Sundance 2019: "Dos Fridas" Review

dos fridas.jpeg

Dos Fridas is a dualistic film that reflects upon life and death while toying with reality and imagination. The history behind Frida Kahlo’s life is not well known and Dos Fridas is inspired by traumatic events that happened to her towards the end of her life (she passed away at age 47). The film beautifully portrays how Kahlo dealt with those events mentally and physically. 

The film follows the relationship between Kahlo and her newly hired nurse Judith (played by Maria de Medeiros) who also suffers similar experiences as Frida.  Writer/director Ishtar Yasin Gutierrez also acts as Frida Kahlo in the film with a commanding presence that demands attention. The film mixes reality with imagination and the past with the present, which is developed through Mexican folklore, surrealism and existentialism. It is not a “feel good movie” in the least bit and the film even forces the audience to contemplate the meaning of life. It is important to note that the name Dos Fridas is a nod towards one of Frida Kahlo’s oil paintings called The Two Fridas, this painting is a double self portrait. The film cleverly reflects opposing things, which is also portrayed in The Two Fridas. 

An important part of Dos Fridas is the almost all female cast. The lead actors are female, the supporting actors are female and there aren’t that many speaking roles that are men. With that being said, most of this film passes the test for feminist film theory, women are in powerful roles, the focus of their conversations is not about men, and they are fully clothed. These minor details may not seem too important to an average viewer but this is a big change from the norm in traditional Hollywood films. Deliberate actions to uphold women positively in cinematic art is poetic in itself and Dos Fridas exposes a new realm of beauty. 

Alongside the strong casting decisions and feminist approach, the film is filled with Mexican Folklore, from Mexican sugar skulls, to the mariachi performing in Frida’s backyard; the film interprets the Mexican culture in a beautiful way that depicts the truth of Frida’s heritage. Through surrealism and expressionist techniques, Ishtar Yasin Gutierrez creates a narrative that is reflective of Luis Buñuel (the iconic Latino filmmaker) who created the 1952 film Mexican Bus Ride. Both of these films don’t follow a sequential timeline in regards to the narrative, which is common practice of Luis Buñuel; both films also create uncomfortable scenes through intense drama. Even though the stories within these films are both somewhat sad, they are told with such content of the Mexican culture that the beauty of it shines through regardless.

One relative piece of Mexican culture that stands out in the film is the traditions in embracing life as well as death, while not being afraid of the afterlife. Frida Kahlo oftentimes painted very violent pieces of work because it was her way of escaping the pain in her life; this film portrayed that sorrow in a realistic yet artistic way. This approach to portraying Frida Kahlo in her raw emotions makes this film incredibly expressionistic in a way that is unsettling but it also makes the viewer ponder the meaning of life. This is also portrayed through what is fake vs reality in the film; things dramatically change without any preemptive warnings- very much like Luis Buñuel films. If you are a fan of films that follow a strict narrative, this is not the film for you; however if you do enjoy that type of cinematic approach, you’re in for a ride. 

Ultimately, this film is a love poem to Frida Kahlo and the Mexican culture.  It reflects upon resilience through pain, freedom of artistic expression, as well as freedom of sexuality. The actors in the film create a wonderfully surreal story that exposes a new light into Frida Kahlo’s tough life. This film is truly a gift to the Mexican art community, and the Latino art community as a whole. It unapologetically speaks truth of things that are oftentimes overlooked within Frida’s life, and creates a reflective story through her trauma. I truly enjoyed Dos Fridas as a Latina filmmaker myself, and I would highly recommend viewing this film when you’re in an existential mood.

Rating: A

Comment

Julia Moroles

Julia Moroles graduated from Augsburg College (MN) with a Bachelors degree (BA) in Film Production and Studio Art Production with a minor in Religion. After graduating, Julia lived in El Salvador where she taught film editing, art, and photography in Spanish. While she resided in El Salvador, she studied Monseñor Romero and the liberation theology movement of Central America.

When Julia returned from El Salvador, she completed an internship at a Think Tank in St. Paul Minnesota, called Minnesota 2020. During her 9-month multimedia specialist position, she created two short documentaries focusing on different public policy issues. Her short documentary Colossal Costs closely analyzed higher education loan debt, and was screened in festivals from coast to coast. The second film was a documentary about the urban agriculture movement in Minnesota.

In addition to her studies, Julia has been a photo activist for the Black Lives Matter movement, urban agriculture nonprofit organizations in Minnesota, as well as numerous human rights campaigns (internationally).

In August 2016 Julia began a Masters program (MFA) in Film and Electronic Media for the School of Communication at American University. During her attendance at AU she created various documentaries that focused on social justice issues, female empowerment, and community engagement. Her documentary about American University's Eagle Endowment was honored at the house of the President of American University in 2017. On two occasions, Julia served as sound mixer while filming a documentary for the talented filmmaker Larry Kirkman. Larry is working with the Center of Environmental filmmaking to research the necessity of Science in politics. Julia worked on a 16 person team (8 crews) that covered the March for Science in 2017 and 2018; she also assisted in filming congressional house parties with Larry Kirkman while working on the documentary. Finally, she was a part of a team that filmed interviews with the Defenders of Wildlife in preparation for the 2018 March for Science. Julia's team covered the media tent for both years of the March for Science and conducted interviews with the scientists and speakers for the rally.

From June 2017-December 2017 Julia completed a Fellowship for the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute. She worked alongside Mahtab Kowsari to create educational videos that taught students at a graduate level for the Religious Freedom Center. She worked in the fast paced media environment creating the educational videos, promotional videos, filming and producing the educational lectures and she even created an educational social media campaign.

On top of completing a fellowship and assisting with the Center of Environmental Filmmaking, Julia acted as a Teaching Assistant to classes such as Editing, Web Development, Digital Image Editing, and Direction and Video Production.

Julia is currently creating a documentary focusing on the urban agriculture movement across the United States. She has interviewed people on the East and West Coast and hopes to influence more people to be a part of the movement.

Sundance 2019: "Sweetheart" Review

One of the hidden gems to come out of Sundance this year is Sweetheart. Shipwrecked on an island, a young woman must not only survive the elements but fend off a malevolent creature that comes out of the ocean at night. On the surface, that description may not sound very appealing, but the execution is delicious!

Jenn (Kiersey Clemons) has just washed up on the shore of an island that she learns is deserted. Along with her, Brad (Andrew Crawford) has hit the sand, but the large piece of coral in his side spells doom. Before she can grab Brad some coconut water (literally), he’s gone. Alone on the island, Jenn quickly assesses what she has at her disposal for survival. The life jackets she and Brad wore, a flair gun, and a suitcase won’t get the job done, but it will do. 

