Bland ‘Black,’ Absurd ‘Almanac,’ Decrepit ‘Loft’


Contributing Writer


From left, Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer in “Black or White.” -Photo courtesy of Treehouse Films/Sunlight Productions
From left, Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer in “Black or White.”
-Photo courtesy of Treehouse Films/Sunlight Productions

“Black or White”

Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer face off over custody of their granddaughter in “Black or White” (wide release), a well-meaning but superficial comedy-drama about contemporary race relations. Costner’s character, a well-to-do Los Angeles lawyer, has been caring for the girl, whose mother – his daughter – died in childbirth, since she was an infant because her drug-addict father skipped town. But when his wife dies, the girl’s paternal grandmother, portrayed by Spencer, seeks to bring the child into her home, not only because she believes the girl needs to learn her cultural background, but also because in his grief the lawyer has turned to the bottle.
One might think that this setup would be the basis for a gritty drama, but what Mike Binder’s film offers is the sort of treatment one might expect in a made-for-television movie. There are a few affecting moments, but the combination of syrupy melodrama and sitcom stereotyping proves deadly, and the finale – in which the warring parties put aside their differences and engage in what amounts to a group hug – comes across as meretricious.

“Black or White” ultimately skims across the surface of the serious issues it raises.

“Black Sea”

Though it hardly equals classics like “Run Silent, Run Deep” and “Das Boot,” “Black Sea” (wide release) proves that an old-fashioned, macho submarine melodrama can still be enjoyable.

Jude Law plays a seasoned seaman just fired from a salvage company who is presented with the chance to put together a crew for a mission to retrieve a hoard of Nazi gold from a wreck on the floor of the titular sea. To succeed, they will need to avoid notice by the Russian surface vessels patrolling the area, while tolerating one another until the dangerous job is done – something that’s difficult because all are to share equally in the booty, which means that the fewer who survive, the bigger the take for those who are left.

The plot has so many holes – including a final twist that makes very little sense – that you might expect “Black Sea” to sink under their weight. The men’s periodic complaints about how rich folk are constantly taking advantage of workers like them also grow tiresome after a while.

But the movie manages to stay afloat, thanks to the grittily claustrophobic atmosphere and a cast of solid character actors, and delivers a satisfying, if not terribly believable, ending.

Jude Law with Nazi gold in “Black Sea.” - Photo courtesy of
Jude Law with Nazi gold in “Black Sea.”
– Photo courtesy of

“Project Almanac”

The tired found-footage formula that has been so popular among budget-strapped moviemakers ever since “The Blair Witch Project” is only one of many flaws of “Project Almanac” (wide release), a cheap, dumb sci-fi flick about some nerdy high school students who invent a time machine and use it to win the lottery and make friends with the classmates who have always shunned them.

Needless to say, their repeated forays into the past bring about the dreaded “butterfly effect,” causing history to change in tragic ways, and so the chief nerd – who is looking to get into MIT, by the way – must try desperately to undo all the damage their temporal jumping has done.

“Project Almanac” does not have much new to add to the time-travel genre (the recent “Predestination,” already available on VOD, was much more imaginative), and the charmless bunch of self-absorbed numbskulls at the center of the action are hardly kids you want to root for. The effects are mediocre, too.

But what really sinks the movie is the hyperactive, handheld camerawork, which is likely to induce headache and nausea simultaneously. And it is all accompanied by a loud, raucous soundtrack that is entirely understandable given that MTV was one of the producers.

“The Loft”

There is not a single redeeming quality to “The Loft” (wide release), a silly whodunit featuring characters so repulsive that you cannot care about any of them.

Five rich, slimy buddies decide to buy an apartment together where they can easily cheat on their wives. Unfortunately, a woman’s corpse is found in it one morning, and they bicker about who might have killed her and what to do about it. Interminable flashbacks lay out the whole story behind her death, and an avalanche of twists and double-crosses leads to a ludicrous conclusion.

Badly written, directed, acted and shot, “The Loft” has opened early in 2015, but by December it is still likely to be among the year’s worst movies.


The French-Canadian “Mommy” (Angelika) is a bracing, often heartbreaking tale of a high-strung woman, barely making ends meet, who struggles to control her ADHD-afflicted teen son, who can turn from angelic to destructive on a dime. The obviously codependent pair attracts the attention of a mousy neighbor with psychological problems of her own, a teacher on an extended leave who offers to home-school the boy.

A structurally messy film that puts atmosphere over coherence, “Mommy” nonetheless proves a cumulatively powerful portrait of a mother and son in crisis and a larger society that seems to have no idea of how to help them.


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