William Hurt as Nick Carlton, former radio psychologist and war veteran
Beaufort, South Carolina, Fall 1983
Film: The Big Chill
Release Date: September 28, 1983
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Costume Designer: April Ferry
Today is the 40th anniversary of the release of The Big Chill, Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 comedy-drama centered around seven friends from college (played by Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, and JoBeth Williams) who reunite after more than a decade for the funeral of a fellow UMich alum who committed suicide.
Scored by the rock and R&B hits from their late ’60s college heyday, the movie focuses on the ennui of adulthood as this handful of baby boomers are forced to reconcile their current realities with the idealistic visions they had for their future when they were young, energetic, and relatively free of responsibility.
It was easy back then, no one ever had a cushier berth than we did… it’s only out here in the world that it gets tough.
David Hemmings as Thomas, hip London photographer
Swinging London, Fall 1966
Release Date: December 18, 1966
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Costume Designer: Jocelyn Rickards
Some people are bullfighters, some people are politicians… I’m a photographer.
August 19 being World Photography Day feels like an apt opportunity to delve into Blowup, Michelangelo Antonioni’s enticing and meandering mystery that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was nominated for two Academy Awards despite its then-unprecedented sexual content that defied the mainstream movies released under the aging Motion Picture Production Code that had been enforced in Hollywood for over three decades. Indeed, Blowup‘s critical popularity and box-office success has been credited as one of the final blows that killed the restrictive “Hays Code” once and for all, in favor of the MPAA rating system that ushered in a new, uninhibited era of American cinema.
Blowup centers around Thomas (David Hemmings), a stylish young photographer living the swinging London dream, though kept so busy that he bemoans “I haven’t even got a couple of minutes to have my appendix out.” Continue reading
Michael Douglas as Richard Adams, idealistic TV news cameraman
Outside Los Angeles, Spring 1978
Film: The China Syndrome
Release Date: March 16, 1979
Director: James Bridges
Costume Designer: Donfeld (Donald Lee Feld)
Nearly a decade before he would win an Academy Award as the sharply tailored yet unfathomably unscrupulous financier Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, Michael Douglas starred as the arguably more altruistic cameraman in The China Syndrome. Adapted from an Oscar-nominated original screenplay by Mike Gray, T.S. Cook, and James Bridges—who also directed—this nuclear thriller proved frighteningly prescient less than two weeks after its release when the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania suffered a partial meltdown on March 28, 1979, 43 years ago today. Continue reading
Kirk Douglas as Frank Ginetta, Sicilian-American mob boss
Sicily, Spring 1968
Film: The Brotherhood
Release Date: December 25, 1968
Director: Martin Ritt
Costume Designer: Ruth Morley
On what would have been Kirk Douglas’ 105th birthday, today’s post recognizes a unique passion project among the prolific actor’s varied filmography. Though he’d been an uncredited producer on more than a dozen movies, Douglas had only been listed as a producer on Spartacus before he selected The Brotherhood as the next production to carry his name. Despite some valid feedback that he may not be the right visual type for the leading role of Sicilian-born gangster Frank Ginetta, Douglas welcomed the acting challenge… and the help of some dye to darken a newly grown mustache in addition to his famous coiff. Continue reading
Jason Statham as Nick Wild, tough security consultant and bodyguard-for-hire
Las Vegas, Christmas 2013
Film: Wild Card
Release Date: January 14, 2015
Director: Simon West
Costume Designer: Lizz Wolf
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Car Week continues into December with a little-discussed action movie that—like The Bourne Identity and Three Days of the Condor—is set during against a Christmas backdrop complete with carols on the soundtrack, though the holiday timing has little impact on the plot. (I don’t include Die Hard in this category because, as many have argued, Christmas is the reason for the whole plot!)
