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Thursday
Nov202014

Mike Nichols (1931-2014)

Elaine May & Mike Nichols in the 50s"The Great Work begins..." that's a line from Angels in America but someone should've said it in the 1950s when one of the greatest figures in modern showbusiness began his career on Chicago stages as a university student. Mike Nichols, who died yesterday at 83, first gained fame as half of a celebrated comic duo "Nichols & May" with actress/director Elaine May but comedy sketches were only the beginning. He'd eventually conquer all realms of showbusiness winning a Grammy with May for a comedy album in 1961, the first of several Tony Awards for directing Barefoot in the Park on Broadway (1964), an Oscar for directing The Graduate (1967) which was only his second film, and in the last decade of his career, two Emmys for television triumphs with Wit and the aforementioned Angels.

Because I came of age in the 1980s, the Nichols collaboration that defined the director for me was with Meryl Streep who he directed four times for the camera. They were both Oscar winners before their first duet Silkwood (1983) which is, not coincidentally, my favorite Streep performance. Streep was worshipped and mythologized very early in her career but he brought her down to earth while still helping her ascend. Under his his guidance she was instantly more earthy and relatable, less the iconic mannered star than a goddamn amazing (and relaxed) genius of the craft. They made two more feature films together within a decade's span (Heartburn, Postcards from the Edge).

Gene Hackman as a director and Meryl Streep as an actress in Postcards from the Edge (1990)

In fact, whenever I watch Postcardsand marvel at that beautiful scene between director and actress that marks its emotional pivot point, it's easy to imagine Gene Hackman's patient benevolent director as the Nichols stand-in with Meryl representing for all actors struggling with inner demons, doubting their gift, or struggling with a particular performance. It's easy to imagine because Nichols was particularly great with actors directing several of them -- not just Streep -- to their all time best work.

As if aware that he directed three of Streep's least glamorous acting triumphs, his last gift to her was Angels in America (2003) in which they left the ground and transcended into the ghostly, the spiritual... the ecstatic.

Ectastic. That's a good work for his great work. Nichols left us with 22 films, three of which are largely undisputed masterpieces (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, Angels in America), many of which are exemplary and perhaps still undervalued classics of their particular genres (Gilda Live, Silkwood, Postcards from the Edge) or just, you know, extremely popular entertainments (Working Girl, The Birdcage). Through it all, though this is not often true of mainstream-embraced prestigious entertainers, he rarely forgot the zeitgeist-capturing envelope-pushing us his handful of first films from Woolf through Carnal Knowledge and was still pushing movie stars into transcendence with newly revealing, riskier emotional terrain almost until the very end (Wit, Angels in America, Closer).

He will be missed but his work has more than earned its immortality.

 

Wednesday
Nov192014

A Year with Kate: Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry (1986)

Episode 47 of 52In which Katharine Hepburn stars in a geriatric version of The Way We Were.

Mrs. Delafield wants to die. The TV movie opens on an ambulance rushing the society widow to the hospital after an unnamed relapse. Obscured by a breathing apparatus and various medical paraphernalia, Mrs. Delafield lies comatose as her children begin to mourn and divvy up her estate. Her neighbor waxes elegiac on the imminent elegancy of her death. Then, a handsome doctor puts a hand on her shoulder and--miracle of miracles! Mrs. Delafield opens her eyes! And then, out of nowhere, it becomes a marriage comedy.

After last week’s morbid misfire of a movie, the opening of Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry feels a little like purposeful trolling. Grace Quigley extolled the virtues of death for the elderly with an ailing Hepburn at its center, but Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry celebrates the life they still have yet to live. Our Own Kate as Mrs. Delafield makes her actual entrance 15 minutes after the morbid opening, and what a difference two years makes! Kate is bubbling and happy and in full health. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t breathe a tiny sigh of relief. She’s okay! Sure, she can’t carry wood anymore, like she did in On Golden Pond, but that doesn’t matter. She’s too busy carrying the movie.

Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry is about life, or rather the difficulty of having a life when your children start to treat you like a child. Mrs. Delafield falls in love with Dr. Silas (Harold Gould), the doctor whose touch revived her in the prologue. Unfortunately, Dr. Silas is Jewish, and Mrs. Delafield is the kind of rich, blue-blooded WASP whose name ends up on symphony programs and university lecture halls. Her kids, in a shocking bit of anti-semitism for 1986, don’t want her marrying a Jew. His kids don’t want a goy stepmother. Both are called irresponsible when all they are is in love. What are a pair of star-crossed septuagenarians to do?

