TIME movies

Back to the Future II Turns 25 — Or, in Future Years, -1

'Back To The Future Part II'
'Back To The Future Part II' Universal Pictures

Read TIME's 1989 review of the futuristic favorite

When the first Back to the Future movie came out in 1985, it didn’t receive a review in TIME — but on the occasion of its release 25 years ago, on Nov. 22, 1989, Back to the Future, Part II provided a convincing argument for the magazine to want to go back in time and correct that oversight.

“Like its predecessor, Back to the Future, Part II does not merely warp time; it twists it, shakes it and stands it on its ear,” wrote critic Richard Schickel. “But as before, the film’s technical brilliance is the least of its appeals. Satirically acute, intricately structured and deftly paced, it is at heart stout, good and untainted by easy sentiment.”

In fact, he went on, in some ways Part II one-upped its predecessor: “…when [Marty] is reinserted into this moment in time and starts to meet himself and the situations of the previous movie, Back to the Future II ceases to be a sequel. It becomes instead a kind of fugue, brilliantly varying and expanding on previously stated themes.”

It also became known as the source of the world’s wish for a working hover board. In TIME’s original review of the movie, the accompanying photo is of Marty McFly in the year 2015 riding said mode of transport — which makes the movie’s 25th birthday a particularly exciting one. The year 2015 is fast approaching, no time machine required, and sure enough, here it is: a real-life hover board is featured on our annual list of the 25 best inventions of the year.

Read the full 1989 review, here in the TIME Vault: More Travels With Marty

TIME movies

Hear Jennifer Lawrence Sing in Mockingjay

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Jennifer Lawrence stars as ‘Katniss Everdeen’ in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 Murray Close—Lionsgate

The Academy Award-winning actress is pretty good

Jennifer Lawrence reportedly had so much trouble getting past her nerves that she cried when she had to sing “The Hanging Tree” in the latest installment of The Hunger Games.

“She’d probably tell you it was her least favorite day,” said Francis Lawrence, the movie’s director. “She was horrified to sing, she cried a little bit in the morning before she had to sing.”

But, as it turns out, the Academy Award-winning actress is pretty good.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 opens in theaters on Nov. 21.

 

 

 

TIME movies

The History Behind Benedict Cumberbatch’s The Imitation Game

Alan Turing wasn't the only one who suffered

The new movie The Imitation game is bringing fresh attention to a dark period in early 20th century, when homosexuals in the U.S. and the U.K. were criminally prosecuted because of their sexuality.

The movie, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, depicts the life of Alan Turing—a mathematician, computer scientist and code breaker known as a key architect of the modern computer and an instrumental figure whose skill for breaking Nazi codes helped the allies win World War II.

Despite his genius, Turing was prosecuted in England in 1952 for engaging in a homosexual relationship with a man. In lieu of prison, he was sentenced to take estrogen treatments to reduce his libido, a practice dubbed “chemical castration.” In 1954, he killed himself by cyanide poisoning at the age of 41.

The film depicts the Turing’s unjust prosecution and punishment for homosexuality, though slightly inaccurately (for more information, the Guardian did a helpful analysis of the film’s facts).

What happened to Turing was not uncommon in the United Kingdom and the United States during his lifetime in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. In the U.S., it was “the worst time to be queer because you are not being ignored, you are actively searched for and persecuted,” said John D’Emilio, a professor of gay and lesbian studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “The nice thing about the movie is that it is calling attention to this bit of history that people don’t know anything about.”

MORE: The price of genius

In Britain—where America’s own sodomy laws originated—the story begins in 1533, during the reign of Henry the VIII. That year, the Buggery Act made male sex a capital offense in Britain, punishable by death, usually by hanging. That remained the law until 1861, when the sentence was changed from death to prison, usually with hard labor. In 1885, the law was broadened to criminalize “gross indecency” a vague, catch-all term used to prosecute anything considered to be deviant sexual behavior outside of sodomy, mostly between men. In 1895, the playwright Oscar Wilde was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years of prison and hard labor, about which he penned a poem called “The Balad of Reading Gaol.”

