"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

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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.

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

 

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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.

AFI Docs '16: "Life, Animated" Review

One of the many nightmares that a parent can have in regard to their child, is for them to disappear. At 3 years old, Owen Suskind did just that. He wasn’t kidnapped. Autism took control of his life and garbled the way he interpreted the world around him. Life, Animated tells the story of the Suskind family and how they used Disney animated movies to make sense of the world and communicate with each other.

After a year of silence, Owen’s father Ron, realized that Owen was saying lines from the Disney film Beauty and The Beast. It became clear that Owen was using the movies that he’d seen to make sense of the world around him. The family began to communicate with Owen using the movies, which never changed, to help Owen understand the ever changing world around him.

Switching between home videos and present day, we’re able to see Owen and his family grow older. We’re entrenched with the family as the recall coping and dealing with Owen’s regressive Autism through the years in moving stories that have animations to go along with them. At the present time, Owen is about to graduate from a program that will help him live independently. We’re able to witness Owen deal with his first big heartbreak and living on his own.

Throughout the film, independent studio Mac Guff beautifully animates commentary from the family and even Owen’s story that he created. The animation both illustrates their words and gives us a glimpse into Owen’s mind and cast of characters. Pete Horner does an excellent job of mixing the audio in the film as well. The cacophony of sound that clashes in Owen’s ears is demonstrated with the sound bed of the film and helps to draw us into Owen’s world even more.

One issue I had with the film is that while it seeks to help us understand Owen’s world with Autism, it misses on a big opportunity to educate the viewer on the Autistic world asa whole. The microscopic viewpoint of one family with an amazing connection to Disney animated films makes for an interesting hook in a documentary, but what about other families that aren’t as fortunate? It’s pretty obvious that the Suskind family is a tight knit clan filled with love, the awesome ability to put Owen in a special school when he was younger, and a program when we meet him presently in the film. Yet, my mind went to the families of other children with Autism that may not have the same opportunity. 

Life, Animated is a solid documentary about the love of a family and perseverance of a young man with Autism. While some scenes seem stretched out for time, the feels are all throughout this film. Using Disney movies is not only a way to communicate amongst the Suskind family, but it’s just as easy to adapt and understand as a viewer of the film due to our own fondness of the animated classics. 

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.

"Daddy Don't Go" Review

Film is a universal language, but before film was created, humans had love. It’s the original universal language. You automatically know it when you see it. When you combine the two, you can create a film like Daddy Don’t Go. It’s a movie that strives to address the urgent social issue of the link between fatherless homes, child poverty and incarceration, while saluting men who do their best to step up to the plate.

The film follows four fathers- Alex, Nelson, Roy and Omar- as they try to be present in their children’s lives despite certain socioeconomic hardships. Nelson is from the Bronx, and is a former Latin Kings gang member. He has a child with his girlfriend, Rebecca, and also serves as father to her other two children. Omar lives in the North Bronx and his severe learning disabilities affect his ability to find consistent work. The oldest of his three children, Milagros, is dealing with serious mental health issues that may stem genetically from Omar. Roy is an ex-con who lives with his parents in Long Island, raising his son amidst the on again off again presence of his son’s mother. Alex has sole custody of his 2-year-old son, Alex Jr. He’s trying to pass an automotive-training course to put himself in a position to earn more money, but a past assault charge has him in and out of court.

Producer/director Emily Abt takes viewers on an honest walk along in these four men’s shoes. It’s a fly on the wall look at these fathers in their situations with no handholding. When Roy can’t find work, we see what that means for him and his son. When Nelson loves Rebecca’s biological children like his own, we see what that looks like. When Alex goes to court, we see the judge come down on him (deservedly so) and how that affects him and his son. When Omar’s elementary aged daughter, Milagros, says “I want to kill myself”, we can’t help but feel distraught by the situation. Yet through all of it, we see each man’s love for his child(ren) rise to the occasion.

There in lies the beauty of this film. Even in spite of hardships, a father’s love can rise above it all. These fathers are in it to win with their children, and that is unmistakable. It can’t be denied, and it can’t be faked. Despite the difficulties, it’s a beautiful thing to see.

The editing and camerawork on this film is worth mentioning. While both categories have too many names to mention, their work is what helps the film soar. We slide in and out of each story smoothly, while never losing a sense of what’s happening. The camera always captures those moments that can only be displayed cinematically and told in cinematic language. Whether it’s a close up of handholding, or a mid-shot of an embrace; the film turns these everyday moments that we wish lasted a little longer into a wonderful, visual display of love.

Daddy Don’t Go will release nationwide this Father’s Day, June 19, 2016 on Vimeo. It’s certainly worth viewing! The statistics on the growing negative results of fatherless homes is alarming. The love generated from these men is certainly admirable!

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.

"Presenting Princess Shaw" Review

Presenting Princess Shaw is the feel good documentary of the year thus far in my book! It’s a film about two incredible artists sharing in each others dreams. One who has the strength to carry herself like the star as she pursues her dreams of becoming a singer, while all the chips seem to be against her. The other, a talented musician who mixes sounds from around the world via YouTube videos. The two artists, passionate about their craft, come together to make beautiful music, and an inspiring documentary.

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Samantha Montgomery’s days consist of helping the elderly at the local nursing home. At night she sings wherever she can be heard. She also runs her own YouTube channel as Princess Shaw in which she sings, and shares her personal story of dealing with the sexual abuse she suffered as a child, hoping someone is listening. Little does she know that nearly 7,000 miles away someone is. 

Ophir Kutiel, a musician out of Israel who goes by the name of Kutiman, has made a name for himself in the world of fine art by mashing up amateur YouTube videos. He finds Princess Shaw’s videos and starts putting together a hit! When you see how he does it, you have to respect the time it takes to construct each song, and the vision to hear the final product made from Frakensteined videos. When asked, Kutiman says heplans to put the video out online, and let the people who hear it be the ones that notify Shaw.

The film manipulates time in a way that works. We’re able to learn about Shaw through her YouTube videos. The videos that served much like an open diary to the world for Shaw, become the backstory of the film we’re watching. Juxtapose that with Kutiman, working up a masterpiece on the other side of the world and instantly we’re in on the secret that Princess has no idea about. While she struggles to keep the lights on (there’s a scene in which she’s using candles to light her apartment), and plays at a club for five people, she doesn’t give up on her goal. She’s the type of person you want to win though! She’s kind hearted, confident, and determined in spite of the difficulties in her life. So when Shaw and Kutiman finally meet, it's a beautiful, heart-warming scene.

Writer/director Ido Haar originally set out to film a documentary about YouTubers and thus was filming Princess Shaw while Kutiman was constructing the songs. So it was a perfect storm for the film to come together. Haar also edits the film to perfection. He cuts together moments in time, trusting there is enough in each scene to make a point and then jump ahead. It’s cut in such a way that Kutiman rarely speaks until the end of the film. Instead, he silently observes Shaw’s videos while working on his music. Yet his silence still speaks, because it’s a good bet that just as he’s falling in love (figuratively) with Shaw, we feel the same way as observing viewers.

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Presenting Princess Shaw is a film that’s about not giving up, pursuing your passion, and overcoming odds. Shaw’s attitude and outlook on life is admirable. Rather than complaining or carrying a large chip on her shoulder, she gives to others. So when she wins, we win! It’s a film that gives you hope that sometimes good things happen to good, deserving people!

Rating: A-

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 '16: "Live Cargo" Review

 

Out of the films I saw at Tribeca this year, one that sticks with me is Live Cargo. It could be the beautiful black and white cinematography. It could be the unconventional storytelling. Or maybe it was the moving performances and skilled direction. Out of the number of reasons that the movie still haunts my film nerd dreams, the number one reason is because I left it feeling like I partook in a refreshing cinematic experience that was as pure and passionate as something from a graduate thesis film but technically proficient enough to study and dissect in the same class!

In the film, we find Nadine (Dree Hemingway) and Lewis (Keith Stanfield) at one of the lowest points of their married life. They’re sitting in a hospital room, noticeably apart, while Nadine holds her newborn baby’s corpse in her arms. The black and white film emphasizes the moment even more, stripped of its color, just like the couple’s world has been. In order to escape and heal, they go to the Bahamas. It’s where Nadine grew up vacationing and learned to dive with Roy (Robert Wisdom), the guy that knows everyone and is the self-described policeman of the island.

Upon arriving they meet Myron (Sam Dillon) who is on the boat helping Roy for the day. Myron is a young man who was abandoned on the island by his parents. He knows the island, he knows how to survive, and he knows he wants Nadine. He survives by working for the major boatmen of the island, Roy and Doughboy (Leonard Earl Howze).

As the film moves forward we witness Nadine and Lewis as they deal with their loss. They’re like similar ends of magnets; attempts at coming back together are thwarted by the ordeal. Yet a slowly brewing turf war on the island just might be what they need to bring them together.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Cinematographer Daniella Nowitz captures gorgeous frames worthy of a print ad at times, while using the black and white to simultaneously catch tones and textures we wouldn’t usually notice. The sweat seeping through a shirt, or glistening off of someone’s forehead stresses the heat of the island and the work of the islanders. The lack of color itself, in a place where we would expect to see stunning hues, forces your focus on the story while enhancing the way you take it in.

Director Logan Wyatt allows the images to speak more than his actors at times (and their performances are wonderful). How do you put loss into words? What’s the cost of a life? Wyatt explores these questions by letting his actors be in the moment and cutting the film together in such a way that his audience can contemplate and draw conclusions. Having grown up partially in the Bahamas, his intimate knowledge of island life shines through by acknowledging the beauty of it while not exploiting it like a Sandals commercial.