After exploring the island a bit, she finds the remains of what seems to be a family that landed on the island as well (both skeletal and their material belongings). As night falls, she buries her friend, only to find blood soaked sand and palm tree leaves where he was in the morning. As the film moves forward she finds that she’s not alone and you may be able to guess what happens, but it’s not as predictable as you may think in getting to the end. 

Writer/director J.D. Dillard has written a smart, female heroine in Jenn. She is able to survive on the island by fishing, cooking, and eventually finding ways to analyze what she’s up against in this nocturnal monster. As an audience, all we know about Jenn is what we see from the shipwreck, but Dillard also brings in more characters to give us some backstory on Jenn and why she may be the survivor she is. 

Sweetheart would be a here today gone tomorrow monster tale if not for its creative screenplay. All jump scares are earned here, and the monster is scary in appearance and sound. In fact, Dillard understands that less is more and therefore creates an environment that audiences can be invested in because our imagination fills in the gaps of things we don’t see. Clemons gives a standout performance as most of the movie is on her shoulders. Sweetheart is a survive the night(s) camp horror/thriller that belongs in and bolsters the genre.

Rating: B+

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.

Sundance 2019: "Luce" Review

luce.jpeg

Luce explores the delicate line between the perceptions that people have of other people versus the truth of who they are. While our individual experience is on a spectrum, human nature and history has  placed its construction of race in boxes in order to “understand” each other. This film allows its main character to work within the constraints of those boxes to exploit the system in a powerful way that puts some of those ideals on trial.

Luce Edgar (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) was adopted from war-torn Eritrea by his white parents, Amy (Naomi Watts) and Peter (Tim Roth) at the age of ten. His parents helped him get through years of therapy to heal wounds from being a child soldier, and sacrifice to provide him the best life possible. Now a senior in high school, he’s fully acclimated to America and in fact, is a stellar student! He’s a beacon of light for his fellow students, especially the black population, and the weight of that is heavy on his shoulders.  

The film’s inciting incident occurs when Luce’s teacher, Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), calls Amy in to talk about a discovery she’s made. After tasking the class with an assignment to write a paper in the voice of a historical figure, Luce chose the radical Frantz Fanon, who believed in hurting others for a cause. On top of that, Ms. Wilson searched Luce’s locker and found illegal fireworks that pack the same punch as a shotgun. Ms. Wilson’s motive for bringing Amy in before letting anyone else make the discovery is to protect Luce’s reputation and make sure he succeeds.  

With this information and the materials in her possession, Amy talks to her husband as soon as she gets home. This initial conversation is where both Amy and Peter start making judgements on Luce’s character, and we as audience members must make our own conclusions on the situation as well. As the story moves forward, little by little, we find out more of the big picture of what’s happening at school and see how characters in this world make judgement calls based off of pre-conceived and personal thoughts. 

Situations like Stephanie Kim’s (Andrea Bang) possible rape during a party, and Luce’s ex-teammate Deshaun (Astro) getting caught with weed in his locker are all brought to the forefront of conversation in the film. What does it mean for Luce’s reputation if he participated in either of these activities? Why does Luce get special treatment over his friends? What does it feel like to be the person that everyone looks at for hope and expects to be virtually perfect?

While the film does interrogate these questions and the American dream on a large scale, screenwriters J.C. Lee and Julius Onah nail what being black, talented, and on a pedestal in America feels like. The ideal of tokenism (the one black person in a room/organization/team/etc.) and pressure to be on is something that Luce feels constantly, and is spot on. They find a sweet spot in making their point without hammering it home, which is hard to do.

Ultimately, this play turned screenplay is brought to life by its stellar cast. Kelvin Harris Jr. is undoubtedly an actor to watch! He commands the screen and authentically connects with the ability to perform in different spaces with uncanny finesse. The scenes where Octavia Spencer and Harris Jr. face off are electric and the things award nominations are made of. Tim Roth and Naomi Watts embody the sacrifice parents make for their children, and the individual struggles of giving blind trust versus questioning your child. Even the supporting cast members like Andrea Bang and Marsha Stephanie Blake (who brilliantly plays Rosemary Wilson, Ms. Wilson’s mentally ill sister) are exhilarating to watch. Their characters are real, dimensional people that you can connect with. 

The music by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury swell with tension and put you on edge. It supplements the story that unfolds before your eyes in a way that hits on all cylinders. Luce is a film that you want to watch again to not only to catch what you may have missed in a scene, but also the ideals explored that you may want to ponder over more. It’s a must see!

Rating: A-

Sundance 2019: "Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary" Review

amazing johnathan review picture lock.jpeg

The Untitled Amazing Jonathan Documentary is the story of two desperate men; one is trying to leave a legacy and the other is trying to create a legacy through his art. Its an extremely meta film that’s also self-aware and downright hilarious. Writer/director Benjamin Berman takes us on what eventually becomes a personal journey of how far one would go to leave a mark in the world.

The doc starts out as a portrait of comedian/magician John Edward Szeles who goes by the stage name The Amazing Johnathan. Stock footage shows his zany comedic style of performing magic and illusions and rising to the top of his industry. In 2014, Szeles is hit with devastating news that he only has a year to live, but three years later he’s still alive. Enter Benjamin Berman who reaches out to him to document his life and is granted access. Szeles decides that he wants to do a farewell tour as The Amazing Johnathan. Things run smoothly, until suddenly Berman and his team are made aware that another film crew will be shooting the same event to document The Amazing Johnathan. Things continue to spiral out of control from there as Berman learns there are even more documentary crews covering the person he’s dedicated so much time and effort towards.

The film merges into somewhat of a hunt to solve a mystery as Berman worries about the outcome of his documentary and whether he should continue. It doesn’t help that Szeles is extremely apathetic about it all. As Ben dives deeper into trying to salvage his documentary, he also begins to unravel; he takes questionable steps to make sure that it is created and even questions the truth of the ultimate prankster’s death sentence. 

The editing in the film is remarkable and your hat has to be tipped to editor Scott Evans. From the opening scene in the documentary you can tell that you’ll be on a self-aware joyride. Nothing is off-limits for sewing the film together to tell its story. From the typography to the sound effects to the quick hit jingles and cuts, this is a story being told from all angles. In fact, this approach in levity to tell the story is what makes the ability to handle this complex story easier.

There are plenty of twists and turns in the movie, but it’s death that looms in the background of both Szeles and Berman’s mind that informs their decisions subconsciously and eventually makes its way into the documentary. The Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary is transparent, original and personal in its attempt at making it to the big screen. Berman’s ability to adapt and use his resources create a once in a lifetime moment in a documentary that, otherwise, may not have been made. 

