Tag Archives: Kevin Costner

Fandango (1985)

fandango

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The privileges of youth.

Gardner (Kevin Costner), Phil (Judd Nelson), Kenneth (Sam Robards), Dorman (Chuck Bush) and Lester (Brian Cesak) are five college friends from the University of Texas in 1971, who are getting ready to celebrate their impending graduations when Kenneth announces that he’s been drafted into the Vietnam War and Gardner has too. To help lighten the mood the boys decide to take an impulsive road trip where they travel to unique areas of Texas, including searching for buried treasure in the Rio Grande, sleeping under the stars at the old filming site of Giant, and even taking part in parachute jump near Pecos.

This film is based on a 24-minute film that Kevin Reynolds directed while attending the USC film school. In that movie the boys were all from Baylor University and traveled to Pecos, Texas in order to test the courage of their most frightened member and use the help of eccentric flight instructor Truman Sparks, played by Marvin J. McIntyre, who reprises his role in this one, to teach and train the young man on how to jump from a plane. The student film managed to catch the attention of Steven Spielberg, who was so impressed with it that he offered Reynolds the chance to turn it into a full-length movie. Unfortunately once it was completed Spielberg for whatever reason disliked it and had his name removed from the credits while also refusing to help distribute it forcing the film to suffer a limited engagement though in recent years its cultivated a cult following.

The movie does have many funny moments including the opening bit where Phil’s parents (Stanley Grover, Jane A. Johnston) visit his frat house during one of their raucous parties. The sky diving sequence, which gets copied shot-for-shot from the original is quite engaging as is their attempts to hook their disabled car up to a speeding train. Costner is also very amusing, he had actually auditioned for the student film, but lost out, but when he found out it was going to be remade into a feature film he re-auditioned. I’m so used to seeing him play serious roles that I didn’t realize he had such great comedic timing, but for the most part, he’s the life of the movie.

Where the film fails is that it’s too unfocused. The setting is supposedly 1971, but you’d hardly know it and very little effort is made to give it a feel of that era. Even the opening song sung by Elton John that gets played by over the credits was released 2 years after the events in the movie supposedly took place, so to keep it accurate with the time setting only songs that came out in 1971, or before should’ve been used.

The side-story involving Gardner having dated Kenneth’s fiancee, played by Suzy Amis, seems unneeded and really doesn’t go anywhere. Normally, in most real-life friendships, having a friend date and ultimately marry one’s former girlfriend could be a deal-breaker that would lead to a lot of jealousy and potential anger. I’m sure there’s a minority of friendships where the participants would be mature enough to overcome this issue, like here, though this isn’t interesting, so why bother introducing this wrinkle if its dramatic elements aren’t going to get explored?

The part where it really jumps-the-shark is during the planning of the wedding, which is too full of logic loopholes to be able to buy into even on a whimsical level. It features Gardner and Phil being able to pull off his massive wedding ceremony in the town’s square on very short notice by conning too old guys sitting on a nearby park bench into agreeing to help out, which leads to more people getting involved until the whole town, even the mayor, takes part in a wedding ceremony, and its preparation, of people they don’t even know. If anyone can show me an example in the whole history of the world of when this has ever happened in reality then I’ll take it back, but otherwise I found it ridiculous.

The ending is way too abrupt. The whole reason Phil agreed to go on the parachute jump was for Kenneth and Gardner to agree to not dodge the draft, but whether they withhold their end of the bargain is never shown. Everyone just basically wanders off like they have better things to do, which is how the viewer, despite some fun moments, ends up feeling about the movie, which would’ve had more impact had it chucked the whimsy and had a little more serious drama.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 25, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Kevin Reynolds

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Big Chill (1983)

big chill

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends from college reunite.

When one of their friends from their college days commits suicide the other seven get together for his funeral. Alex was living the unconventional, hippie lifestyle and with his much younger girlfriend Chloe (Meg Tilly) still connected to the ideals of his college days while his other friends had ‘sold out’ and taken on the more materialistic values of the ‘80’s. Alex’s death then represents the ultimate demise of their carefree, idealistic ‘60’s existence and how much they have changed since then, which they now must all learn to come to terms with.

This film has been closely compared with Return of the Secaucus Seven, which was reviewed last week. According to writer/director Lawrence Kasdan he never saw that film or even heard of it when he did this one. I actually preferred this over the John Sayles movie. For one thing it made a little more sense. Having old friends reunite for a funeral seemed more realistic than having them come together each year like in that one as most people once they enter into adult life have a tendency to move on making new relationships and not always have time for their old ones. There’s also no magical ‘cosmic bond’ holding this group together either. Many of them have evolved more than some of the others including William Hurt’s character who is still a recreational drug user while Kevin Kline’s has taken on more of the responsible adult role and this contrast comes to an interesting head at one point.

