Kevin Costner Right at Home in ‘McFarland, USA’

Baseball…football…We know Costner loves sports-themed movies, and has a developed a penchant for socially conscious ones too, like the recent “Black or White,” His latest, “McFarland, USA,” an adapted true story, combines these two career themes, as he plays Jim White, a teacher and football coach who has a hard time keeping a job. Down on his luck, he and the family head to the mostly poor and Hispanic McFarland, California where he is to be the assistant football coach at the high school. It isn’t long before problems start between him and the head coach resulting in White stepping down. While still a coach, though, he notes the speed and condition of the students,most of whom are agricultural pickers when not in class, and convinces a reluctant principal to let him start a cross country team. Hollywood loves to shoot in California, especially around their studios, at the beach, & in the mountains…But in places like McFarland in the Central Valley?

‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ is a Rollicking Ride

Double Oh No! Industry scuttlebutt is that after director Matthew Vaughn was turned down for doing a Bond film by the family that controls the rights, he vowed to do a Bond spoof. The result of that vow is the new movie “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” and in the effort he’s managed to hit a mark not achieved by many Bond films since the Connery days, or the many Bond imitators, with the perfect combination an evil genius, creative weaponry, elaborate bunkers, and plain old style, including instructions for the perfect Martini. All that’s missing is the politically incorrect sex, and they get to that at the end. Two intertwined plots make the film: Harry Hart, code name Galahad –Colin Firth’s character- retrieves the delinquent teenage son of a fellow agent, who died years earlier in action alongside Harry , to train him to become a Kingsman, who are an independent crime-fighting organization working out of a Saville Row tailor shop.

’50 Shades of Grey’ Movie Better than the Novel

Grey is the new black. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably heard about the novel “50 Shades of Grey,” which started off as “Twilight” fan fiction and became a phenomenal worldwide bestseller. The story, which tells the tale of a BDSM relationship between 20-something billionaire Christian Grey and a college student, Anastasia Steele, has been criticized by many: some claim it glorifies abusive relationships and others claim that it is just poorly written and even for romantic fiction, ludicrous. Given the book’s flaws, I was prepared to loathe this movie, but I didn’t. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson has done the almost impossible and managed to make a movie which is better than the novel.

Sponge Bob Movie: Sponge Out of Water Maybe OK for KIds

This week, Sponge Bob bigger, faster, dryer. It’s been over a decade since the inhabitants of Bikini Bottom last graced the big screen, even as their small screen series has continued. This time out, the celebrity voices are gone, the plot is more –shall we say ‘flexible’—and the entire affair more ragged…but in a good way. And, see the title, “The Sponge Bob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” we get to see Bob, Mr. Krabs, Plankton, Patrick, et. al.

Black Versus White

The actual title of Kevin Costner’s new up-close and personal look at race relations is “Black or White,” the question
thrust upon the central characters in this based-on-true-events story. As the picture starts, we find an approximately 11-year-old Eloise, played by newcomer Jillian Estell, living with her white grandfather, Elliot, the Costner character, following the untimely death of her mother. Eloise’s black father is on the scene only sporadically, thanks to drug addiction and stints in the joint. His mother, Rowena, played by Octavia Spencer, has a rose-colored view of her son, and a notion, which ends up as a court case, to try and have him claim custody of Eloise. As both sides prepare, we are exposed to each tribe’s suspicions of the other, even as they try, in however strained a manner, to interact.

American Sniper: Sometimes Knowing Less is Better

The late Gore Vidal famously dubbed this country “The United States of Amnesia.” If he were alive today, he might say he was proven right in light of how many view the Iraq War. Despite the fact that the war is a fairly recent event, many seem to be at risk for forgetting the reasons behind it and the complex issues that arose out of it. While 2008’s “The Hurt Locker” attempted to look at the war from the soldier’s point of view and raised many complex questions which remained largely unanswered, Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” does not take the same approach. Indeed, many have called it a simple tale and in some ways, it is. Based on the best-selling memoir of the same name by Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, “American Sniper” is very black and white.

Current Events Enhance Relevance of ‘Selma’

It’s been more than 40 years since Martin Luther King was assassinated, which seems like a long time without much cinematic
interest in his life. If you’ve been waiting, however, the new movie “Selma” has made it worth it. As the title suggests, it isn’t so much a biopic as it is a narrower examination of the man through his handling of a singular struggle, that being the securing of voting rights for African Americans in the South in the mid 1960’s. Selma, Alabama was the head-end of a march to the state’s capital, Montgomery , in pursuit of that goal, and where TV cameras were rolling on some of the worst anti-Civil Rights violence of the era. The outrage generated led directly to the passage of the Voting Rights Acts, weeks later.

‘Big Eyes’ Story of Greed and Domination

There’s lots going on in Tim Burton’s latest, “Big Eyes.” On the surface, it’s the true story of painter Margaret Keane,whose pictures, mostly of children with over-accentuated eyes, became a brief sensation in the 50’s and 60’s. Contained therein you find a story of greed and domination, one of a woman’s struggle for identity in a very different era, and an ongoing exploration of art vs. kitsch. In fact, the screenwriters here are the same pair who penned 1994’s “Ed Wood.” Keane is played by Amy Adams, and we first see her leaving her suburban married existence for a brilliantly portrayed beat-era San Francisco. With a child to support, no job, and her paintings not paying the bills, she agrees, almost on a whim, to marry Walter, Christopher Waltz, a wealthy real estate developer and fellow artist, at least in his ownmind.