Sunday, September 17, 2006

DVDs Released Aug. 29

“What makes you laugh?” That’s the question that Albert Brooks, playing a character named Albert Brooks, asks foreign strangers, again and again, in “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World” (Warner, $27.98).

It’s a typically quirky Brooks movie, built around a concept that’s odd but full of comic potential. Brooks’ character is a well-known comedian who’s asked to go to India on an assignment of utmost importance to the State Department.

Brooks’ mission, should he choose to accept it and get a Medal of Freedom in the process: He’s to spend a month in India and Pakistan researching Muslim humor, and write a 500-page report about his experience, all in the name of fostering greater cultural understanding.

It’s a hit and miss affair, even for fans of the comic actor. But several sequences are priceless. In one, Brooks is offered a chance to star in a sitcom on the Al-Jazeerah network; in another, his comedy concert bombs miserably; and in another, he makes an illegal crossing into Pakistan to meeting with a group of Paki budding comedians.

Brooks’ mounting frustration, and his dumbfounded reaction to the mounting absurdity, is often hilarious. Still, “Looking for Comedy” is something of a one-note affair, a clever gag that goes on too long for its own good.

Extras: Deleted scenes; theatrical trailer.


A trio of wealthy Los Angeles women played by Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack and Frances McDormand try to lend a helping hand to unlucky-in-love slacker friend Olivia (Jennifer Aniston) in “Friends With Money” (Sony, $28.95).

It’s a middling chick-flick comedy, directed by gifted filmmaker Nicole Holofcener (“Walking and Talking,” “Lovely and Amazing”) that begs the question: Aside from co-starring in “Friends,” what has the only modestly talented Aniston done to deserve shared screen time with such gifted actors. She seems out of her depth.

Holofcener might be thought of as a younger, female West Coast counterpart to Woody Allen. Her characters are rich West Los Angeles residents, all neurotic to some degree and all caught up in various domestic crises. Olivia’s life, meanwhile, comes off as appealingly simple, with her toughest challenge a choice between two men – a charming jerk (Scott Caan) and a needy guy (Bob Stephenson) who keeps his wealth a secret. The cast also includes Jason Isaacs, Greg Germann, and Simon McBurney.

The director is heard on the audio commentary, and the DVD extras also include a behind-the-scenes feature and footage from the Sundance Film Festival and the movie’s Los Angeles premiere.


The production of last year’s “Water” (Fox, $27.98) generated extreme controversy for its unflinching look at Hindu traditions during the 1930s. The story, directed by Deepa Mehta (“Bollywood/Hollywood”) and filmed in Sri Lanka, centers on Chuyia (Lisa Ray), married at eight years old and then sent to a widows home after her elderly husband passes away.

Later, when a new law allows widows to remarry, Chuyia accepts a proposal from Narayan (John Abraham), a man from a lower caste who is a follower of Gandhi, then leading a fight against the occupying British.


“Akeelah and the Bee” (Lions Gate, $28.98) might remind some viewers of last year’s feature “Bee Season” and the 2002 “Spellbound”: All are concerned with the struggles and triumphs faced by young, bright kids competing in spelling bees.

The title character in “Akeelah” is an 11-year-old girl from Los Angeles, played by gifted actor Keke Palmer, who wins bee after bee, with the help of a sympathetic English professor (Laurence Fishburne).


Also released week of 8/29:

Brother Bear 2
The Jewel of the Nile: Special Edition
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death
Nip/Tuck: The Complete Third Season
Pretty in Pink: Everything’s Duckie Edition
Romancing the Stone
Some Kind of Wonderful
The Who: In Their Own Words

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