Tilly’s performance as a young flower child personified is great because it forces the others to see how they once were, but now can no longer relate to. Don Galloway plays the older husband of Karen (JoBeth Williams) while representing the ‘50’s generation and their contempt for the counter-culture. He has an interesting scene in which he expounds on what he feels was Alex’s ‘lack of focus and responsibility’ that clearly gets on the nerves of the others and I had wished the character had remained for the duration as it his presence was brimming for a great ultimate confrontation.

The entire thing was filmed on-location in Beaufort, South Carolina apparently because of Kasdan’s love for the film The Great Santini, which had also been done there. The deep south certainly seems like an odd setting as it doesn’t reflect the ‘60’s values or lifestyle at all, but it’s scenic nonetheless especially the scene where Hurt and Kline go jogging down a deserted main street of town that has an almost surreal quality.

Scenes where shot with Kevin Costner playing Alex, but then cut, which was a mistake as the character starts to attain too much of a mythical and elusive quality and seeing some moments with him even in flashback would’ve helped create an image of an actual person for the viewer. Some of the more existential conversations that the characters having during their group discussions are superb and right on-target and help to demystify the ‘60’s experience and those that lived it, which I found refreshing since other media forums for nostalgic reasons seemed to want to perpetuate it instead. In some ways it’s a shame that the characters and story has to be so closely tied to the Baby Boom generation as it stigmatizes it as a period piece when by-and-large the experiences they have going from the college stage to the adult one are quite universal.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 30, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lawrence Kasdan

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Bull Durham (1988)

bull durham

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Catcher mentors a rookie.

Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is a veteran of the minor league baseball system and is brought in to the Durham Bulls to help mentor Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) a rookie pitcher with a ‘million dollar arm, but a five-cent brain’. Crash teaches Nuke all about the finer points of the game as well as learning to show discipline and control both on and off the field. Annie (Susan Sarandon) is a local fan who each year does some ‘mentoring’ of her own with one of the players by taking them in and having a torrid sexual relationship with them. This year she chooses Nuke much to the consternation of Crash who would like her for his own.

The film is loosely based on the experiences writer/director Ron Shelton had while being a minor league player during the late 60’s.  Keeping the focus solely on the minor league level and never analyzing the majors was to me a big strength. Too many times Hollywood sports movies try to capture that ‘championship season’ or ‘miracle victory’ while forgetting that there are hundreds if not thousands of players who never get to that point, but still have interesting stories to share. The minor league theme puts the game back to its grass roots level where it should be while evoking a wonderful feeling of modern day Americana.

The film makes the viewer feel that they are right down on the field with the players and they gain special insights into the game that they would never have just watching it in the stands on or TV. The thoughts that go through a hitters head as he stands at the plate are interesting as are the interplay between catcher and pitcher. The meeting at the mound scene where the players get together during a game to discuss what wedding gift to get another player who is about to be married is hilarious as is the segment where Crash teaches Nuke all the sports clichés to give when being interviewed by the media.

Robbins is terrific in what I still consider one of the best performances of his career. The character could have been annoying if there weren’t so many young men out there like that. The composite of the young, brash, cocky hot shot who thinks he knows everything, but actually knows very little is so perfectly done that just about anybody will be able to identify with somebody they know or have known who is just like it.

Costner on the other hand is a bit too detached and his performance comes off very much like the restrained way he dances during the closing credits. The character also seems like a flaming alcoholic as he is seen drinking in just about every other scene, but his ongoing exchanges with Robbins are great and the main ingredient that holds the film together.

Throwing in a sex angle was to me a turnoff as personally I never like to mix the two. The Millie (Jenny Robertson) character that is shown and known to sleep with a lot of the players seemed to me to be idiotic especially since this takes place in the 80’s, which was at the height of the AIDS scare.

Sarandon is okay although the part was originally intended for Kay Lenz who I think I would have preferred. The line where her character states that she would never sleep with a player who hit under 250 unless he had a lot of RBI’s and was a great glove man up the middle is classic and the scene near the end where her and Crash make love in a bathtub while surrounded by a throng of lighted candles is on a visual level a highlight.

I loved the bluesy music score as well as the shrine to Thurmon Munson seen at the end. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite sports movie, but the characters are richly textured and the dialogue instantly quotable, which makes it a winner anyways.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 15, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ron Shelton

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video