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

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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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What’s all this, then? – “Monty Python: Almost The Truth – The Lawyer’s Cut”

If you’ve been checking in on Premium Hollywood over the course of the past few days, then you’ve probably spotted our man Bob Westal’s tributes to the 40th anniversary of Monty Python, and if you haven’t…well, they’re here, here, and here. Python fans will likely have already seen Bob’s finely-chosen clips, but if they’re new to you and made you laugh, then you really ought to be tuning into IFC’s ongoing six-part documentary about the history of the Python organization: “Monty Python: Almost the Truth – The Lawyer’s Cut.” As evidenced by the fact that there’s an Amazon link in the midst of the title, the documentary is indeed being released onto DVD on Oct. 27th, but don’t let that stop you from checking out the remaining episodes as they air on IFC. Those who aren’t obsessive types might find it a bit more Python than they can stand, but it’s definitely the comedy equivalent of “The Beatles Anthology,” leaving no stone unturned from the group’s career, showing their origins, discussing their TV series, films, and infamous live performances, and offering insights from other comedians who’ve received inspiration from the gentlemen in the Flying Circus.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that there is actually a theatrical cut of “Almost the Truth,” which comes in at a decidedly tighter run time of under two hours…and I know this because I was in attendance at the Ziegfield Theater in New York City last week when it was screened. The best bit about it, though, was that the screening was attended by John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, not to mention the group’s female in residence, Carol Cleveland.

Oh, no, wait, that wasn’t the best bit. The real best bit was when, after the screening, the gentlemen took the stage – with Cleese carrying a cardboard stand-up of the late Graham Chapman under his arm – to answer questions which had been submitted by the audience, which you can experience for yourself below:

No, hang on: the actual, honest-to-Brian best bit was the fact that I actually got to meet the Pythons.

Well, mostly.

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“Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” ornithological movie moments

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Monty Python this week, we devoting this weekend’s movie moments to those titans of English comedy who’ve colonized the brains of young geeks, nerds, and slightly stoned layabouts the world over. Here, we have a pair of movie moments reminding us of the importance of knowing your avian zoology from the group’s epochal first feature.

Pythonistas should be sure to also check out English comedy maven Will Harris’s piece on Python solo projects over at Bullz-Eye.com

  

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Some travelling music…

Just a few quick thoughts to keep you busy as I make my way on the long, long journey from Orange County to San Diego for Comic-Con (well, it can feel long).

* Lars von Trier is enjoying the hub-bub around “Antichrist” (soon to have it’s second coming). What part of “provocateur” didn’t we understand?

* Karina has only one thing she’ll miss about the con. (Warning — don’t click while eating unless you find a fake ultra-bloodied Lloyd Kaufman palatable.)

* Also from THR: Michael Jackson’s flirtations with filmmaking. The big surprise — it could have been weirder. Even his meeting with Mel Gibson was apparently not incredibly strange, though Mel hugged a pillow.

* I’ve been reading articles like this for decades. The fact that they’re more or less true doesn’t make them less their inaccuracies/shallowness less annoying. Women have been getting more interested in geek stuff for a very long time. That’s a good thing. Personally, I didn’t notice a humongous “Twilight” contingent last year, but perhaps I’m sheltered.

* And now a clip that will be running through my mind as I approach the convention center.

I’ve never been good at avoiding silly places, obviously.

  

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