Black Or White

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to hug Octavia Spencer.

Black Or White is a message movie, yes, but not as heavy handed and unrelenting as many such films tend to be. There’s humanity and love here to counterbalance the resentments and grudges.

Elliott Anderson (Kevin Costner) is an L.A. attorney. He and his wife have been raising his mixed race granddaughter, following his teen daughter’s death during childbirth. When Elliott’s wife is killed in a car crash, leaving grandpa to raise the girl by himself, the other grandma (who is African-American) Rowena Jeffers (Octavia Spencer) decides to seek custody.

A key element of Black Or White’s charm is the little girl Eloise (Jillian Estell) who is the subject of the custody battle. Estell is cute and she’s a good actor.

While the relationship among the grandparents has been respectful if not warm, Elliott still has hard feelings against Rowena’s son, Eloise’s father, Reggie (André Holland) who he blames for his daughter’s death. When Reggie joins in the custody battle, things turn ugly.

Complicating the situation is Elliott’s heavy drinking. In fact, he drafts Eloise’s tutor Duvan (Mpho Koaho) to serve as his driver when he’s too drunk to drive.

The always great Anthony Mackie is attorney Jeremiah Jeffers, representing Rowena and Reggie. Standup comic Bill Burr is surprisingly good as Rick Reynolds, Elliott’s friend, law firm partner and courtroom attorney.

Black Or White could have easily slipped into the talky melodrama of a Hallmark or Lifetime TV movie, but with a busy plot and timely comic relief, it keeps up a good pace that should keep audiences engaged. Costner is the big star here, but Octavia Spencer is a joy to watch onscreen. Her takes are priceless.

This is a movie that Costner helped bankroll. He came to St. Louis, where racial polarization continues to bubble under, to promote the film and its message. Costner’s character says things that some white folks may have felt but never articulated. Rowena and her extended family are people who are easy to admire and respect. Black Or White presents a story that should entertain as well as provide a few things for everyone—black or white—to think about.

Three Days To Kill

Kevin Costner is not the best actor in the world, but people like him. Men like him because he’s a man’s man who made three movies about baseball. Women like him because he’s rugged, yet sensitive. Of course, he is a handsome man, too.

In Three Days To Kill, we get Costner the gun-toting action hero. We also get Costner the absent husband and dad who’s trying to make up for time spent apart from his family. In TDTK, when those two worlds intersect, the results are funny, frightening, ridiculous and/or deadly.

Following a shootout and chase on foot, CIA agent Ethan Renner (Costner) collapses. A doctor tells him he has just a few months to live. He goes back to Paris to reconnect with his teenage daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) before he dies. He tells his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) that he’s done with spook work.

Up pops the CIA’s Vivi (Amber Heard), driving a fast car and looking like a fantasy babe, offering Ethan an experimental drug that might save him from death. But only if he will eliminate CIA targets “The Albino” (Tomas Lemarquis) and “The Wolf” (Richard Sammel).

Ethan’s pursuit of these weapons dealers happens at the same time he is mending fences with the family, leading to a few cute intersections of the two story tracks. In the midst of tense action, his “I Don’t Care” ringtone signals a call from Zoey. A bad guy who is duct-taped to a toilet shares his mother’s recipe for spaghetti sauce by phone to Zoey.

Another storyline that reveals Ethan’s good nature (not expected from a CIA operative) involves squatters. When he finds his Paris apartment occupied by a large African family and learns the law protects them, he eventually shrugs and accepts it.

Does the action pic/family drama crossover work? Generally, yes. The action, including decent chase scenes, exciting shootouts and gory death, is good. And the family part, featuring some nice bonding between Ethan and Zoey, is sweet. Hailee Steinfeld’s performance is significantly better here than in 2010’s True Grit.

Three Days to Kill, directed by McG of Charlie’s Angels fame, moves along nicely and does not bog down. And, while the film’s outcomes are not unanticipated, McG keeps it interesting with quick transitions back and forth between the film’s two tracks. Costner fans, male and female, have a good movie to enjoy together.

TDTK is rated PG-13. Gunplay is excessive but the sex and cursing are minimal.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is similar to other spy caper films you’ve seen, with a few interesting exceptions. Ryan (Chris Pine) is not just an ex-Marine in the CIA, he’s also an economist. And the caper centers on world market trading dirty tricks by devious Russians—particularly Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh)—designed to destroy the US economy.

