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.
Bitter Wheat is the new play by David Mamet, closing on Sep 21 at the Garrick in London. This fits right in with Mr. Mamet’s plays on Hollywood, albeit a wonderfully strange minor work. It is a play that was inevitable, Mamet’s answer to the monstrosity that is disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein. And it is just the play that Weinstein deserves: not so much a grand work but a strategic strike.
From clockwise: Caitie Auld, Kara O’Connor, Molly Tellers, & Nicole Santora
The sketch comedy troupe Day Job presented two shows at the Ballard Underground this last Friday and Saturday. Day Job is made up of what could very well be the only all-female sketch comedy group in Seattle. The members are Caitie Auld, Kara O’Connor, Molly Tellers, and Nicole Santora. The foursome is currently a threesome as Nicole is out on maternity leave. I caught the Saturday show which featured the comedic talents of Clara Lewis, Casey Middaugh, and Brittany Tipton.
The show kicked off with a long music intro as Clara Lewis took the stage. She wasn’t expecting so much music but gladly shimmied around. Then she launched into a most inspired set on millennial woes. There was also perfect use of fart jokes. In my view, a strategically placed fart joke will carry you through thick and thin. Placement one: Clara clued us in on how she craves letting her guard down and be able to fart if she chooses. Okay, something the audience can instantly relate to. Placement two: Clara distinguishes between letting a fart fend off a bad date before it happens and avoiding a fart end a good date before it happens. All very funny stuff. Clara provided a very quirky and charming set.
Music was everything for Casey Middaugh as her set was a mix of spoken word accompanied by a ukulele. Casey has a winning smile and easily won over the audience with her whimsical sense of humor. It seemed to come from a sweet, and lovingly loopy, place with a touch of Andy Kaufman and Lily Tomlin. Casey gracefully gave us a short tour of her childhood via anecdotes and even a song she wrote when she was six years old. It’s quite an awesome song involving teenagers, Hawaii, and Hula hoops.
Millennial woes from a different vantage point made up Brittany Tipton‘s set. Brittany was very generous in opening up to the audience. From where she sits, low expectations are nothing to sneeze at. But, if you want to hear a more ambitious attitude, then Brittany was game. She invited the audience to take part in a quick and free therapy session before she became a professional and would have to charge an arm and a leg. One brave soul came forward and claimed he was having misgivings about his career choice. Brittany, with a wink and a ton of irony, did the best to reassure him.
And then it was on to a variety of freewheeling and fast-paced sets by the Day Job comedy group. Let me say here that I was very impressed with everything I saw. When you think about it, on any given night, a comedy club is likely to have an all-male show. Of course, we have great female comics and we need to see more of them. Saturday’s show was an excellent example. Is the female sense of humor any different from the male view? Equal, at least. Maybe even better. It seems that certain details in character studies might be handled with more care from a feminine perspective. Sometimes males need to tap into their feminine side. That said, the Day Job crew were on their A game.
One of the most inventive and fully realized scenes from the Day Job set was Molly Tellers as a father clumsily trying to help his teen daughter, played by Caitie Auld, match up with the coolest boy in her high school, played by Kara O’Connor. I’ll break this one down as best I can. Molly has a gift for taking on her characters with a fun and physical gusto. Much of it depended upon just the right goofy voice along with spot on body language. It’s an immersive quality she achieves as she channels her version of a Homer Simpson-like dad. Caitie, as the teen daughter, is a whirlwind of emotional despair. She nails her teen character with determined grace. I think Caitie is a wonderful talent with a delightful presence. Kara, as the most eligible bachelor, is hilarious. With effortless ease, she taps into all the bravado and posturing of a hot teenage boy.
“Marilyn: The Story of a Woman” is a graphic novel originally published in 1996 by Seven Stories Press. It caught my eye on my last visit on the last day of business at Seattle’s Cinema Books. Funny how we find our comics sometimes. A perfectly compelling work was just sitting on a shelf waiting for me to finally take notice. Kathryn Hyatt proves to be a devoted and thoughtful fan of all things to do with Marilyn Monroe, one of the most celebrated and misunderstood of Hollywood stars.
