became available through regular digital channels on Aug. 18.

Read John Latchem’s review of the Irresistible Blu-ray Disc here

Rogue finds Samantha O’Hara (Fox) leading a team of soldiers-for-hire on a daring mission to rescue hostages from their captors in rural Africa.  They wind up stranded and have to battle not only brutal rebels but also a horde of enraged lions.

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Also out Sept. 1 are 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray editions of the Tim Burton ghost movie Beetlejuice and the 1980s cult favorite adventure The Goonies, both from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Beetlejuice (1988) stars Michael Keaton as a ghost who helps a recently deceased couple played by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis haunt their former home. The Goonies (1985),  based on a story by executive producer Steven Spielberg, follows a band of kids from the blue-collar “Goon Docks” neighborhood who set out to save their homes from foreclosure by following an old treasure map.

On the TV front, consumers as of Sept. 1 can buy, on disc, the complete third season of “Young Sheldon” (from Warner Bros.), the second season of “Magnum P.I.” (from Paramount/CBS), and the first season of “Blood & Treasure” (also from Paramount/CBS).

New digital releases include Guest House, from Lionsgate, and Breaking the Chain, from Virgil Films, the company headed by industry veteran Joe Amodei. Guest House is a comedy about an engaged couple whose new dream home comes with a slight drawback: a party animal who lives in the guest house. Breaking the Chain is an animal-rescue documentary that follows fieldworkers with PETA’s Community Animal Project as they visit impoverished areas of Virginia and North Carolina to give care to mistreated animals.

A complete list of new disc and digital releases, compiled each week by the Media Play News market research team, can be found here.

Irresistible

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 9/1/20;
Universal;
Comedy;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for language including sexual references.
Stars Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper, Mackenzie Davis, Topher Grace, Natasha Lyonne, Will Sasso.

Comedian Jon Stewart returns to familiar ground from his “Daily Show” days with a biting political satire that takes aim at electioneering in America.

Stewart also reunites with his old “Daily Show” cohort Steve Carell, who plays Gary, a Democrat political operative on the outs following the 2016 presidential election. In an attempt to get back into the party’s good graces, he takes on the challenge of convincing a farmer and former Marine colonel named Jack (Chris Cooper) to run for mayor as a Democrat in a traditional Midwestern town, hoping a win will serve as a template for bringing a progressive message to other red states.

His involvement, however, attracts the attention of his opposite number from the Republican Party, Faith (Rose Byrne), who swoops into town to make sure the incumbent mayor keeps his seat.

The race quickly descends into a microcosm of a national campaign, with major party donors throwing big bucks at the candidates, allowing Stewart to throw shade at nearly all the tropes of an American election he made fun of for years on Comedy Central, from endless fundraising to disingenuous pandering to media manipulation. In keeping his crosshairs on the election process, Stewart veers away from partisanship for the most part, though he does overplay his own biases in a few of the jokes.

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Meanwhile, Carell has his eyes on Jack’s daughter, Diana (Mackenzie Davis), a fresh-faced farmgirl eager to help her father’s campaign. However, Stewart has more up his sleeve than just a simple underdog story, and there’s more to this sleepy downtrodden town than it would seem. The story delivers some nice twists and turns that, while clever, may limit the film’s rewatchability.

The Blu-ray offers a slew of deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, and three behind-the-scenes featurettes that run about five minutes each.

‘Irresistible’ Available for Sale Digitally Aug. 18, on Disc Sept. 1

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release the political comedy Irresistible through digital retailers Aug. 18, and on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Sept. 1.

Directed by Jon Stewart, the film stars Steve Carell as Gary Zimmer, top Democratic political consultant who sees an opportunity to win back voters in America’s heartland when a video of a passionate farmer and retired Marine colonel (Chris Cooper) goes viral. After a long, hard day’s work as a farmhand, Gary persuades the farmer to run for mayor of a small town in Wisconsin. However, he soon finds himself squaring off against his brilliant Republican counterpart, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), as the election turns into an all-out battle between the national parties.

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The cast also includes Mackenzie Davis, Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne.

The disc and digital editions include more than 30 minutes of bonus content, including deleted and extended Scenes; a gag reel; and the featurettes “Campaign Comedy: The Cast of Irresistible,” “Taking the Lead: Jon Stewart” and the behind-the-scenes vignette “An Irresistible Story.”

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