Red Carpet Chatter: Mike Nichols Gets His AFI Lifetime Achievement Award

nicholsenhance

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.

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A trailer for the road: “Middle Men” show us how to make money on the ‘net

As I prepare for a reasonably brief semi-hiatus, via Anne Thompson comes this trailer for a film being pitched as one part “Boogie Nights” and one part “Goodfellas,” though this trailer reminds me more of the cold blood business machinations of “Casino.”

Co-writer-director George Gallo, who penned “Midnight Run,” brings us the story of how Luke Wilson, with a little help from Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht, figures out that this Internet thing just might be good for showing people very naughty pictures. Since this is a movie, naturally the porn-purveying “Middle Men” get a bit more than they asked for.

Nice bit with Kelsey Grammer there at the end. Also, considering that he’s openly contemplating running for office someday, kind of gutsy. On a different note, I’d love to know the actual “true story” this apparently pretty heavily fictionalized movie is supposed to be based on. Just curious. Finally, let it be said, I hold no ill feeling against actor Gabriel Macht for the despicable and unholy desecration that was “The Spirit.” He just did what Frank Miller told him to do. I just felt like that needed to be said.

Oh, and speaking of trailers, Anne Thompson also has the trailer up for the third Narnia film. Go ahead and click, I mean, if you’re into that kind of kinky shit.

  

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It’s your end of the week movie news dump.

Posting over the next few days is going to probably be news-free, so we’ll make hay while the cinema news sun shines. We start off with casting news.

Jeremy Renner in * Jeremy Renner of “The Hurt Locker” is “near a deal” to play Hawkeye in the Avengers film to be (theoretically) directed by Joss Whedon, who hasn’t said a word officially to anyone in months, as far as I can tell. Renner is a smart choice. Playing a character who hasn’t previously been introduced is going to be a special challenge in this movie and actors without real ability and charisma probably need not apply.

* So, if the Wrap is correct, Brad Pitt likely won’t end up staring in the U.S. remake of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” It looks like that will be Daniel Craig, instead. Having seen the Swedish film, it seems to me he’s a much better fit for the part of the male lead. The character has a bit of a hang-dog, defeated quality to him that just doesn’t fit Pitt. I think Craig can pull that off easily. He should probably gain or lose a bit of weight for the part. This guy might do okay with woman, but he’s a coffee-and-cigarette addicted journalist, not a perfectly exercised super-spy.

* Speaking of matters Bondian, as per the Playlist, Christopher Nolan is describing his very highly anticipated “Inception” as his Bond film, in a way.  I’m personally not a fan of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” but it’s an interesting model, nonetheless.

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ABC: What’s New for Fall 2009

V (Tues., Nov. 3 @ 8:00 PM, ABC)

The competition: “NCIS” (CBS) “The Biggest Loser” (NBC), “Hell’s Kitchen” (Fox), “90210” (The CW)

Starring: Elizabeth Mitchell, Morris Chestnut, Joel Gretsch, Lourdes Benedicto, Logan Huffman, Laura Vandervoort, Morena Baccarin, Scott Wolf
Producers: Scott Peters (“The 4400,” “The Outer Limits”), Jeffrey Bell (“Day Break,” “Alias”), Steve Pearlman (“Reunion,” “Related”), and Jace Hall (“The Jace Hall Show”)
Network’s Description: A re-imagining of the 1980’s miniseries about the world’s first encounter with an alien race. Simultaneously appearing over every major city in the world, the Visitors (or V’s) promote a message of peace. Through their generous offer to share advanced technology, the V’s build a following that may actually hide a more malevolent agenda, one that twists a very deep component of human nature: devotion. While the world quickly becomes fascinated with the V’s and their link to wonders just beyond the reach of human understanding, FBI Counter Terrorist Agent Erica Evans discovers a secret hidden beneath the skin of every V – a secret that may threaten the lives of everyone close to her. Yet for her teenage son, Tyler, the V’s are his ticket to something big and hopeful — a new chance for mankind to unite in common goals. To Chad Decker, a career-hungry news anchor, his exclusive interview with Anna, the leader of the V’s, is crucial to his dominating the airwaves. Also unsure about the Visitors is Father Jack, a priest questioning his faith in the wake of the Visitors’ arrival. Seeking answers outside the church, Father Jack discovers there are other dissidents who believe the Visitors are not who they say they are, including Ryan Nichols, who is faced with his own life-altering decision when the V’s show up. Never has there been more at stake — it truly is the dawning of a new day.
The Buzz: Like “Eastwick,” there’s a certain instinct to ask, “Why do we need to revisit a 20-year-old property?” In the case of “V,” though, most of those who remember the show fondly will probably nod their heads and consider that, yes, special effects technology has evolved to a point where a concept like this one deserves to reap the benefits. And although the purists will no doubt grimace and claim that it won’t be the same without original creator Kenneth Johnson working behind the scenes, they need look no farther than “Battlestar Galactica” to have a good reason to consider the possibilities for a new “V.”
Pilot Highlight: Personally, I dug the showdown between Anna and Chad when he refuses to offer an interview consisting solely of softball questions and she informs him that either it’ll be all queries that paint the Visitors in a positive light or the interview will be canceled, but the episode’s tie-ins to terrorism were damned intriguing.
Bottom Line: There’ll clearly be a “we’ve seen this” reaction from the generation who grew up with “Independence Day,” but it’s already clear that this is not your parents’ “V.” It may not prove to have any more legs than ABC’s last stab at alien infiltration (“Invasion”), but it’s going to come down to whether or not the viewers who come in for the curiosity factor, thinking, “Hey, I liked the old show, I wonder how the new one will be,” are going to given enough to sell them right off the bat.