During Alan Turing’s life, public concern over the possibility that homosexuals serving in the military or aiding in the war effort could be blackmailed by enemies intensified the stigma of homosexuality in Britain. After Turing was convicted in 1952, the British government took away his security clearance. Turing was exposed after he reported a petty theft to the police, involving his lover. Their relationship was discovered by the police through his reporting of the crime. He pleaded guilty and opted for hormone treatments, known as chemical castration, instead of prison time. He tragically killed himself with cyanide in 1954.

The 1950s, was the beginning of the end for Britain’s laws against homosexual sex, as the prosecution of prominent people stoked a public backlash against the laws. In 1954, a well known journalist, Peter Wildeblood was convicted of homosexual acts with two prominent and wealthy men, Lord Montagu and Michael Pitt-Rivers, in a public trial that resulted in prison time for all of the men and public opposition to laws against homosexual sex. The trial lead to the creation of the Wolfenden committee of government representatives, ministers, educators, and psychiatrists, which in 1957, published a report recommending the discontinuation of laws against homosexuality.

The report eventually led to the 1967 Sexual Offenses Act, which ended the criminalization of homosexual sex between consenting men over the age of 21 in Britain and Wales. In 1994, the age was lowered to 18, and in 2003, it was lowered to 16, the same age for consenting heterosexual sex.

The U.S. history is slightly different from Britain’s. The fervent prosecution of gay sex didn’t start to happen in earnest until the very period during which Turing lived. The U.S. had anti-sodomy laws inherited from the English settlers, but it wasn’t until the late 1930s, 40s and 50s, during a period coinciding with the World Wars and a strong strain of Christian morality, that police in the U.S. made it a priority to enforce laws against homosexuals.

As in England, concerns that homosexuals could be blackmailed by Communist spies—an idea popularized by Senator Joe McCarthy—drove some of the fervor against homosexuals during that period. In the U.S.—more so than in Britain, it seems—the period was marked by increased police enforcement of the laws. Police officers went undercover in public parks where homosexuals went to meet each other for sexual encounters, in order to uncover them. It was a period of fear for homosexuals in America unparalleled before or since. “This is the height of what I call the homosexual terror in America,” said William Eskridge, a professor at Yale Law School and the author of Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America.

MORE: TIME reviews The Imitation Game

During this same period, Eskridge said, states began to pass laws that allowed courts to institutionalize gay people indefinitely in mental institutions for having “psychotic personalities,” where were experimented on, lobotomized, and given shock therapy.

As was the case with Turing, the prosecution of gays also denied the U.S. some very bright minds who, but for their homosexuality, might have been allowed to contribute more to society. In the late 1950′s, Frank Kameny, an astronomer with a Ph.D. from Harvard, was kicked out of the Army Map Service and barred from serving in theUS government because he was a homosexual.

“One of geniuses of 20th century, the father of modern computers who helped win World War II, who was a lovely person, was destroyed by the anti homosexual terror,” Eskridge said of Turing.

TIME movies

Channing Tatum to Direct Young Adult Adaptation Leonard Peacock

Channing Tatum
Channing Tatum at the 71st Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Jan. 12, 2014. George Pimentel—WireImage/Getty Images

Tatum has been moving toward more dramatic movies

Channing Tatum is set to co-direct and produce a film version of the young adult novel Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock with his filmmaking partner Reid Carolin, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The novel, written by Silver Linings Playbook author Matthew Quick, tells the story of Leonard Peacock and his plans to kill himself alongside his former best friend. There’s no word yet on who will adapt the novel for the screen.

MORE: Channing Tatum’s body of work

Made famous for his portrayal of hunky lead characters, Tatum has been moving toward more dramatic roles. In his new movie Foxcatcher, Tatum plays Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz. He may also take an acting role in Leonard Peacock.