Rating: B+

Sundance 2019: "Photograph" Review

photograph.jpeg

Photograph is a good example of how some stories in cinema are universal. It is a slow burn romance about a struggling street photographer named Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) in Mumbai who is feeling the heat from his grandmother to get married. He doesn’t just catch it from his grandmother, but his entire community seems to know how dire the situation is and they constantly remind him of it. After a chance encounter with prospective customer Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), whom he retains her photograph, Rafi does what any stubborn person would do in that situation; he makes it seem as though Miloni is his new boo.

For people of a certain age, the pressure from family and friends to get married is prevalent, and even more so in certain cultures. Both Rafi and Miloni seem to be stuck somewhere in between wanting companionship but wanting it on their own terms. After persuading Miloni to go along with the ruse, the two meet daily with Rafi’s grandmother Dadi (Farrukh Jaffar). As the film continues, little by little, the ruse seems to turn in to something real.

Farrukh Jaffar is absolutely stellar as Rafi’s grandmother! She’s too old to care how loud she is when she’s talking to you and her “mother’s heart”, as she calls it, doesn’t want to die without seeing Rafi married off. Every moment she’s on screen feels more like a documentary than a narrative film because she’s so authentic. Siddiqui and Malhotra give very reserved, internal performances as the main characters. Their eyes are the only way into their feelings.

While the film soars in building the budding love, writer/director Ritesh Batra asks his audience to take a journey that seems to start, stop, reverse and move forward. There  are multiple scenes that are shown and then shown again down the line with more details revealed in such a way that doesn’t continue pushing the story forward but rather makes you question why it wasn’t revealed before. As Rafi makes a major attempt at winning Miloni over, we’re left wanting. With an almost two hour run time watching this romance bloom, one could ask if the ruse is on the viewer? 

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.

Sundance 2019: "Troop Zero" Review

troop_zero_still_1.jpg

Troop Zero is much like it’s main character, Christmas (McKenna Grace),it’s sweet, it’s heart is in the right place, but something is just a bit off. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the movie centers around standing your ground and being your oddball self even if the world doesn’t understand you. It’s saccharin, it’s formulaic, but sometimes a little sugar is good for the soul.

The world is a big place and space is even more vast, and Christmas dreams of exploring it. The only issue is she’s living in rural Wiggly, Georgia in 1977. She’s the kid in town that the older folks may say “bless her heart” as she runs by in oversized boots, and one leg that’s shorter than the other. She’s used to getting picked on, but somehow keeps a smile on her face. Which is why when she has the opportunity to have her voice projected into space by NASA through the Birdie (think Girl Scouts) Jamboree, she assembles a ragtag group of misfits from the neighborhood.

Christmas’s quickly enlists the help of her father Ramsey’s (Jim Gaffigan) secretary, Rayleen (Viola Davis) as troop mother. The newly minted group named Troop Zero includes: Hell-No (Milan Ray) the bully who wants the burn the world down because she doesn’t believe she’ll ever have anything beautiful, Smash (Johanna Colon) Hell-No’s muscle, the “girl/boy” Joseph (Charlie Shotwell), and the devout Christian, Anne-Claire (Bella Higginbotham). It’s no surprise that in a film like this, Troop Zero has to overcome challenges in the form of getting badges, and then go against the reigning champions in their town led by Miss Massey (Allison Janney) to win the contest.

This is one of those films where you know what it’s trying to do with your emotions as the kids’ chemistry on camera shines whether they’re facing challenges or triumphantly standing up for one another. The soundtrack of the film rocks, with songs like “Rocket Man”, “Little Green Bag” and more. Screenwriter Lucy Alibar keeps bumping the record player though with repetitive reminders throughout the film that Troop Zero should “find that life gets easier if you don’t want so much”. This film would have been much better if the viewers were allowed to catch the message without it being hammered home.

In the end, Troop Zero has some very touching moments that you may want a tissue nearby while burning some calories laughing in the next moment. McKenna Grace carries the film as Christmas. Her goofy smirk, giggle, and character choices feel so authentic that it’s obvious she’s a child actor who is gifted beyond her years. However, all of the sweetness in this movie can’t mask the fact that you want to yell “we get it!” just as the misfits yell “we’re here!” to the stars. 

Rating: C+

Sundance 2019: "Native Son" Review

Adapted from Richard Wright’s beloved classic of the same title, Native Son is the coming of age tale of a young man trying to make sense of the world. Ashton Sanders transforms himself into an intellectual, punk rock loving, existentialist caught in between worlds as Bigger “Big” Thomas. While the performances are strong here, the adaptation of a 1940’s story to modern times doesn’t quite work as well.

Single mother, Trudy Thomas (Sanaa Lathan), is trying to make it with her three children after being widowed six years ago. Her new boyfriend (David Alan Grier) has a connection to Henry Dalton (Bill Camp) and knows that he’s looking for a new driver. Seeing it as an opportunity to make a little more money than he has been as a bike courier, Big takes the job.

Big quickly finds himself in a world where money seems to be no issue and things start off well. He drives for the family, but particularly Mr. Dalton’s daughter, Mary (Margaret Qualley). She introduces him to some of her friends, and he introduces her to his, including a little ecstasy. After Mary gets super high one night, Big finds himself in a particularly difficult situation and a decision that changes the course of his life forever is made.

Kiki Layne, hot off of If Beale Street Could Talk, shines as Big’s hairdresser girlfriend, whose hair changes in virtually each scene she’s in. Sanders proves that he is a young actor to watch as he gives an extremely tempered and introspective performance as Big. Director Rashid Johnson certainly controls the pacing and camera throughout the film. Unfortunately, Suzan-Lori Parks’ (Their Eyes Were Watching God) screenplay doesn’t translate well. Big lives at home with his mom one day and then is a live-in driver the next, and it feels like the family story is thrown away until the film needs them again. There’s a strange Get Out vibe that comes and goes throughout the story as the Dalton’s try to show they’re down for the cause. Most importantly, Big’s life altering decision just isn’t what a young black man as seemingly educated as he is would make. He would have cut the opportunity to get to that crossroad way before he got there.

The novel presents a character who is trying to stir things up in a whirlwind of prejudice that surrounds him. His surrounding are a pressure cooker in which he feels trapped. This adaptation feels like while Big’s character may be dealing with issues, there’s always a feasible way out. While you may enjoy the ride for the first part of the film you’ll quickly want to get dropped off at the nearest stop about half way through.

Rating: D+

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.

"The Great Buster: A Celebration" Review

Great Buster_Picture Lock.jpg

Buster Keaton is considered to be one of the most famous comedians and filmmakers from the silent film era. Nicknamed “The Great Stone Face,” Keaton was well known for his physical comedy, keeping a deadpan face, and never breaking a sweat when he performed a gag. His films have inspired countless generations and filmmakers. From filmmaker and film historian Peter Bogdanovich, The Great Buster: A Celebration often is an exultant look at what Keaton accomplished, even though it just skims the surface at times.

the-great-buster1.jpg

In the documentary, Bogdanovich takes a look at the life and career of Keaton. From his vaudeville beginnings to making his first shorts to becoming a star, Bogdanovich traces Keaton’s every step. Interlaced throughout are comedians and filmmakers who were inspired by Keaton’s work, while also highlighting the work that Keaton produced throughout his time.