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Nov192014

FYC for SAG: "Outstanding Ensemble"

SAG ballots go out today (and Globe and BFCA ballots in a week or two) so it's FYC season again. SAG's most unique categories are "Stunt Ensemble" -- may we adamantly remind them that the fight scenes in Captain America: Winter Soldier are better than the ones in Guardians of the Galaxy even if the latter film is more popular and beloved --  and the one we tend to obsess on "Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture"" 

Unfortunately, the older the SAG Awards become the less adventurous their nominations. Rarely do we see the surprise Off-Best Picture nominee as in years past like Hustle & Flow or The Birdcage or what not. We'd love it if their randomly selected nominating committee were not thinking about the Oscars when they went a-balloting. We know, for example, that Boyhood, Selma, Theory of Everything, Birdman, Foxcatcher and The Imitation Game have an advantage do their strong assumed place in the Best Picture race but if you really think about it (which you always should if you have a ballot) are half of those movies all that impressive in terms of group acting? They're impressive in other ways, don't misunderstand. But you can nominate individual performers for prizes so why waste an ensemble spot on the same people!?

The Film Experience would like to make 3 suggestions off the expected path for those voting this year. These are films with impressive large ensembles that are very in sync with each other as well as the film's tone

For SAG's consideration...


DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Jason Clarke does a fantastic atypically peaceful hero job leading the fine human cast but though they're at odds with the apes, their performances mesh extraordinarily well. Keep in mind that they were acting with people dressed up in funny performance capture suits. And the performances those suits captured are special, too!

GONE GIRL 
Though this one is focused on a marriage like the more likely nominee Theory of Everything, the supporting cast has a lot to do and many of them really pop from the TV hosts (Sela Ward & Missi Pyle) to all the family members (Carrie Coon), cops (Kim Dickens) and lawyers (Tyler Perry). SAG could and probably will do a lot worse than selecting this film.

PRIDE 
A loveable underdog but in past years when they latched on to movies as small as The Station Agent, they knew how to throw an adorable indie curveball. And, like, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, this one basically has two opposing sets of actors, at odds, but mixing more superbly than you thought oil and water or, rather, coal miners and urban gays, ever could. 

Films that derive their full strength from the symbiotic contributions or a large diverse talented cast list rather than an acting triump MVP or two (usually leads) ... aren't these the type of films that ought to be considered for "Outstanding Cast" honors?  

Wednesday
Nov192014

Steve McQueen to Helm a Paul Robeson Biopic (& other news)

Manuel here bringing you news about Steve McQueen's next film project.

Surely one of the joys of this past Oscar season was McQueen's ebullience, no?

While we know McQueen has been busy casting his lead for his HBO pilot, Codes of Conduct, it was less clear what his follow-up to his Academy Award winning 12 Years a Slave would be. Well, now we have an answer: a Paul Robeson biopic. He’s quoted by The Guardian, noting that,

“His life and legacy was the film I wanted to make the second after Hunger. But I didn’t have the power, I didn’t have the juice.”

Robeson’s life will surely offer McQueen quite a bit to play with, though I’d love for him to focus on Robeson’s impact and role in the Harlem Renaissance; might I be selfish in wanting him to craft an entire movie out of Robeson’s (in)famous Emperor Jones production? I feel we’ve yet to get a big-screen treatment of that colorful era, with so much necessary cultural history embedded within. After 12 Years’ historic win, it seems fitting that McQueen (who’s teaming up with Harry Belafonte for the pic) would use his leverage to get his passion project off the ground and particularly timely as 2014 continues to see films for, about, and by black artists taking center stage in mainstream conversations.

And for those of you who want to champion and support work by African American women (also beautifully being spotlit recently with Ava Duvernay, Gina Prince-Bythewood, as well as Brit Amma Asante’s films all receiving warm critical and box office notices), the African-American Women in Cinema festival kicks off today in New York City. It looks like a wonderfully diverse slate; the opening night film Seasons of Love features Taraji P. Henson, (also soon to be seen in the upcoming Lee Daniels’ produced television show Empire which will hopefully give her the juice role she deserves) as well as the fittingly and timely titled Afraid of the Dark documentary which attempts to answer the question, in director Mya B.’s words, “Why is everyone afraid of black men?” Let us know if you make it to any of the films! 

Taraji & Gladys Knight in Seasons of Love 

Who do you think McQueen should cast as Robeson? And while we’re on the subject, share with us your favorite film directed by a woman of color (mine’s The Watermelon Woman); I’m always on the lookout for new titles from voices that veer away from the stronghold of the straight white male director.

