A visit with “Brothers”

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I’m no Hollywood insider. Nikki Finke does not rely on me for her tips and I don’t ever expect to attend the Vanity Fair Oscar after party. Nevertheless, there’s one thing I do know about show business: personality goes a very long way in “this town.” And so a few of us press people recently found ourselves the subject of a 50 megaton charm offensive by the four stars of the new Fox sitcom, “Brothers” — C.C.H. Pounder, Carl Weathers, and Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, and one extremely enthusiastic newbie, former New York Giants Defensive End and Fox Sports commentator Michael Strahan. I haven’t seen the show itself yet, which premieres tonight at 8 p.m./7 central, but the visit was certainly a performance I won’t be forgetting.

From long-time writer-producer Don Reo, whose credits run from “M*A*S*H” to “Blossom” and “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Brothers” stars Strahan as a former NFL star who winds up moving in to the house he bought for his parents when a financial reversal puts him in the metaphorical poorhouse. Since this is a sitcom, naturally there will be conflict with his brother, played by Mitchell, and the usual issues with parents Weathers and Pounder. One ace the show will be playing will be guest appearances by some fairly big names playing themselves, including former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, hip-hop star T-Pain, celubutante Kim Kardashian, and the great Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band. Also appearing will be well actress Tichina Arnold from “Chris” and, not playing himself, rap superstar Snoop Dog. Stand-up comic Lenny Clarke will be playing a neighbor on the show.

The show has been getting some additional attention for a perhaps less fortunate reason, in that while African-American actors are featured in more diverse roles these days, it’s the only current show on the networks schedules with a predominantly black cast. That’s largely a reversal of the trend of the past when the vast bulk of decent TV parts for nonwhite actors were on shows like “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times” as well as some of the later, more controversial shows aimed at black audiences like “Martin.”

The first to meet the press were Carl Weathers, perhaps still most famed as Rocky Balboa’s venerable opponent, Apollo Creed, and C.C.H. Pounder, who is taking a break from her usual intense, gravitas-laden, roles on shows like “The Shield” and seems to be enjoying every minute of it. In fact, I’m here to tell you that extremely skilled Ms. Pounder is downright bubbly in person. You heard me, “bubbly” — but in a very smart sort of way.

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The mood was light right off the bat with more than one of us entertainment journos confessing a complete lack of knowledge of sports and Ms. Pounder joining in. Weathers was the exception. “Well, I played for the Oakland Raiders so I hope I know a little bit about football.” And that somehow prompted an impersonation of Butterfly McQueen from “Gone with the Wind” from Pounder. I guess you had to be there.

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The boy-men of LAFF, Part 1: “Big Fan.”

The Los Angeles Film Festival is really just getting started for me, but already I’ve seen two movies that are definitely noteworthy, both having to do the age-old issues of males delaying maturity and I’m sure there’s more of that coming. I’ll discuss the mostly insightful and funny “Humpday” tomorrow. Today, I have a darker task.

In the case of last night’s screening of “Big Fan” — a last minute addition to the festival which, in Los Angeles, will be opening at the Nuart Theater in September as part of a limited release — we have a case of Peter Pan as absolute worst case scenario. Written and directed by Robert D. Siegel, who wrote last year’s terrific, and not entirely unrelated, “The Wrestler,” the film stars thinking man’s comic, one-time CGI gourmet rat, and, we’re now learning, skilled dramatic actor, Patton Oswalt as Paul Aufiero, (i.e. every fanboy’s worst nightmare of what he might become), who eventually encounters something beyond every fan’s worst fear.

An utterly single-minded follower of the New York Giants, a random remark to his favorite player (Jonathan Hamm) during an encounter at a strip club sets off a brutal attack by the stoned player, which sends him to the hospital and the player to suspension.  Paul is hurt by the attack, but he seems more concerned that the suspension might be destroying the Giants’ chances for a good season. In this situation, most of us would have dollar signs and/or rage in our eyes, but all poor, embittered, yet absurdly loyal Paul has is concern that he won’t be belittled by “Philadelphia Phil,” (Michael Rappaport), an equally strong fan of the Philly Eagles with whom Paul does nightly battle on a sports talk call-in show.

This might sound like an interesting setup for a comedy, but while “Big Fan” is extremely funny for fairly long stretches,  Paul, who lives at home with his despairing mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz, whose performance is too real for comfort), exists in an emotional horror show. Those who found “The Wrestler” a bit dark will see that that sometimes bleak and tragic film really was “Rocky” in comparison to this grim, utterly unredemptive, but oddly cathartic tale. If you can see this pretty extraordinary directorial debut for Siegel and not think of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy,” you haven’t seen them.

It’s only a shame that people who see the film in its theatrical run this September, mostly won’t have the pleasure of a live appearance by Patton Oswalt following the film. The comedian, who in real life is a pretty serious cinephile, had the audience in stitches and was probably the best antidote to what might have been the most thoroughly sad and hopeless film most of us have seen in a long time.

  

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