Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kevin Costner: Career Retrospective

Yes... I took this picture.
Well, it was only a matter of time before I broke down and did a career retrospective on Kevin Costner.

For whatever reason, Costner is one of my all time favorite filmmakers, mostly for his body of work, but also partly out of sentimental value. I love previous retrospective-recipient Sylvester Stallone partly because I grew up watching his films with my brother Jim, while I love Costner partly because I grew up watching his movies with my sister Tanya. Both actors are notable in that they have made some movies that are absolutely brilliant, while some are absolute garbage. He's also (so far!) the only career retrospective subject I've seen in person. You can read all about that here.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the films of Kevin Costner:

Sizzle Beach (1974)
Don't watch this one if you're looking for Kevin Costner. Watch this one if you are looking for a terrible 80s comedy with some decent nudity. Remember that show USA Up All Night, where they used to play that kind of must every Saturday night with all of the nude scenes edited out? Well, I'm sure they aired this at some point. If you are curious (and why wouldn't you be?), you can watch it instantly on Netflix.

Hey... every actor has to start somewhere, right? And at least he got o appear with some naked women. I bet your first job was at Arby's or something.

The Big Chill (1983)
Kevin Costner was famously edited out of the final cut of The Big Chill, only appearing on screen briefly as a corpse. I'll let you make your own joke about how Costner's wooden acting made him the perfect choice to play a character whose only motivation is rigor mortis.

Anyway, this is an ok, if slightly insufferable film about self-important baby boomers who spend all of their time listening to the music of Marvin Gaye.

Fandango (1985)
Classic 80s road trip movie starring Costner and Judd Nelson. Skip it.

Silverado (1985)
Kevin Costner finally makes a good movie!

After cutting his scenes from the final version of The Big Chill, Lawrence Kasdan made it up to him by giving him a central role in his cracking western Silverado, giving him an opportunity to act opposite Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, and Scott Glenn. This isn't Costner's best performance as an actor, but it is a great, entertaining Western and he is very young and full of energy. This film is also notable for being Costner's first Western, of which he has made several.

American Flyers (1985)
I have no memory about this movie, other than that my dad and brother used to watch it all the time. Or maybe I'm thinking of that Kevin Bacon movie Quicksilver. Anyway, they are both 80s movies about cyclists starring an actor named Kevin. That's all I have to say on American Flyers.

Amazing Stories (1985)
I loved this show when I was a kid. It was an anthology series in the vein of Outer Limits or the Twilight Zone. Costner's episode was about a WWII gunner who was trapped in the belly of a B-17 airplane. This was a brilliant story that was directed by Steven Spielberg and also starred Casey Siemaszko (remember him?!) and Kiefer Sutherland.

If you ever get the chance to watch at least the first season of Amazing Stories, check it out. It was phenomenal. Or, at least, I thought so when I was 8.

The Untouchables (1987)
And then Kevin Costner scored the lead in Brian DePalma's film version of the Untouchables TV series, and history was made. Silverado was a well received, modest hit, but this was Costner's first starring role in a major blockbuster... and boy is it good! Costner played Elliot Ness, opposite Robert DeNiro as Al Capone, and Sean Connery as his sidekick (who won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor).

Long story short, this movie is fantastic, featuring a fine (if subdued) performance by Costner, and a directorial tour de force by DePalma. Check it out.

No Way Out (1987)
Kevin Costner and Sean Young have sex in the back of a limo. Some other stuff happens, but that's the best part. I kid, since this is a very good, very popular thriller that established Kevin Costner as a major sex symbol. Let's see how long it takes him to squander that, shall we?

Bull Durham (1988)
You thought No Way Out was sexy? This movie smolders like Mount Vesuvius. Costner plays an over the hill ball player who is roped into the Minors to help mentor an up and coming young pitcher... and hilarity ensues. This is Costner's first baseball film, of which he has made several.

Anyway, this movie is brilliant, and it officially established Kevin Costner as a major leading man.

The Gunrunner (1989)
So far as I can tell, this movie doesn't actually exist. All I can find out is that it was filmed at some point and then shelved, until Costner became famous and it was given some kind of quicky release. So they claim on the IMBD, however I have seen no proof that it's an actual movie. Anyway, I haven't seen it.