[THR]

 

TIME movies

7 Ways Mockingjay Changes from Page to Screen

Republic

Spoilers for "Mockingjay—Part 1" follow

Big-screen adaptations of books always involve changes and modifications to the original story. It’s not a new phenomenon—but it’s one we still love to pick apart when given the opportunity.

But when it comes to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1, there isn’t much picking to be done. (Spoilers for Mockingjay—Part 1 follow.)

The major changes from book to screen are few and far between, perhaps mostly because the third Hunger Games book is being split into two films—which gave screenwriter Danny Strong more time to fit in more stuff from the novel. Sure, we could talk about how Prim didn’t utter the line “Whatever it takes to break you,” or how the movie didn’t mention Katniss’ new bow having voice-recognition technology, but most of those changes are tiny details omitted for time that don’t have much bearing on the actual story.

As for the big stuff—well, that we can talk about. Namely:

1. Katniss dreams of Peeta
Okay, so this isn’t a big change so much as a bigish modification, but still, Katniss dreaming of Peeta arriving and holding her at night—much like he did on their Victor’s Tour—wasn’t in the book. Yet it was a great physical representation of all of the feelings Katniss has (and goes on and on about, via her inner monologue) in the book. In other words, this was a smart move.

2. More President Coin
Going into the film, we’d been told that President Coin would have a greater presence than she did in the book—and that proved to be true. Not only did the film end with her epic speech about rescuing all of Panem—juxtaposed against a horrified Katniss watching a ruined Peeta—but the film also worked in a bit of background for her character. When she first announces that Katniss will be the Mockingjay, Prim tells us why there are so few children in District 13: an epidemic took most of them out, along with all of Coin’s family.

3. President Snow’s prep team and the other districts’ rebellion
Katniss’s first-person perspective in the books means that it’s always safe to expect more of both Snow and the other districts in the Hunger Games films. It’s not a change so much as a point-of-view adjustment—but nevertheless, the movie created a few new characters, namely Snow’s prep team of sorts. In the film, we meet his speech writer, along with another man who helps him make decisions. As for the other districts—well, who knew lumberjacks could be such badasses?

4. Effie in District 13
Probably the biggest difference from book to screen is the presence of Elizabeth Banks as Effie. In the book, her character isn’t in District 13 after the Quarter Quell. But after Banks’ portrayal made Effie a fan favorite in the films, it’s not difficult to understand the film’s desire to change that. After all, nobody’s going to complain about seeing Effie in a jumpsuit.

5. No Venia, Octavia, or Flavius
Effie’s presence in the film fills the same role Cinna’s prep team filled in Mockingjay. In the book, Katniss finds out that Venia, Octavia, and Flavius have been imprisoned in 13 after stealing food, and she frees them. They then help her find her Mockingjay look, which of course becomes Effie’s job in the film.

6. Peeta’s rescue
Because the book is from Katniss’s perspective, we don’t get any of the details of Peeta’s rescue. But the film opens it up: We follow Boggs’s team as they enter the Tribute Center and find all of the equipment that was used to torture (and hijack) Peeta and others. Another tweak to the scene: Instead of Katniss starting the distraction broadcast with the story of how she met Peeta, in the film, Finnick speaks first. It’s only after the Capitol seems to be waking up that Katniss steps in. But she doesn’t talk about Peeta. Instead, she talks directly to President Snow—who, in a twist, knows about the rescue mission in the Tribute Center.

When Film Katniss realizes this, the film physically shows her mental breakdown about potentially losing both Katniss and Gale. So yes, this moment is changed, but only to further the story—and again, find a way to present Katniss’s feelings on screen.

7. “I Kill Snow”
This isn’t a huge deal, but Katniss’s list of demands for becoming the Mockingjay is very short in the film: She wants the other victors to be saved and pardoned, and she wants Prim to keep her cat. Oh, she also remembers Annie, whom she adds at the last minute in the book. So what demands were eliminated? Well, despite not showing Katniss ask for it, the film does work in Katniss hunting with Gale—so we can’t complain about that. But the biggest change is the elimination of Katniss’s final demand: “I kill Snow.” Then again, maybe the films are saving that moment for Part 2.

