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Friday, Nov 21, 2014
He was more than just a filmmaker. With his passing at age 83, Mike Nichols leaves behind a legacy filled with awards and attitudes which influenced every medium he was involved in.

Mike Nichols won nine Tony Awards, four Emmys, a Grammy and an Oscar, making him one of the few artists in any medium that can claim such honors. Not bad for a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who thought of becoming a doctor but, instead, dropped out of the University of Chicago to try the theater. It was there where he met partner Elaine May, and the two would soon become the toast of contemporary (‘50s) pop culture.


He was accepted into the Actor’s Studio and studied under the great Lee Strasberg before joining the Windy City’s Compass Players in 1955. Along with May, Shelley Berman, Del Close, and Nancy Ponder, they were the predecessors for the noted Second City improv troupe. In 1960, Arthur Penn directed the Broadway smash An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and soon both were huge household names.


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Thursday, Nov 20, 2014
The stylized violence of kung fu and the lawless conflicts of the spaghetti western genre coalesce in this action-packed 1973 hybrid.

The Fighting Fist of Shanghai Joe (1973) is the last of ten spaghetti westerns that director Mario Caiano made before moving on to the horror genre. It is also the oddest, most violent, and arguably the best of the bunch. Chronicling a Chinese immigrant’s arrival to the American west in 1882, where racists run rampant and anyone with skin darker than the inside of a potato must literally fight for survival, it was the perfect plot to cash-in on the rising popularity of the kung fu genre in the ‘70s and the international stardom of Bruce Lee.


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Thursday, Nov 20, 2014
Sure, Jennifer is chock full of dimensionless characters, banal dialogue, and gratuitous nudity, but it's never boring.

This horror item from the ‘70s is one of those dumb, cheap, cheesy, unconvincing efforts peopled by mostly undimensional characters spouting dialogue that wavers from simple to stupid, with the teen characters played by actors in their 20s, and many moments of gratuitous (i.e. necessary) breast nudity among teasing girls. Which begs the question: So what? None of that makes it bad, and Jennifer can rightly claim never to be boring.


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Wednesday, Nov 19, 2014
We wrap up our cinematic overview of former flops that became movie masterworks with a tantalizing Top 10 including three efforts now considered the greatest of all time.

When last we left off with “Films That Went From Bombs to Beloved: 20 - 11”, we were talking about bombs. Motion picture bombs. No, not those big (or small) budgeted behemoths that stumble into the Cineplex, announce their mediocrity, and then wander out with little to show for it except an IMDb listing and a lot of negative social media screeds. In this case, we aren’t concentrating on films that flopped because of their lack of creativity or invention.


No, with this overview, we are concentrating on films that failed in spite of their final evaluations. Put another way, we are going back over the history of cinema and staring in wide-eyed disbelief at some of the titles that, today, we adore, but years ago were marginalized and miscalculated. Yes, a few of them made money (if you consider a million or so over budget a “gold mine”), but for the most part, they strutted and fretted their hour upon the big screen stage, only to really gain respect and recognition much later on.


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Wednesday, Nov 19, 2014
The moral predicament of Escape Me Never rings as hollow from the start, making it watchable at best, but not swallowable.

Escape Me Never is a handsomely produced disaster that sat on the shelf for almost two years before Warner Brothers released it to widespread disinterest. Classic starwatchers can shake their heads in bemusement, for it’s now available on demand from Warner Archive.


It’s Venice in the year 1900, and a poor woman called Gemma (Ida Lupino) causes a commotion in a snazzy palazzo. Gabbling out the exposition of her life story while overplaying bits of business all over the room, she tells the swells that she’s an orphan with a baby and that she lives with a composer. By coincidence, her listeners think she means Caryl (Gig Young, with mustache), the composer who’s wooing their rich and proper daughter (Eleanor Parker, beautiful), but it’s actually his womanizing brother Sebastian (Errol Flynn, without mustache). This misunderstanding leads the quartet into a muddled and unmerry dance where Gemma is anguished by the cad she loves while he’s smitten by his brother’s girlfriend, and all anybody’s going to get out of it is a lousy ballet.


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