Field of Dreams (1989)
Costner's second baseball film is maybe his best film ever. This film is probably in my top ten films ever. I've seen it about a thousand times and it makes me cry every... single... time. I've been to the actual Field of Dreams. I can recite the entire film from memory. Even knowing all that, I want to go and watch it again right now.

Revenge (1990)
This isn't my favorite Costner film, but it's still a pretty well done sexy thriller in the same vein as No Way Out. That earlier film is better, but this one is still pretty good, if not terribly memorable. This film features character actor James Gammon, who might be best known as the coach of the Indians in the Major League films. That has nothing to do with this movie, of course, but it is a minor baseball connection, for whatever that's worth. Gammon was also in that movie Tombstone, which is a minor Wyatt Earp connection, which we'll get to later. I'm not sure if James Gammon has any sex-in-a-limo connections, but I sincerely hope not.

Dances With Wolves (1990)
Costner makes his directorial debut, and it's a real humdinger. This is as good as any movie I've ever seen. A lot of people like to rag on this movie, calling it politically correct or hokey or for whatever reason undeserving of all the accolades and attention it received, but I think those people are idiots. This movie is brilliant. I saw it for the first time when I was living in Switzerland, and it was just as huge over there as it was over here.

This film was nominated for 12 Oscars and won 7, including Best Picture and Best Director for Mr Costner himself. Not bad for his first film behind the camera. This was also Costner's first (and, as of yet, last) nomination for Best Actor. This was Costner's second Western.

Robin Hood: Princes of Thieves (1991)
Costner followed up his Academy Award Winning directorial debut with... this one. Needless to say, this film didn't win any Oscars, but it did nab Costner his first Razzie award (for Worst Actor, beating out Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Vanilla Ice, and Andrew Dice Clay).

Now, I'm not going to describe this as a career misstep for Costner, since it was a huge hit (making almost $400,000,000 worldwide) and a very entertaining action film, but lord knows his performance was pretty lackluster. His terrible British accent has become the stuff of legend, made all the worse because he was in a cast that contained so many actors who were actually British. However... I like this movie. Kevin Reynolds is a great action director and Costner acquits himself well in all of the scenes that don't require any dialogue. But still, this was the first sign of tarnish on his career. Not a bad run so far.

JFK (1991)

Oliver Stone goes crazy and accuses every person in America of conspiring to kill John F. Kennedy. Kevin Costner stars.

This is another one of my favorite movies, even if Oliver Stone's sense of history is a bit suspect. It's still a masterful film, and Costner's performance here is one the best of his career. This is also notale for being Costner's first film about President Kennedy, of which he has made several.

The Bodyguard (1992)
Costner made this film for the ladies, and I can't blame him for it. This movie isn't bad, it's just not for me. The Bodyguard is the kind of movie that I haven't seen in years because I don't care, but I'd definitely watch it if it was on TV right now. I mean, unless that Magic Bullet infomercial was on at the same time.

This film earned Costner his second Razzie nomination for Worst Actor, but it wasn't deserved, in my opinion. This was about the point where the Razzies jumped the shark and just kept nominating the same people each year, almost always including Costner and Sylvester Stallone. Stallone actually won that year, for Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Anyway, this was another huge hit for Costner.

A Perfect World (1993)
Costner played against type as an escaped convict in this film by director (and co-star) Clint Eastwood. I'm going to go ahead and say that this is Costner's best performance yet, giving him at least one year off from getting a Razzie nomination for Worst Actor. This wasn't as huge a hit as he was used to, but it was a still a big success considering the modest budget.

Anyway... great film. I love this one.

Wyatt Earp (1994)
This isn't a bad film, so much as a really, really, really long, plodding, and kind of boring one. Also, it had the misfortune of coming out a few months after the much more successful and entertaining Wyatt Earp biopic Tombstone. At the end of the day, this was a very heartfelt, noble, interesting attempt at telling the life story of real life lawman Wyatt Earp. It just wasn't all that great.

This film earned Costner his second Razzie for Worst Actor, beating out Sylvester Stallone's performance in The Specialist. Again, it wasn't deserved, although this certainly wasn't his best work. Also, believe it or not, but this was Costner's first real flop, which is pretty impressive all things considered. This was his third Western.

Lawrence Kasdan directed, and James Gammon is in this one too.

The War (1994)
I had a whole lot to say about this movie, until I realized I was thinking of The Good Son. I have no memory of this one. I'm not even sure if I saw it. Sorry.