Final note: Whatever happened to those promos of Snow with Joanna and Peeta at his side? They were the first teasers for the film, and it would’ve been nice to see them in the final product.

This article originally appeared on Entertainment Weekly

MONEY Leisure

4 New Ways Movie Theaters Are Filling Seats and Upselling Patrons

People relax in all powered recliner seats at AMC Movie Theater in Braintree.
People relax in all powered recliner seats at an AMC Movie Theater. Jonathan Wiggs—Boston Globe via Getty Images

The next time you go to a movie theater, you may be coaxed into spending a little extra money—perhaps for a beer, a toy your kid is begging for, or the right to watch the film you just saw over and over.

Even with the blizzard of ticket sales for Frozen starting the year, 2014 has been less than stellar at the box office, with a summer of few blockbusters and overall sales that are down 4% compared to last year. In previous years, theaters and movie studios have resorted to raising admission prices (often using IMAX or 3D screenings as a justification) as a way to offset declining ticket sales.

However, fewer 3D films are being released lately—at least partly because theatergoers have come to see the technology as a gimmick not worth paying extra for in an otherwise mediocre movie—so theaters and movie studios have had to become more creative in their efforts to fill seats and upsell patrons. Here are a few of the strategies that have popped up recently:

Unlimited Admission Ticket
AMC Theatres and Paramount Pictures are experimenting right now with a special unlimited admission for Christopher Nolan’s three-hour space epic Interstellar that’ll get customers to turn over an extra $15. Like it sounds, the unlimited admission ticket allows filmgoers to see the movie as many times as they like—which could be quite a few times, considering how confusing some have found it to be. Unlimited tickets are on sale for $19.99 to $34.99, depending on location, or customers can pay $14.99 to upgrade a one-time admission into an unlimited one.

Combo Concessions
To boost revenues, theater concessions stands have increasingly been offering combo packages that generally include popcorn, a drink in a collectible cup, and often some kind of toy or figurine related to the movie such as How to Train Your Dragon 2 or Transformers: Age of Extinction. The Hollywood Reporter noted these combos cost theaters about $1.50 apiece, and they’re sold to customers for as much as $7.95. As one executive involved in the creation and licensing of such products explained, the natural reaction children have when seeing such combos is to whine until a parent gives in and buys one: “The kid sees another kid with this toy and says, ‘Hey, I want that, too.’” And the popularity of these offers isn’t limited to children, as one theater food service manager said: “We didn’t think we would see 35-year-old guys with collectible cups with little toys on them, but they love them.”

Booze, Food, Recliners… and Wind
To attract more customers and simultaneously squeeze more money out of them at the same time, theaters have been adding or expanding amenities and special features so that going to the movies is much more of an “experience” than sitting at home watching Netflix. Regal Cinemas has been adding luxury recliners to theaters, and plans to have them in as many as 350 locations by 2015. AMC’s Dine-in Theatres program allows patrons at select locations to grab beer and wine, as well as lunch, dinner, or some snacks while taking in a film, sometimes from the comfort of a recliner. In June, the country’s first 4D theater opened in Los Angeles, with artificial wind, fog, scents, and sensor-equipped seats adding another dimension to 3D films.

Gamer Competitions
In October, three Cinemark theaters boasted “multiple sold-out auditoriums” for special screenings that took place in the middle of the night and charged a premium over the usual movie admission. Most curiously, the screening that drew these crowds into the movie theaters wasn’t a movie at all, but a video game competition, the Riot Games League of Legends Championships, which were being held in South Korea and live-streamed at theaters in Texas, Illinois, and Washington.