Wednesday
Nov192014

Yes No Maybe So: Cinderella (2015)

Disney has been on such a billion dollar roll lately by returning to their roots and trusting in princesses and classic children's literature that we're now getting a live action Cinderella. The trailer dropped today. Are we a Yes, No or Maybe You?

Let's try this trailer on for size after the poster (I'm concerned her head might start spinning around Exorcist style, that neck is seriously uncomfortably swivelled) and the jump...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Nov192014

Honey, time marches on and eventually you realize it is marchin' across your blog.

Stereogum interviews musician Tunde Adebimpe, the groom from Rachel Getting Married. He says Paul Thomas Anderson (!!!) was originally going to play his part.
Dissolve the Russo brothers who did such a great job with Captain America Winter Soldier may be staying with Marvel unto infinity. And Infinity Wars
BadAss Digest kind of a dick move that DC announced a Flash movie shortly after The Flash series opened to great numbers but with a different actor. The star of CW's Arrow objects

Geek x Girls Dance off from Guardians of the Galaxy takes a detour with Lee Pace
Coming Soon Interstellar prequel comic
/Film 30 movies coming to TV from worst to best ideas
THR Madonna isn't done directing Her next project Ade: A Love Story has a writer
MNPP LMAO! Which is hotter, Andrew Garfield or...?
Film School Rejects shares 7 movie scenes where actors imitated other actors. Amusing but why no ladies?

Angelina Madness
Variety the long journey of Unbroken to screen 
In Contention Angelina Jolie premieres Unbroken, gets emotional
Vanity Fair new photos of the exquisite Jolie via Mario Testino 

The Gay
Me Says defends the gay (or lack of?) content of The Imitation Game 
Buzz Feed asks the cast of The Imitation Game to cast their own biopics 
Gay Vancouver Congratulations to Film Experience reader since way back, actor Michael Azevedo, who is premiering a short film in Canada
Towleroad Paul Bettany corrects a troll's grammar and homophobia. Paul Bettany is so perfect. I only wish he had a filmography to match. 

Today's Must Read
Steel Magnolias celebrates its 25th anniversary on November 22nd. I'm surprised at how many of these "12 Things You Didn't Know About Steel Magnolias" I didn't know. Usually those article titles are so misleading. Like this juicy anecdote implying that we could have had an all Old Hollywood version! Bette Davis wanted Shirley Maclaine's role. Can you imagine this version suggested?

Davis hadn't yet seen the play, but Elizabeth Taylor had. (Police were forced to shut down the street outside the theater because so many people were rubbernecking Taylor's arrival.) Davis wanted to play Ouiser, and she suggested Taylor for M'Lynn and Katharine Hepburn for Clairee. "It was fantastic, "Harling recalled. "If I ever write a book, it’s a complete, incredible chapter. She basically, bless her heart, wanted to show that she was up and at ‘em and doing it. There was nobody else and she was looking fabulous."

Today's Listen
If you have 50 minutes, hear David Fincher talk about the movies in this wide ranging interview from Studio 360. Have just 5 minutes?  The second listen is Hobbit Billy Boyd singing the theme song for The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies. It's called "The Last Goodbye"

 

 

Tuesday
Nov182014

ICYMI November's First Half

Paul, Nathaniel & Anne MarieAs you know I just spent a week in Los Angeles for the 2014 AFI festival which kicked off with A Most Violent Year soiree and included a tribute to legendary Sophia Loren. I can't tell you how fun Anne Marie and our newest team member Margaret are in person - Margaret introduced Anne Marie to The Film Experience in college for which we must thank her or we wouldn't have "A Year With Kate" (nearing the home stretch now). Because they are young and live in Hollywood I assigned them the "Young Hollywood Panel" as well. We wrapped things up with Gala Premieres and a Podcast.

It was great to meet a handful of TFE readers at screenings! Hi Jordan. Hi Keir. Hi other people who didn't tell me your names! Paul Outlaw, pictured left who you know well from the comments, is the only person I've ever met that starred in an Oscar winning short film and he joined Anne Marie and I for the Selma premiere and festivities

5 More Highlights
Podcast Return - Gone Girl and Nightcrawler
The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Maureen O'Hara's breakthrough film
Top 2014 Pop Artifacts - from priceless "Boy With Apple" to "Amazing Amy" books
Red Carpet Warm Up - Oscar hopefuls hit the Governors Awards to kick off the glamorous trek we know as awards season
A History of Animated Marvels - Tim's funny look back at Marvel's first TV efforts