Waterworld (1995)
Well, this is why we are talking about Kevin Costner in the first place, right? I wouldn't be doing a retrospective of his career if he kept making movies like Dances with Wolves and Bull Durham.

This movie is about a world covered in water. That's not the most engaging premise around which to build a film, but they went ahead and did it anyway. Don't ask me why. This movie has already gone down in legend as being one of the most bloated and over budget films of all time, but it actually did make a profit over all, though probably not much of one. And it still sucks. It's just a huge mess of a film. This movie actually opens with Kevin Costner's character drinking his own urine. I can't give any review better than that single image.

Would you believe Costner didn't win the Razzie for Worst Actor this year? He lost (along with Sylvester Stallone) to Pauly Shore.

This was Costner's first sci-fi film, of which he'll make several. 

Tin Cup (1996)
Tin Cup isn't exactly the Bull Durham of golf movies, but then again, Golf isn't exactly baseball. This is as good a movie as the sport of golf deserves. This movie does reunite Costner with his Bull Durham writer/director Ron Shelton, and while it isn't a classic like their previous film, it's still a lot of fun. I like this one. Check it out if you like Costner, golf, or just sports films in general.

The Postman (1997)
Costner finally returns to the director's chair, and he sweeps the awards again... the Razzie Awards, that is, winning Worst Actor, Worst Director, and Worst Picture. This is a hard film to defend, although I will admit that it probably wasn't as bad as fellow Razzie nominees Anaconda, Batman and Robin, Fire Down Below, or Speed 2. Then again, maybe it was. If all of those films were on right now, I'd probably watch Anaconda.

Anyway... The Postman. This was Costner's second sci-fi film (based on the novel by David Brin, which I also didn't care for), and I suppose it could technically be considered a Western as well. It's definitely a piece of crap. Watch Waterworld instead.

Message in a Bottle (1999)
I don't blame Costner for making this romance based on the Nicholas Sparks novel, since he probably needed to return to solid ground after spending so much time in a water world. Anyway, I didn't see it. Should I?

For Love of the Game (1999)
Costner's third baseball film isn't one of his best, but it isn't one of his worst either. This is a entertaining story about a major league pitcher who looks back on his life and career while pitching a perfect game. It's a well done story that is notable if only because it has some excellent baseball sequences. This was Costner's only collaboration with director Sam Raimi.

He was again nominated for the Worst Actor Razzie, but I don't know why since he wasn't bad in this movie. He was also nominated this same year for "Worst Actor of the Century" for his entire body of work, alongside William Shatner, Pauly Shore, and Prince. They all "lost" to Sylvester Stallone, of course. Odd that two of their picks for worst actor of the century were nominated for Academy Awards for acting, but whatever.

Thirteen Days (2000)
This is a very good, very interesting, very entertaining film about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Costner plays President Kennedy's special assistant Kenny O'Donnell, and shows the build up, climax, and aftermath through his perspective. It's a very good film that is nearly flawless in its historical accuracy, although it does seem at times as though the film thinks Kenny O'Donnell saved the entire world almost single-handedly. I'm pretty sure President Kennedy and a few other people helped out as well.

Anyway, this is one of my favorite films. This was Costner's second film dealing with the presidency of JFK. I'm still waiting for him to make a movie about a baseball player who was involved in the assassination of Kennedy.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001)
On paper, this movie sounds awesome: Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell play a pair of Elvis Impersonators who attempt to rob a casino. That's a fun premise, and it has an awesome casting, featuring the aforementioned leads alongside Courteney Cox, Ice T, Christian Slater, Thomas Haden Church, and John Lovitz, among others. However... it was just awful. To begin with, the script was mediocre, made no sense, and never made much of an attempt to rise beyond its one joke premise, but the real culprit was in Demian Lichtenstein's direction. This was just a huge mess of a film that was so poorly filmed and put together that it all but destroyed the man's career.

I'm going to go ahead and say that this is my least favorite Costner film, and that's saying something indeed. And, yes, he was nominated for his (as of yet) final Razzie for Worst Actor, but he lost out to Tom Green for Freddie Got Fingered. I can't argue with their choice there.

