DID YOU READ

Mike Nichols, master of laughing though his heart is breaking.

Mike Nichols, master of laughing though his heart is breaking. (photo)

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As his Wikipedia entry states, Mike Nichols “is one of only twelve people to have won an EGOT, all the major American entertainment awards: an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award,” alongside such show-business immortals as Whoopi Goldberg and Audrey Hepburn.

To that unwieldy acronym (one that spawned a side story on “30 Rock”) Nichols tomorrow will add the AFI Life Achievement Award, joining an impressive list of recipients that all legitimately qualify as “legends”: John Ford, Gene Kelly, Jack Lemmon, Scorsese. Nichols will arguably be the most second most colorless showbiz force to receive one (after Robert Wise, the editor and director whose best work was studiously impersonal and well-crafted).

It’s not that Nichols doesn’t have a clear personality. As part of the Nichols & May team, he displayed a subversive, progressive feel for comedy that initially laos manifested itself in his work as a director. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “The Graduate” are puckish movies about unfunny subjects — alcoholism, disintegrating marriages and post-graduate malaise — and if “Woolf” is overdetermined, “The Graduate” remains ridiculously fresh, its jokes not at all expected. You can get a contact high from watching it.

06092010_working.jpgBut Nichols’ subsequent work has betrayed little individual stamp, though I have some ideas about how they work. His films tend to be set in America and about Americans; Nichols isn’t a Milos Forman-level satirist and observer, but he seems to see things in a heightened way.

“Silkwood” and “Working Girl” are immensely sympathetic, immersive looks at shitty American workplaces. For all its charm, “Working Girl” is only secondarily a romance; the key scene is when Joan Cusack accuses Melanie Griffith of trying to use work to get away from her horrible Staten Island life and friends — and she’s right, that’s exactly what Griffith is doing and pulls off by film’s end.

But Nichols is above all a supremely technical director. “Catch-22” opens with a scene of 16 planes taking off at the same time and climbing into formation in an uninterrupted take, a feat David Lean wouldn’t have disdained. Though his background is in comedy, Nichols’ comic work doesn’t scan that way based on how it’s shot or edited. “Charlie Wilson’s War” is hilarious, but if you watched on mute you’d think it was a drama. (This cuts both ways: “Closer” is also hilarious, but Nichols insisted if you laughed you missed the point. He was wrong.)

06092010_catch.jpgUnlike his ’60s and ’70s cohorts, Nichols crashed and burned several times — “Catch-22” was a huge flop, “The Day of the Dolphin” and “The Fortune” not big hits, and he’s never been as relevant or dominant as he was with “The Graduate” — but the somewhat colorless nature of his work obscures what a sharp and terrific director he can be when the material is good.

He’s never better than his scripts, but that’s a trick reserved for true masters. Nichols is something else: a bright technician whose fundamental curiosity about things can sometimes lead him to unexpectedly terrific work. A lifetime achievement award? Sure, why not.

[Photos: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” Warner Bros., 1966; “Working Girl,” 20th Century Fox, 1988; “Catch-22,” Paramount, 1970]

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Inauguration Alternative

Bill Murray On Repeat

It's a movie "Murray-thon" all-day Friday on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs courtesy of GIPHY

Democrats, Republicans and Millennials agree: 2017 is shaping up to be a spectacle — a spectacle that really kicks into high gear this Friday with the presidential inauguration. Not only will the new POTUS swear in, but all the Country’s highest offices will be filled. It’s a daunting prospect, and to feel a little anxious about it is only normal. But if your anxiety is snowballing into panic, we have a solution:
Bill Murray.

He’s the human embodiment of a mental “Happy Place”, and there’s really no problem he can’t solve. So, with that in mind, how about we all set aside reality for a moment and let Bill take the pain away by imagining a top-shelf White House cabinet filled exclusively by his signature characters. Here are a few hypothetical appointments for your consideration…

Secretary of Defense:
Bill Murray from Stripes

His incompetence is balanced by charm, and dumb luck is inexplicably on his side. America could do worse.

Secretary of State:
Bill Murray from Lost In Translation

A seasoned globetrotter steeped in regional traditions who has the respect of the whole wide world. And he kills Costello in karaoke, which is very important.

Press Secretary:
Bill Murray from Ghostbusters

“Cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria.” Dude knows how to brief a room.

Secretary of Health and Human Services:
Bill Murray from What About Bob.

A doctor-approved people person who knows that progress is measured in baby steps.

Secretary of Energy:
Bill Murray from Groundhog Day

Let’s be honest, this world is going to need a lot of do-overs.

Feeling better? Hold on to that bliss. And enjoy a healthy alternative to the inauguration brouhaha with multiple Murrays all Friday long in an IFC movie marathon including Kingpin, Zombieland, Ghostbusters, and Ghostbusters II.

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Home Run

Hank Azaria Gets Thrown A Curve Ball

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Unless you’ve somehow missed every episode of the Simpsons since 1989, then surely you know that Hank Azaria is one of the most important character actors of our time. He’s so prolific and his voice is so dynamic that he’s responsible for more iconic personalities than most folks realize. Basically, he’s the great and powerful Oz — except that when you pull back the curtain the truth is actually more impressive. And now Hank is coming to IFC to bring yet another character to the TV pop culture hive mind in the new series Brockmire. Check out the trailer below.

Based on the following Funny or Die short and co-starring Amanda Peet, Brockmire follows the story of imploded major league sportscaster Jim Brockmire as he tries to resurrect his career by calling plays for a floundering minor league team in a podunk town.

The series is written by Joel Church-Cooper (Undateable) and produced by Funny or Die’s Mike Farah and Joe Farrell, meaning that there’s funny in front of the camera, funny behind the camera–funny all around. Sounds like a ball to us.

Brockmire premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia On People Who Can’t Park

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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If flagrant bad parking takes nerve, then retaliatory note writing takes neuroses. Watch Fred and Carrie take passive aggression to next level in Car Notes, the new Portlandia web series presented by Subaru. The first episode is yours right here and now, and you can see every installment of Car Notes anytime online, on the IFC app and on demand.

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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