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Posts Tagged ‘Mike Binder’
“Black Or White” gives Kevin Costner several of his best on-screen moments in years. The opening scene, the aftermath of a car accident, is hardcore, touching and real and a late movie courtroom showdown is powerful stuff but memories of those great sequences are tainted by a weak ending that saps much of the movie’s power.
Costner is Elliot, a recent widower and caretaker of his granddaughter Eloise (Jillian Estell). His daughter, Eloise’s mom, died in childbirth and the father (André Holland) is not in the picture. Elliot is grief stricken and frequently drunk so the girl’s paternal grandmother, Rowena (Octavia Spencer), tries to get custody with the help of her brother, lawyer Jeremiah (Anthony Mackie). The ensuing custody battle raises questions of loyalty, race, compassion and good intentions.
Director and writer Mike Binder swings for the fences here but instead forfeits the game. His script tackles issues of race and of privilege but shrouds them in a cloak of melodrama. Race becomes a major issue during the custody trial but the film doesn’t add anything to the discourse. Instead it plays the drama broad, taking a safe route (THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS HERE) that leaves issues hanging, reducing everything to black or white with little nuance.
Costner, however, hasn’t been this good in years. He’s a believable drunk with the look of a man who has weathered tragedy but hasn’t given up. A bent-but-not-broken spirit oozes off him and a stronger script might have placed his name on more than a few Best Actor lists.
The other end of the spectrum is Octavia Spencer. The Academy Award winner is a feisty presence, bringing fire and empathy to her scenes.
The supporting cast, including Mackie, Holland and Estell all do good work as well, bringing both drama and humour to a story that needs both to be effective. It’s a shame that an ending that feels pat and sentimental undermines all this good work.
Metro’s Reel Guys columnists Richard Crouse and Mark Breslin take a look at this year’s crop of potential crowd pleasers at the festival.
Richard: Mark, every year I look forward to covering the festival with a mix of dread and anticipation. The dread part comes from knowing how I’m going to feel once the 10 days of 18-hour shifts is finally over. The drooling anticipation part comes along with the slate of films TIFF offers up. This year the new David Cronenberg film is top of my list. In Maps to the Stars, he showcases the stupid, venal and stratospherically self-involved behaviour that goes on behind the scenes in Beverly Hills’ gated communities. The idea of debuting a jaundiced look at Hollywood at the biggest film festival in North America appeals to my rebellious side.
Mark: Can’t wait, Richard, for this or any other Cronenberg! I’m also a big fan of Jason Reitman, who consistently delivers movies that plumb the abyss of the zeitgeist. His latest, Men, Women, and Children, should be no exception. Based on one of my favourite novels by Chad Kultgen, it’s a look at how the Internet is warping families, twisting our sexuality and mediating our desires. Oh, and it’s a comedy.
RC: Mark, the sci-fi musical genre has been sadly overlooked at TIFF in past years. That changes with Bang Bang Baby, starring Jane Levy as a 1960s teenager whose dreams of rock ’n’ roll stardom are dashed when a chemical leak in her town causes mass mutations and “threatens to turn her dream into a nightmare.” Then there’s The Editor, a giallo-comedy tribute to the films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento about a one-handed film editor who becomes the prime suspect in a brutal series of murders.
MB: Sounds great, Richard! I’ll stand in line to see the new Denys Arcand film, An Eye For Beauty. Here’s a director not afraid to take a satirical look at our modern mores, but he’s never tackled a love story before. Some of it takes place in Toronto, so I’m expecting a sly gimlet-eyed view from this great Québécois director.
RC: Speaking of great Québécois directors, Jean-Marc Vallée, the Canadian Oscar nominee for Dallas Buyers Club, returns to TIFF with Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon in the story of a woman who finds an escape from her self-destructive ways on a 1,100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m also psyched about Haemoo. With a script by Snowpiercer penner Bong Joon-ho, this movie about a fishing crew smuggling illegal immigrants from China to Korea promises wild action and unexpected thrills.
MB: Richard, do you realize all our picks inadvertently turned out to be Canadian directors? I’m looking forward to Black and White by Mike Binder. It promises to be a heartfelt drama about an interracial family with issues. Binder is from Detroit but went to summer camp in Muskoka, so he qualifies as an honorary Canuck.
The Upside of Anger is a domestic drama about a woman who, after suddenly finding herself single, begins affairs with the bottle and a broken down baseball player, respectively. Directed by Mike Binder, best known for writing and starring in The Mind of the Married Man, this movie mixes dark humor with real emotion and can be occasionally uncomfortable to watch, but Binder juggles both expertly. A tense scene diffused by Joan Allen imagining one of the character’s head exploding exemplifies the bold strokes of a film that manages to be both hilarious and haunting.
Joan Allen in the lead role of Terry the spurned domestic diva turned boozehound should be nominated for an Academy Award next year. But the whopper surprise is Kevin Costner, back at the top of his game after years of coasting. He digs into the role of Denny, a retired baseball star turned stoned radio DJ who offers Terry a famous shoulder to lean on.
If you liked American Beauty from a few years ago, you’ll like The Upside of Anger.