Nick’s Picks Movies Part 1-The Original Film Buddies-Peter Falk & John Cassavetes Mikey & Nicky (1976)

Photo: NY Times

Mikey & Nicky is available to be streamed for free using your library card through Kanopy.

(Disclaimer: This film contains mature content and adult situations.)

Mikey & Nicky (1976) is one of my favorite films of all time! And my love of the film might have something to do with the fact that one of the main characters shares my name, and happens to be played by John Cassavetes, arguably the most important Greek-American people in all of film history. Cassavetes was a bit of a raw force of nature when it came to his work-ethic, willingness to self-fund his projects, and ability to depict truth.

Nicky’s best friend and counterpart, Mikey is played by Peter Falk, most known for his role as the lovable Detective Colombo from the TV show Colombo. However, before Colombo, Falk was known for playing menacing, quiet, manic villains. Falk demonstrates a bit of both of those kinds of roles as Mikey. Cassavetes on the other hand tended to always play characters that never quite got their act together and were a bit crazy, yet always strangely endearing. I guess you might call the Cassevetes character archetype, the slightly lovable low-life, and that definitely is the case with his performance as Nicky. In addition to Falk and Cassavetes, is Ned Beatty, whose befuddled hitman character, Kinney, adds moments of quiet humor.

Elaine May

Mikey & Nicky is essentially the director Elaine May’s successful attempt at a dark comedy, gangster film with reachable main characters. And the film’s style and rough aesthetic works so well with Cassavetes and Falk’s strengths as actors. Elaine May’s career and accomplishments as a comedian, film director, screen writer, and actress are very impressive and important. May was the third woman to be accepted into the Director’s Guild of America, famous for using huge amounts of film during her projects, and fought very hard to get Mikey & Nicky made. For more unique facts about the film and Elaine May, check out the article 10 Things I learned: Mikey & Nicky.

The other film Mikey & Nicky brings to mind is the locally shot The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), particularly the diner scenes in both films pictured above. However, the pacing and overall moods vary drastically. Eddie Coyle is much more sleepy and soft, whereas Mikey & Nicky is kinetic and harsh. I would also argue that Mikey & Nicky very much served as a template and foundation for two of my other favorite films, both directed by the Safdie brothers, Good Time (2017) and Uncut Gems (2019). The Safdie brothers actually list five Cassavetes films in their Criterion Top-Ten List. Furthermore, immediately after I finished my first draft of this post, while searching for Mikey & Nicky images, I found this rather interesting National Review article by film critic Armand White, presenting a comparison between the film and Uncut Gems.

I hope you give the film a try, and end up enjoying Mikey & Nicky as much as I do.

Take care and stream on!

Nick, Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian

Mikey & Nicky Trailer

Video on Acting in Mikey & Nicky

Mikey & Nicky Difficult Men Criterion Article


Nick’s Picks Graphic Novels Part 1-Who Watches The Watchmen?-Watchmen (1986) by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

Watchmen is available to borrow and read for free using your library card on Hoopla Digital.

Majority of readers have heard of the graphic novel Watchmen (1986) written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons at some point, likely because it is largely considered one of the several starter graphic novels for non-graphic novel readers. Watchmen has appeared on countless recommendation lists, and was adapted into a feature film and recent HBO series. Also, Watchmen is considered one of the three graphic novels that make up what is referred to as the “Holy Trinity” of graphic novels. The other two being V for Vendetta (also by Alan Moore) and Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. I would argue that Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns have received more attention than V for Vendetta, despite each being of equal importance.

Drawing by Stephen Bissette from Author’s Private Collection

Watchmen essentially changed American comic book readers’ understanding of the superhero genre, by challenging its conventions; and showing what happens when the superheroes are lonely, depraved, frustratingly human, and in some cases just as bad as the villains. This graphic novel is absolutely filled to the brim with plot, subplots, cultural references, flashbacks, interesting characters, riveting action sequences, romance, and stunning artwork.

Photo: DC Comics

At the heart of the graphic novel, is a conspiracy and mystery murder story involving semi and fully retired superheroes, each of whom reflect and serve as critiques of well-established superhero archetypes. I personally find the most interesting and exciting character to be Rorshach, who’s brutal form of vigilante justice and intense determination parallels the Marvel character, The Punisher. The despicable Comedian is perhaps reflective of characters from various war comics, and the larger archetype of the anti-hero. Nite Owl is essentially a more insecure and out of shape parody of Batman. Silk Spectre brings to mind several of the female X-Men characters; and Doctor Manhattan is quite obviously a critique of Superman. The last main character Ozymandias is not as pinpointable, but his costume and name is similar to Marvel and DC Comics’ versions of mythological gods and heroes, such as Hercules and Thor. Similar to other graphic novel standalone epics, like Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, the word that best encapsulates Watchmen’s core is complexity. And furthermore, there’s a sense of human emotion and depth that perhaps people find is often missing from the more traditional superhero comics. The graphic novel is a sure masterpiece coming from a place of intense focus; frustration with the medium’s constraints and traditions; and a desire to create a new fictional world independent of the DC and Marvel universes. 

