Costner Cinema Chat

A site in which Kevin Costner's movies are discussed

Thursday, March 03, 2016

3/3/16: KC set to play NASA chief in "Hidden Figures"

Kevin Costner has apparently been signed to play James Webb, NASA administrator from 1961-68, in the movie "Hidden Figures," based on the book about a team of female, African-American scientists who helped with John Glenn's Friendship 7 mission in 1962. Octavia Spencer, who worked with KC in "Black or White," and Taraji P. Henson are also slated to star:

Monday, May 04, 2015

RIP Michael Blake

Michael Blake, who wrote the exquisite book and screenplay for "Dances With Wolves," has died:

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review: McFarland, USA

The school-based movie – a teacher working with students who gradually blossom – is a tried and tested formula.

 “McFarland, USA,” based on a true story, follows the same formula. But the story and characters are so engaging that the film wins hearts and minds. It also bends the mold, with the teacher and his family going through their own changes

The real-life story: Jim and Cheryl White actually came to the Central California area during the 1960s. Jim White began to build McFarland’s track program in 1980 – seven years before the film’s setting. In the movie, Kevin Costner’s Jim White comes to McFarland and its high school looking for a chance to redeem himself from a previous negative experience.

But most of the rest of the story in the film is essentially the same as real life. McFarland High School has many students among the families of migrant workers in the area. White recruits students for the cross-country track team who have to balance school with their work in the fields. In the meantime, he, Julie (played by Maria Bello) and their daughters (two in the film, as opposed to the real-life three White daughters) are embraced by the local community. All this provides the backdrop for the increasing success of McFarland’s cross-country team.

Costner and the excellent cast he works with do a fine job showing this balance. Especially moving are Carlos Pratts as Thomas Valles and Ramiro Rodriguez as Danny Diaz. No one in Hollywood should claim that talented Spanish-speaking actors and actresses can’t be found after this film.

Equally inspirational is the ending after the ending, which shows the real-life Coach White and the runners portrayed in the film, side by side with McFarland’s current athletes.

At the box office, the film did a bit of what McFarland’s runners did, becoming a sleeper success and providing some needed family entertainment. For the Spanish-speaking community, its legacy goes way beyond that.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Review: Black Or White

Using race as a theme for a movie can be tricky. If the film is about something happening in the present day – and even about past events – how the story is told will depend on the perspective of the filmmaker and filmgoer.

That’s something many critics ignored when they submitted their reviews for “Black or White.” Many were highly critical of director/screenwriter Mike Binder for not telling “the whole story.” They forgot that Binder’s story was from his own perspective. In interviews, he said it was based on events in his own past.

Binder puts that perspective into his main character, Elliot Anderson, played by Kevin Costner. Elliot has just suffered the tragic loss of his wife, Carol (Jennifer Ehle). He retains a strong connection to only one family member: His granddaughter, Eloise, played by Jillian Estell. Elliot and Carol’s daughter died while giving birth to Eloise.

Eloise has more family. They belong to her paternal grandmother, Rowena Jeffers, played by Octavia Spencer. Rowena wants to increase the connection to Eloise – to the point of full child custody.
Like family court Judge Cummins (“NCIS” alumnus Paula Newsome), others may wonder why Rowena didn’t go for shared custody between her and Elliot. The basic answer is that Elliot has a drinking problem that has worsened in the wake of Carol’s death.

But Rowena also has a struggling family member. It happens to be Reggie Davis, (Andre Holland), Eloise’s father, who has battled drugs. 

The actions of these three adult principals are the bulk of the storyline. It’s a compelling battle. But Binder has one flaw in his story: He shortchanged Eloise’s reactions. True, the story is not primarily from her perspective, but she’s the one most affected. We know, for example, that she’s being evaluated by a psychiatrist, but we don’t see directly how it affects her, except in her responses to Elliot.

The rest of the film – save a scene that conjures up visions of “Dragonfly” -  is solid. Costner works well with Spencer and especially well with young Estell. Costner is also surrounded by one of the best supporting casts he’s worked with in a while.

