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.

Netflix Slates 68 Movie Releases for 2022, Including ‘Knives Out’ Sequel

Netflix on Feb. 3 announced a record film slate of 68 movies in 2022, starring ‘A’-listers such as Christian Bale, Halle Berry, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, Judd Apatow, Jordan Peele and Ryan Reynolds.

Highlights include the eagerly awaited sequel to Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, with Daniel Craig; the actioner The Gray Man, with Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans; and the epic sci-fi adventure The Mothership, which stars Halle Berry.

For families, there’s Ryan Reynolds, Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldaña in The Adam Project; The School for Good and Evil, with Charlize Theron and Kerry Washington; and Roald Dahl’s Matilda, with Lashana Lynch and Emma Thompson. 

Also in the pipeline are the comedy You People, with Jonah Hill and Eddie Murphy; the return of Millie Bobby Brown and Henry Cavill as sibling detectives in Enola Holmes 2; and two films each starring Adam Sandler (Hustle and Spaceman) and Jamie Foxx (Day Shift and They Cloned Tyrone).

The new Netflix slate also includes directorial debuts from Kenya Barris, Carrie Cracknell, Dev Patel, JJ  Perry, Matthew Reilly and Millicent Shelton.

Netflix in a three-minute teaser gave previews of several of its upcoming films, including Knives Out 2, Enola Holmes 2, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, and Falling for Christmas with Lindsey Lohan.

The preview features a number of talking up the joys of watching movies at home, including Charlize Theron, who maintains, “Every night is movie night.”

‘Borat 2’ Co-Star in New Netflix Comedy From Judd Apatow

These are heady days for Maria Bakalova, the Bulgarian actress who jumped from anonymity to a Golden Globe nomination as Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy playing Sasha Baron Cohen’s underage daughter in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. The 24-year-old Bakalova is now set to co-star in Judd Apatow’s upcoming movie The Bubble for Netflix.

The comedy is about a group of actors and actresses stuck inside a pandemic bubble at a hotel attempting to complete a film. The ensemble cast includes Karen Gillan, Iris Apatow, Fred Armisen, David Duchovny, Keegan-Michael Key,  Leslie Mann, Pedro Pascal and Peter Serafinowicz.

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Judd Apatow

Apatow, whose credits include Emmy-winning The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, movies The King of Staten Island, TrainwreckFunny People, This Is 40Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, will serve as director, co-writer and producer via his Apatow Productions.

Barry Mendel, Donald Sabourin and Pam Brady will serve as Executive Producer. Together, Apatow’s and Mendel’s producing credits include the Academy Award nominated films The Big Sick and Bridesmaids.

 

The King of Staten Island

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Universal;
Comedy;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for language and drug use throughout, sexual content and some violence/bloody images.
Stars Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, Bel Powley, Maude Apatow, Steve Buscemi.

Even at an overlong two hours and 17 minutes, The King of Staten Island is a watchable enough comedy despite director Judd Apatow’s tendencies to overindulge in sentimentality. There are times the film seems almost like a character study, chronicling the story of a family continuing to cope with a tremendous loss a decade earlier, and turning into a personal and heartfelt tribute to firefighters.

The film is loosely based on the life of “Saturday Night Live” comedian Pete Davidson, who also stars in the film as Scott, a listless 20-something struggling to make something of his life. Davidson’s father was a firefighter killed during the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11 (his character of Scott is named for his father). In the film, Scott’s father is a firefighter who died in the line of duty years earlier when he and his sister were kids. Now, Scott’s sister is heading to college, while Scott has become a pothead who dreams of being a tattoo artist.

Eventually, Scott’s mother (Marisa Tomei) begins dating Ray (Bill Burr), who also is a firefighter, which upsets Scott, who thinks it’s disrespectful to the memory of his father.But working through his issues with Ray turns out to be cathartic for Scott (just as the making of the film would be somewhat cathartic for Davidson, he relates in the extras).

The film also drifts a bit from reality in the form of a romantic subplot involving Scott’s relationship with Kelsey (Bel Powley) a girl he grew up with, whereas in real life Davidson has plastered the tabloids plowing through several hotties of Hollywood.

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The Blu-ray includes a commentary with Davidson and Apatow, recorded in quarantine, in which they tell a lot of stories about the making of the film, and comparing it to the inspirations from Davidson’s own life.

