John Cazale as Fredo Corleone, insecure Mafia casino manager
Las Vegas, Summer 1954
Film: The Godfather
Release Date: March 14, 1972
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Costume Designer: Anna Hill Johnstone
“New year, new you” is a theme constantly touted by clickbait articles and lifestyle magazines through early January so, in the spirit of #MafiaMonday and the start of the 50th anniversary year of The Godfather, let’s take a look at one of the more startling reinventions in the world of mob movies: Fredo Corleone’s attempted transformation from forgotten brother to flamboyant swinger.
Sure, Fredo may still need the occasional “straightening out”—after all, banging cocktail waitresses two at a time is hardly good for business—but Las Vegas presents him with the opportunity to shed his middle child syndrome and explore a more independent side of himself… for better or worse. Continue reading
Sam Neill as Sidney Reilly, shrewd British agent and anti-Bolshevik
London, Fall 1918
Series: Reilly: Ace of Spies
Episode: “After Moscow” (Episode 9)
Air Date: October 26, 1983
Director: Martin Campbell
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Waller
I consider Sidney Reilly to be one of the most fascinating and mysterious figures of the 20th century. There’s little consensus on when he was born, when he died, or how he exactly spent he spent the fifty-odd years in between, though his oft-exaggerated exploits as a shadowy agent of the British secret service has established his enduring reputation as “the Ace of Spies”, aided by his own memoirs and an excellent 1983 twelve-part mini-series starring Sam Neill in the eponymous role of the Russian-born adventurer. Continue reading
Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace, Broadway crooner and World War II veteran
Pine Tree, Vermont, December 1954
Film: White Christmas
Release Date: October 14, 1954
Director: Michael Curtiz
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Merry Christmas Eve! One of my family’s favorite perennial movies to watch during the holiday season is White Christmas, the VistaVision that opened and closed with the iconic eponymous tune that Bing Crosby had introduced over a decade earlier in Holiday Inn.
Elliott Gould as Miles Cullen, mild-mannered bank teller
Toronto, Christmas 1977
Film: The Silent Partner
Release Date: September 7, 1978
Director: Daryl Duke
Wardrobe Credit: Debi Weldon
One of the most fun yet under-celebrated of Christmas-adjacent thrillers, The Silent Partner should sell most new viewers on the simple elevator pitch of Christopher Plummer as a gun-toting robber in a Santa Claus suit who increasingly torments Elliott Gould as a scheming teller.
The action begins on Tuesday, December 14—set exactly 44 years ago today—as the meek Miles Cullen (Gould) wraps up his daily duties at a First Bank of Toronto branch when his flirtatious sketches on a deposit slip wise him to a potential robbery plot. Continue reading
Ted Danson as Sam Malone, bartender and former baseball star
Boston, Thanksgiving 1986
Episode: “Thanksgiving Orphans” (Episode 5.09)
Air Date: November 27, 1986
Director: James Burrows
Created by: Glen Charles, Les Charles, and James Burrows
Costume Designer: Robert L. Tanella
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy Thanksgiving! This iconic episode from Cheers‘ fifth season aired 35 years ago this week on Thanksgiving 1986 and has often been included on lists ranking the greatest TV episodes of all time.
Decades before your friends started hosting Friendsgiving celebrations, Carla Tortelli (Rhea Perlman) hosted the Cheers crew at her home, filling the void left by her many children, most of whom are spending the holiday with their dad, Nick; indeed, the fact that we don’t get any Turkey Day time with Dan Hedaya’s character may be the one downside to this marvelous episode.
Of course, the rest of the gang is all here: barkeep Sam Malone (Ted Danson), his famously on-again/off-again paramour Diane Chambers (Shelley Long), her lonely ex Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), honorary barstools Norm (George Wendt) and Cliff (John Ratzenberger), and novice bartender Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson), who frequently urges “this is gonna be the best Thanksgiving ever!” Continue reading
Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, vigilante family man
New York City, Winter 1974
Film: Death Wish
Release Date: July 24, 1974
Director: Michael Winner
Costume Designer: Joseph G. Aulisi
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today would have been the 100th birthday of Charles Bronson, one of the most legendary cinematic ass-kickers perhaps best known for his starring role as family man-turned-street vigilante Paul Kersey in the 1974 revenge thriller Death Wish.
