Considering that even the biggest stars “SNL” has ever produced only have one ‘Best of’ collection to their names, it’s a testament to Will Ferrell’s versatility that Universal is giving him his third compilation (well, that and the fact that Ferrell is bar none the biggest star “SNL” has produced in 20 years). From the looks of “The Best of Will Ferrell, Vol. III,” however, it’s starting to look like they may be coming close to the bottom of the well. The set is funny, mind you – it includes arguably the best cheerleader skit of all, at the chess match – and you can never go wrong with a “Celebrity Jeopardy” skit. They even include the oddball “Do You Like Luxury?” skit, which only Ferrell could make funny. However, the inclusion of a “Lawrence Welk” skit is a big minus (that should have been saved for a “Best of Kristen Wiig” DVD, God help us), and the “Inside the Actor’s Studio” skits are only as good as the honoree, and while Abby Elliott has her good points, her Drew Barrymore impression does not leave much of a…well, you know. The warm-up performance of Green Day singing “East Jesus Nowhere,” with Ferrell rocking the cowbell and even taunting Billie Joe (“Does this song ever end?”), is a great extra, though. Pity they couldn’t get him to do an audio commentary; those have always been as entertaining on the other best-of DVDs as the skits themselves.
Born in 1931 in what was very soon to become Hitler’s Germany, young Michael Peschkowsky was living in Manhattan by 1939. It was great luck both for the future Mike Nichols and for the country that accepted him.
Nichols is, of course, one of the most respected directors in Hollywood, and for good reason. He’s the original, craftsmanlike, and emotionally astute directorial voice responsible for such sixties and seventies classics as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “Carnal Knowledge” and, of course, “The Graduate” (the source of his only directorial Oscar so far) as well as such eighties, nineties, and oughts successes as “Silkwood,” “Working Girl,” “The Birdcage,” and “Closer.” Even if some of the later films are not on the same level of quality as his earlier films — and several, especially his 1988 box office hit, “Working Girl,” stray into mediocrity — it’s still one of the most impressive and diverse careers of any living director in Hollywood.
That’s just on the big screen. On television, Nichols has rebounded in the eyes of many critics, directing two of the most acclaimed television productions of the last decade, 2001′s “Wit” with Emma Thompson, and the outstanding 2005 miniseries adaptation of Tony Kushner’s brilliant and mammoth epic play, “Angels in America.” With his 80th birthday just a year and a half away, he’s still working hard with two thrillers movies planned, including an I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low” currently being rewritten by the decidedly counter-intuitive choice of Chris Rock.
Before he directed his first foot of film, Mike Nichols was a noted theater director. That in itself is not so unusual a root for directors to travel. What is different is that, before he was a noted theater director, he was half of one of the most influential comedy teams in show business history, Nichols and May. (His comedy partner, Elaine May, went on to become an important, if less commercially successful, writer and director in her own right.)
Still, from the moment he directed his first major play, Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” Nichols mostly abandoned performing. Today, his highly regarded early work is mostly known only to fairly hardcore comedy aficionados.
* The big breaking news around the film geek blogosphere is that THR’s Heat Vision blog is reporting that Chris Evans will, indeed, play Captain America. I’ve only seen Evans in the first half-hour of “The Fantastic Four” (that was as far I made it through that one) but let’s say that, for the time being, I’m having a very hard time getting excited about this news.
* Moving from a project I’m interested in with some casting I’m not finding so interesting right now, we move on to some very interesting casting for a project I’m really not that personally interested in except to root for it to do as little business as possible because of the kind of filmmaking it symbolizes. It appears that John Malkovich, Francis McDormand, and Ken Jeong will all be in…wait for it…”Transformers 3.” Christopher Campbell has the predictably cynical and amusing blog reactions. I should add that I have absolutely no criticism of them for being in it. If Michael Bay wants to give me a few hundred thousand to do something connected to one of his films, I’m taking it. Now, if he wants me to say something nice about the flick, that’s going to cost a whole lot more.
* The bidding deadline has been extended a bit for the sale of MGM to make room for an offer from Time Warner. I imagine that would put the classic-era and later MGM library all under one corporate umbrella, which could make life a bit less confusing for us film buffs.
* I love spy movies. Also, in theory, I have no problem with movies based on video games — apart from the fact that I can’t think of one that people actually like very much, much less that I’ve personally seen and liked. Still, with all the great spy novels of all shapes and sizes that there are, the thought of a spy movie based on a video game does not make me very happy.
* I’m confused, is “Everything Must Go” starring Will Ferrell, which starts production this week with financing direct from its producers, really going to be an entirely non-comedic film, or is it being billed as a “drama” simply to distinguish it from Ferrell’s usual ultra-wacky comedies? To me, the premise sounds laden with a potential for dark humor, though I don’t know the Raymond Carver story, I do know he occasionally indulged in that.
* Previews begin the day after tomorrow on Broadway of the new stage musical, “American Idiot.” With a book by Green Day singer and lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong, the show’s “dialogue” is, as I understand, almost entirely sung. It ran to mixed-to-positive reviews last year in the main theatrical venue of the Green Day’s California Bay Area hometown, Berkeley Rep. While not all the critics were high on the NoCal edition of the show, apparently Tom Hanks and his producing partner Gary Goetzman like it and are “in talks” to turn the production into a feature movie. I love some of the music on the highly acclaimed original album, so I’m intrigued by this one, though I could easily see it turning out horribly. (The music video featured by Kevin Jagernauth of the Playlist shows one way example of how a film version could go rather badly wrong.)
One thing this is not is a “jukebox musical” along the lines of “Mamma Mia!” but a concept album adaptation closer in spirit, I imagine, to “Tommy” and “Pink Floyd’s The Wall.” Still, one hurtle all these movies rarely overcome is the difference in energy between a live performance of a great rock and roll tune and the inevitably more packaged version you’ll get in a movie. Personally, I’ll be impressed if anything in the film version, if there ever is one, matches the intensity of the performance below.