Mike Nichols, who passed away last week at 83, was a man of diverse talents — a comic who became a theater and film director, and excelled at all three. Even the films he made were all over the place: his debut, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is very different from “The Graduate,” its follow-up (also on Instant). Neither are like “Heartburn,” his 1986 take on Nora Ephron’s scathing roman-a-clef. It was Nichols’ second film with Meryl Streep, playing an Ephron-esuqe food journo who watches as her power couple union with a Carl Bernstein stand-in (Jack Nicholson) crumbles spectacularly.
When he started out, Nichols was one of the most progressive stylists in Hollywood. A couple failed projects — including the overhated/underrated “The Day of the Dolphin” — led to a shocking eight year hiatus from movies, minus a Gilda Radner performance film. When he returned, with Streep’s “Silkwood,” he’d calmed down considerably; the remainder of his work was subdued, even deceptively plain. Where he really flexed his muscle was in tone. He has the right sense of humor and sensitivity to nail Ephron’s funny-painful account of being suddenly and unnecessarily single. Watch it with someone you hate.
In the ’90s American theaters were routinely flooded with Americanized versions of Jackie Chan’s Harold Lloyd-gone-action films. They weren’t the same as the originals; not only did they dub them into English, they redid the scratchy punching sound effects so important to their unique, scrappy feel. At least you can watch 1985’s “Police Story” — one of Chan’s finer achievements — online in its original cut. As usual, it doesn’t matter what the story’s about; all you need know is it’s the one with the deranged mall tussle, which features the balletic asskicker making funny-violent poetry out of a clothing rack.
Epix caught some heat not long ago when it aired a color version of Alexander Payne’s estranged father-son road trip picture. Admittedly the intended black-and-white looks too digital, but it still makes fine use of drab, arid Midwestern locales — a fine backdrop for taciturn geezer (Bruce Dern) to torture his sadsack spawn (Will Forte).
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