Cinema is one of the great pleasures in life. If you love good movies, then you will be delighted with the lineup for the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (May 6-9 2021). This post will point you in the right direction as well as provide an added bonus. One of the titles featured during the festival is 1996’s Nichols and May: Take Two. I had the honor of interviewing Mark Harris, author of the New York Times Bestseller, Mike Nichols: A Life. I hope you enjoy our chat and be sure to catch all the great movies during the festival. During our conversation, I tried to fit in as much as possible regarding Mike Nichols (1931-2014), such a iconic figure in the world of improv comedy, theater and film known for such landmark films as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), Catch-22 (1970), and Carnal Knowledge (1971). And those three titles are just scratching the surface!
Cast and producers including Al Pacino, third from left, Meryl Streep, third from right, and Mike Nichols, second from right, hold the award for outstanding miniseries for their work on “Angels In America,” at the 56th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards Sunday, Sept. 19, 2004, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Harris first got to know Nichols during his work adapting Tony Kushner’s landmark play, Angels in America. By then, Nichols was in his seventies and a master of his craft many times over. During our talk, Harris noted: “It is remarkable to me how Nichols kept looking outward during a production, while the meter was still running, finding ways to construct and to add.” As for what might be said in describing Nichols’s body of work, Harris said it wasn’t a matter of maintaining a thematic structure. It was really more down to earth. “It was about finding what excited Nichols to pursue a project: a script, a collaboration, a writer, an actor.”
NICHOLS AND MAY: TAKETWO (1996): TCM premiere of this documentary about the influential comedy team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May. Four of their radio sketches have been re-created with new animation created especially for the program.
Includes conversation with author Mark Harris, Mike Nichols: A Life.
Nichols and May: Take Two
SATURDAY, MAY 8 11:45AM ET
And remember, the festival kicks off May 6th! This year’s Festival will be presented virtually and feature four days of incredible programming on TCM and within the Classics Curated By TCM Hub on HBO Max, a dedicated destination for classic movie fans within the HBO Max app.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Carnal Knowledge (1971)
2021 TCM Classic Film Festival
Thursday, May 6 through Sunday, May 9 at two virtual venues: the TCM networkandtheClassics Curated by TCM Hub on HBO Max.
To learn more, go to the TCM Film Festival site right here. You’ll discover a unique film festival experience on TCM.
Is it the story that’s a little different from previous superhero movies? Loki, a god from another world, is bent on conquering Earth and it’s up to The Avengers, an unlikely mix of individuals with superpowers or super skills, to save the day. Nope, that is pretty much a standard-issue plot for superhero comics as well as movies. So, what is the twist to “The Avengers”? Wait for it….Joss Whedon!
There are a lot of Joss Whedon moments in this movie. Maybe they’re Whedon/Marvel moments but, still. I like the one where Stark momentarily has his hands on a ginormous alien ship resembling a spinal column. Just before he tosses it over to the Avengers gang to work over, he says, “I’m taking the party over to you.” Once the monster is in sight, Black Widow quips, “That doesn’t look like a party.” Or how about the moment when Captain America, at the height of the crisis, orders two of New York’s finest to secure a perimeter. One cop says, “Why should we take orders from you?” Captain America fights off like a dozen aliens before he can return his attention to the officer. The officer immediately turns on his heal and barks Cap’s orders to the rest of the police force. So, yeah, maybe you don’t want to say this exactly, but I will. The Avengers has been Buffified!
Marvel Comics was able to, one by one, create successful movies for a string of high profile superheroes that would lead to a team-up of these characters, just like in the comics. It is the talent of Joss Whedon that pulls this colossal venture together. As writer and director, Whedon has taken his quirky sensibility from his offbeat creations, like “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” and managed to tweak the superhero genre in just the right places. Okay, there was a misstep with the original “Hulk” but, in this latest Marvel flick, the Hulk steals some of the best scenes! Is that all thanks to Whedon? Well, here’s the thing, Marvel Comics has a long history of having a good sense of humor. They can be quirky in their own way. Whedon’s quirk and Marvel’s quirk found some common ground.