Stars burn bright and then they burn out. While this holds true for the career of Marilyn Monroe, that is only the briefest of descriptions. What Hyatt does is pay tribute to the human being and the artist. A mountain of books have been written about Marilyn Monroe but her unique life and work forever fascinate generating more and more stories. Hyatt carves out a path in search of some clarity.
Marilyn Monroe was the committed innocent artist. She was innocent in the sense that she was uncompromising in her pursuit of purity of purpose as she saw it. She had to overcome many obstacles none the least of which were her own feelings of low self-esteem. Even when she seemed to have a control over her own sexuality and image, she was still haunted by misgivings. Hyatt lovingly brings us into that world. For instance, the photo shoot that would lead to the iconic centerfold in Playboy was bittersweet. Hyatt evokes the scene with great empathy. Monroe may be thrilled by the attention upon her beautiful body but, at the same time, she only agrees to pose in order to get her car back from being repossessed. And she continues to replay harsh criticism from earlier years that she is “unphotogenic.”
Hyatt has a nice feel for capturing the mannerisms and movement of Monroe. It’s a mixture of a crunchy underground vibe and a more smooth and polished approach. The zest for pursuing her narrative is clearly there. What I’ve come to find in comics biographies is that the cartoonist’s depiction of the subject is akin to an actor’s portrayal. The best versions aren’t direct impersonations but are the creator’s unique interpretation. Hyatt mapped out in her mind the quintessential Monroe and everything that came before and after. She also had to map out what to focus on in the larger-than-life world of Monroe. And that process is akin to a novelist’s work. The overall result is quite stunning.
Monroe’s sexuality was, and remains for us in her work, the undeniable focal point. There are a number of well-chosen scenes where Hyatt addresses this key issue. There are a certain number of depictions of Monroe nude which Hyatt handles with grace. Those depictions wouldn’t work if they were simply meant to titillate. If Hyatt had felt a need to really get provocative, she could have taken a lewd turn but, instead, she is interested in humanizing. In that regard, Hyatt includes a scene of Norma Jeane as a little girl appearing naked before her family. It’s an interesting harbinger. We come to see that Marilyn doesn’t have a problem with her own skin but that will not prove to be as simple out in the world.
Much in the same way that the Kennedy dynasty will forever fascinate, the life of Marilyn Monroe will always have something to say on a personal and a universal level. The theme of Hyatt’s book is a close look at a particular woman who managed, by sheer determination, to place herself in the forefront of public discourse. We see Norma Jeane’s struggle to become Marilyn Monroe. It happens gradually, by fits and starts, as she navigates casting couches and fickle to malicious critics. Through the process, she fully appreciated the status she achieved and gave back as much as she could. However, the misgivings would never go away. She was an innocent artist and that is the deeper layer that sustains her legacy.
“Marilyn: The Story of a Woman” can be found at Amazon right here.
Cooper Barnes as Ray, Jace Norman as Henry, and Riele Downs as Charlotte on “Henry Danger”
Last week’s episode began with a somewhat obscure reference to the classic holiday chestnut, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” A girl comes into the shop and tries out a piano only to have Ray really lose it with a lame Jimmy Stewart impersonation. Ray flips out. Charlotte pleads for him to get a grip for the sake of the children. And then the moment is gone. Very funny. If you were a fan of the offbeat humor of “iCarly,” then you’ll love this new show, “Henry Danger,” from the same creator. Dan Schneider is the co-creator with Dana Olsen. And you’ll know Dana Olsen from his writing for the movies, “George of the Jungle” and “Inspector Gadget.” If you’re new to “Henry Danger,” or if you’re already a fan, read on. This is something very different.
Ray Bradbury was fond of saying that he read every genre. And he was especially keen on keeping up with books for young readers. In that spirit, I present to you, “Henry Danger,” one of the smartest shows on television, whatever your age. This is on Nickelodeon and, for the purposes of this review, we’ll consider what I’ll conveniently call, “kid humor.” Now, here’s the thing, kid humor is awesome and pretty darn universal.
