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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Today in casting news

There are times when I really think I shouldn’t mention another single casting related story. There are so many, and the news so often changes several times before the first day of shooting, that it seems kind of pointless. Nevertheless, today brings us a few such items that sort of demand a little attention.

* I don’t think I’ve mentioned the word that’s been floating around for a while now that Brad Pitt will apparently be opposite Robert Downey, Jr. playing the role of Sherlock Holmes’ archnemisis, Prof. James Moriarity, aka “the Napoleon of Crime.” Though it appears he’ll only be in a cameo role, if at all, in the upcoming “Sherlock Holmes” film directed by Guy Ritchie, he’ll apparently be handling head villain duties in the already-planned for sequel — assuming, of course, that the first film is reasonably profitable.

If you can’t get enough of excessively early speculation, Spout’s Christopher Campbell was way ahead of me and rounded that all up as of yesterday. Pitt seems an unusual choice, but he’s always seemed to do better in character roles than leading man parts, and Downey is a genius at bringing a bit of character to leading man roles, so there’s a nice bit of symmetry here.

* If one or even two well known leads can’t guarantee box office success, why not try four and add a cult-comedy kicker? That seems to be thinking behind the latest collaboration of comedy writer-director Adam McKay and post “Land of the Lost“-still-megastar Will Ferrell.

As described by MTV’s Mike Wigler and THR‘s Mike Fleming, “The Other Guys” is a post “Hot Fuzz” spin on the buddy-cop genre in which Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “No Longer the Rock” Johnson will attempt to allow a day in the sun for presumably bumbling, non-supercop ne’er do wells Ferrell and Mark “It’s been Decades Since I’ve Been ‘Marky Mark!” Wahlberg.  Only time will tell if this funky bunch — which also includes English comic Steve Coogan of “Tropic Thunder” and “24 Hour Party People” — delivers at the box office, but all five of these guys have proven they can be varying degrees of funny.

For some reason Jackson  hasn’t had much luck with out-and-out comedies. (He once remarked wryly that, “They were all funny while we were making them.”) Personally, I’d like to see him break that particular curse. I’m sure he would too.

  

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Forever Typecast: 15 Actors Who Can’t Escape Their Characters

We here at Bullz-Eye always knew that we wanted to run a piece in conjunction with the release of “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince,” but what we didn’t know was what kind of piece it would be. We considered the matter, and we came to the conclusion that it would’ve been a little too easy to whip up a list of our favorite Hollywood wizards. In the midst of the discussion, however, an observation was raised about the film itself: what’s going to happen to these kids – Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson – after the last of the “Harry Potter” books has been adapted for the silver screen? Will they be able to rise above their roles and find work elsewhere, or are they destined to be remembered solely as Harry, Ron and Hermione? From there, we quickly began to bandy about the names of other folks who have and haven’t been able to score success in other cinematic identities, and the piece began to write itself. Ultimately, only one of our selections seemed impossible to pigeonhole as either “Forever Typecast” or “Escaped Typecasting,” and when you see that actor’s name, we think you’ll nod your head knowingly and understand exactly why we had that problem.

Here’s a sample of the piece, to hopefully tempt you into checking out the whole thing:

Mark Hamill, AKA Luke Skywalker:

Mark Hamill may not have had much in the way of cinematic credits when he was introduced to the world as Luke Skywalker, future Jedi, in “Star Wars,” but he’d sure as heck done his time on the TV circuit, appearing on everything from “The Partridge Family” to “The Streets of San Francisco,” even playing a guy named Doobie Wheeler on “The Texas Wheelers.” But when you’re the star of the greatest space opera of all time ,you’ve got to expect a certain amount of blowback, and Hamill got it in spades. Despite starring in the fondly remembered “Corvette Summer” with Annie Potts and being directed by Samuel Fuller in the critically acclaimed “The Big Red One,” things just weren’t happening for the guy outside of the “Star Wars” universe…well, unless you consider being third-billed to Kristy McNichol and Dennis Quaid in “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” to be happening, that is. Post- “Return of the Jedi,” Hamill did a few straight-to-video features before realizing that he might well find more luck off the camera and in the recording booth. Having already worked for Hanna-Barbera in the early ’70s, it was a quick transition for Hamill to return to the world of voiceover acting, and it was a move that paid off in a big way. Whether you’ve known it or not, you’ve heard his dulcet tones providing voices for “The Adventures of Batman & Robin” (The Joker), “Spider-Man” (Hobgoblin), “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (Ozai), and “Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!” (The Skeleton King), among dozens of others. Good for him, we say. But the truth of the matter remains: when you see his face, Mark Hamill is still Luke Skywalker.

Got the idea? Great! To see the rest of the feature, either click right here or on the big ol’ image below:

  

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