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TCA: ABC Executive Session

Compared to his broadcast network peers, ABC President Stephen McPherson had a pretty low-key executive session, admitting outright that he didn’t really have any grand announcements to drop on us, but he did discuss the following matters:

* “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” returns to ABC tomorrow. McPherson describes being on the set with Regis again as “nostalgic and energizing,” and assures us that the show’s return features the best million-dollar question moment in the entire history of the series. Big talk, but we’ll see.

* McPherson’s got class. He didn’t take the bait when asked for the obligatory comment about Ben Silverman’s departure, and he fully acknowledged that he’s interested in seeing what’s going to happen with Jay Leno, given that it’s the first time we’ve seen anything like this on TV in our lifetime.

* On the matter of viewers investing in series that could be yanked out from under them at any given moment, he made it clear that it’s not an arbitrary decision when a show is canceled. “How patient can you be?” he asked. “How much information do you have about the show? Is it being rejected? Is it slowly building? Is it stable at that label? How does it affect the rest of your schedule? The overall network?” Though they try to be as patient as they can be with a series, sometimes it just has to go. “Canceling shows is the worst part of my job,” he said.

* That’s as may be, but it sounds like dealing with Katherine Heigl’s outbursts can’t be a heck of a lot better. When asked about her actions, he replied, “I think it’s unfortunate. It’s not something I think you want to let consume you or your people, because it is what it is, and people are going to behave in the way they choose to behave, but I think there are so many people who work hard on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and all of our shows and go without any credit. Those are the people I’d be most concerned about.”

* When “Scrubs,” it’s still gonna be “Scrubs.” “It’s not changing its title,” confirmed McPherson. “It’s gonna be different in the sense of the construct of what’s going on, but it’ll be the same character dynamics as before, but it’s allowing Bill (Lawrence) to introduce new characters and spend time with them. But it’ll be the same tonal show, with the same kind of comedy and storytelling that you’re used to.” As noted, Zach Braff will be turning up for a few episodes, but McPherson says they’re going to “try to convince him to do more.”

* Despite appearances, “FlashForward” was not specifically created to be the heir apparent to “Lost.” “We would love for it to have even a part of the success of ‘Lost,'” McPherson admitted, ‘but the spec script was originally done, I think, for HBO, and we were thrilled to read it. But there was no development where we went, ‘Hey, let’s try to make the next ‘Lost’! It was just about good material.”

* It seems a bit weird that ABC should’ve rescued both Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton after their joint Fox failure, “Back to You,” but McPherson says they came about through very different circumstacnes. “We’d previously developed ‘The Middle’ and even shot it, but we just didn’t feel like we’d gotten the pilot to where it needed to be,” he said. “But then Patti got available, she struck us as the perfect person for the show, and she sparked to the script.” As for Grammer, his new series, “Hank,” was pitched “as a full show with him attached, and we felt it was really in the zeitgeist and a great character for him to be playing.”

* “Romantically Challenged,” the new Alyssa Milano / Kyle Bornheimer sitcom, is in talks for a midseason run, but McPherson isn’t sure where to put it at the moment.

* Despite rumors to the contrary, “Ugly Betty” was never canceled. It was just taken off the air to offer up episodes of “Samantha Who?” and “In the Motherhood,” and McPherson is very excited about the new season.

* In regards to Violet’s storyline on “Private Practice” last season, he acknowledged that he was “frightened by it” when heard about it, but “while it’s polarizing, it’s gained excitement about the show and the characters and the potential where we can go with it. We can go edgier at 10 PM, and it can be a different show than ‘Grey’s.'” McPherson declared the storyline to be a perfect example of why you should trust great show runners.

* And, lastly, for all of you “American Idol” fans, McPherson admitted that he has indeed reached out to Paula Abdul, and although he first said that he was sorry about what she was going through, he did managed to slip in that he’d love to see her on ABC.

  

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