Yeah, in the end, it seems like a true blending of Whedon and Marvel. The Whedon touches are there, sprinkled throughout. You can find them in some of the more elaborate details to the basic plot. And you can definitely find them in the more irreverent attitude. You’d think Tony Stark had all the snarky lines covered already without the help of Whedon. But there are a few times when Robert Downey Jr. does get to kick around more hip humor as when he keeps warning a guy at the command center to stop playing Galaga at his post.
Whedon doesn’t deconstruct willy nilly. The story is very much something that easily gets the Marvel stamp of approval. You’ll find it mostly in the banter and one liners that come up at the right moments. You’ll find the Whedon vibe in the cocky way these guys fight. There’s one scene where one of the heroes is shooting in one direction and looking nonchalant in the opposite direction while still hitting his mark. There’s a hilarious scene that has the Hulk confronting the evil mastermind, Loki, who berates him for daring to take on a god. The Hulk simply bats him around like a ragdoll.
Marvel and Whedon are also very good about tackling the big themes and having characters talk out complex issues. Every evil genius always gets a chance to have their say. In Loki’s case, we get a credible look inside his head when he explains that he just wants to give humans what they really want: to be subjugated. Another example is a beautiful scene between Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. where Bruce Banner is explaining his inner turmoil. He had reached a point where he’d had enough. He took a gun and put it to his mouth and pulled the trigger. But “the other guy” stopped it in time. Stark tells Banner he should take that as a good sign. Banner appreciates the sentiment but asks what good can the Hulk have in store for him. Stark tells him to find out. He might even enjoy it.
What a lot of folks love about Marvel is its gritty realism. This is New York City under attack, not Gotham City. It adds another layer for the viewer to invest in. And there’s some clever plot twists that demand that realism which Whedon and Marvel make pay off. In the end, you couldn’t ask for a better mix of quirk and good old fashioned superhero action.
Movies and books about alternate realities and worlds are always of interest. Here is one that you may want to check out. If you happen to be in NYC, consider going this weekend to see this short film. Should make a very nice night out:
Sunday, April 15th
In one world there is a Man who is hanging perpetually in the air, being physically suspended between the ocean and earth. Whenever he wants to get out, he is pulled back to the ocean where he doesn’t belong. A part of him is being transformed into a fish that dreadfully pulls the Man back to the water. The Man faces a choice of survival and chooses to risk his arm. In another world, the Man is feeling stuck in his life. He is seeking for help, but he is scared to overcome a mysterious psychological barrier that he needs to pass.
The trailer of Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” is a knock-out and promises to be another magical dreamscape in the spirit of “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenebaums.” The official poster has just been released too. Now on to Cannes for its debut as the opening film at the festival, May 16. The US release will be May 25.
“Tiny Furniture” wins us over in the way that only the best movies manage to do. This is due to its writer/director/star, Lena Dunham, who seems to quite literally have been born to be in front of a camera. She is not a conventional Hollywood beauty but she is certainly an attractive young woman nonetheless. This is a dichotomy that Dunham embraces. She has no qualms about her curves. In fact, at every opportunity, she relishes displaying her body. This is about more than vanity or sexuality. This is about a passion to make oneself seen and to comment on what is seen. Manohla Dargis writes in The New York Times about Dunham’s goal to make the viewer see the real Dunham. Her character’s name, “Aura,” Dargis concludes, is a reference to a famous essay on art by Walter Benjamin discussing the disconnect between the original work of art’s aura and its reproduction. Only in cinema, by its very nature, he states, does the viewer have the opportunity to see a mass-produced work of art, the movie, on a deeper level. From viewing the bonus features on the DVD, however, Dunham makes it sound like she came up with her character’s name at random but that could be playing to the crowd.
“PROMETHEUS,” will it live up to the dreams of Ridley Scott fans?