This doc has the potential to create new fans of Keaton’s work. Bogdanovich showcases clips that still hold up today, and they’re the best parts of this documentary! Keaton’s stunts were crazy in the silent film era, yet still will make you laugh. It’s also enlightening to see how some of his gags were later inspired in future films and can be seen even today as homages. You can certainly tell that Bogdanovich has an appreciation for Keaton throughout the runtime. The documentary begins with Bogdanovich on a talk show talking about a story he heard about how Keaton reshot an ending to one of his films, Seven Chances. Bogdanovich also does a good job showcasing old photos, newspaper clippings, and even Keaton’s later works, including those where he starred in MGM films, so we can see how different Keaton felt and looked when he was confined to the studio system of filmmaking. Finally, the film assembles a good selection of comedians, actors, and filmmakers to talk about what Keaton meant to them and his influence on some of their works.

The-Great-Buster.jpg

While Bogdanovich certainly knows what he’s talking about, sometimes his narration can be a little dry, like a film professor presenting a lecture to his class. While the documentary covers a lot of ground, it never dives deep into certain avenues that are brought up that could potentially take a more interesting route, like his time in World War I. Unlike other documentaries that have their subjects talk through archival footage, we never really hear from Keaton during the course of the doc, save for a clip Bogdanovich features from another documentary. Basically, what this documentary needs is more meat to its bone.

Overall, The Great Buster: A Celebration doesn’t delve too thoroughly in its subject matter, and therefore becomes a lightweight doc. As the subtitle states, this is primary a celebration of a comedian and filmmaker who still inspires filmmakers today. This is the type of documentary that will probably be shown in film school classes and appease film historians. If you’re a fan of Keaton’s work, you will get a kick out of this. It might also be a fine introductory course to someone who’s never seen one of his films before, and could be a gateway to experience more. If nothing else, this documentary shows what a genius Buster Keaton was.

Rating: B-

"Lez Bomb" Review

lez bomb poster.jpg

Lez Bomb is a classic movie game of kick the can. Cinematically it’s an extremely difficult game to play because you’re stringing out a big reveal for as long as possible. In this case, the strong cast of characters work with the plot points and crush the dialogue so you’re willing to engage. So while its central bomb feels more like a dud mortar, watching the game of kick the can play out is an absolute joyride!

Writer/director/star Jenna Laurenzo has penned a story in which Lauren (Laurenzo) plans to come out to her family during Thanksgiving by bringing her girlfriend, Hailey (Caitlin Mehner), home for the holiday. Her efforts are thwarted by her roommate Austin’s (Brandon Micheal Hall) arrival. This twist is hilariously smart in itself as Austin happens to be black, and the rest of her family automatically believes that this is the big news. 

As Lauren tries to steer her family in the right direction, more family members continue to show up and block her goal for various reasons. Lauren’s on screen family is stacked with powerhouse talent who bring life to their characters as only they can. Kevin Pollak is George, Lauren’s protective father. He makes George a quirky, lovable, and hilarious dad who tows the line between realizing his daughter is a grown woman but still his little girl, which makes for hysterical exchanges between him and Austin. Lauren’s mom Rose (Deirdre O’Connell) is dealing with the recent death of her father, inheriting the family motel, and her misguided attempts to connect with her daughter in her own way. O’Connell’s ability to jump from thought to thought in her dialogue with minimal exterior expression makes Rose that member in your family...you know the one! Bruce Dern and Cloris Leachman make it look easy as Grandpa and Josephine respectively. 

lez bomb fam_picture lock.jpeg

Credit has to be given to Laurenzo for her writing. It’s rare to find dialogue that doesn’t feel scripted, but captures the essence of the natural rhythm of family gatherings. The casting bolsters her words to create an on screen family that has a genuine sense of history in each line delivered. Laurenzo’s camera also catches both the mundane moments and verbal disses with a sprinkle of love and hate that every family can relate to.

The issue with Lez Bomb is that the coming out portion of the film, the bomb, isn’t really a bombshell news item to Lauren’s family, nor is it set up that way. You get the vibe that her news won’t be that big of a deal along the way because her family seems pretty liberal. There’s never a sense of  real stakes in what her confession may cost her. Even if relayed through Lauren’s words. Instead, Lauren constantly asks Hailey and Austin, who already know, to give her more time to tell her folks when it’s a good moment. Not every coming out film has to be super dramatic, but the comedy is so good here that a nice dramatic turn or a feeling of risk would have made this movie more memorable. In an honest moment with Hailey, we get a brief glimpse of Lauren’s internal struggle and self worth, but it’s gone before it’s truly explored.

LEZBOMB_small.jpg

Also, the chemistry between Mehner and Laurenzo lacks authenticity. There’s a real sense of love and history between Lauren and Austin in a playful moment in the beginning of the film. One that’s powerful enough to set up a love triangle in subtext. This missing link sets Hailey up to look like a one note, complaining girlfriend, rather than the true love of Lauren’s life that she gives lip service to being.

Lez Bomb is certainly a feel-good, family holiday movie that’s filled with laugh out loud jokes. It’s quick witted dialogue separates it from similar indie fair. Director Jenna Laurenzo said she “wrote Lez Bomb because it was the movie I wanted to see but couldn’t find.” Perhaps it will inspire others to do the same. It’s certainly the perfect arthouse film to see with a group in theaters. 

Rating: B-

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.

"Studio 54" Review

studio 54 poster.jpg

Studio 54 is the new documentary that takes a look at the famous New York City nightclub, or infamous, depending on how you look at it. From director Matt Tyrnauer, who’s past documentaries include 2008’s Valentino: The Last Emperor and 2017’s Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, Studio 54 is an entertaining look at a club that, if you could somehow get in, would transport you to a different world. This is a nightclub that quickly rose to the heavens, only for it to come crashing back down to earth. The doc succeeds in letting the owners tell the story themselves, giving the viewer the inside look at the impact Studio 54 had on everyone involved.

In the late 70s, college friends Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell opened up a nightclub on West 54th Street in NYC. At the time, it was considered by many to be one of the sleaziest blocks in town, due to it being rundown and a place you wouldn’t want to be at night. Taking over the building that used to be where CBS Television produced some of their hit shows, Schrager and Rubell created what they called the “ultimate club” and paradise. An overnight success that went beyond their wildest dreams, this became the hottest ticket in town for close to three years, where celebrities frequently attended. But like the story of Icarus, Schrager and Rubell flew too close to the sun, and after awhile, especially after comments made by Rubell that only the Mafia made more money than them, the IRS and the feds started knocking on their doors.