TIME movies

The Real-Life Hunger Games: Meet the Ancient Women Who Lived Like Katniss

Hunger Games Mockingjay
Murray Close—Lionsgate

Women may have battled in the Roman arena, too, according to some evidence

Katniss Everdeen returns to the big screen Friday in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, and though she left the arena behind at the end of Catching Fire, she’s still a gladiator at heart.

Or rather, a gladiatrix.

It turns out there is some historical evidence that women may indeed have fought in the Roman games—though not necessarily alongside their male peers, as Katniss does in the Hunger Games, and likely not with such high stakes.

Kathleen M. Coleman, Professor of Classics at Harvard University, says there are accounts of the emperors staging gladiatorial spectacles in which women also participated, and that a decree of the Senate from A.D. 19 forbade both male and female descendants of the upper class from participating in such spectacles. “This doesn’t prove that women were fighting as gladiators,” she says, “but it suggests that the society was afraid that they might want to.”

More famously, a marble bas relief sculpture from between the first and second century A.D. depicts two gladiatrices in battle, with an inscription saying they fought to a draw. They are named Achillia, the feminine form of Achilles, and Amazon, the name of a group of mythical female fighters. It was common for gladiators to adopt epic stage names after their favorite heroes.

Roman civilization, Relief portraying fight between female gladiators
Dea / A. Dagliorti—De Agostini/Getty Images

Since neither woman died in the fight, the sculpture is clearly not an epitaph, so Coleman says it might have been “something put up in a gladiatorial barracks,” where the fighters lived separately from civilians, “commemorating the sort of greatest hits of that barracks.”

Like Katniss, gladiatrices likely had humble beginnings. While some gladiators did choose of their own volition to take on the profession and thus enter the lowest rung of the social ladder, the majority were slaves. Those who did volunteer were likely in it either for the valor or to escape debts—after all, as Coleman says, “if you can’t own, then you can’t owe.”

Is that really so different from the Girl on Fire, the volunteer from District 12 who sacrifices herself to pay her sister’s debt?

There were many types of gladiators, and each type came with its own weapons, armor and moves. You sometimes might see two styles pitted against each other, Coleman says. “So the one style might be very heavily armed and protected, and will therefore be relatively impregnable—but slow. The opponent might be very scantily armed, and therefore very fast and unencumbered, but vulnerable. These kinds of pairings seem to have interested Romans.”

Katniss might have been at ease in the arena with her weapon of choice: the Sagittarius gladiator was known for using a bow and arrow.

Unlike the young combattants in the Hunger Games, the gladiators didn’t usually fight to the death. Though “occasionally a very poor performance might result in the gladiator losing his life,” Coleman says, losers would often be sent back for more training, and might even have the option to retire.

The odds may not have been ever in their favor, but they sure got a better deal than Rue.

TIME film

Steve McQueen to Make Paul Robeson Biopic

Paul Robeson planned
Oscar winner Steve McQueen, who is planning a film about the life of American singer and actor Paul Robeson. Issue date: Wednesday November 19, 2014. Ian West—PA Wire/Press Association Images

The acclaimed filmmaker of 12 Years a Slave also announced a film version of the UK TV series "Widows"

Director Steve McQueen has announced he is working on a biopic about American actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson.

“His life and legacy was the film I wanted to make the second after Hunger” McQueen said on stage at the Hidden Heroes awards in New York. Hunger was his debut film about an IRA hunger striker. “But I didn’t have the power, I didn’t have the juice,” he said.

The son of an escaped slave, Robeson led an extraordinary life as a lawyer, actor, singer and activist who supported causes such as the Republican in the Spanish Civil War and unemployed Welsh miners. Harry Belafonte is involved in production of the movie, the Guardian reports.