“ALIEN” is an all-out classic. “BLADE RUNNER” is another masterpiece. Will Ridley Scott deliver yet another amazing sci-fi event movie? Yes and No. From the hints that have been dropped, it sounds like there are enough intriguing connections made to “Alien” to keep things interesting for fans. But then, Scott has talked about how “AVATAR” has raised the bar. Really? “Avatar” is one colossal movie, a major piece of entertainment but the story is rather thin and predictable. In comparison, “Alien” and “Blade Runner” are strikingly original. “Prometheus” will be, should be, a big hit. And I hope a critical success as well. Who knows. They don’t make event movies like they used to. Mr. Scott should know.
Well, then consider the movie’s synopsis/logline:
Visionary filmmaker Ridley Scott returns to the genre he helped define, creating an original science fiction epic set in the most dangerous corners of the universe. The film takes a team of scientists and explorers on a thrilling journey that will test their physical and mental limits and strand them on a distant world, where they will discover the answers to our most profound questions and to life’s ultimate mystery.
The last word on this: Go see it! The fun begins June 8, 2012.
Screenwriter Cole Haddon is on a roll with his graphic novel, “THE STRANGE CASE OF MR. HYDE,” published by Dark Horse Comics, which is also on track as a major motion picture. I recently reviewed his book which you can read here. It was my pleasure to interview this rising star. We covered many angles of what makes for a good horror story and got a peek at Haddon’s latest project, a new Dracula TV show for NBC:
COMICS GRINDER: About a year ago, the buzz was about the new comic book you’d written, “The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde,” and, of course, the movie deal. Dark Horse Comics will release the collected issues as a graphic novel on Feb 21. The release of the graphic novel is a perfect opportunity for new readers to jump on board. This is not a dark work like “From Hell.” It has a style and a sense of humor that sets it apart, actually quite fitting for Dark Horse. Can you tell us how you came to Dark Horse and how they got you set on both a comics and a movie track?
COLE HADDON: It’s funny, because when I was pitching the idea for Strange Case around Hollywood, the constant concern was that it would be “too dark like From Hell.” I kept telling people, “No, you don’t understand. It’s going to be fun. Blood can be fun!” Luckily, a few people agreed with me. The first was a producer over at Mark Gordon Company. He brought me to Dark Horse Entertainment, which agreed that Strange Case would make a film they could support with their brand. But also, that it would make a comic book series they could support. We developed the idea further, into a solid take, and then pitched it to studio buyers. Skydance Entertainment liked where our heads were at on the project, and hired me to write the screenplay. Simultaneously, I wrote the comic book. The two, the screenplay and the comic book script, had a very symbiotic relationship that I think really impacted the quality of the story in a positive way.
CG: It’s interesting that, in the Robert Louis Stevenson story, both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are far more mysterious than they’ve been depicted in movies. We hardly see either one of them in the Stevenson work. It makes for a wonderfully frightful read, don’t you think?
CH: Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde isn’t my favorite work of gothic horror fiction, but it’s not that far away from the top of my list. Mr. Hyde, however, is, as far as I’m concerned, the baddest of the bad in the Victorian monster pantheon. Stevenson’s approach to the character is terrifying. What you’re describing, the distance with which he approached them, the way he presented them through the eyes of friends and terrified Londoners, was something I tried to recreate. Or rather, I tried to recreate the sense that he was a bogeyman that, as the thing you didn’t see, was far more monstrous. That he was mythologized by that fear in some way. That’s why, in the prologues/flashbacks of my Strange Case, you never see Hyde. You do, however, get to see the public’s perception of him, of that bogeyman, in the Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum sequence in Issue #3 and on the cover to Issue #4.
CG: The template set up by Hollywood has Dr. Jekyll with a love interest while Mr. Hyde has a lust interest. By 1941, this format reached its perfection. Spencer Tracy is paired with Lana Turner, the object of his good standing in the world; and he is paired with Ingrid Bergman, the object of his most base desires. Spencer Tracy, as Mr. Hyde, tormenting Ingrid Bergman, as Ivy, in their suffocating little love nest is decades ahead of David Lynch. I read that you find this depiction of “good” and “evil” to be dated and, certainly, it is. Yet, don’t you think there’s still room to play with the master and slave relationship that Hyde has with Ivy?