It’s also interesting to note that even as the film runs long for a comedy, it could have been a lot longer. The Blu-ray and digital extras include more than 15 minutes of deleted scenes, plus a couple of alternate endings, a five-minute montage of alternate takes, and a six-minute gag reel.

More behind-the-scenes material is offered through several short featurettes, including a tribute to Davidson’s father.

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The extras also include a trove of marketing materials, such as the trailer, and several video calls of Apatow and Davidson discussing how to release the film during the pandemic, including telling Burr there’s no premiere party, and promoting the movie on “The Tonight Show.”

‘King of Staten Island’ Available to Own Digitally Aug. 11, on Disc Aug. 25

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release The King of Staten Island through digital retailers Aug. 11, and on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Aug. 25.

Directed by Judd Apatow, the film is inspired by the life of comedian Pete Davidson, who also stars.

Scott (Davidson) has been a case of arrested development ever since his firefighter father died when he was seven. He’s now reached his mid-20s having achieved little, chasing a dream of becoming a tattoo artist that seems far out of reach. As his ambitious younger sister (Maude Apatow) heads off to college, Scott is still living with his exhausted ER nurse mother (Marisa Tomei) and spends his days smoking weed, hanging with his buddies and secretly hooking up with his childhood friend Kelsey (Bel Powley). When his mother starts dating a loudmouth firefighter (Bill Burr), it sets off a chain of events that will force Scott to grapple with his grief and take his first tentative steps toward moving forward in life.

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Originally slated for theatrical release, the film was instead released through video on demand as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The disc and digital sellthrough versions include more than two hours of bonus materials, including alternate endings, deleted scenes, a gag reel, a “Line-o-Rama” compilation, the film’s trailer, “Video Calls,” feature commentary with Apatow and Davidson, and several featurettes:

  • “The Kid From Staten Island” —Davidson and Apatow sit down for a discussion about the movie, their experiences working together, and what it meant to film a movie inspired by Davidson’s life.
  • “Judd Apatow’s Production Diaries” — Apatow speaks to camera, giving the daily “scoop” on set and discussing the scenes at hand.
  • “You’re Not My Dad: Working With Bill Burr” — Apatow discusses how Burr was perfect for the role of Ray Bishop, while Burr discusses his favorite moments acting alongside Davidson and the meaningful relationship that their characters form.
  • “Margie Knows Best: Working With Marisa Tomei” — Apatow describes the honor he had of working with Tomei, who plays Davidson’s fictional mom. Davidson, his real mother, and other cast and crew also describe their reactions to Tomei.
  • “Friends With Benefits: Working With Bel Powley” — Powley describes her friendship with Davidson, getting the role of Kelsey in the film, and what it was like navigating her character’s push and pull relationship with Scott.
  • “Sibling Rivalry: Working With Maude Apatow” — Maude Apatow discusses what it was like playing Claire, a character based on Davidson’s real sister. Also, Pete and Judd discuss the real elements of the brother/sister relationship that are reflected in the movie.
  • “Best Friends: Working With Ricky, Moises, & Lou” — Ricky Velez, Moises Arias and Lou Wilson discuss their characters, the chemistry of Scott’s best friend group, and what it was like working with each other on set.
  • “Papa: Working With Steve Buscemi” — Judd Apatow, Pete Davidson, and filmmakers reveal why Steve Buscemi was the perfect man for the part of Papa, and discuss the integral role his character plays in the film.
  • “Friends of Firefighters Stand-Up Benefit” — Watch the benefit comedy show, featuring Bill Burr, Ricky Velez and Lynne Koplitz, that Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson hosted while making the movie. All proceeds went to the Friends of Firefighters organization.
  • “Scott Davidson Tribute” — Pete’s father, Scott, was a member of the FDNY and was tragically lost on Sept. 11, 2001. Judd Apatow, Pete Davidson and his family, plus former friends and co-workers of Scott, share stories in honor of the man they knew.
  • “Who Is Pete Davidson?” — Pete Davidson’s family, friends, and the filmmakers discuss their hopes of what will come from the release of The King of Staten Island, while Pete and Judd share why it was so important to Pete to make this film.
  • “The Firehouse” — Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson discuss what it was like shooting scenes in a real firehouse and the responsibility they felt to capture the environment authentically.
  • “Pete’s Casting Recs” — Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson discuss how Pete’s decision to cast a large group of his friends was beneficial to achieving the goal of the movie. Plus, Pete’s friends discuss their relationships with Pete and their experiences working on the film.
  • “Pete’s ‘Poppy’ (Grandpa)” — Judd Apatow shares his experiences directing Pete Davidson’s grandfather in his acting debut.

 

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Universal’s ‘The King of Staten Island’ Bowing on PVOD

Universal Pictures is sending another planned theatrical release straight to retail due to the ongoing coronavirus shutdown.

The King of Staten Island, a semi-autobiographical fictional movie about/starring “Saturday Night Live” cast member Peter Davidson from director Judd Apatow, is going to premium video-on-demand on June 12 — a week before the movie’s original theatrical release date.

Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr and Maude Apatow (the director’s oldest daughter and co-star with her mom, Leslie Mann, in TV commercials) co-star in the film.

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Davidson and Apatow joked about the release April 27 on social media.

“Dude, what is going on with our movie?” Davidson asked Apatow. “Am I still going to get an Oscar?”

Davidson, who has had his share of off-camera notoriety, lost his father — a firefighter — during the 9/11 World Trade Center attack.

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“He really is a sweetheart guy,” Apatow said about the 26-year-old comic in a media interview. “He’s so creative and smart. He’s been through things that no one on earth should ever have to go through.”

The movie marks Universal’s second PVOD release following Trolls World Tour on April 10, which the studio claims set digital retail records.

Shout! Factory to Give ‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’ the Steelbook Treatment

Shout! Factory has set a Nov. 12 home release date for a special steelbook Blu-ray disc edition of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,  a mockumentary from The Lonely Island about a pop phenomenon named Conner4Real (portrayed by Andy Samberg) who suddenly finds his popularity plummet.

The film was released theatrically in June 2016 by Universal Pictures but only generated about $9 million in domestic box office revenues, against a budget of $20 billion.

Fans who order the limited-edition steelbook of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping directly from thelonelyisland.com or shoutfactory.com will received a limited-edition lithograph, available while supplies last. The steelbook edition carries a suggested list price of $29.97.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment initially released the DVD and Blu-ray Disc in September 2016. On Aug. 27, UPHE is dropping the price of the regular Blu-ray to $9.99.

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The cast in the Judd Apatow-produced film also includes Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader and Joan Cusack.

After a two-year, sold-out, worldwide tour, Conner4Real is the biggest name in music. Then, his second album flops, and Conner faces a crisis of popularity, leaving fans, sycophants and rivals all wondering what to do when Conner4Real is no longer the dopest star of all.

The comedy from blockbuster producer  is loaded with cameos from the biggest names in comedy and music, including Justin Timberlake, Adam Levine, Pharrell Williams, Carrie Underwood, DJ Khaleed, Nas, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Ringo Starr, Simon Cowell, Questlove, Mariah Carey, and others.

HBO to Issue Judd Apatow’s ‘Zen Diaries of Gary Shandling’ on DVD, Digital Oct. 30

HBO Home Entertainment on Oct. 30 will release for home viewing Judd Apatow’s Emmy Award-winning documentary on the late comedy icon Garry Shandling.

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling will become available on both DVD and digital download.  Both formats will include multiple bonus features including extended interviews with Jim Carrey and spiritual leader Ram Dass, exclusive archival stand-up performances, a previously un-aired conversation with Jeff Goldblum, never-before-seen and extended conversations with Shandling and Jerry Seinfeld, as well as a tribute performance of “Dear Mind” by Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) and Apatow, live from the Bonnaroo festival in 2016.

“I am so excited for this release because we found so much amazing footage and we finally have the opportunity with these DVD extras to show the world even more comedic treasures from Garry’s life and career,” said Apatow in a statement.

Shandling, a stand-up comedian, actor, director, writer, and producer, died in March 2016 at the age of 66. He was best known for “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and “The Larry Sanders Show.”

Shandling began his career as a writer for such sitcoms as “Sanford and Son” and “Welcome Back, Kotter.” After a successful standup performance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” he became a frequent guest host – and when Carson retired, Shandling was considered a leading contender to replace him.

In 1986, Shandling created “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” for Showtime, which ran on the network for four years. Next came “The Larry Sanders Show,” which began airing on HBO in 1992 and won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series in 1998.

Apatow’s documentary has been hailed by critics. It spans the decades from Shandling’s early childhood in the 1950s in Arizona up to his death two years ago, through a collage of personal testimonials, archival footage and Shandling’s own handwritten words on life, loss, love, meditation and more, captured in an extensive library of personal notebooks.