Though the Robeson picture is in the works, McQueen revealed that his next film after the breakout success of his 12 Years a Slave will be a full-length adaptation of the British television series “Widows,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Read more at the Guardian

TIME remembrance

Remembering Mike Nichols: Let’s Talk About Sex

"The Real Thing" Broadway Opening Night
Mike Nichols attend the Roundabout Theatre Company's Broadway Opening Night After Party for 'The Real Thing' at the American Airlines Theatre in New York City on Oct. 30, 2014 Walter McBride—WireImage/Getty Images

From Virginia Woolf and The Graduate to the scalding Closer, this acclaimed director located the humor and pain in stories of erotic alliances

Mike Nichols, who died Wednesday at 83, built such a prodigious and protean résumé that it’s hard to pin him down. An improv pioneer with Chicago’s Compass players, a forerunner of Second City, he teamed with Elaine May to create a series of duet skits, ranging from improbable romance to social satire, that made the writer-performers the rage of nightclubs, records and, by 1960, Broadway. Then Nichols gave up acting (except for starring in David Hare’s 1997 film The Designated Mourner) and became the preeminent director of sophisticated comedy on stage and screen. Broadway: The Odd Couple and Spamalot. Movies: The Graduate and The Birdcage. When a show or a film was smart and funny, it often was one of his.

Yet across the full half-century he spent as a Broadway director, from the 1963 Barefoot in the Park to the 2013 revival of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, and his four decades plus making movies, from his sensational debut with the 1966 Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to the 2007 Charlie Wilson’s War, Nichols could be the very model of a serious showman. He lured movie stars off-Broadway to do Beckett — Robin Williams and Steve Martin in the 1988 Lincoln Center staging of Waiting for Godot — and to play Chekhov in Central Park, where in 2001 Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, John Goodman and Christopher Walken brought fresh luster to The Seagull. His strongest TV work may be his 2003 miniseries of Tony Kushner’s AIDS epic Angels in America, with Streep, Al Pacino and Emma Thompson. So we’ll say: Mike Nichols, all-round expert director.

We might be able to refine that epithet just a bit — for Nichols, in the age of “mature” cinema that he helped launch with Virginia Woolf and The Graduate, was arguably the wisest director of movies about sex. And we mean not Show but Tell. Films can reveal startling erotic truths about their characters, about us, without exposing so much as a breast or a butt. In Nichols movies like Carnal Knowledge (1971), Heartburn (1986) and Closer (2004), what gets naked is a man’s or woman’s most urgent, reckless feelings and animosities.

He managed all this without writing a word of the text, or at least putting his name on it. (After An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May, he took no writing credit except for the 2001 TV adaptation of the cancer play Wit.) In the age of instant auteurs, Nichols had an old-fashioned gift: energizing each moment in a good script, bringing clarity, subtlety and potency to the people on view. He was no Preston Sturges, a writer-director who created his own cockeyed caravan of stories and characters. His Hollywood model was George Cukor, a director of sublime taste and grace, who inhabited the writer’s words and world — in such film comedies as Holiday, The Women, and Adam’s Rib — and made them shine. The very least you think of a Nichols film is: This is the best this project could be.

He had directed just three Broadway plays, all comedies — Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple and Murray Schisgal’s Luv — when Richard Burton convinced Jack Warner to sign Nichols for the movie of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The tyro director promptly dismissed veteran director of photography Harry Stradling, who was trying to beautify Elizabeth Taylor in the role of a frowsy, fiftyish wife for which she had scrupulously gained a couple dozen pounds, and hired the rebel DP Haskell Wexler for the movie’s severe monochrome look. Nichols was faithful to Albee’s text; all but a few words in the movie were straight from the play. But because this all-night fight of a married couple and their younger guests (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) used words and emotions new to Hollywood movies, the film created a singeing intimacy that raised temperatures, eyebrows and hackles, and earned Oscars for Taylor, Dennis and Wexler.

