Kevin Costner is back, and I have to say, he looks like he's got his act together.
I ran into Costner over the weekend in Toronto, where's he promoting a new movie with Demi Moore's young husband, Ashton Kutcher. "The Guardian," directed by Andrew Davis ("The Fugitive") is a straight-ahead action movie that delivers the requisite thrills and chills.
But Costner may have a real surprise for us in 2007 when he appears as a serial killer in "Mr. Brooks," directed by Bruce Evans. The word is that "Mr. Brooks" — which lets Costner channel the superb acting he did in Clint Eastwood's "A Perfect World" — could put the beleaguered star of the '90s back on track.
But when I saw Kevin on Saturday night, he already looked back on track. His wife, Christine, and her mother, plus Costner's 20-year-old daughter, Lily, were all with him, as were a couple of childhood friends.
They'd all come to a local bar to hear Canadian Dan Aykroyd perform a few numbers with the band. And he did — knocking out boozy versions of "Soul Man" and "Shake Your Tail Feather" while his beautiful wife, Donna Dixon, hosted the makeshift VIP area.
The appearance of Costner's wife, Christine, certainly indicated that they've reconciled from a scandal that earlier this year that was said to have separated them (we won't go into all the details here — you can find this story in many places).
Costner hasn't had an easy time of it. His first marriage also broke up with a bang, and he was known as something of a player after "Dances with Wolves" brought him lots of money, fame and power.
But isn't the real you manifested in your kids? If so, Costner the movie star and Costner the parent are two different people.
Daughter Annie is on her way to India where she will teach for a year. Son, Joe, has just started college and Lily is in school right now. They are three good kids, and none of them — at least so far — is holding up 7-Elevens or winding up in a tabloid. In Hollywood, that's saying a lot.
Costner, meantime, tells me he's hired my old pal Robin Jonas, one of the unsung heroes of Miramax's amazing Oscar run from the mid-'90s to the early 2000s, to help him find new material.
And of course, he's still repped by J.J. Harris, the manager who steered him to successes like "Bull Durham" and "Field of Dreams." So it seems like Costner's a keeper after all. He's here for the long haul.
Last night was like a revival of "The Golden Girls" as Oscar-winners Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates plus much-nominated Joan Allen all showed up on the red carpet for their creaky new film called "Bonneville."
Call it "The Last Wives Club," but "Bonneville" is kind of a salute to the errors of plastic surgery and strange cinematography.
No matter. The audience at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall loved it and gave the ladies — who undoubtedly did it for the money — rousing ovations.
Of course, the biggest surprise was the usually sensible Allen, who just turned 50, showing up with her personal-trainer boyfriend. Let's just say he's age-impaired — perhaps half of Allen's age, if that. Many of us thought it was her son when the pair first arrived outside the theater.
But Allen remains gracious and graceful, doing her best — like her costars — to give the dialogue in this "Thelma and Louise" rip-off enough enrichment so that her character isn't entirely a cardboard cutout.
The real star of the movie, as it turns out, is Christine Baranski, doing one of her great catty turns as the adult daughter of Lange's deceased, much-older husband.
Baranski really is one of our most underrated character actresses; she can do no wrong, and her sense of comic timing is impeccable.
The strangest thing about "Bonneville," which will no doubt get a theatrical release and then be a big hit on cable TV channels like Lifetime, is that it comes from a highly respected production company.
SenArt Films' credits including the great documentaries "The Fog of War" and "The War Tapes," not to mention the wonderful film "The Station Agent," which got so many kudos a couple of years ago.
Of course, "Bonneville" wouldn't have seemed quite so awful if we hadn't just come from the second showing of Mira Nair's gem of a film, "The Namesake."
You may know Nair's name from her terrific body of work: "Monsoon Wedding," "Hysterical Blindness" and "Salaam Bombay!" are among her best.
A couple of years ago she ventured out of her normal territory with Reese Witherspoon in "Vanity Fair" and got slammed, I thought, quite unfairly.
But now Nair is back with an adaptation of a novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Indian writer.
I have to say I'd never heard of this novel and was only slightly aware of the author. But I think that's the point here. Nair, in her rendering of this story with astonishing beauty and artistry, has done more for advancing contemporary Indian culture in America than any Bollywood production.
"The Namesake" is the story of two young Bengalis who move to the U.S. and start a family. It's an epic that unfolds over a period of 25 years, but the screenplay is so economic and the makeup so precise that the whole thing works without a wrinkle.
The very talented Tabu, a 30-ish actress of great beauty, plays Ashima, and Irfan Khan is her husband, Ashoke. In any awards season, the pair would deserve an incredible amount of attention and praise, but Fox Searchlight has decided to hold "The Namesake" until March 2007 rather than let the movie get lost in this fall's coming Oscar battles.
What "The Namesake" is really about, though, is the cultural dislocation that is common to any immigrant story.
Ashima and Ashoke come to the U.S. for opportunity and adventure, but in raising their family, a boy and a girl, they have to struggle with remaining true to their identities.
When their son, named Gogol for the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, starts dating the WASPiest wealthy blonde he can find (Jacinda Barrett), these various dilemmas are brought into the conflict.
But Nair is too smart for making a movie of clichés. The real triumph of "The Namesake" is that it avoids the potential pitfalls of soap operas, and remains — like Ang Lee's "The Wedding Banquet" — an original work that will resonate for a long time to come.
It's not a movie, but it took place during the Toronto Film Festival.
Early Monday morning, three people were found murdered at a hotel here. Many guests from the Toronto Film Festival are staying at the Delta Chelsea Hotel, and at least two of them — working for AOL on a Moviefone promotion tie-in — have rooms on the same floor.
The victims, according to police and local newspaper reports, were members of a German tourist group and all deaf. It may have been a double murder-suicide, police said.
But it wasn't the first act of tourist violence here lately. In July, a drug deal at the Westin Harbour Castle resulted in yet another killing.
And we New Yorkers always thought Toronto was a safe, clean place. Home has never looked so good.
Toronto, in fact, is a strange place for New Yorkers. The film festival area is dotted with aggressive homeless people, the kind we haven't seen in New York since the 1980s.
Cab drivers routinely know nothing about city destinations and seem to take the longest route possible to get anywhere. They spend more time on their phones than any New York cab driver and aren't particularly interested in accommodating their passengers.
Meanwhile, the city seems to have almost no planning in mind when it comes to putting on the film festival. Even though thousands of visitors are trying to traverse the oddly laid out streets here to get to screenings and appointments, blocked streets and re-routed travel have been a norm, with local parades in every direction, not to mention protest groups and fundraising activities that have interfered with the festival's flow.
So much for Toronto! Sundance has never looked better!