"Counselor" Review

While it may be the easiest way for a filmmaker to produce a project, telling a story that takes place in one environment is also the hardest task. Harold Jackson III has proven that he can conquer the big screen with his film “Last Night”. With his latest production, he attempts to conquer the small screen with his webseries entitled “Counselor”. Fortunately, the single location series is a slow brew story with just the right mixture of drama that you will quickly consume on your laptop or smartphone!

The series is pretty straight forward. It takes place over the course of 8 treatment sessions between Dr. Venazen (Curtiss Cook) and his patient David (Chad Eric Smith). The stakes are simple, David has to complete his sessions as a part of a DUI ruling or go to jail. The complexities that come in to play are the issues in both character’s lives and how they surface during the sessions.

What makes the series move is the give and take in answers between the characters in probing questions about one another, and sometimes the lack there of. The everyday mundane debates over things like the Huxtables, lifestyle choices, or metaphorical coffee are natural, comical intermissions between deeper conversations. With each treatment, new issues arise in each character that build the story and ultimately their relationship. 

At its best, “Counselor” explores two men being honest about their lives while sharing in one another’s journey over the course of time. They both recognize the good in one another, while also seeing their faults. Cook is absolutely polarizing as the good doctor. His extreme control and level headedness makes for gripping drama when his layers are pulled back. Smith executes a constant sense of uneasiness pervading through his character, conveying a troubled life and track record of mistrust. The yin and yang of each character works together for good on screen chemistry between the talented actors who bring the story to life.

The series is a good example of how occasionally wearing multiple hats on a project can be a good thing. Serving as writer, director, producer and editor, Jackson manipulates the audience with his use of the frame and knowledge of the story. The rhythm of the edit perfectly keeps the story going, allows us to forget we’re in the same location, and instead focus on the dialogue. Keeping us on edge like the characters, Jackson uses the occasional dutch angle to subtly suggest the off kilter emotional state of the doctor or David. He lines his characters on the edge of the frame with no lead room to suffocate them in tense moments, or crowds the foreground with an object to force our perspective on his character similarly. Jackson’s technical proficiency supplements the overall story well.

I watched “Counselor” twice in one day in order to write this review and caught more nuances during the second viewing. The series is not necessarily a page turner (or web clicker?) in the sense of “what’s gonna happen next?”, but it is very successful in building its characters and making you care for them. The last installment in the series ties a bow a little too neatly, but for a single location shoot, “Counselor” certainly succeeds on an entertainment level. It should be inspiring for indie filmmakers while solidifying Jackson’s track record as a quality filmmaker!

"Counselor" will be released on YouTube Feb. 17th!

Rating: B+

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"Last Night" Review

If you’re a fan of Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” or Allen’s “Manhattan”, you might enjoy writer/director/producer Harold Jackson III’s debut narrative feature “Last Night”. It’s a beautifully shot, romantic drama set to the backdrop of Washington, DC. This soulful love letter to the District starts out slow but finishes strong. 

Sky’s (Judi Blair) last day in DC becomes a field trip around the District after bumping into Jon (Danny Gavigan) at a coffee shop. The chance encounter sparks an opportunity for Sky to mentally escape her impending move to be with her boyfriend,  Daniel (Benton Greene), in North Carolina. Simultaneously, Daniel deals with the unspoken distance between himself and Sky by talking with family and old friends.

The central story is the relationship that blossoms between Sky and Jon. As Sky begins to enjoy her time with Jon, she becomes more aware of the choice she has to make between the life she knows and the one that seems to be made up for her. Sensing something erroneous in his relationship with Sky, Daniel uses a chance meeting with childhood sweetheart, Angela (Nedra McClyde), to figure out his feelings as well.

While the film is wonderfully acted by its cast, the initial meeting between the destined pair is stained by a lack of on screen chemistry. Sky’s initial disposition and body language is bent toward not giving Jon the time of day in such a way that it’s hard to believe she’s interested in him. It’s as if the character knows the movie will be over if she doesn’t indulge him and stroll with him for a few city blocks, and thus obliges. It’s not until an innovative scene half way through the movie, in which the two unleash their frustration on a statue representing the chains of the corporate world, that their chemistry takes off and feels authentic.   

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Jackson is a student of cinema, staging multiple comical acknowledgments of movie tropes throughout the film in his dialogue. Yet it’s his framing and color of this world that stands out. Numerous times characters dealing with their personal issues are blocked by inanimate objects in the foreground of the frame. The metaphor works on the viewer as the character is crowded mentally in the moment and physically in the frame. Jackson captures Sky’s moment of enlightenment by having her walking out of a dark tunnel and into the light. His deliberate pacing and infusion of jazz throughout the film creates a steady tone and atmosphere reminiscent of that first date that had you yearning for a second.

Blair is a star and carries the film as a woman torn between two worlds. Her performance is refreshingly natural and grounded in the moment. Gavigan finds a nice balance between being the pursuing party and someone simply trying to find his place in the world, thus creating a three dimensional character that in lesser hands would be non-existent. While Greene and McClyde don’t get as much screen time, they both turn in solid performances. 

As most debut films go, this one has its shortcomings, but is full of wonderful moments. It’s the moments of insecurity, doubt, fear and joy that can be found in a relationship that’s just beginning and one that’s coming to a close that resonate. Like Allen did with Manhattan, DC’s never looked so romantic as in the hands of Jackson.  

Rating: C+

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.