His next film, The Graduate, detailed the passive, loveless affair between young Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) and the avaricious mother (Anne Bancroft) of his pretty neighbor Elaine (Katharine Ross). More daringly, it undercut the plot’s rah-rah climax. Remember that The Graduate broke a basic rule of romantic comedy and let Benjamin win Elaine just after, not during, her marriage to the blond lunk. But after this boy-steals-girl-from-another-guy triumph, they hop on a bus and, in the last shot, we see the excitement quickly drain from their faces. Ben seems to realize that he really wanted a great quest, not the Grail, and that he and Elaine are now condemned to become their parents. It’s true that ’60s audiences for this immensely popular film remembered the big win, not the post-climax depression. But Nichols gets points for plating a sour aftertaste. Hello, darkness, my old friend…

Nichols’ boldest early film was the 1971 Carnal Knowledge, which traced 30 years in the sexual lives of two perpetually immature men played by Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel. The excoriating chatter in Jules Feiffer’s screenplay would be familiar to anyone who’s attended a college-dorm tell-all, or sat at a bar while the guy three stools down pours out his little black heart, but it was a jolt for mainstream movies. Nobody learns, let alone hugs. In sour midlife, the men still abuse their women, still treat them as sex toys to attain the mystical, apocalyptic orgasm that fades almost as soon as it explodes.

In Heartburn, which Nora Ephron scripted based on her revenge novel about being married to Carl Bernstein, Meryl Streep has to cope with husband Jack Nicholson’s rampant adultery; she’s especially annoyed that he put one of his hotel assignations on a credit card and asks (as I recall), “Why can’t you pay cash like an ordinary philanderer?” Primary Colors, which May adapted from the roman à clef by Joe Klein (sorry: Anonymous), anatomizes the frailties of another charming horndog: John Travolta as, basically, Bill Clinton. The most conventional of Nichols’ movie romcoms, the 1988 hit Working Girl, threw Melanie Griffith into the arms of Harrison Ford, but only after she found her boyfriend, Alec Baldwin, in bed with another woman.

Nichols’ one sci-fi comedy, What Planet Are You From, imagines Garry Shandling as an alien from an all-male planet; he’s come to Earth to have sex with women, but they’re distracted by his humming penis). The sort-of horror movie Wolf trumpets the rejuvenative pleasures of a publishing executive (Nicholson) who, under the full moon, becomes an animal. He’s a monster, and it’s hell on his family but, in his elemental element, he feels younger, sexier — great.

The director wasn’t building a misogynistic argument in his films; he followed the tone of each script and made it better. His two-woman comedy, Postcards from the Edge, is much gentler to its flawed heroines. Daughter (Streep) is a junkie in rehab, and Mom (Shirley MacLaine) is an alcoholic — though she says that she’s recovered, and that “Now I just drink like an Irish person.” Carrie Fisher’s script could have been as devastating as Feiffer’s, a kind of Maternal Knowledge, but it finds forgiveness in human frailty; isn’t frailty what makes us human? That was the message of The Birdcage, scripted by May from the French comedy La cage aux follies. The gay twosome (Williams and Nathan Lane), playing it straight for visiting conservative in-laws, is the most prominent faithful pair in a Nichols movie.

Mostly, though, Nichols films threw a wicked curve at couples who thought they were attending a date-night movie: At least one of you is cheating.

What must this couple have thought of Closer, the blistering sex drama Nichols made from Patrick Marber’s 1997 play? Covering the intersections of four people — Dan (Jude Law), Alice (Portman), Anna (Julia Roberts) and Larry (Clive Owen) — over four years, Closer is initially playful about the deceptions this handsome quartet of characters commit while falling in love and, later, climbing out. But there are scans to be ripped off, as when Anna tells Larry she’s sleeping with Dan. In just a few minutes, Larry endures the first five stages of the cuckolded male: denial, derision, pleading, sobbing, threatening. Now, in confronting Anna about Dan, he atavizes into Caveman, the Alpha Male in competitive fury. Where did you make love: what parts of the house, what parts of the body? How did Dan perform? What did he taste like? Was he “better”? “Gentler,” she acknowledges, depleted by the hard truths he’s forcing out of her. “Sweeter.” Larry finally has what he wanted: the instant, utter and mutual eradication of their year-long tryst. “Thank you for your honesty,” he tells her. “Now f— off and die.”