For the most part, Tyrnauer does a good job in balancing the documentary. While the nightclub is the main meat of the story, Tyrnauer wraps it around what’s essentially a biography on both Schrager and Rubell by covering how they met in college, decided to be business partners, why they decided to create Studio 54, and so forth. In a sense, they were perfect for each other. I think it was wise that Schrager waited until enough time has past so that he could properly reflect and tell his side of what went down. Like this summer’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Rubell speaks through archival footage so that we hear from him also (Rubell sadly died from AIDS complications in 1989). Another neat effect that Tyrnauer and his editor employ is that we see a photo of a surviving member of the nightclub which transitions to them in present day giving their side as well.

studio 54.jpg

Studio 54 was basically a social experiment, ahead of its time in its inclusivity of the LGBTQ community. If the outside world shunned you, once you came inside Studio 54, it  felt like home and no one cared about what you were as long as you were having a good time. The doc makes good use of old footage, from photographs to never before seen footage inside the nightclub it gives us a sense of what it was like to be there. Using news footage and interviews as well, including where Michael Jackson crashes an in progress interview with Rubell, is quite fascinating to see. For a 98-minute documentary, the pacing is good in that there’s never a dull moment within the film.

studio 54 doc_picture lock.jpg

I think my biggest complaint about this documentary is that since the club was infamous in certain aspects, it somewhat skims the surfaces of how hedonistic and crazy it was to be inside the club. If you managed to get in in the first place, there are the wild tales of drugs floating around, hooking up inside, or having physical relations with someone you just met. They briefly discuss it, but it never dives deep into those areas. I also wished that they got more of the celebrities who attended Studio 54 to tell about their experiences within the club, since it was a popular hotspot for them. There are a lot of different avenues that this documentary could have taken, but it makes me wonder if they chose this route to get Schrager on-board to finally open up. One of the best moments of the film involves the prosecutor telling his side of the story after searching for evidence after Studio 54 was raided, and then the manager of Studio 54 tells it from his perspective. The juxtaposition was beautiful, and I wished that there were more moments sprinkled into the documentary where we see a back and forth like that.

Overall, if you’re looking for a more in-depth, critical look, you should probably look someplace else. From a documentary standpoint, while I wished that Studio 54 delved deeper in more aspects, the parts that Tyrnauer does treat us to are quite interesting and does provide some nice insight into it all. Even showing us how Schrager changed his life for the better (he was pardoned last January by President Obama). So in a way, it’s more of a celebration about what the nightclub was to everyone. If you’re in the mood to watch a good doc, I would suggest checking this out sometime.

Rating: B

"Love, Gilda" Review

love gilda poster.jpg

Love, Gilda is not only a wonderful documentary but also an experience; you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and the film will make you think. Love, Gilda is a powerful inside look into the late actress and comedian Gilda Radner. Directed by Lisa Dapolito, the film examines the comedy scene from the 1970s and 80s and how Gilda influenced it as one of the first female comedians on Saturday Night Live (SNL). She certainly didn’t peg herself as a feminist, however, by being the only woman doing what she was doing, she inherently became a feminist icon. During that time she often was put in typical roles only reserved for women, yet she didn’t complain and she conquered those roles with grace. After a while, she started creating roles for herself and other women, thus expanding opportunities for other female comics to express themselves in unique ways. 

Not only did other women appreciate Gilda for her strong personality and talented acting, but male comics saw her potential as well and assisted in getting her where she was in her career. The film highlights how much influence Gilda had over these very talented comedians who are still actively working today. Many talented actors are interviewed about Gilda’s life and their relationships with Gilda such as Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Dan Aykroyd, just to name a few. The film goes deep into Gilda’s personal relationships, her struggles with her health and weight, as well as her family life. The film does a wonderful job exposing the human side of an iconic actress that the general public has never seen before; It truly uncovers a world that most people don’t often get to be a part of.


Alongside having a strong influence on talented male actors, Gilda had influence over female comics that are currently on the scene today. The film interviews female SNL successors to Gilda, and they discuss in depth how she paved the way for their comedy careers without even knowing it. Love, Gilda is calculated and thoughtful in who they chose to interview for this documentary; Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Cecily Strong and Melissa McCarthy read emotional, old letters Gilda wrote to convey her experiences as a woman in comedy. These actresses even comment on how much of an honor it is to have be able to read Gilda’s handwritten letters within the film. 

love_gilda_-_gilda_radner_gene_wilder_courtesy_magnolia_pictures.jpg

This film is a tribute to American comedy and what goes into it; it exposes a great deal of the comedy scene in both positive and negative ways and shows how hard Gilda worked to get where she was in her career. Lorne Michaels discusses Gilda with such content and talks about how she was dearly missed after she left SNL but understands why she did. One especially touching addition to the film is the archival footage that is incorporated (her brother provided a lot of the home videos). The archival footage and audio of Gilda shows her personality in a beautiful way; if you don’t know who she is before you watch the film, you’ll fall in love with her by the end of it. Her spirit is captured in such a considerate way, you can’t help but cry. This is a side of comedy that is often overlooked, comedians are not viewed as human, and their pain isn’t often exposed until it is too late (note: comedians have the highest suicide rate of any profession). Gilda was by no means suicidal, however she did struggle with depression which affected her health in many ways, and it is so important to discuss those types of struggles when talking about comedy; the film contemplates this in a meaningful way.


Love, Gilda is a piece of history that shows how far we have come in comedy and the roles of female actors. It really hasn’t been that long since women were only allowed to play roles “reserved for women”. Even though Gilda passed away from ovarian cancer at such a young age, this documentary proves that she has had an important influence for years, and she still has influence today. If you want to learn about self love, I highly recommend this film; Gilda taught people that its okay to be your genuine self, and that even when you’re incredibly famous, you’re still just like everyone else.


Rating: A

Comment

Julia Moroles

Julia Moroles graduated from Augsburg College (MN) with a Bachelors degree (BA) in Film Production and Studio Art Production with a minor in Religion. After graduating, Julia lived in El Salvador where she taught film editing, art, and photography in Spanish. While she resided in El Salvador, she studied Monseñor Romero and the liberation theology movement of Central America.

When Julia returned from El Salvador, she completed an internship at a Think Tank in St. Paul Minnesota, called Minnesota 2020. During her 9-month multimedia specialist position, she created two short documentaries focusing on different public policy issues. Her short documentary Colossal Costs closely analyzed higher education loan debt, and was screened in festivals from coast to coast. The second film was a documentary about the urban agriculture movement in Minnesota.

In addition to her studies, Julia has been a photo activist for the Black Lives Matter movement, urban agriculture nonprofit organizations in Minnesota, as well as numerous human rights campaigns (internationally).