Reviving a role originated by Burt Reynolds in William Goldman’s 1986 movie Heat, Jason Statham plays Nick Wild, a “security consultant” for Las Vegas lawyer Pinchus “Pinky” Zion (Jason Alexander), who makes his daily commute from a seedy motel in a snazzy ’69 Ford Torino. Continue reading
John Cassavetes as Johnny North, race car driver-turned-robber
Southern California, Spring 1960
Film: The Killers
Release Date: July 7, 1964
Director: Don Siegel
Costume Designer: Helen Colvig
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Earlier this week, I kicked off #Noirvember with a look at Burt Lancaster as the hapless and doomed “Swede” Anderson, whose murder at the start of Robert Siodmak’s seminal noir The Killers kicks off the series of flashbacks investigating what led to his decision to give in to the two armed killers.
Two decades later, the material was revisited by director Don Siegel and screenwriter Gene L. Coon, who drifted even further from Ernest Hemingway’s source material to focus on the two slick hitmen who set about learning more about the man they had been hired to kill, now reimagined as a race car driver named Johnny North.
Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery, San Francisco Chronicle crime reporter
San Francisco, Fall 1969 to Fall 1970
Release Date: March 2, 2007
Director: David Fincher
Costume Designer: Casey Storm
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Last week, the volunteer investigative group The Case Breakers released their research suggesting the identity of the infamous Zodiac Killer was Gary Francis Poste, adding a new suspect to a list that includes Arthur Leigh Allen, Rick Marshall, and Ted Cruz. While many experts have been quick to disprove the Poste theory, the current zeitgeist of fascination with true crime and every other podcast inspiring waves of amateur detectives encouraged me to revisit Zodiac, David Fincher’s extensively researched thriller that has been considered one of the best movies of the 21st century… despite being outgrossed by Wild Hogs during its opening weekend.
In addition to its eponymous killer, Zodiac centers around three real-life figures—San Francisco police inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), and Chronicle crime writer Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.)—each driven to obsession by their relentless parallel pursuits to uncover the serial murderer’s identity. Continue reading
Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party
Chicago, Fall 1968
Film: Judas and the Black Messiah
Release Date: February 12, 2021
Director: Shaka King
Costume Designer: Charlese Antoinette Jones
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
This year, Daniel Kaluuya won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his charismatic portrayal of Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, born 73 years ago today on August 30, 1948. Kaluuya’s Oscar marked one of many accolades for Judas and the Black Messiah, which was also nominated for Best Picture and won Kaluuya himself at least 15 additional acting awards. Continue reading
Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore, a “damn good pilot”
Fort Knox, Kentucky, Fall 1964
Release Date: September 18, 1964
Director: Guy Hamilton
Wardrobe Supervisor: Elsa Fennell
Today would have been the 96th birthday of the late Honor Blackman, best known for her role as Cathy Gale on the second and third seasons of The Avengers, which she left to star in her iconic performance in Goldfinger as Pussy Galore, the assertive aviator who transforms from enemy to ally of Sean Connery’s James Bond.
Arguably one of the most famous (and most famously named) women of the Bond franchise, the high-flying judo expert Pussy Galore established a new type of “Bond girl”, a tough, action-oriented equal rather than the demure damsel in distress. Pussy also nearly equals the stylish secret agent with her strong wardrobe, primarily comprised of tailored jackets and slacks, apropos her profession that still carried masculine connotations in the early 1960s. Continue reading
Glenn Ford as Ben Wade, bandit leader
Arizona Territory, 1880s
Film: 3:10 to Yuma
Release Date: August 7, 1957
Director: Delmer Daves
Costume Designer: Jean Louis
Looking for a movie to watch on 3/10? I recommend 3:10 to Yuma, the swift, suspenseful, and compelling Western based on an early short story by Elmore Leonard.
Modern audiences may be more familiar with the 2007 adaptation starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale as the outlaw and the rancher, respectively, though the original black-and-white version was produced in 1957, four years after Leonard’s story was published in Dime Western Magazine.
A decade before revisionist Westerns would become fashionable in “New Hollywood”, the original 3:10 to Yuma followed in the allegorical tradition of High Noon (1952) with complex characters and moral questions that paint a worldview where the concept of right and wrong are less black and white than the cinematography.