The scheme of Closer is simple: two people become a couple, break up, pair off with someone new. We are shown only the beginnings and ends of each affair, when hopes are surging, or betrayal sours the air. The piece is a series of cardiograms: hearts open and shut down. “Have you ever seen a human heart?” says Larry, a doctor. “It looks like a fist, soaked in blood.” Closer is a closeup of that heart, which keeps beating even when diseased. It challenges the big movie lie that in life there are heroes and villains, that the good we seek is easily distinguishable from the good-bad we do. This Nichols film is about four glamorous folks with severe but recognizable fissures in their façades. Not like movie people. Like people.

Nichols made movies in Hollywood but his home in New York, in part because he saw L.A. as a company town that value perception over achievement. As he told ace TIME reporter Josh Tyrangiel in 2004, “One of the great dangers of living in Hollywood, and the reason it’s really unwise, is that it’s very hard to fight the virus: ‘How am I perceived?’ And once you preoccupy yourself with that question you’re pretty much lost. It’s all over Hollywood: you can see whether your stock has gone up or down in the eyes of the parking attendant.”

For all those decades, in his journey from Young Turk to Old Master, Nichols kept directing high-IQ movies attentive to the nuances of emotional and sexual brutality. He made no sequels, no flat-out action vehicles (the war movie Catch-22 comes closest) and, excepting his Broadway Annie in 1978, nothing that aims for the adorable. His one box-office smash was The Graduate (nearly $700 million in today’s dollars), followed by The Birdcage, Virginia Woolf, Working Girl and Wolf (all more than $100 million). But after The Graduate, he made the expensive, acerbic Catch-22 and that brazen jeremiad Carnal Knowledge. Nichols just wanted to tell stories that interested him, without worrying what the parking attendant thought.

He could almost be called a minority director, since his films were about adults — who sometimes behave like disturbed kids — for adults. Sitting through them, you’d laugh or smile; and on the way out you might realize there was something deeper, darker, a hard truth worth contemplating and cherishing. Which is how you may feel now, at the end of Mike Nichols’ exemplary career.

TIME movies

How a 1960s Literary Trend Brought Us The Hunger Games

Hunger Games: Mockingjay
Murray Close—Lionsgate

Dystopian fiction used to be for adults

As Katniss & Co. get ready to storm movie theaters this weekend with Mockingjay, the latest installment in The Hunger Games series, it may seem like a foregone conclusion that futuristic teenagers will have to battle an oppressive dystopian regime alongside their crushes.

But it wasn’t always that way. As TIME’s Lev Grossman wrote back in 2012 while exploring the history of the teen romance-dystopia genre in books and movies, until the 1960s — notably, with the release of the Tripod series by Christopher Samuel Youd — dystopia wasn’t for teenagers. Books like 1984 and Brave New World are seen as classics of grown-up literature; during the last 50 years, their analogues have usually been meant for teenagers.

But that doesn’t mean that the genre hasn’t changed further during that half-century:

The Hunger Games is every bit as grim as the Tripod books, but it also tells us a lot about how the future, and the present, has changed since the 1960s. Now we have a great tradition of strong female characters in young-adult fiction thanks to writers like Madeleine L’Engle, Judy Blume and Anne McCaffrey. And along with coed dystopias comes, inevitably, romance: it’s understood now that if you’re fighting to save the human race, you’re going to have to deal with a star-crossed crush at the same time. If the Tripod books were published today (they’ve been reissued with covers that make them look like novelizations of the boy’s-own science-fiction cartoon Ben 10), Will Parker would fall for a tough fellow resistance member with a fetching pageboy haircut over her mind-control cap. Or better yet, a Tripod would crack open and disgorge a nubile, sufficiently humanoid alienne.

Read the full article here: Love Among the Ruins

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