In August 2016 Julia began a Masters program (MFA) in Film and Electronic Media for the School of Communication at American University. During her attendance at AU she created various documentaries that focused on social justice issues, female empowerment, and community engagement. Her documentary about American University's Eagle Endowment was honored at the house of the President of American University in 2017. On two occasions, Julia served as sound mixer while filming a documentary for the talented filmmaker Larry Kirkman. Larry is working with the Center of Environmental filmmaking to research the necessity of Science in politics. Julia worked on a 16 person team (8 crews) that covered the March for Science in 2017 and 2018; she also assisted in filming congressional house parties with Larry Kirkman while working on the documentary. Finally, she was a part of a team that filmed interviews with the Defenders of Wildlife in preparation for the 2018 March for Science. Julia's team covered the media tent for both years of the March for Science and conducted interviews with the scientists and speakers for the rally.

From June 2017-December 2017 Julia completed a Fellowship for the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute. She worked alongside Mahtab Kowsari to create educational videos that taught students at a graduate level for the Religious Freedom Center. She worked in the fast paced media environment creating the educational videos, promotional videos, filming and producing the educational lectures and she even created an educational social media campaign.

On top of completing a fellowship and assisting with the Center of Environmental Filmmaking, Julia acted as a Teaching Assistant to classes such as Editing, Web Development, Digital Image Editing, and Direction and Video Production.

Julia is currently creating a documentary focusing on the urban agriculture movement across the United States. She has interviewed people on the East and West Coast and hopes to influence more people to be a part of the movement.

"Kusama-Infinity" Review

kusama poster_picture lock.jpg

Anyone with access to the internet over the last decade or so has seen the work of Yayoi Kusama.  The 89-year-old Japanese artist's paintings, soft sculptures, and mirrored infinity rooms have captivated audiences around the globe.  But this was not always the case; Kusama's long life as a creative has been fraught with pitfalls and setbacks; yet, the artist has pushed through adversity to become one of the most successful artists in the world.  Filmmaker Heather Lenz's debut feature tells the story of the woman behind the art and provides a conventional look at the life of Kusama. 

Growing up in post-war Japan, Yayoi Kusama decided to become an artist after a hallucinatory experience in a field of flowers.  Kusama set off for New York, where she found herself fighting against a white male-dominated art scene that sought to both oppress and appropriate her work.  Nonetheless, Kusama carried on, staging transgressive performances against the Vietnam War, upending the Venice Biennale, and expanding beyond the gallery into the worlds of film and fashion.  The artist's career was filled with ups and downs, none of which kept her from creating her instantly recognizable work. 

KUSAMA-INFINITY.jpg

The abstract nature of Kusama's work contrasts with the way Lenz chooses to tell her story, which could be seen as both beneficial and harmful.  Infinity is told in a very straightforward fashion that’s familiar to fans of documentary film. The film moves from event to event in Kusama's life throughout the short 76-minute runtime. It often treats what seem like pivotal events in the timeline as mere asides as it plunges towards the present. It doesn't help that these events are almost entirely dictated by a stream of art critics, museum curators, and professors, all of whom tell us what Kusama was feeling at the time.  The artist herself appears briefly throughout the film but she rarely tells her own story.  This may be due to the artist's reclusive nature but, nonetheless, it takes away from the overall narrative. 

This story is an important one, touching upon many issues that still haunt the art world as well as society at large.  While not breaking any new ground in regards to contemporary documentary filmmaking,  Kusama-Infinity presents a clear overview of the artist's life- those interested in the story behind her work should see this film. 

Rating: B

"A Prayer Before Dawn" Review

APBD_Poster.png

The history and evolution of film as an art form can be marked by the inventions and innovations of the past.  Sync-sound ushered in a focus on dialogue and sound, CGI allowed for the expansion of the set beyond the limits of reality, and VR is posed to immerse audiences within content in whole new ways. These inventions often feel like an integral part of contemporary cinema, but sometimes a film comes along that says to hell with it all and trims the fat away; choosing to focus on what made cinema amazing in the first place-a moving image on a screen.  Jean-Stephen Sauvaire’s A Prayer Before Dawn is one such film, and one of the most gripping, visceral pieces of visual storytelling to hit theaters this yearr. 

The film, based on the memoir of the same name, follows Billy Moore (Joe Cole), a methamphetamine addicted British national who finds himself fighting for survival in a maximum security Thai prison after the law catches up to his various criminal dealings.  Forced to deal with gang warfare, a serious language barrier, and his drug addiction, Billy eventually joins the prison boxing team, but his new focus on fighting in sanctioned inter-prison tournaments may only offer a limited reprieve from the danger of prison life.  

Filmed in a real decommissioned Thai prison and mostly populated with current and ex-convicts, the world of Dawn is an extremely brutal one.  The camera exaggerates the cramped and crowded cell blocks, often isolating characters through bars or crowds of other inmates.  Every-and I mean every-dark plot point related to prison life is shown in stark, unflinching detail.  Dialogue is sparse, and is mainly delivered in unsubtitled Thai by Billy’s fellow inmates, creating an extreme feeling of disconnect while allowing the power of Sauvaire’s visuals to shine through.  This barebones form of storytelling does require the viewer to maintain strong focus, as it could be very easy to miss key story points here.  In a way the film uses this to force you to watch the horrors of the prison, lest one miss a necessary piece of the plot.  

APBD1.png

Although the film mainly focuses on its visual elements, we do get some sound based storytelling cues. These mainly come in the form of noise coming from outside the prison walls, reminding us and the characters inside that the world exists and is moving on without them.  The general sound design is fantastic, especially during the fight sequences presented later in the film.  Claustrophobic in-ring camera moves are coupled with the roar of the crowds, the hard smacks of the fighter’s blows, and traditional muay thai fight music, adding to the chaos pictured on screen. 

APBD3.png

There has been positive press regarding Joe Cole’s portrayal of Billy Moore since the film’s premiere at Cannes last year, and I certainly agree with the positive press he has received.  Cole exudes both strength and fear consistently throughout the film, adding to the feeling of uncertainty thrust upon the viewer. Praise should also be given to Cole’s costars: the Thai prisoners who draw on their previous experiences and knowledge to great effect. Dawn never feels like a film largely populated by non-actors. 

As far as biopics go, A Prayer Before Dawn seems to only provide a glimpse into the experience of the real life Billy Moore, and quickly glosses over plot points other films may chose to focus on.  It’s never really explained what exactly Moore was doing in Thailand, what his history with boxing was, and why he was estranged from his family (a point that is brought up multiple times, but never really explored).  The small subplot of Moore’s relationship with a trans inmate (Pornchanok Mabklang) offers a slight break from the chaos, but ultimately serves as more of an aside than actual story beat. 

