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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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It’s time for another end of week movie news dump. Yay.

Yup, with Cannes going on and the early-early summer movie season happening, things are hopping.

* Nikkie Finke broke the news this morning of the latest chapter in the never-ending tale of the battle over the rights to the character of “Superman.” It seems DC is countersuing lawyer Marc Toberoff on the grounds of conflict of interest. Sure does sound like “hardball” but that’s what happens when millions of dollars are at stake.

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* It never ends. It just never, ever ends. A new alleged victim has come forward claiming that Roman Polanski raped her during the eighties when she was sixteen. (The terms used in the article are “sexually abused” in “the worst possible way” — I have no clue how that could not be rape, at the very least, if true). The woman is being represented by, naturally, Gloria Allred.

At this time, there’s no corroborating evidence beyond the charges. If there is, I think it’s curtains for Polanski and he’ll find himself suddenly and justifiably all-but friendless in Hollywood. It’s one thing to have one extremely nasty episode in your past, it’s quite another to be a serial sexual predator.

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The definition of a slow Monday morning in Hollywood

We’ve only got news on one remake, one sequel, and few odd cultural jeremiads on the same theme.

* I’ve just barely finished my decades-long personal boycott of the original, and now there they’re talking about a remake of John Milius’s “Red Dawn”. The 1984 film may seem a bit quaint now that it’s old enough to be ready to finish grad school but at the time it seemed to me an irresponsible act of cultural provocation with potentially catastrophic impact if people took it too seriously. Fortunately, few did and most took its absurd plot about a Soviet land invasion as the balderdash that it was. Back then, Republicans and Democrats alike knew that World War III would last about 90 minutes and result in the destruction of most everyone and everything. (This was before the tinfoil hate hat era of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.)

As political propaganda, the prior year’s “War Games” proved far more effective and possibly even affected movie-bred President Reagan’s thinking on the topic as well. In any case, a film about a Chinese-Russian co-invasion (don’t they still hate each other?) seems just bizarre now and, again, pretty much impossible — assuming it doesn’t end with something very close to complete annihilation.

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