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]

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

Joking about terrorism.

Joking about terrorism. (photo)

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In anticipation of today’s UK release of controversial terrorist comedy “Four Lions,” the British Times Online asks its weekly “Big Question.” This week: “Is it right to joke about terrorism?” This is a question with slightly greater relevance in the UK than the US, insofar as there have actually been several notable UK comedies related to the Iraq War and terrorist concerns already.

“In The Loop” is already well known; bolder is “Four Lions,” and the (at least in intent) slightly edgy “The Infidel,” about a Muslim who finds out he was born a Jew. That’s already a leap ahead of American film, which has so far confined its comedic endeavors to “Team America: World Police” (which safely stuck to North Korea anyway) and “An American Carol,” which no one but me and Bill O’Reilly viewers saw anyway.There was, of course, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s “South Park” adventure a few weeks ago, and the attendant nervousness that’s induced. But there hasn’t really been any kind of comic engagement with our biggest international relations/national defense issue of the last ten years, which is surprising.

Far more understandable in light of Comedy Central’s reaction to the threats against Parker and Stone is the way in which the right-wing blogosphere have taken to arguing that Hollywood is scared of Islam while continuing to mock Christians (which is kind of true, but way overblown). But it’s strange how there isn’t even an American equivalent to “In The Loop,” one that would address the issue from the discreet remove of bloodless, upper-level politics. The closest we got was the end of “Charlie Wilson’s War,” which implied that Wilson’s success was ultimately a failure when no one followed up on all of his suggestions.

05132010_loop.jpgWhat the right wants is jokes about terrorism and terrorists – like the presumably uproarious notion that all the jihadists have the same last name in “An American Carol” — while the British comedies all veer apolitical-to-left and stay off the battlefield. Jihadist jokes are probably unnecessary, but we don’t have a reasonable form of cinematic political comedy either.

[Photos: “Four Lions,” Warp Films, 2010; “In The Loop,” IFC, 2009.]

CBB_221_ComedyBangBangTonight

Road Trip

Scott Aukerman Is Hitting the Road for a Comedy Bang! Bang! Live Tour

Scott and Comedy Bang! Bang! are coming to a town near you.

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Comprised of countless characters, hilarious guests, and running gags, Comedy Bang! Bang! simply can’t be contained in just its podcast and TV forms. As such, host Scott Aukerman is taking the show and its oddball cavalcade on the road in a brand new live tour. Fan favorites Lauren Lapkus, Paul F. Tompkins, and Neil Campbell will be along for the ride (either as themselves, as their show personas, or both — we’re not at liberty to say!), and there will surely be a few surprise drop-ins as well. And maybe…a little magic?

Scott Magic

Check out the tour dates and ticket info below and catch the Comedy Bang! Bang! live tour when it swings nearby. And be sure to check back for updates on Comedy Bang! Bang!‘s new season, debuting this spring on IFC with new bandleader and cohost “Weird Al” Yankovic.

April 30 – Theater at the Ace—Los Angeles, CA
May 6 – Convocation Hall—Toronto, ON
May 7 – Wilbur Theatre—Boston, MA
May 8 – Keswick Theatre—Philadelphia, PA
May 9 – The Lincoln Theatre—Washington, DC
May 10 – The Carolina Theatre of Durham—Durham, NC
May 11 – The Tabernacle—Atlanta, GA
May 13 – Gramercy Theatre—New York, NY
May 17 – Texas Theatre—Dallas, TX
May 18 – Paramount Theatre—Austin, TX
May 19 – Pantages Theatre—Minneapolis, MN
May 20 – Athenaeum Theatre—Chicago, IL
May 21 – Royal Oak Music Theatre—Detroit, MI
May 22 – Paramount Theatre—Denver, CO
May 23 – Fox Theater—Oakland, CA
May 24 – Revolution Hall—Portland, OR
May 25 – The Moore Theatre—Seattle, WA
May 26 –Vogue Theatre—Vancouver, BC

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