Kids, let’s just say, are closer to knowing what they want than adults. It seems like they understand things, like a sense of humor, at a purer level. They appreciate a well-constructed sight gag right along with an ironic aside and that’s that. Kids know all the tropes. They know what adults find funny better than some adults realize. At the end of the day, kids get a good joke better than some older folk. Kids will accept something funny at a highly sophisticated level, whether it’s silly or surreal, or preferably both at the same time.
What “Henry Danger” does is live right in that kid humor zone. The creative team understands. They understand things like beloved characters are larger-than-life and can also suddenly explode. They appreciate that kids understand the great duality: fiction can be more real that everyday life while, at the same time, it’s also just fiction. There are numerous examples of how the show relishes breaking the fourth wall, as they say. Part of the fun comes from inverting and subverting. For starters, this is a wonderfully deadpan and absurd send-up of superheroes. Our superhero is simply known as Captain Man (played by Cooper Barnes) and his secret lair is, wait for it…the Man Cave.
Captain Man’s origin story is a perfect satire of all origin stories. Little Ray was simply too close to a crazy experiment that his mad scientist father was conducting. An accident led to Ray becoming indestructible. And this led to a relatively easy-going career as the superhero protector of the small town of Swellview. And, just as things started to get a little hectic, Ray hired a teenager, Henry Hart (played by Jace Norman), to be his assistant, aka Kid Danger. Both Cooper Barnes and Jace Norman exude a winning charm and exemplify what makes this show so smooth and fun to watch. Rounding out the inner circle are Henry’s closest friends, Charlotte (played by Riele Downs) and Jasper (played by Sean Ryan Fox). Everyone on the show contributes to a particularly zany vibe.
The first rule of comedy is that nothing is sacred. Kids witness all too often the strained looks of concern from adults. And kids know there’s hardly any reason for all the worry. Are we really having a crisis, mom? No, actually, we’re not. Maybe that’s why Henry’s parents (played by Kelly Sullivan and Jeffrey Nicholas Brown) are so utterly clueless. A pure act of rebellion from the writers! And when Henry’s little sister, Piper, (played by Ella Anderson) acts up and gives everyone a hard time with her rudeness and crazy demands, what should Henry do? Well, he could always take his nifty raygun, entrusted to him by Captain Man, and knock his sister out. Reasonable? No, but funny!
We are told that kids hunger for resolution. But have you asked a kid lately what he or she hungers for? When it comes to comedy, what’s most funny is the opposite of resolution. Just as the final scene is set to lull us back into a sense of security, that’s a perfect time to have things topple over. In one episode, the running gag is that no one is safe from falling off a rooftop, even after the last precaution is supposed to be in place. In another episode, Captain Man and Kid Danger have botched things up so badly with a neighborhood father and son that the only solution is to wipe away their memories and leave them in an alley. Disturbing? Yes, but funny!
It’s a combination of the writing and the particular actors. The writing is bubbling with irreverence and the actors run with the sophisticated absurd humor. The energy of the cast in undeniable. The chemistry is pitch perfect. It’s simply one of the smartest shows on television. You can see it Saturday at 8pm/7 central, on Nickelodeon. For more details, visit our friends at Nickelodeon right here.
And for a sneak peek at the next episode, “Elevator Kiss,” on this Saturday, visit Dan Schneider’s website right here.
There’s the legendary tragic story of 19th century American actor, Edwin Booth. He was so celebrated for his performance as Othello that he kept to that role, made a career out of it, and died with it. If only actor Riggan Thomson (played by Michael Keaton) were so lucky. He’s stuck with being known as the guy behind the Birdman mask in a ridiculously successful superhero movie franchise. “Birdman” is about a lot of things, including Riggan’s journey toward redemption. After so much water under bridge, he feels he’s found something meaningful he can do with all that he’s learned. He’s adapted Raymond Carver for the Broadway stage. It’s an audacious move and one that rankles those who position themselves as arbiters of taste, specifically the New York theater critic, Tabitha Dickinson (played by Lindsay Duncan). The role of Tabitha is relatively small and yet so pivotal. She’s the one who, for better or worse, holds the fate of Riggan’s play and perhaps much more. And she’s the one who should be most eloquent on matters of culture except her delivery is all too pointed. In a great balancing act, “Birdman” arrives at its satire with grace.