CH: My adaptation, while it includes many nods to cinema adaptations of the Stevenson novella, is an adaptation of, or, rather, a sequel to the novella. That meant I had to pursue certain thematic ideas that the relationship you’re describing in the Victor Fleming Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde isn’t very relevant to. It’s a fascinating relationship, don’t get me wrong. What Tracy’s Hyde does to Bergman/Ivy is twisted and, as you said, very David Lynch long before Lynch was messing with our heads, but its scope, its conversation about society and morality, is smaller than the original novella, I think. By the way, I think there is a master-slave relationship in my Strange Case. Inspector Thomas Adye is a slave to the Powers That Be that steer society, that control it for their own gain, and Hyde wants to liberate Adye from that way of thinking.
CG: Your graphic novel, “The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde,” brings in an assortment of new twists and turns to the classic story, most notably it being a sequel and connected with Jack the Ripper. But there’s also the relationship you’ve created between Inspector Ayde and Dr. Jekyll. I’m not sure if this has been brought out before but it’s interesting to me that Ayde and Jekyll look very similar to each other. I don’t know if that was purposeful or not. It adds a surreal vibe to the story. Here you have Ayde who needs the help of an imprisoned Jekyll in order to solve the crimes of Jack the Ripper. And, all the time, Jekyll taunts and tests Ayde, who thinks of himself as morally above reproach. What can you tell us about the Ayde/Jekyll relationship?
CH: Well, to expand upon what I was just saying, Adye is a strict adherent to the morality that’s been defined for him by his government, its elite class, and religion. He, just like Dr. Jekyll in the original novella, believes that this morality, this concept of Biblical good and evil, is something that should be imposed upon society. In fact, that’s what Jekyll’s original serum intended to do. To cleanse evil from the human identity, to make us utterly good and “moral.” That’s why Adye looks like Hyde, I think. He’s Jekyll in a way, the “before.” Hyde is one version of the “after.” Adye, while he takes a different route in the climax, winds up just as changed – but still in a way Hyde can approve of because Adye made an informed personal choice. Mostly, the series is about questioning authority, about striving for reason and critical thinking. There are many outcomes to that, many of which I might not agree with, but I, like Hyde, have no trouble accepting the beliefs of a person who has seriously examined an idea and then chosen to follow it. Blind acceptance of anything is deserving of mockery.
CG: I understand that you’re a huge fan of the old Hammer horror movies. I’ve seen my share. They always left me feeling a little queasy and creeped out and a little mesmerized too. Do you think a horror movie, pretty far removed from the original work, might still inspire someone to read Robert Louis Stevenson or Bram Stoker?
CH: I know they do. The only reason I read Stevenson, Stoker, H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, and many others was because I saw old films adapted from these authors’ works. Cinema was my gateway drug and, later, compass to great literature. Things have changed since I was a kid, probably even reversed in many ways, but I know Strange Caseof Mr. Hyde wouldn’t exist today if I hadn’t, as a pre-teen, seen the original Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde films and then sought out the novella.
CG: I’m sure readers are curious to know about your career as a screenwriter. How did you break into it? What got you on your way? Maybe you can describe a breakthrough in your writing or a fortuitous event.
CH: I’ve always known I was going to be a storyteller. I experimented with comic books, short fictions, and novels, but my love for film was always strongest. Fear of failure probably kept me away from Hollywood longer than I should have; Midwest parents and communities tend not to encourage Hollywood dreams; but I finally made it out here when I was 29. Within a couple of years, I was lucky enough to have my work passed along to a manager who liked what I had done with the story. He signed me, helped me find agents, and pretty much got the ball rolling. Six months later, I sold my first pitch, to Warner Bros, called Thieves of Bagdad. A few months later, I sold Hyde, which is what the film adaptation of Strange Case will be called. Since then I’ve been working fairly steadily, both in film and now in comic books.