Author’s Private Collection

Watchmen is a bit of a slog at first, primarily because of all of the added content in 11 out of the 12 issues. However, it’s a great read and well worth the effort. Watchmen is also a great introduction to the work of Alan Moore, and the world of graphic novels. It is worth noting that Watchmen’s success and issues surrounding rights and ownership, resulted in a rather nasty feud between Moore and DC Comics. This dispute marked Moore’s departure from working with the company, and all mainstream comic publishers for the rest of his career so far. All of Moore’s works vary greatly in terms of story and art, yet tend to pull away from the traditional superhero genre. If you like romances, horror, supernatural, and/or gothic literature, I highly recommend you consider checking out Moore’s Saga of The Swamp Thing series. That particular series, is a truly beautiful and compelling work of sequential art. Moore’s entire Swamp Thing run is also available to borrow on Hoopla Digital.

Alan Moore

Moore and Gibbons essentially set the gold standard for what a great graphic novel looks like, and can accomplish in terms of narrative complexity, character development, depth, and artistic focus. Watchmen along with V for Vendetta and The Dark Knight Returns, and nonfiction graphic novels, such as Maus and Fun Home, elevated the genre to a wider, more diverse reader audience. Whether you’re new to graphic novels or a huge fan of the genre, if you haven’t read Watchmen, I highly recommend you do so.

Take care and read on!

Nick, Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian

Below are some related graphic novels and read-a-likes similar to Watchmen that are also available to borrow for free on Hoopla Digital.

Prequels and Spin-Offs: Before Watchmen series by various writers and illustrators, and Doomsday by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. 

Watchmen Read-A-Likes: Astro City by Kurt Busiek, The Boys by Garth Ennis, and The Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross 

More Moore: V for Vendetta, Saga of the Swamp Thing, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Batman: The Killing Joke, Promethea, and Nemo

More Dave Gibbons: Batman vs Predator, Elseworlds: Superman Vol. 1, and Green Lantern by Geoff Johns Book One

Nick’s Picks Movies Part 2-The Plague in Medieval Sweden-The Seventh Seal (1957)

Photo: Criterion Collection

The Seventh Seal is available to be streamed for free using your library card through Kanopy.

(Disclaimer: This film contains mature content and adult situations.)

Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957) is best described as beautifully dark. Therefore, this film is definitely dreary, and perhaps even a bit reflective of the current global situation. However, it’s still a great film, and one of my favorites for two main reasons. First off it has the medieval back-drop of the plague and Crusades, and secondly it’s Scandinavian. These two aspects resonate with me greatly, because one of my side academic and scholarly research interests is Scandinavian medieval history and Old Norse manuscripts. I had the great opportunity these past two summers to take seminars on Scandinavian medieval manuscripts in Iceland and Denmark, at the Arni-Magnusson Institute and universities in both countries. While writing this, I stumbled upon a recent Washington Post article by John Kelly, that actually focuses on the Norse mythological squirrel Ratatoskr. Kelly interviewed two Old Norse scholars, one of whom, Gísli Sigurðsson teaches at the University of Iceland. The article also features a wonderful medieval manuscript image of Ratatoskr from the Arni-Magnusson Institute. Also, one of my Icelandic friends I met while studying in Copenhagen absolutely adores this film.

Max Von Sydow (left) as Antonius Block and his squire Jöns (right) witness a witch burning. (Photo: Criterion Collection)

My additional reason for picking this film to recommend, is the recent sad passing of the prolific Max Von Sydow, who acted in over 100 films. Sydow plays the main character of Antonius Block, a knight coming home to Sweden from fighting in the Crusades for years, only to find his country ravaged by the plague. His arrival home is also greeted by a chess playing figuration of Death waiting for him on the shore, who goes on to follow the knight throughout his journey. There are many side character scene stealers in The Seventh Seal, such as Antonius Block’s squire Jöns played by Gunnar Björnstrand, and a traveling acting troupe, which includes Mia played by the famous Bibi Andersson. Andersson also acted in over 100 films. The film’s dialogue emulates the deadpan, brutally honest Scandinavian sense of humor that I love. The Seventh Seal is only 96 minutes long, but it packs a ton of world-building, atmosphere, and fantastic anecdotal moments, such as a tavern brawl and a witch burning. Also it’s hard not to see how this film was likely a big influence for Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1975), another one of my favorites. As stated above, this film is dark and relevant to the current state of things, but it really pulls you into the desperate and fascinating world of medieval Scandinavia.

Take care and stream on!

Nick, Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian

The Seventh Seal Essay by Peter Cowie

The Seventh Seal: There Go the Clowns Essay

The Magic of Max Von Sydow

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