Despite the vague nature of the plot I’m not sure if the muted story beats are a serious negative.  This glimpse into Moore’s time in prison left me wanting to learn more about the real story, and I found myself ordering a copy of the source material after viewing Dawn.  

APBD2.png

Nonetheless, the film straddles the line between arthouse and grindhouse wonderfully, and I’m excited to see what the cast and crew do next.  

A Prayer Before Dawn is currently playing in select theaters across the United States, and is available to rent on a number of online platforms. 

Rating: A-

 

 

 

Maryland Film Festival '18: "Charm City" Review

Charm-City-1.jpg

When you hear names like Freddie Gray and Michael Brown you immediately think of their respective cities: Baltimore, Maryland and Ferguson, Missouri. The lives of its community members are usually depicted via news footage, twitter images, or Facebook streams during the cities’ peaceful protests or outbreaks of violence. But what do these cities look like from day to day? Charm City aims to show two sides to the same story of how Baltimore deals with its’ violence in a heart-wrenching look at a city in crisis.

Baltimore filmmaker and award winning director Marilyn Ness spent three years in the Rose Street area of East Baltimore. The opening scene of the documentary sets the tone and pace for the rest of the film. As one of the doc’s main characters, Mr. C., a former corrections officer, talks with residents about the latest act of violence that has brought the police to their block in the middle of the night. Ness’s camera rests in the scene and editor Don Bernier gives us long takes of shots that won’t move on to the next like our brain wants it to. The result, is a feeling of actually being there. This is what a late night/early morning looks like for these residents. It’s reality, and reality isn’t roses.

Charm-City mr c.jpg

Mr. C leads the Rose Street Community Center. He is the heart of the community, hosting morning meetings that begin with a strong “good morning” that he expects to hear returned in the same way. He gives direction to the residents who participate in the Safe Streets initiative in which they clean the alleys and streets of Baltimore. Mr. C gives bus fare, acts as a male mentor, and distributes job opportunity information to those who need it. This is the way he combats the violence in the streets.

cc lights.jpeg

In the same way, we’re embedded in the police department with a variety of officers. We ride with officer Eric Winston as he answers calls. Again, the editing of these calls is sublime as we see Officer Winston respond to a call as humorously simple as an older woman trying to figure out how to block a woman that her husband of 27 years has been communicating with on Facebook, to a serious shooting that interrupts a stop he’s in the midst of that we hear on camera. The viewer feels embedded in a way that’s not like the old Cops TV show we used to watch. That show gave us wide shots during many scenes in order to “not miss anything”. Here, cameramen Andre Lambertson and John Benam direct our eyes to universal moments. Officer Winston’s hand riding the air out of an open window, the unnatural look of a face hit by flashing police lights, or the glimpse of an old man on the street as the police car moves past. By being integrated in such a way that can feel mundane at times, we get a real sense of the stress that officers feel as they try to protect and serve the nearly 620,000 people of Baltimore.

If you’re looking for a formal three act story, you won’t find it in this film. Instead it builds by giving us the day to day look at those involved. We attend a funeral of a young man, in a small church. His father gives an impassioned speech near his deceased son claiming “we ain’t afraid to die, we afraid to live!” It’s this statement and other’s like “there’s too much policing but not enough justice” from Alex Long, one of the Safe Streets leaders, that give us the feeling of life as a resident in this area of Baltimore. Charm City gives us the faces of wariness, hopelessness, and despair from violence. Yet, somewhere in it’s run time a resilient hope continues to pop up on both sides of city officials and residents. 

If the film meanders without a predictable structure, it wraps with a moment that keen film lovers may have seen foreshadowed, as the painful sting of life on Rose Street hits home. It’s in this moment that the film gives another glimmer of hope in a difficult world. It gives the viewer tremendous respect for the subjects of the film, because as I watched the movie, I kept asking myself questions like “why do some people have it so hard?”, “why am I still watching this depressing film?”, “why can’t officials help the people?” and more. Charm City answers simply: whether you want to close your eyes and shut your ears to what you’ve seen and heard or not, this is life for us, we make the most of it and we’re going to do our best to beat the odds with or without you.

Rating: B+

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.

Tribeca Film Festival '18: "Salam" Review

Salam poster.jpg

Salam is the type of film you go to a festival to see. Writer/director Claire Fowler’s short film is layered in both its storyline and characters. With a stellar performance by Hana Chamoun, this film is worthy of a conversation after the lights come up.

Salam (Hana Chamoun) is a Lyft driver from a tight knit family, but you can gather that Lyft is a means to a bigger end. A portion of her family lives in Syria. When her New York based family gets word of a bombing in Syria, it’s a waiting game to know if their loved ones are ok. To stay busy and rest her nerves, Salam decides to go make some money and pick up passengers. After dropping off a couple love birds, Salam picks up Audrey (Leslie Bibb), who seems to be in distress herself. The exchange that follows is a layered interaction of surface expectations versus what’s really underneath the surface of our daily lives.

Cinematographer, Nicholas Bupp uses natural lighting to showcase New York’s night life. The dark shadows and color scheme gives the film a grittiness that highlights the serious nature of waiting for information that could literally turn your world upside down. With a less skilled writer, the subject matter could be a very heavy-handed, we’ve seen it before look at immigrants and the now stereotypical Islamaphobic pairing we see in films. Instead, Fowler gives us a complex character that we know. Salam is a sister, an aunt, a wife, and a caring person. In turn, we care about her, and understand the weight she’s carrying in the midst of her drive.

salam night.jpg

Salam reminds us of the ties that bind us all as a human race, while addressing the blockades we’ve constructed by putting people in boxes of certain races or ethnicities. Fowler’s interest in empathy and her ability to create relatable characters gives us a film that helps us think about how we interact with one another in this complex thing called life. This is one to watch!

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.

Tribeca Film Festival '18: "Bad Peter" Review

badpeter_noah_greenberg_1.jpg

Bad Peter is the beginning of a good Black Mirror episode. Directed by Zach Strauss, it’s a slice of life look at what AI capabilities could become in the future. While the Big Brother concept isn’t new, the characterization of Strauss’s characters is what makes it an intriguing peak in.

Rachel (Frankie Shaw) is an expectant mother. Her day is regimented by a personal automated assistant. Peter is a white rectangular boxed speaker with a glowing red light that lights up like Siri or Alexa when it speaks. At first glance, Rachel follows Peter’s suggestions as a way to optimal health for her and the baby. As the film moves forward, Shaw’s performance amps up from happy and relaxed to a stressed and upset mother-to-be in a beautifully revealing way.

Simplicity is key in this film. Cinematographer Noah Greenberg gives the film a bright, clean and sterile look. Susie Mancini’s production design gives the single mother’s home a somewhat rustic and meager look. These elements enhance the viewer’s draw into the story of what eventually makes a dark turn. 

