"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+

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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.

"The Henchman's War", redefining the term "Indie Film"

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If you don’t like your shoot 'em up films with a slower pace, and less noise then Anthony Greene’s “The Henchman’s War” may not be for you. Although the movie centers around guns and killing, it’s obvious from the opening scene that this film is different. “The Henchman’s War” is your typical revenge driven plot but in the hands of Anthony Greene it becomes a rabbit hole that you slowly get sucked into and follow to the end.

Hit man Joe King (Rick Kain) is a man on a mission. After years of loyalty to mid-level crime boss Tony “Cubby” Wagner (Robert Leembruggen), a line is crossed that forces Joe to go after his boss. This means that he must methodically take out every goon on the ladder until he gets to Cubby. Sounds familiar right? Well with Greene’s vision, his legion of actors, and Director of Photography K. Quin Paek’s skills, this independent film brings something refreshing to the genre.

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Kain brings a certain dark heaviness to the introspective hit man. He’s in most of the film, but says about as much as the bit players. He’s usually in the shadows, his face is cut off, or his back is to the camera almost as though he doesn’t want to be documented. He just wants to move forward with his goal. The rest of the cast, made up of stage actors, bring their own individual flair to the film as well. Leembruggen is especially good as Cubby; a boss nearing the end of his life in age and time, with Joe coming after him.

Paek’s minimalist use of light paints a palette that helps reinforce the tone of the film. An empty parking lot becomes an intriguing metaphor for Joe’s life- dark, silent, and alone. There are many scenes where actors are in shadow against a brightly lit background and it’s done so beautifully you forget you’re watching a low-budget film. 

Greene is a director to watch. It’s obvious that he’s studied film, and you can see the influence in his work. Whether he does a slight nod to Sergio Leone with two henchman at a stand off, or John Cassavetes with the overall plot of a quiet neo-noir film. He gives the film subtle touches like using the sound of the hammer cocking or cylinder spinning on Joe's revolver standing in as his voice at times. He knows his craft, how to manipulate the components of it, and how and where to place the camera.

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Overall the film lags a bit, not from its’ pace, but by its’ dialogue. The cast, DP, and director prove that you can turn a cliched script into a film with some bite, which isn’t an easy feat. With “The Henchman’s War” being his narrative feature debut I can’t wait to see what Greene will do with a bigger budget. His debut film proves that independent and low budget doesn’t mean poor quality, but rather up and coming top level work! 

Rating: B-

Find out more about the film at http://www.thehenchmanswar.com/ 


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.