CG: “The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde” is matched perfectly with the artist, M. S. Corley. He has just the right sensibility and attention to detail. He also has a certain angular style that brings Mike Mignola to mind. All in all, your book fits right in with the Dark Horse vision. Does it all feel like it was meant to be?
CH: I’m not sure what other comic book publisher would have embraced Strange Case as I envisioned it. Perhaps Vertigo over at DC, but I’m not even sure about that. Dark Horse gave me the freedom to do what I wanted with the story, to work with the artist I wanted, to, in general, create a comic book I believed in. I won’t claim I was completely successful at that, but I know I, and Mike Corley, had fun trying to pull it off.
CG: Your love of Victorian literature and gothic horror feels very authentic in your graphic novel. Could you give us a short list of some of your favorite stuff, be it movies or books, maybe something we should be looking at.
CH: A short list? Wow, that would be impossible. I’m a huge fan of Universal Pictures monster movies, of Hammer Films’ horrors, of any film with Ray Harryhausen’s name in the credits. But I’m just as much a fan of action-adventures, from The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), to King Solomon’s Mines (1950) to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). I think Strange Case is probably the bastard child of these two loves. Fiction-wise, I’m just as all over the place. In the past six months I’ve read works by Frank Herbert, Douglas Adams, Charles Dickens, Michael Chabon, and many more. In the past few years, I’ve also increasingly gravitated toward the non-fiction work of freethinkers and intellectuals like Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. In fact, since the passing of Hitchens in December, I’ve been reading and re-reading much of his work. Strange Case of Mr. Hyde owes a great debt to him and the other brilliant minds I mentioned, too. So yeah, not quite a short list…but it’s a list.
CG: Your current project is writing a new take on Dracula for NBC. What can you tell us about this upcoming show? How will it stand out among vampire entertainment?
CH: NBC hired me to write a TV series for them, based on the Bram Stoker novel. What I can say for Dracula fans is that it’s period and that I’m approaching the character and world with the same love and attention for the source material and accompanying mythology as I did Hyde in The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde. As for how will it stand out among vampire entertainment? Well, there are no sparkly vampires for starters.
CG: Lastly, what are your feelings on zombies? Are they last year’s model or do they still have some life left in them? I imagine you’d say the latter if you’re a “Walking Dead” fan.
CH: I am a “Walking Dead” fan. As for are zombies last year’s model? We’re going on 40-plus years of zombies eating flesh and brains. I don’t think they’re going away. They are, when done correctly, cyphers for social issues. Whether that’s racism or consumerism or whatever the day’s dilemma is, they’re empty vessels to be filled up with an idea, explored, and then chopped and blown to bits. Nobody did this better than George Romero, for my money, but his relevance has, unfortunately, slipped in recent years. Long story short: zombies have plenty of oxymoronic life left in them. That doesn’t mean every film or TV show that tackles them is something worth our time; in fact, most of it is crap; but, when done, as I said, correctly, for commentary, even satire, and sometimes both at once, they can be extremely effective in ways other monsters or approaches cannot be.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is back. Did he ever really go away? He’s back, baby, hitting his marks, reading his lines and glowering when he needs to glower for the camera. And I don’t mean a political comeback. There are some roads that you just can’t take again. Well, tell that to Newt Gingrich. No, I mean he’s back in Hollywood, silly! He’s got at least two hits on his huge hands with that other macho icon, Sylvester Stallone.
It was announced today that Arnold Schwarzenegger will star opposite Sylvester Stallone in the action/thriller THE TOMB, which will be directed by Swedish filmmaker Mikael Håfström. Production on this begins in the spring. Schwarzenegger and Stallone will next be seen on screen together in THE EXPENDABLES 2, which is currently in post-production and will be released this summer by Lionsgate. And Schwarzenegger just wrapped filming THE LAST STAND, produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura and directed by Jee-woon Kim.
And for those of us who were only aware of CRY MACHO, that appears to still be on! Have you checked out Arnie’s IMDb lately? The guy is busy.