Tag: Albert Brooks

RIP Monica Johnson

As well as working on “Laverne and Shirley,” “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” and “The Mary Tyler Moore,” Monica Johnson, who has passed on from esophageal cancer, was also the cowriter of all of Alberts Brooks’ films from 1978’s “Real Life” to 1999’s “The Muse.” Being a cowriter to a figure like Brooks can be a thankless task and there’s no way to know what her particular contribution was to the classic scenes below from “Lost in America.” I think it’s safe to say, however, that a significant amount — probably more than we’ll ever realize — of the Brooks wit in all five of their films was actually from her.

And, after the flip a bonus from between those two scenes. I’m guessing one of the most often embedded film clips on YouTube.

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A chat with Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, directors of “The Extra Man”

Shari Springer Berman and Robert PulciniThe recent death of autobiographical comics writer Harvey Pekar at age 70 was a more bitter than sweet reminder of one of the first really great films of our young millennium. Released in 2003 and written and directed by the husband and wife team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, “American Splendor” dared to place actors Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, and Judah Friedlander — portraying Pekar, wife Joyce Brabner, and their ultra-nerd friend, Toby Radloff — alongside the real Pekar, Brabner, and Radloff, seamlessly combining traditional fiction, documentary film, and some charmingly minimalist comic book-style animation to make easily the most inventive and rewarding comics-to-film translation so far. (Yes, I think it’s better than “The Dark Knight.”)

What made it even more impressive was that this was the first fiction film by its makers. Prior to “American Splendor,” Berman and Pulcini were the documentararians behind a pair of films focusing on film and show-business landmarks. They chronicled the death of a venerable, movie-star-beloved Beverly Hills restaurant in “Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen’s” and the rebirth of the ultimate movieland cemetery into the world’s hippest burial plot in “The Young and the Dead.” The pair also made a 2006 IFC documentary about road movies, “Wanderlust.”

Their return to fiction films, 2007’s “The Nanny Diaries,” was less well-received, but now Berman and Pulcini are back with an imperfect but enjoyable comedy. Co-written with author Jonathan Ames (HBO’s “Bored to Death”) from his semi-autobiographical novel, “The Extra Man” stars Paul Dano as Louis Ives, a courtly 20-something with a fixation on 1920s literature and a certain amount of sexual/gender confusion, who finds himself spending a lot of time with his new roommate — an aging, ultra-obscure, ultra-reactionary playwright named Henry Harrison (Oscar and Tony winning veteran stage and film star Kevin Kline).

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Berman and Pulcini are also preparing their next film. “Cinema Verite,” with James Gandolfini, Diane Lane, and Tim Robbins starring in a screenplay by veteran scenarist David Seltzer (“The Omen,” “Punchline”). It’s a tailor-made premise for the couple: the making of “An American Family,” the groundbreaking and highly controversial PBS documentary series which essentially created the modern reality television genre in 1975. The series was also the inspiration for the 1979 Albert Brooks comedy, “Real Life.”

When I was escorted to the room at L.A.’s Four Seasons where I was to meet with the writing-directing pair, I was surprised to see only one person and at first I wasn’t sure I had arrived at the right place. Robert Pulcini and I talked about our shared first name (he’s a “Bob” too), and he explained cordially that his wife would be returning in just a moment. Shari Springer Berman arrived and then somehow got into the topic of the unusual spelling of my last name. All very fascinating — to me — but I figured I’d better talk about Berman and Pulcini’s movies instead.

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Celluloid Heroes: The 10 Funniest Lines of the ’00s

It takes a lot to make me laugh out loud at something a person says. Witty is one thing, but genuinely funny is another beast altogether. And when I say laugh out loud, I’m talking about involuntary spasms of laughter, the kind that take a couple of minutes to subside. There is no formula for it, and I have no criteria for what form it takes. I just know it when it see it. Unfortunately, I don’t see it often enough. Sometimes they appear in otherwise unfunny movies, at which point I usually get angry, but that’s a subject for another day.

In the first of a long list of decade-oriented blog posts about the movies of the 2000s, here are the lines that made me laugh the hardest at the Googoplex. Be advised, potential SPOILERS abound here, so I don’t want to hear that I ruined such and such movie for you. What are your favorite lines? Let’s hear ’em in the comment section.

#10: Up – Somebody always loves you
This is more of a laughter-through-tears kind of thing, but it’s my list, my rules, so it counts. Pete Docter goes straight for the heart in this movie, almost mercilessly so. The “married life” sequence makes me cry like a little girl every time I watch it, and this scene, where the loyal Dug comes to comfort Carl, is quite possibly the “Awwwwwww” moment of the decade.

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The geek overload continues! (updated)

With the completely and utterly sold-out Comic-Con starting mid-week, Hollywood publicists seem to be working overtime to fulfill your no doubt insatiable need for geek news. I could probably write seven or eight posts catering to nerd proclivities. But you’re getting just one today, (and, with the help of few snafus, this one took much longer than it should have). A few highlights

* Leonardo DiCaprio’s company has signed writer Rand Ravich (“The Astronaut’s Wife,” the TV series “Life”) to do a new film somehow tied to Rod Serling’s classic anthology science-fiction/fantasy TV series, “The Twilight Zone.” Many of you will remember the 1983 film, which utilized multiple writers and directors and consisted of three adaptations of well known episodes from the original series, one tale loosely drawn from a pair of episodes (sadly infamous due to the accident which killed actor Vic Morrow and two illegally hired children, very nearly ending the career of director John Landis), and a framing story featuring Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd. No word on what form this new film would take — a single tale would be missing the entire point of “The Twilight Zone,” IMO — and I’m unfamiliar with Ravich’s work. So, it’ll be interesting to watch this one move further along the pipeline.

[Update: Apparently, one year ago at least, the idea was to make a single film drawn from an episode of the series. Why, I have no idea. I learned this via Monika Bartyzel, you can read her post and my messed up comments here.

* The word on the overseas grosses for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” are in and they’re a new worldwide five day record of $297 million. Blimey.

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