John Saxon as Donald Thompson, police lieutenant
Suburban Ohio, Spring 1981
Film: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Release Date: November 9, 1984
Director: Wes Craven
Costume Designer: Dana Lyman
A decade after he investigated a series of grisly sorority murders at Christmastime, John Saxon again portrayed a police lieutenant chasing down a serial killer in Wes Craven’s horror classic, A Nightmare on Elm Street.
We meet Lieutenant Thompson when he’s called to the station late at night in response to the murder of his daughter’s friend Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss). Thompson’s police colleagues initially suspect Tina’s meathead boyfriend, the “lunatic delinquent” Rod Lane (Nick Corri). Rod doesn’t help his case by fleeing the scene, but a tearful Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) explains to her father that it couldn’t have been Rod.
Thompson has little reason to believe his daughter’s protestations, but we the audience know that Tina’s brutal slashing was the work of the disfigured spirit of the long-dead child murderer Freddy Kreuger. Continue reading
Philip Michael Thomas as Ricardo Tubbs, vengeful undercover detective
Miami, Spring 1984
Series: Miami Vice
Episode: “Brother’s Keeper” (Episode 1.01)
Air Date: September 16, 1984
Director: Thomas Carter
Creator: Anthony Yerkovich
Costume Designer: Jodie Lynn Tillen
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
This week in 1984, Miami Vice debuted on NBC, introducing us to the cooler-than-ice cops Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas). Per the detectives’ duties for the Metro-Dade Police Department’s vice division, the episodes frequently included thrilling gunfights and car chases against drug-peddling foes amidst a stylish backdrop of sleek cars, sleeker clothes, pop music, and a parade of guest stars ranging from Liam Neeson, Willie Nelson, and a young Julia Roberts to… G. Gordon Liddy.
The title of the Emmy-winning pilot episode, “Brother’s Keeper”, refers most specifically to Tubbs, a New York transplant who arrived in Miami seeking vengeance on the wily drug kingpin Calderone, who killed his brother Rafael. Despite their head-butting personalities, Tubbs joins forces with Crockett, hoping to soften the tension between them by bringing coffee and donuts onto his boat as well as the results of his own surveillance on Calderone, but Crockett informs him that “down here, you’re just another amateur.” Continue reading
William Hurt as Ned Racine, unscrupulous attorney
Palm Beach, Florida, Summer 1981
Film: Body Heat
Release Date: August 28, 1981
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Costume Designer: Renié
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
I couldn’t let the hottest summer of my lifetime end without talking about Body Heat, especially as Lawrence Kasdan’s sweaty directorial debut will celebrate the 40th anniversary of its release in two days.
The term “neo-noir” has often been used—and, indeed, overused—to describe stylish, shadowy, and sexy crime dramas with elements recalling film noir’s golden era in the ’40s and ’50s, though Body Heat struck me as one of the prized handful of movies most deserving of the description, perfectly balancing the spirit of classic noir with contemporary cinematic expectations without falling too far in either direction. Continue reading
Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella, cultured art critic and one-time novelist
Rome, Summer 2012
Film: The Great Beauty
(Italian title: La grande bellezza)
Release Date: May 21, 2013
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Costume Designer: Daniela Ciancio
Tailor: Cesare Attolini
Few images illustrate Gershwin’s celebrated concept of “summertime… and the livin’ is easy” as effectively as the hammock. Fittingly, #NationalHammockDay comes at us in midsummer, celebrated annually on July 22.
Paolo Sorrentino’s magnificent masterpiece La grande bellezza stars Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella, the 65-year-old “king of the high life” whose opulent apartment on Piazza del Colosseo boasts a terrace overlooking the Eternal City. When not hosting his stylish coterie of fellow cultural critics, Jep often takes to the self-suspended hammock positioned on his terrace, drink in hand as he allows his mind to wander while basking under the Roman sun. Continue reading