Tag Archives: Albert Brooks

Real Life (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ordinary family reality show.

Albert Brooks plays Albert Brooks a hot shot young filmmaker determined to make a splash by filming a regular American family in their home and capturing everything that they do. The idea is for the family to go about their daily lives as if the cameras aren’t really there and then record their interactions. Things though go off-kilter almost immediately, which sends Brooks into a panic as he fears his movie won’t be entertaining enough and forcing him to compromise the project by instilling outside influences in order to make the movie more commercially viable.

This is another film that gets listed in the book ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’, but I’m not sure why. I’ll admit when I first saw it over 30 years ago it struck me as being quite irreverent and edgy at least the beginning, but the second half fades as Brooks loses sight of the main theme and writes himself into a hole. This results in a lot of tired jokes that focuses too much on the filmmaker and not the family.

The idea is based off of the documentary called ‘An American Family’, which was broadcast on PBS from January to May of 1973. This is where a filmmaking crew followed around the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California for 7 months in 1971 and filmed everything that went on between them. The idea was not to sensationalize anything, but instead have it work as an educational program examining the dynamics of how a typical American family works. Although things started out normal it soon began to unravel when the wife asked for a divorce and the couple’s 20 year-old son suddenly came out as gay. All these things were unexpected and many critics felt it was the presence of the cameras that brought them out.

Unfortunately this film misses the mark by having the family’s unraveling occur almost immediately and therefore not taking advantage of a prime comedic arch. The family members also lack any discernable personality and proceed to just get more boring as the film progresses. Certain darkly humorous moments like the scene where the father, played by Charles Grodin, performs a botched operation on a horse as part of his veterinarian practice are not funny at all and instead quite disturbing especially since a real horse was used.

The audience comes into this thing expecting to see a story about a family, but instead gets bombarded with Brooks whose sarcastic personality is only tolerable in small doses. The intended satire of a popular TV-series morphs into scenes of a narcissist filmmaker endlessly whining about his anxieties making the whole thing seem more like a vanity project or worse a limp remake of Federico Fellini’s 8 ½.

Some great moments particularly the opening scenes showing the audition phase get lost amidst a rapid fire of sardonic gags that go nowhere.  I started to wonder if Brooks had even seen the actual series that he is supposedly trying to make fun of, or if he just considered the concept as an excuse to try and make himself the star. The intended surrealism doesn’t work and actually gets in the way with a whacked-out Gone with the Wind-like finale being the worst and only helps cement this as a misfire.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 2, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Albert Brooks

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Broadcast News (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life in a newsroom.

Jane (Holly Hunter) is a television news producer married to her work who breaks down crying when nobody is around. She starts falling for Tom (William Hurt) the good looking new anchorman even though he does not share her same drive or integrity. Aaron (Albert Brooks) is a behind-the-scenes news writer who wishes to get more exposure in front of the camera. Secretly he is in love with Jane and envies the budding relationship that he sees starting between her and Tom, but feels virtually powerless to do anything about it.

The film marks another tour-de-force effort by writer/director James L. Brooks who hits the nail-on-the-head in just about every scene when it comes to revealing the inner workings of a local TV newsroom. I found some of the procedures that are shown including how a producer can continue to feed the anchorman things to say through an earpiece even as he is live on the air and interviewing someone to be quite fascinating. From dealing with a harsh layoff of the news division to the extremes people are willing to go to get promoted prove to be quite insightful. Even the little things are interesting like watching two musicians (Glen Roven, Marc Shaiman) trying to plug their song as the new theme to the news show, which is probably the funniest moment in the movie.

Initially I was turned off by Hunter’s strong southern twang, you would think someone who wanted to make it big in Hollywood would’ve worked harder to soften that, but she gives such a strong all-around performance that eventually I was able to overlook it. I felt though that her character was more compelling when she was fretting about her work, which seemed almost like an obsession to her. Having her chase after a guy, who she really didn’t have much in common with anyways, was far less interesting. She seemed like someone who immersed herself in her job simply to avoid social contact and the film would’ve worked better had Tom been the one doing all the chasing.

