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.
John Cusack as Roy Dillon, swaggering con man with mommy issues
Phoenix and Los Angeles, Summer 1990
Film: The Grifters
Release Date: December 5, 1990
Director: Stephen Frears
Costume Designer: Richard Hornung
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
At seventeen going on eighteen, Roy Dillon had left home. He took nothing with him but the clothes he wore—clothes he had bought and paid for himself. He took no money but the little in the pockets of his clothes, and that too he had earned.
He wanted nothing from Lilly. She had given him nothing when he needed it, when he was too small to get for himself, and he wasn’t letting her into the game at this late date.
He had no contact with her during the first six months he was away. Then, at Christmas time, he sent her a card, and on Mother’s Day he sent her another. Both were of the gooey sentimental type, dripping with sickly sweetness, but the latter was a real dilly. Hearts and flowers and fat little angels swarmed over it in an insanely hilarious montage. The engraved message was dedicated to Dear Old Mom, and it gushed tearfully of goodnight kisses and platters and pitchers of oven-fresh cookies and milk when a little boy came in from play.
You would have thought that Dear Old Mom (God bless her silvering hair) had been the proprietor of a combination dairy-bakery, serving no customer but her own little tyke (on his brand-new bike).
He was laughing so hard when he sent it that he almost botched up the address. But afterward, he had some sobering second thoughts. Perhaps the joke was on him, yes? Perhaps by gibing at her he was revealing a deep and lasting hurt, admitting that she was tougher than he. And that, naturally, wouldn’t do. He’d taken everything she had to hand out, and it hadn’t made a dent in him. He damned well mustn’t ever let it think it had.
— Jim Thompson, The Grifters, Chapter 5
Reading this passage from one of my favorite pulp novelists inspired today’s Mother’s Day post, by way of Jim Thompson’s acid pen translated onto the screen.
Nominated for four Academy Awards, Stephen Frears’ slick 1990 neo-noir The Grifters joins Psycho (1960) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962) in a cinematic fraternity of twisted depictions of mother-son relationships, represented by short-con operator Roy Dillon (John Cusack) and his estranged mother Lilly (Anjelica Huston), a fellow swindler who has long been in service to sadistic bookie Bobo Justus (Pat Hingle) and eventually requires resources from her son to make her clean getaway:
I gave you your life twice. I’m asking you to give me mine once.
Roy and Lilly’s reunion is complicated by Roy’s hustler girlfriend Myra Langtry (Annette Bening), who schemes to remove the domineering matriarch as an obstacle to partnering with Roy. Continue reading
Chris Pine as Henry Pelham, CIA “clandestine case officer extraordinaire”
London, Winter 2020
Film: All the Old Knives
Release Date: April 8, 2022
Director: Janus Metz Pedersen
Costume Designer: Stephanie Collie
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
On one hand, I appreciated All the Old Knives‘ dedication to a le Carré-esque depiction of spywork as more of a subdued, slow-burning investigation rather than the action-packed world of James Bond and Ethan Hunt. On the other hand, does “subdued” necessarily have to feel so… subdued?
Nearly eight years after the disastrous terrorist attack of Turkish Airlines Flight 127, the CIA reopens its investigation with the secret information that the hijackers may have been assisted by a mole within its Vienna station. Agent Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) is assigned to the case by his chief Vick Wallinger (Laurence Fishburne), who advises him not to tread lightly even if the clues should point to Pelham’s former fellow agent and paramour Celia (Thandiwe Newton). Continue reading
Roger Moore as James Bond, British government agent
Château de Chantilly, France, Spring 1985
Film: A View to a Kill
Release Date: May 22, 1985
Director: John Glen
Costume Designer: Emma Porteous
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Well, now I’ve really gone and done it. After writing about the goombahs’ tracksuits in Goodfellas and The Sopranos over the last few years, I finally decided that this 00-7th of the month called for me to scribe my ode to Old Man 007 dressing himself in Paulie Walnuts’ finest in my least favorite James Bond movie, A View to a Kill.