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Black or White: Costner Stars in On-the-Nose Family Drama
On the nose is a phrase we've come to often use, but there's no other way to really describe about Mike Binder latest-feature. Written and directed by the stand-up-comedian-turned-filmmaker himself, or White has good intentions and the end-result is relatively satisfactory. However, it's vanilla approach to the subject of family and race feels a little too conventional and offers no real insight on what is a complex subject,
Black or White is based on a true story and it follows the life of one Elliot Anderson (Costner); a successful attorney who has just learned that his wife (Ehle) has been killed in an accident. Turning to the bottle for some comfort, Elliot is grief- stricken and terrified as he has now been left to take care of their granddaughter, Eloise (Estell), all by himself.
Struggling to keep up with the everyday routine, Elliott relies on the help from his colleague, Rick (Burr), and Eloise's new math tutor, Duvan (Koaho) to keep things on an even keel. However, things get complicated when Eloise's other grandmother, Rowena (Spencer) – a.k.a Grandma Wee Wee – enters the picture, demanding that Elliott includes her and her recently-rehabilitated son, Reggie (Holland) – Eloise's estranged father – into his granddaughter's life.
As trivial as its title may sound, Black or White is actually a well-intended movie and a heartfelt story that - despite it Hallmark-like aesthetics - attempts to undo and unravel the subject of racism and prejudice through a story of love, loss, grief and familial hardships. Not everything works for Binder's somewhat clumsy and overblown script; there's a sense of stereotyping throughout and a handful of unrealised subplots and uncharted side-characters come to distract from the overriding arc. However, what does work is the fact that the story never asks you to choose sides and Eloise's fate – profoundly debated in somewhat of a predictable and yet moving courtroom-filled third act – is lovingly and bravely fought for by both sides.
Another thing that works is the pairing of Costner – an actor who seems to be getting better with age – and the always-reliable Octavia Spencer. The two make a dynamic pair and both turn in strong performances; Costner's clichéd interpretation of an alcoholic could have been a little more tempered, but he only gets stronger through the minutes, while the young Estell is more than just a pretty little face.
However, despite its positive turns, Mike Binder's Black or White suffers from one too many truisms through a subject that could have produced much more.
Marking the fifth instalment in the Underworld franchise, Blood Wars rests in the hands of a first-time feature director, Anna Foerster who, although managing to create a few notable moments of action, fails to bring any ingenuity or freshness to its now exhausted vampires-versus-werewolves narrative.
The story begins with a brief recap of events from the last four films where we learn that everyone’s favourite vampire death dealer, Selena (once again fully embraced by the leather-clad, forever sulking Kate Beckinsale) has been betrayed and banished by her kind.
Still trying to cope with the pain of having given up her vampire-werewolf hybrid daughter Eve for everyone’s safety, Selena is surprised to be summoned back into the vampire community - now led by the scheming Semira (Pulver) - who wish to make use of her skills in order to train the new generation of fighters, while still escaping her own chasers and searching for her daughter.
Taking quite a bit of time to get going, Blood Wars – written by Cory Goodman – is filled with lots of politics and nonsensical dialogue between characters who seemingly have a hard time in conveying any emotion, thus, making it all that difficult for the viewer to get invested in what they have to say. Drenched in a seemingly cold, metallic-blue tint, Blood Wars – although certainly not heavy on the action front – does manage to offer a couple relatively exciting action set-pieces. However, considering that this is a vampires-verses-werewolves kind of a movie, there just isn’t enough of that that specific mythology to set it apart from any other action movies – no wooden stakes or silver bullets to see here folks, just plenty of swirling swords and guns that can’t hurt anyone.
Another problem here is that the mythology behind the franchise in general – something the keeps spinning around aimlessly with no real focus or ending in sight – is a little hard to take seriously.
All of the characters, including the PVC-wearing Kate Beckinsale, who thinks that scowling her way through the scenes will get her anywhere, are all without an ounce of charm or personality – which sadly, brings us to a conclusion that there is no fun to be had in this rather forgettable cinematic offering and generic continuation of a franchise which, perhaps, might be ready now to close its doors and call it a day.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.