Dragonfly (2002)
This movie was nowhere near as terrible as Graceland, but it wasn't very good either. This film kind of marked the start of the grownup part of Costner's career, if that makes any sense. After his star began to fade, he stopped making vanity projects and started making whatever film Richard Gere happened to turn down. This is just a typical supernatural thriller about some guy whose wife dies and then he gets haunted by her ghost. It's a perfectly fine film that would've been no better or worse had it starred Richard Gere or Billy Baldwin or whomever, but it's not worth checking out. I only saw it because I like Costner.

Open Range (2003)
Costner gets back in the director's chair and makes another western, and he knocks it out of the park. All things considered, this is one of my all time favorite westerns and one of my very favorite of Costner's films, landing in the top three alongside JFK and Dances With Wolves. It's just a phenomenal film with a great, heartfelt story, and some wonderful performances by some top notch actors. I love this one.

Interesting tidbit: This marks character actor Michael Jeter's last real performance in a motion picture. He's a lot better here than he was in Waterworld, but he's always good. I still miss the guy and wish he was still making movies.

The Upside of Anger (2005)
Again, this is one of those movies that sounded better on paper: Kevin Costner plays a charming albeit rough around the edges suitor of a beautiful woman with lots of beautiful daughters. This movie is worth watching if you love looking at beautiful women, since Joan Allen, Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt, and Evan Rachel Wood all light up the screen with more radiance than any one movie should be allowed to have. Also, Costner himself is quite good in a role that seemed written specifically for him, probably right after the writer watched a back to back viewing of Tin Cup and Bull Durham.

However, the story is just plain awful, with obnoxious characters and a central story that just pissed me off. This wasn't as bad as Graceland, but it was pretty close. This was written and directed by Mike Bender, who has made a slew of other awful films.

Rumor Has It... (2005)
I never saw this one, and I actually forgot all about it until right now. Here's the plot summary on the IMDB:

"Jennifer Aniston plays a woman who learns that her family was the inspiration for the book and film "The Graduate" -- and that she just might be the offspring of the well-documented event. "

Boy, that don't sound too good.

The Guardian (2006)
This is that Coast Guard movie Costner made with Ashton Kutcher. It was ok. It wasn't so good that I have much to say about it, nor so bad that I can make fun of it. It was just ok. It was directed by Andrew Davis, who excels at directing perfectly good if not all together exceptional action films. This one was better than Collateral Damage, but not as good as Under Siege.

Mr. Brooks (2007)
I actually rented this one just the other day in anticipation of writing this blog. It didn't set the box office on fire when it first came out, and it mostly faded away and went forgotten. However... it's a damn good film. Costner appears completely against type as a serial killer, and he gives one of the best and most nuanced performances of his career. This was just a really great story that was wonderfully directed and brilliantly acted. Even Dane Cook was pretty good in his supporting role.

This film should've ushered in a renewed interest in Kevin Costner's career, but he probably had made too many boring movies in a row that people forgot to care. Even I skipped this one. Anyway, check it out.

Swing Vote (2008)
This is a pretty funny if predictable film starring Costner as a lovable good ol' boy who becomes the most important man in the country after the presidential election comes down to his one, lost ballot. Sure, the premise is pretty dumb, but Costner is at his best playing the kind of role he was born for. This isn't as good as Tin Cup or Bull Durham, but it's still a lot of fun and worth checking out. I enjoyed it.

The New Daughter (2009)
I dunno what this is, but here's what it says on the IMDB:

"A single father moves his two children to rural South Carolina, only to watch his daughter exhibit increasingly strange behavior. "

I guess Richard Gere was busy again.

The Company Men (2010)
I've never heard of this one either. Let's consult the IMDB one more time:

"The story centers on a year in the life of three men trying to survive a round of corporate downsizing at a major company - and how that affects them, their families, and their communities. "

That sounds kind of interesting, especially since Costner co-stars alongside Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, and Chris Cooper. I would've rented this one too, had I ever heard of it before. Oh well.

And... that's it. Coming up next for Costner is an appearance as Jonathan Kent in the upcoming Superman film. I think that sounds pretty cool and I can't wait to check that out. The IMDB also has him linked to two other projects, one of whom is directed by him and the other by his long-time collaborator Kevin Reynolds. So look for part two of this post a few years from now. Until then, go rent Waterworld.


Justin Garrett Blum said...

My mother told me I should see Mr. Brooks. It did seem as though it had potential to be interesting.

Donald said...

It's not a must see, but it's worth checking out. It's good.

Justin Garrett Blum said...

Some day I'm actually going to watch Water World. Just so I can say I did it.