US Navy Commander Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) recruits Ryan for the CIA. He discovers him at Walter Reed Hospital as Ryan is rehabbing from injuries suffered in a copter crash in Afghanistan. Ryan finishes school, joins the CIA and goes to work on Wall Street to monitor economic terrorism.

Upon detecting suspicious activity in accounts run by Cherevin, Ryan chooses to go to Moscow to confront him. Ryan’s fiancé Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) decides to follow along and gets caught up in the effort to fend off the Russian assault on world markets.

Because economic intrigue is not quite enough to sustain an “action” film, a corresponding plot has a van filled with explosives, driven by a man intent on destroying Wall Street physically (even as the wicked Ruskies are planning to beat us down financially).

Okay, there’s a lot going on here and some of it works and some of it does not work. It’s good to see an older Costner in this leadership role. (Seeing him in Navy dress blues briefly recalls that 1987 film No Way Out.) Branagh, who directs the film, is surprisingly good as the Russian bad guy.

Knightley is gorgeous and has shown great acting skills in the past. But in JR:SR, she’s of little value beyond eye candy. Her chemistry with Pine is almost non-existent. Pine is good and, after becoming a star via the Trek movies, has the stature to take on the Ryan role. He defines “rugged good looks.” Guys can appreciate his derring-do and ladies can get lost in those blue eyes.

A couple of plot holes and quick resolutions of complicated business may cause one to say, “Huh?” But if you just play along you’ll enjoy the ride.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is okay for a January release. But that’s what it is, a January release. (Note of interest: it’s rated PG-13, so you can send you mom who hated Wolf of Wall Street to see this one.)

Man of Steel

Man of Steel is full of sound and fury. It takes Superman and his families (on Krypton and on Earth) to places that original creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster never could have imagined.

Man of Steel is a prequel, the backstory of Kal-El/Clark Kent. Superman’s dad Jor-El (Russell Crowe, in a non-singing role) launches the infant Kal-El toward Earth as Krypton implodes. Amid the terror on Krypton, Jor-El gets impaled to death by Krypton nemesis General Zod (Michael Shannon). But, amazingly, he’s not out of the movie! Jor-El shows up in future events in the film, but don’t ask me to explain how. (No, he’s not a hologram.)

Meanwhile we see young Clark being raised in Smallville by the Kents, Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane). They make him control his super powers while growing up, even when peril hits close to home. Young Clark does save a busload of schoolmates from drowning after an accident, but his strength remains undercover, for the most part.

Just as the adult Superman (Henry Cavill) begins to do his super thing, here come General Zod and more bad guys from Krypton. They’ve decided to colonize Earth! Smallville is going to need millions in urban renewal funds from the feds after Zod and Superman (+ personnel and machines from the US military) tear up the town in an epic, lengthy faceoff.

Speaking of epic, lengthy faceoffs, there’s another one—this time in Metropolis—between Zod and Superman. It does not take up the entire second half of the movie, it just seems that way.

Amy Adams is Lois Lane and unlike we’ve been led to believe in every comic book, TV show and movie of the past, in Man of Steel she’s hip to the fact that Clark Kent is Superman early on. She wants to tell the whole fantastic story via the Daily Planet but editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) nixes it because it’s too outrageous.

If you enjoyed the Christopher Reeve Superman movies or even the 2006 Superman Returns with Brandon Routh in the title role, take note that this new movie has a different feel. Zack Snyder, who directed 300, Watchmen and Sucker Punch, has made a movie for those who like things that go boom. Sure, there’s a bit of humanity to go along with the sound and fury, but that’s not the reason most will buy tickets.

(And to answer the question, whatever happened to Brandon Routh? He recently played a vegan male nurse—true—on a CBS sitcom called Partners that was cancelled after six episodes last fall.)

Man of Steel is a bit longer than it needs to be. (It runs 2:20 or so.) My guess is that so much was spent on battles and effects that it made it hard to leave a multi-million dollar sequence on the cutting room floor.

Cavill is a solid Superman. He plays it straight with none of the campiness witnessed in the Iron Man movies or the last Trek flick.

As does the film have excessive length, so does this review. Therefore I’ll wrap it by saying that I like Man of Steel but I didn’t love it. My guess, however, is that audiences will. Love it, that is.