There is a lot of talk that’s needed on race. “Black or White” is a useful film for generating that discussion.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

September 23, 2014: Hollywood Is Afraid of the Dark - and the Light

By Sylvia Gurinsky

During the late 1950s, singer Nat King Cole had a weekly variety program on NBC. He sang, of course, and featured many of the greatest singers of the 20th century, black and white.

But NBC struggled to get sponsors for the show, and it was cancelled after a short time. Afterward, Cole said, "Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark."

For one, brief shining moment during the 1970s when Norman Lear reigned as television's hit king, Madison Avenue wasn't afraid of the dark. But Hollywood always has been.

How else to explain the fact that "Black and White," Kevin Costner's new film about an interracial child custody battle, can't find a distributor?

Mike Binder, who produced and directed the well-received "The Upside of Anger," does the same here. Octavia Spencer, who won an Oscar playing a maid in "The Help," co-stars.The film was well-received at the Toronto Film Festival.

Major studios that rake in money from comedies starring African-Americans won't touch this film. By the way, those comedies have been revealed to make more money from the studios than movies starring whites. Sadly, the cast members and plot lines don't generally rise above the old "Amos 'n Andy" stereotypes.

Or if there is a major movie about race from a major studio, it's about the past, such as "The Help" or "The Butler." We Shall Overcome, right?

The wine-and-brie crowd that makes up independent filmmakers won't touch this movie, either. Most of them are white, and issues involving race usually don't cross their spheres of thought.

African-Americans may not want to go near this film because it involves uncomfortable issues, including the high rate of drug use among young black men. 

Perhaps cable television would be more open to "Black and White." Perhaps.

The recent upheaval in Ferguson, Missouri over a police shooting of an African-American man shows how far the U.S. has to go with issues of race. The silence about "Black and White" shows how far Hollywood has to go.

The film community complains of a lack of good movies about race?

You have your chance with this one, Hollywood.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review: Draft Day

Apologies to all for the delay in posting this....

Decisions, decisions. That’s the motto for every sports executive. A decision means the difference between a championship and a losing season.

That’s in the mind of Cleveland Browns General Manager Sonny Weaver, Jr. (Kevin Costner) as he prepares for the National Football League draft, which is a big deal. But it’s not just football that’s on his mind.

There’s his girlfriend, Ali (Jennifer Garner), who works as the Browns’ salary cap specialist. She’s in the family way, and Sonny has to decide whether he wants a family.

Part of the premise – sports professional and personal on different tracks – was used in “For Love of the Game,” too. But it works so much better in “Draft Day.” Garner does much better with her role here than Kelly Preston did in “For Love of the Game” (Although one has to wonder how screenwriters Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph got away with not giving Ali a last name.).

What to do about Ali isn’t the last decision Sonny will have to make on this particular day, of course. He’s also got to finger the Browns’ first draft pick. He’s considering three choices: Flashy, family-oriented linebacker Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in “42”), Ray Jennings (Arian Foster), whose father played for the Browns and the Heisman Trophy winner Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), who may have some tarnish on his golden boy image.

Those arguing mostly for Callahan as the Browns’ first pick include ambitious team owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) and prickly Head Coach Penn (Denis Leary, whose character doesn’t seem to get a first name). Rival teams, such as the Seattle Seahawks, also circle Sonny, pressuring him on his choices.

There’s one more choice Sonny has to make: How to pay homage to his late father – whom he fired as the Browns’ head coach. Sonny’s mother (Academy Award winner Ellen Burstyn) has her own ideas about that.

Burstyn’s character, portrayed as alternately demanding and ditzy, is among those who get shortchanged in the writing. The same is true of Rosanna Arquette as Sonny’s ex-wife; combined with “Silverado," Arquette seems destined almost never to have substance to many of her roles.  The crafting of the stereotypical Rick the Intern (Griffin Newman) indicates the writers spent too much time watching Jay Leno and David Letterman on late-night television.

But those are quibbles in what is otherwise a strong film. Costner has no home runs, perfect games or championship golf holes here, but he’s just as compelling when the wheels are spinning in his mind. Once again, here’s to him.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

March 12: Fine Interview

Thanks to Em at the Costner Network International board for finding this interview: