January 25, 2005

Birthday Gift for Sam

I was pleased to receive a special gift from Jude this past Birthday -- "The New
Biographical Dictionary of Film" by David Thompson.

After a cursory perusal, I highly recommend this book to any of you interested in the Bio' s of film folks.

Besides the fact that it contains a plethora of really cool biographical film
stuff -- I found a very interesting similarity in the viewpoint of Thompson to
none other than our friend, colleague, and film reviewer extrordinaire--Sam Rowe.


Of course, it may be just me, but let me give a snippet or two to the group and let you decide.
Those not familiar with Sam or our jibing friendship may wish to hit delete now,
but I, for one, had a fixed grin on my face while reading these excerpts and
thinking of Sam. BTW, it is no secret that Sam has some issues with Kevin Costner, and I can't say I disagree with him for the most part.

As a prelude, here's Thompson's critique of one of Jonathan Demme's (Silence of the Lambs, which BTW, Sam can't tolerate at all) more popular works:

"Philadelphia--alas. Hollywood now congratulates itself on the courage of the
project, and its success--after many had been terrified of the film. I think it's
feeble, devoid of the things Demme is best at: character, the unexpected,
mischief. The plot if sull of holes; the mindset is out-of-date. The Hanks lawyer
is a blank beneath the grim make-up. Yet large audiences watched in awe:
Philadelphia is not quite about AIDS, but it may be the first Hollywood film that
says, it's OK, hug a gay. Which is something, I suppose--but no reason for anyone
as hip as Demme being involved."


Kevin Costner --

"For a few years in the middle to late 1980s, it was possible for trend-hungry
journalists to hail Costner as our Gary Cooper--as if we had lost the original, or
lived in an age that could sustain such stars anew. With four films--"The
Untouchables", "No Way Out", "Bull Durham", and "Field of Dreams"--Costner had made
himself, suddenly, the star that nearly every would-be bankable script was sent
to. He was reasonably handome, passably virile, unequivocally ordinary--and his
pctures made money. In the years since, he had only scooped up Oscars with Dances

With Wolves(90, Costner) and done his best to test the limits of his own
reliability.He had immense power. Who else could have had "JFK" (91, Oliver Stone) made on the
same lavish scale? Still, his limits were all too apparent: he made not the least
concession to period for "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" (91, Kevin Reynolds); his
narrative in Dances With Wolves harped on the untrained flatness and modernity of
his voice; "Revenge" (90, Tony Scott) was a disaster he could not avert; and in "The
Bodyguard" (92, Mick Jackson) he seemed stranded between being a secret service
fussbudget and doing homage to Steve McQueen. He can be very uninteresting, and in
The Bodyguard he showed an embarrassment with love (not to mention sex) that
reminded me of "No Way Out" (87, Roger Donaldson), where he seemed alarmed by the
reckless but very open Sean Young.,

Costner had been around for years before he made it: he was nineteen for a few
moments in "Sizzle Beach" (Richard Brander--made in 1974 and given a video release
in 86); "Shadows Run Black" (81, Howard Heard); "Night Shift" (82, Ron Howard);
"Chasing Dreams" (82, Sean Roche); a B picture lead in "Stacy's Knights" (83, Jim
Wilson); and "Table for Five" (83, Robert Lieberman).
He was famously cut as the dead Alex from "The Big Chill" (83, Lawrence Kasdan); he
had a small role in "Testament"(83, Lynne Littman); and the lead in "The Gunrunner"
(84, Nardo Castillo), another film that went unseen until 1989 video salvation.
"American Flyer" (85, John Badham) was actually the first film to identify his
common decency, and "Fandango" (85, Reynolds) was another helpful step forward. Then

Kasdan used him and kept him in "Silverado" (85). But his first unmistakable hit was
playing backup to everyone else as Eliot Ness in "The Untouchables" (87, Brian De
Palma), and really understanding the clerical tenor of the role.

In "No Way Out", there was not way of acting that inside-out trickster--plot shock
was everything, or nothing. But he was very good in Bull Durham (88, Ron Shelton),
and as good as he has ever been in "Field of Dreams" (9, Phil Alden Robinson).
Dances With Wolves can easily be attacked. Yet the movie works, and--to these
eyes--it has all the intelligence of a David Lean epic. As for Costner's Jim
Garrison in "JFK", it is as specious and threadbare as the whole film, and exposed
by our one glimpse of the real Garrison, who evidently was somewhere between
Buster Keaton and one of America's great con men. Humor is not yet Costner's
strength.

What a nice, ironic intro that ramark makes for Kevin Costner's last decade. For
what has emerged is the most blatant example in screen history of an actor
following his own fantasies--at enormous cost sometimes, without any offsettting
humor, but doggedly, like some line scout mapping the far northwest. It is
dazzling, alarming and a warning to all in the last gastp of the age of film. And
if anyone could ever have been close enough to Costner, observing, surving and
staying cool, it might make a fabulous book. For he is not like others--hes has
resolved not to be.

In hindsight, there were clues in "A Perfect World" (93, Clint Eastwood)--it was so
slow and lugubrious for a Clint picture, and there was this mystical thing between
Kevin and the kid, a kind of frontier philosophy was evolving and Clint seemed too
bewildered to interfere. Then, with Costner producing, he was "Wyatt Earp" (94,
Kasdan)---probably the longest, slowest, dullest film about Earp ever (there is
competition), and that vague air of the whole thing being a political program. "The
War" (94, Jon Avnet) was another curiosity, with Kevin speaking wisely to children,
and seeming to take over the project.

This was as nothing compared with "Waterworld" (95, Reynolds--though apparently with
Costner doing his it) in which the daft, reactionary loner creed emerged in one of
the more ravishingly absurd films of the nineties (there was competition).

Whereupon looking just like your favorite puppy, Kevin did "Tin Cup" (96, Shelton),
a lovely, fatuous dream for every Sunday golfer, in which Kevin does his Zen of
the game act.

We hadn't seen anything yet. "The Postman" (97), which he produced and directed, was
his noble disaster in which the lone mail carrier may save the world from
apocalypse. I have to admit that the film had a dire fascination--it was enough
to make one get up, abandon one's miserable life and follow St. Kevin into the
lands of the heathen, if you could discern them (there was competition).

Then, o my brothers, he was Billy Chapel, the great old pitcher with a dead arm
and a lost love==could he throw "For Love of the Game" (00, Sam Raimi)? He was a
ringside fan to the shameless pugilism of "Play It to the Bone" ( 99, Shelton); And
then he was Kenny O'Donnell helping the Pres save the world in "Thirteen Days" (00,
Donaldson).

But Kevin likes Elvis, too, so he did "3000 Miles to Graceland" (01, Demian
Lichtenstein). And let's not forget "Dragonfly" (02< Tom Shadyac), tempting as that
would be. He then acted in and directed a Western, "Open Range" (03).
And here is what it comes to: a man like Costner would be killed by humor. The
gravity stands high and bright, like an eagle on the peak (no contest)."

And, true-to-form, Sam thanked me for the tribute thus:

"This guy has about as much in common with me as Fred Rogers.

Frankly, Toomey, I'm *deeply ashamed* that you'd parade this Costner
apologist around as some brother-in-arms.

"...comedy isn't his
strongpoint *yet*" "Demme is too hip..." "Costner was good in..."

One can practically picture the KC tattoo on Mr. Thompson's ass!"
=============================================

Gotta love that Sam. :-)

Posted by mark at 12:42 AM | Comments (0)