Brooks was an odd casting choice. He’s a funny comedian and has done some great satires, but not someone who is warm and likable. The movie wants us to feel sorry for his character because he is always getting passed over both professionally and romantically, but I felt the opposite way about him.  His many sarcastic lines makes him seem bitter and vindictive and the way he screams at Jane to ‘get out’ when she confides with him about her feelings for Tom made him seem downright psychotic.

Director Brooks seems to have a personal vendetta against anchormen as his productions always portray then as being dumb and shallow most notably the Ted Baxter character in the ‘70s TV-series ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’, which he also produced. In that show the character’s stupidity was clearly over exaggerated, but here Tom gets played with a believable balance as he’s is savvy enough to make up for his lack of intelligence by overcompensating on his image.

I loved how the film starts off with vignettes of the characters when they were kids and then ending it by revealing where they end up 7 years after the main story ends, but overall the plot lacks any major impact. The whole thing is just too gentile and needed another dramatic arch to give it more verve. Jack Nicholson appears unbilled as the station’s top anchor and I would’ve loved seeing him become a major player in the story as he owns every scene he is in especially the part where he enters the newsroom to offer his condolences to those who were laid-off.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1987

Runtime: 2Hours 12Minutes

Rated R

Director: James L. Brooks

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Private Benjamin (1980)

private-benjamin

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She joins the army.

Judy Benjamin (Goldie Hawn) is having a tough time. She is only 28, but has already been married twice. The first time was for 6 years while the second time was for only 6 hours as husband number 2 (Albert Brooks) ended up dying of a heart attack while they made love on their wedding night. Heartbroken she calls into a radio show for advice and gets hooked into joining the army by an unscrupulous recruiter (Harry Dean Stanton) who makes it sound like it would be far more pleasant than it really is. At first Judy has a hard time adjusting to the rigors of a demanding Captain (Eileen Brennan), but eventually she finds new found self-esteem and coping skills that she never would’ve attained in the civilian world.

The film starts out awkwardly and a better scenario about how she joins the army could’ve been thought-up, but once it moves into the training camp segment it gets funny. In fact I would’ve extended these scenes more as it’s the best laugh-out-loud moments in the movie. Kudos also goes out to the editing by Sheldon Kahn who creates sharp transitions that accentuates the humor.

Hawn, who was pregnant with Kate Hudson when she was offered the role and had to go through 6-weeks of basic training to prepare for the part, is excellent in a film that helped bring her career out of the doldrums. In fact I would say this is one of her best roles and I enjoyed how the character becomes more confident and independent as it goes along.

Brennan is terrific as the nemesis and I wished her conflicts with Hawn had been played-up more. The character disappears too soon and manages to return briefly, but isn’t as effective. Her brief romantic encounter with the Craig T. Nelson character should’ve been cut as I saw this woman as being frigid, or even a closet lesbian who was married to the army because that is all she had, which made the scene where Hawn puts blue dye into Brennan’s showerhead seem cruel to me. Yes, she had been mean to Hawn earlier, but that was only because she felt her army career, which again was essentially her whole life, was being threatened and the other women should’ve been more sympathetic to that.

Hal Williams is good in support as the Sargent as is Sam Wanamaker as Judy’s overly protective father. Albert Brooks though is horribly wasted as the second husband and his heart attack is much too quick and mild to be realistic. Stanton is also shamefully underused playing an army recruiter that should’ve been investigated and out of a job for the outlandish misrepresentations that he gave.

The film does go on a bit too long and includes Judy’s romance with the Armand Assante character that seems like a whole different movie, but overall it still works although this has to be the tamest R-rated movie ever. I realize this was before the PG-13 era, but it still should’ve gotten a PG as the only ‘objectionable’ elements consist of the word ‘shit’, which is said once, a simulated sex scene that is brief and done with the characters under the covers and a segment involving the girls sitting around a campfire smoking pot. In fact 9 to 5, which came out that same year and was given a PG rating, had a similar pot scene that was much more extended.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube