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.

Sarah Silverman to Appear in HBO/HBO Max Stand-Up Comedy Special in May

Sarah Silverman will return to HBO for her new stand-up comedy special debuting this May on HBO and HBO Max. The comedy special, her second for HBO, will feature all-new material, taped in front of a live audience at The Wilbur Theater in Boston, Mass.

Silverman’s first HBO special, Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles, earned her an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special.
 
“We absolutely love working with Sarah,” Nina Rosenstein, EVP of HBO programming, said in a statement. “She’s truly one of the all-time greats, and her new special is smart, bold, and as insanely funny as ever.”

“I love working with Nina at HBO,” Silverman said in a statement. “She’s a great support system and we trust each other. She’s got lips, that one.” 

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Silverman is a two-time Emmy-winning comedian, actress, writer and producer. She currently hosts a weekly podcast, “The Sarah Silverman Podcast,” and she recently wrapped production on Netflix’s “Maestro.” On stage, Silverman is currently traveling around North America on her “Sarah Silverman: Grow Some Lips” tour. The previously released Netflix standup special A Speck of Dust, culminated in two Emmy Award nominations and a Grammy Award nomination. Her hour-long HBO standup special Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles, earned her a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special as well as an additional Primetime Emmy Award and Writers Guild Award nominations. Silverman also appeared in a concert-meets-comedy film Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic. This past Spring, Silverman’s off-Broadway musical adaptation of her 2010 New York Times best-selling memoir The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee had a sold-out run with the Atlantic Theatre Company. Silverman previously hosted the Emmy Award and Writers Guild Award nominated Hulu series “I Love You, America” and continues to lend her voice to several animated series, including “Bob’s Burgers.”

HBO Max Orders Adult Animated Series With Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman

HBO Max has ordered the adult animated series “Santa Inc.” from Lionsgate, featuring voice performances by Sarah Silverman and Seth Rogen.

The eight-episode, half-hour series will be written by showrunner Alexandra Rushfield (Shrill) and will be produced by Rogen’s Point Grey Pictures as part of their multiplatform partnership with Lionsgate.

“Santa Inc.” is the story of Candy Smalls (Silverman), the highest-ranking female elf in the North Pole. When the successor to Santa Claus (Rogen) is poached by Amazon on Christmas Eve, Candy goes for her ultimate dream — to become the first woman Santa Claus in the history of Christmas.

“I have long dreamed of a taking a beloved holiday tradition and adding a feminist agenda and some ‘R’-rated comedy and when I read this script from Ali, with Seth and Sarah attached to voice, I knew that it was a perfect fit for us at Max.” Suzanna Makkos, EVP of original comedy and animation for HBO Max, said in a statement.

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“Sarah and Seth are the perfect comedy duo for this empowering and very funny animated series shepherded by the hysterical Alexandra Rushfield,” said Lionsgate head of scripted development Scott Herbst in a statement. “We look forward to diving into the world of animation with our Point Grey partners, and to bring the holidays to HBO Max in a totally unexpected and fresh way.”

Ralph Breaks the Internet

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 2/26/19;
Disney;
Animated;
Box Office $199.89 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $44.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG’ for some action and rude humor.
Voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill, Flula Borg.

The original Wreck-In Ralph from 2012 got a lot of mileage from the nostalgia its audience would have for classic video games, as it told the story of video game characters wanting to be more than the parameters of their programming.

In particular, Ralph (voiced John C. Reilly), hated his reputation as a video game villain, but eventually came to accept his role in the game as the other characters realized that they couldn’t exist either without him.

In Ralph Breaks the Internet, it’s six years later and Ralph has settled into a content life alongside his new best friend Vanellope from the Sugar Rush racing game, whom he helped save in the first movie, embracing his day job smashing buildings while spending nights hanging out at other games in the arcade.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Vanellope, on the other hand, has grown bored with her racing game and longs for new tracks and hidden levels. She gets her opportunity for a new adventure when the steering wheel on her game breaks and, when the arcade owner balks at the cost of replacing it, she and Ralph head to the Internet to see if they can find the means to replace it themselves.

After a quick trip through eBay, the pair find themselves in an online game called Slaughter Race that offers new driving challenges that excite Vanellope. As she contemplates staying there, Ralph worries about losing his best friend and schemes to convince her to return to the arcade.

Ralph Breaks the Internet does for the World Wide Web what the first film did for video games, offering a steady stream of nostalgia, deep-cut references and sharp observational humor.

The film even gives Disney a chance to engage in some self-parody, as Vanellope visits a Disney website and meets all the Disney Princesses, allowing the filmmakers to poke fun at the tropes of a typical Disney film. They instruct Vanellope, who is technically a princess herself according to her Sugar Rush bio, that when the time is right, she’ll learn about her heart’s true desire through a song — leading to an off-kilter take on the traditional Disney musical number (and, taking the gag further, the Blu-ray includes a music video for a bubblegum pop version of the song, which has to do with Vanellope’s desire to play the aforementioned game with “slaughter” in its title).

On the other hand, the various references to mega-successful Disney properties such as the Princesses, Pixar, “Star Wars” and Marvel Comics could be seen as the studio basking a bit in its own dominance at the moment. (Perhaps we should be grateful they didn’t cram in a preview for the pending Disney+ streaming service). But, such meta-humor is the kind of thing the “Ralph” movies are in a unique position to get away with, as it practically comes with the premise (an early reference to Tron is particularly apt, all things considered).

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In all, though, the film delivers with some exciting action sequences that build on the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope, and a sentimental story about the evolving nature of friendship.

The making of the film is the subject of the Blu-ray’s 33-minute “How We Broke the Internet” featurette, which is segmented into the development of various story points and characters. A separate 10-minute featurette focuses on the film’s music.

The three-and-a-half-minute “Surfing for Easter Eggs” talks about some of the film’s hidden references, but seems more interested in providing cutesy narration than loading up on interesting information.

A two-minute “Baby Drivers — Slaughter Racing School” featurette is offered as a digital exclusive, available with purchases of the digital edition of the film or through redeeming the digital code included with the Blu-ray.

The disc also includes the two-minute “BuzzTube Cats,” a montage of animated cat videos of the type used to populate background sites in the film.

There are five deleted scenes that total about 19 minutes, most of which are remnants of an earlier draft of the story but which reflect plot elements that did evolve into the final film.

Finally, in addition to the pop version of the Slaughter House song, there’s a trippy music video for the end-credits song “Zero” by Imagine Dragons.

Disney’s ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ Comes Home in February

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Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment will release the animated film Ralph Breaks the Internet digitally Feb. 12, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Feb. 26.

The sequel to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph features the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson and Alan Tudyk.

The story involves video game characters Ralph (Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Silverman) traveling from the arcade to the Internet on a quest for a part to save Vanellope’s Sugar Rush game. The film features several pop culture cameos, including a scene featuring all of the Disney Princesses.

The film has earned more than $190 million at the domestic box office and $435 million worldwide.

The DVD, Blu-ray and digital editions will include the music videos for “Zero” by Imagine Dragons and “In This Place” by Julia Michaels.

The Blu-ray and digital versions will also include deleted scenes, the behind-the-scenes featurette “How We Broke the Internet,” a “Surfing for Easter Eaggs” featurette about hidden references in the movie, the featurette “The Music of Ralph Breaks the Internet” and a “BuzzzTube Cats” compilation.

The digital edition, which can also be accessed through the redemption code included with the film’s Blu-ray combo packs, will come with the exclusive featurette “Baby Drivers: Slaughter Racing School,” a look at the film’s artists learning how to drive race cars.

Digital bonus materials will vary by retailer.