Critic’s Notebook: Todd McCarthy Reflects on the Film Career of Mike Nichols

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Todd McCarthy writes: Mike Nichols is such a great talker, my first desire after reading The Hollywood Reporter’s current skipping-stone account of his theatrical directing career is to buy his own 20-disc recording of the autobiography he unfortunately hasn’t written yet.

My second desire is to see Death of a Salesman before it closes.

My third is to know: Who is Mike Nichols?

As Meryl Streep attests, he always is “the smartest and most brilliant person in the room.” I spent a couple of hours with him many years ago, a memorable encounter that directly led to my first job in Hollywood — as assistant to his former partner, Elaine May. At the time, Nichols was preparing to direct the film version of The Last Tycoon, a project that eventually passed to his self-proclaimed idol, Elia Kazan, while Nichols moved on to The Fortune. This sequence of events didn’t work out well for either of them; it was the end for Kazan, and Nichols didn’t direct another dramatic feature for nearly a decade.

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Nichols’ best films, in order:

ANGELS IN AMERICA (2003) Nichols’ distinct talents for stage and screen merge perfectly in this superlative adaptation of one of the great American epic plays. Jeffrey Wright and Al Pacino are out of this world in it.

CARNAL KNOWLEDGE (1971) With a terrific Jules Feiffer script (originally written as a play) and a bold visual style, this bracing study of men’s attitudes toward women is probably the director’s most probing, self-revelatory film.

THE GRADUATE (1967) Still funny and sharp-edged after all these years, it’s one of the great zeitgeist films of the ‘60s or any other era, caricatured, perhaps, but with truth and insight to support it. Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft are simply sensational.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966) Richard Burton remains the standout in Nichols’ vibrant and vital adaptation of one of the seminal American plays, with Haskell Wexler’s mobile, unflattering black-and-white cinematography still a marvel.

WORKING GIRL (1988) This key female empowerment comedy is sheer enjoyment, plain and simple, with Nichols displaying his great skill with actors by making everyone in the variously talented cast look equally good.

And therein lies the first mystery. Why did this golden boy, who had conquered improv, recording, cabaret and Broadway by his early 30s, won an Oscar for his second film and batted .750 in his first four times up to the plate — with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?The Graduate and Carnal Knowledge all going for extra bases while Catch-22 was a deep fly out to left — suddenly flatline, lose “The Knack” (also the title of a play he successfully directed in the early 1960s) and retreat to Broadway? Read the rest of this entry »


50 Bags of Heroin: More Details Emerge on Drug Death of Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman

ace-of-spadesWashington Times‘ Jessica Chasmar  reports:  More details are surfacing about the apparent drug overdose of Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found dead inside his New York City apartment on Sunday, police said.

[See also: Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Deadly Brand of Heroin: ‘Ace of Spades’]

Mr. Hoffman, a 46-year-old New York native, won an Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of American author Truman Capote in “Capote.” He starred in many other notable films, including “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “The Master,” and the “Hunger Games” franchise.

Investigators found more than 50 glassine-type bags containing what is believed to be heroin in his apartment, along with several bottles of prescription drugs and more than 20 used syringes in a plastic cup, sources told CNN.

Mr. Hoffman reportedly had suffered from drug addiction for years. After 23 years sober, he admitted in interviews that he relapsed and developed an addiction to heroin. He checked into a rehabilitation facility last year.

Law enforcement officials said the actor’s body was discovered in the bathroom of his Greenwich Village apartment by an assistant and a friend, who called 911. Mr. Hoffman’s family called his death “tragic and sudden.”

hofffman“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Phil and appreciate the outpouring of love and support we have received from everyone,” his family said in a statement Sunday afternoon. “This is a tragic and sudden loss and we ask that you respect our privacy during this time of grieving. Please keep Phil in your thoughts and prayers.”

Mr. Hoffman was not blessed with matinee-idol looks but his meticulous craft made him one of Hollywood’s most respected actors, able to straddle both the multiplex and the film festival audiences. He won raves for both franchise tentpoles such as the third “Mission: Impossible” film and a career-long collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson in such films as “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman wasn’t just a great actor in great roles. He was a great actor in crap roles. He took dead material and gave it life. Probably the best example is his turn as the baddie in [Mission: Impossible III]. As written, it’s an utterly empty, generic villain character.

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