“Birdman” is one of those films that hits the nail on the head so well that it leaves you wanting more. The winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director for Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman” is an instant classic. Forget about anything you may have heard or read from naysayers giving it a nonsensical label of being “pretentious.” I read that’s what, of all people, shock jock Howard Stern labeled this film as being. That absurd assessment, that twisted view of culture, is the sort of thing that is lampooned in “Birdman.” It’s as if Federico Fellini and Paddy Chayefsky were both alive today and created a masterpiece speaking to where we find ourselves. And where do we find ourselves? We find ourselves with the Howard Sterns of the world making empty gestures each day to countless fans.
We are stuffing ourselves with pop culture that often, some would say always, proves to be as fulfilling as cotton candy. In a film full of great conflict, the resounding head-butt is between high and low culture. Not only do we have snooty critics like Tabitha, but we have snooty thespians out to make life a living hell for Riggan. Enter Mike Shiner (played by Edward Norton). When Riggan finds himself in need of a replacement for a lead role, Mike is fortuitously available. He also happens to be notoriously rude and unstable. He thinks Riggan is incapable of genuinely caring about anything. He laughs at Riggan’s personal story about Raymond Carver. Mike also realizes that he has a very crazy way of showing that he cares.
And to care about something is at the heart of this film. Riggan is given many reasons to care, including his daughter, Sam (played by Emma Stone). There’s a wondrous scene where Sam lashes out at her dad. What’s remarkable is how much is said and conveyed. Sam goes from being triggered into conflict, to full-on rage, to a descent into regret. It’s the sort of sustained moment you would experience in theater. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu pushes the boundaries of what can be conveyed in film, particularly with a series of awe-inspiring continuous shots. It’s theatrical on one level. It’s hyperreal on another. And, you better believe it, it makes you want to care.
“Birdman” is available now on DVD and Blu-ray. The feature with a behind-the-scenes look at the film is priceless. For more information, visit Fox Searchlight right here.
Freestyle Love Supreme at Joe’s Pub. (photo credit: Kevin Yatarola)
Pivot, Participant Media’s cable network presents an original special, an evening with the hip-hop improv group, FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME on Saturday, March 8 at 10PM ET/PT. The all-new half-hour special brings a national audience into New York City’s celebrated venue, Joe’s Pub, to experience the eponymous improv troupe’s uber-buzzy, high-energy live show from award-winning Lin-Manuel Miranda and Thomas Kail, the creators of the Tony and Grammy award-winning musical, “In The Heights.” This first-time ever TV special will be taped in front of a live audience just two days prior to premiere. More details here.
It is an honor to get to interview the talented creators of Freestyle Love Supreme: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, and Anthony Veneziale. As Lin-Manuel says, Freestyle Love Supreme was taking shape at the same time that all three of them were working together on “In The Heights.” Freestyle was Anthony’s brainchild and he and Lin-Manuel were having fun with it. Then Thomas Kail came along and helped give shape to what has become an ongoing performance that has won over audiences. It’s all about participation as the audience provides the topics for the show.
Dubbed by The New York Times as “Masters in the art of Freestyle rhyme,” Freestyle Love Supreme uses rap to spin audience suggestions into fully-realized musical numbers. In addition to Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Freestyle Love Supreme” also stars Utkarsh Ambudkar, Anthony Veneziale, Chris Sullivan, Bill Sherman, Chris Jackson and Arthur Lewis. The show is created by Thomas Kail and Anthony Veneziale.
Pivot TV is all about its audience as it has fully demonstrated with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s popular “Hit Record.” You can now add to that, this original special from Freestyle Love Supreme.
Just click the link below to listen to the podcast interview:
Visit Freestyle Love Supreme here and Pivot TV here. And watch the Freestyle Love Supreme special on Saturday, March 8 at 10PM ET/PT.