Well crafted and directed by Strauss, the film’s noteworthy theme is the intersection of the justice system and artificial intelligence. It’s a future that could indeed be around the corner. Definitely worth checking out!

https://www.tribecafilm.com/filmguide/bad-peter-2018

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.

Tribeca Film Festival '17: "Dear Basketball" Review

Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Some stories can’t be filmed and told as artistically as an animation can. “Dear Basketball” is a top notch example of that. The recently retired, world famous, Kobe Bryant pours out his heart to the game in this short animated film. Within six minutes, the film encapsulates a life time of achievement on an intimate level that a documentary might not have captured in the same way.

Glen Keane’s visually stunning animations swirl and dance on the screen. They take us from the little boy who shot hoops in his room as a child using his father’s rolled up socks as a ball, to the phenom on NBA courts. Add to that, the music of the legendary John Williams to score the short and you have something magical.

Take away the glitz and glamour of who the main character is and even the moving score, and you’re still left with a universal story. We all start out as a kid with a dream. That’s the story of “Dear Basketball”, and a beautiful reminder that with hard work and opportunity you can achieve your dream too!

Make sure you catch it: https://tribecafilm.com/filmguide/dear-basketball-2017

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.

Tribeca Film Festival '17: "Big City" Review

Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

If Tom Cruise’s Vincent were a nice guy in 2004’s "Collateral", then directors Jordan Bond and Lachlan Ryan’s “Big City” could possibly be the short version of the film (minus guns and shootouts). Vijay (Gurvinder Singh Atwal) is a lonely taxi driver working the streets of Melbourne, Australia at night. After picking up Chris (Chris Fortuna), a seemingly good-hearted drunk, a friendship grows.

The short is a good exercise in establishing characters quickly and tapping into the universal pain and humor in life. Whether exploring Vijay’s ridicule as a minority in Melbourne, or playing a harmless joke on a would-be rider, the film has its’ heartfelt moments. The cinematography of the film really draws you into the city night life, which helps to amplify the film’s morning after conclusion. 

There are a few moments in the short that feel a little forced, perhaps due to Atwal’s performance. However, the message of true human connection and the lack there of is certainly felt. Check it out if you have time!

https://tribecafilm.com/filmguide/big-city-2017

 

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.

"Dream, Girl" Review: A Must See For All Genders

What does a business leader look like? More than likely your first thought isn’t of a woman. Dream, Girl is here to change that! The documentary introduces its viewer to a diverse group of go-getter entrepreneurs who happen to be women.

We all need to see images of ourselves, no matter what color, gender, religion, etc., in positive roles. Dream, Girl gives a snapshot of women who are able to rock numerous roles while wearing the boss hat in style.  Bosses like Co-Founder and Co-President of Senvol, Annie Wang, and Mariama Camara, Co-founder of There Is No Limit Foundation, shine light on industry leaders in engineering and humanitarian efforts. Sure to be a favorite is Clara Villarosa. She’s 83 years young and running her third business, Villarosa Media, with enough enthusiasm and spark to inspire any viewer.

Where the documentary succeeds is in its effort to portray an honest depiction of the women showcased in the film.  While the film has a clear message, each woman is candid and willing to share the ups, downs and everything in between of being a woman in business. From the successes they’ve achieved in building multi-million dollar businesses and growing their family, to experiencing self-doubt, being talked past in business meetings or harassed, the documentary allows its subjects to put it all on the table which in turn creates a resounding authenticity and relatability that's inspirational.

The backstory behind the film is an inspirational story in itself. Directed by Erin Bagwell, founder of Feminist Wednesday, the film was launched after a successful Kickstarter campaign rose over $100,000 to produce the movie, her first feature. So the film is personal and infused with passion in just the right kind of way. 

While the pacing of the film is a little choppy at times, there is no question that Dream, Girl is an important film to watch, and for us to show our daughters and sons. The images the world sees of women matters, because those images help shape perception, which can become reality. The reality that women open 1,200 businesses a day should not be a surprise, but a statement, just like this film!

Rating: B+

Full Disclosure: I was a Kickstarter backer for the film, but this review, like all others, is my opinion and thoughts. I was not asked to write this by any representative of Dream, Girl

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.

Middleburg Film Festival '16: "The Eagle Huntress" Review

As children, we look up to our parents and are impacted by their example whether positive or negative.  So why would it be alarming that 13 year old Aisholpan Nurgaiv would want to follow in her father’s footsteps as a hunter in Kazakh tradition? Perhaps because for centuries, the role of eagle hunter has been held by men. The new documentary, The Eagle Huntress, follows Aisholpan on her harrowing journey to buck tradition and make her family proud.

The film introduces us to the Nurgaiv family in the mountains of Mongolia.  The tight knit family lives an isolated but busy life. We find Aisholpan on the cusp of getting her own golden eagle, the beautiful bird used to assist in hunting. The eagles aren’t just handed to hunters. Hunters have to scale the mountains to get eaglets at a time when they can’t yet fly in order to raise and train them. With the help of her father, she does, and it’s absolutely breathtaking!

Armed with her eagle, Aisholpan trains to compete in the annual eagle hunter festival. Traditionally an all male competition, eyes roll and heads turn as she rides in with her father. Yet that doesn’t stop Aisholpan. Perhaps her youth allows her to ignore her haters, or maybe it’s the insurmountable love and pride that her father instills in her. Whatever it is, Aisholpan is confident and unwavering in her quest to be an eagle hunter.  Which gives us comical moments with the quick juxtaposition of the elders talking against her, and then being forced to eat humble pie quickly after.

Director Otto Bell uses his camera and drone technology to beautifully capture the unforgiving landscape, while telling an intimate story. This film could only be told now. Using his life savings to help fund the film, drone footage gives us beautiful aerials while mountable cameras allow us to see Aisholpan’s first person view as she scales the mountain to retrieve her eaglet. While the visuals and David vs. Goliath story is incredible, Bell never loses sight of the heart of the film. The relationship between Aisholpan and her father is a universal, tangible display of love.

While viewing The Eagle Huntress you’ll forget that you’re watching a documentary because it is so gorgeously shot that it looks more like a narrative feature. It has everything from action to comedy within the film and manages to keep a complex story simple. While Aisholpan is a heroine in her own right with the amazing feats she accomplishes, she’s also a teenage girl who likes to laugh with her friends at school. Honestly, that’s what makes her that much more awesome!

Rating: A

 

Check out my interview with director Otto Bell and the film's stars here:

 http://picturelockshow.com/podcast/2016/11/11/picture-lock-radio-ep-26-alexandria-film-festival-the-killing-season-the-eagle-huntress

 

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.