The cast has the right blend of magic. Veteran Robert Wisdom is a driving force as the patriarch of the island, while Howze brings an underlying jaded ambition to his character. Hemingway, Stanfield, and Dillon give natural, nuanced performances that make for an intense triangle with tension slowly building beneath every interaction.

There is no question that Live Cargo may not appeal to some, because of its unique narrative and shooting style. It’s a mood piece that works visually and aurally to evoke emotion while telling its story. If you go with it, there’s no doubt in my mind that it will stand out in yours as well!

Rating: A 

Check out my interviews with the cast and crew:

 

Tribeca Film Festival '16: "Kicks" Review

The bus always arrived early at my middle school. We had to wait outside of the building until the bell rang. During that time, the guys would stand around and shoot the breeze, crack jokes, and look at each others’ shoes. If you had fresh kicks, it was a talking point. That was in the suburbs of South Carolina. Co-writer/director Justin Tipping explores a Bay Area world in which shoes equate to self-worth, status, and respect in Kicks, which premiered at Tribeca this weekend.

Brandon (Jahking Guillory) is a high school, latch key kid fending for himself most days.  What he lacks in size he has in speed to get away from bullies he tells us in narration. His mom is out providing, while he does the same stuff...different day. That includes hanging with his boys, ladies man Rico (Christopher Meyer) and funny man Albert (Christopher Jordan Wallace). Brandon doesn’t have much, but what he does have is an imagination in which an MTV-like moon man representing his higher self follows him around, and a pair of shoes that he’s had since middle school. His friends are like brothers, but even they have nice sneakers. At the age in which all you have to worry about is going to school, fitting in, and mac’ing girls, a nice pair of kicks would help Brandon be “somebody”. 

Tipping does a great job at placing us in Brandon’s world and seeing life through his eyes. It’s rare to see an adult in the film, and therefore the stakes are scaled to the age level of the protagonist, but they quickly mean just as much to us. After scrounging the house for all his birthday money and selling candy on the street, Brandon has enough to purchase some dope Bred Ones from the local hustle man. For a moment, Brandon is about six inches taller, confident, and even has the courage to flirt with a girl. But that changes when Flaco (Kofi Siriboe), the local thug who runs the neighborhood, jumps Brandon and takes his shoes. 

From there the film moves forward as Brandon decides to reclaim what was his, regardless of what it may cost. His hunt for Flaco takes him across town to his uncle Marlon’s (Mahershala Ali, who is absolutely stellar in his scenes), a party, and some pretty sticky situations. For an ensemble trio, the chemistry of Guillory, Meyer, and Wallace works well. Their characters’ bond is strong but hasn’t been tested, and the actors do a great job portraying the strain and tension that comes from helping a friend that’s running to the front line of death to recover shoes from a psycho. 

If they still sell soundtracks, this will definitely be one for hip hop heads to download. Boasting a mix of Wu-Tang, E-40, Jay Z, Mac Dre, and more, the music sets the tone for the film with quotes from artists breaking the film up into sections. Yet more powerful than the film’s soundtrack is its message. Co-writers Joshua Beirne-Golden and Justin Tipping find a way to explore universal connections in an asinine hyper-masculine world. They use light moments to humanize tough ex-con Marlon as he holds his sick mother’s hand to keep her calm while speaking to Brandon, and show Flaco as a loving father playing basketball with his son. Where most movies have a tough guy or one sided villain, it’s hard to disregard Flaco because he does have a redeeming side. Therein lies the message. 

We all have family, we all love, but somewhere along the line society has groomed us to not show the same care to our neighbors, especially someone who is different; even if that just means that they’re from the other side of town. In Kicksworld of machismo we witness the turning process at various stages: through the eyes of the youngest, Jeremiah; those at the crossroads, Brandon and his crew; one constantly fighting for respect, Flaco; and one lucky enough to survive it, Marlon. While the visuals and music can be entertaining, the message is there as well. Perhaps Kicks can be a great conversation starter for an issue that plagues inner city neighborhoods today.

Rating: B+

Check out these red carpet interviews:

Annapolis Film Festival '16: "Little Miss Perfect" Review

I saw Little Miss Perfect knowing nothing about the film. Admittedly, the dreamlike filter on the camera’s lens, prep school uniforms, and main character’s over-achieving persona as laid out in the opening scenes had me thinking I wouldn’t be able to relate to the film at all. Then, with one click on a website by the film’s protagonist, I was instantly hooked on a universal story about how we face the insecurities we all face in life! 

Belle (Karlee Roberts) is the go-getter high school freshman who has the grades, proper ambition, and kind heart that other kids either ridicule or envy. She’s the school’s class president and headed for major success. Her father is in the home, but that seems to be the extent of it at the moment, as he deals with work and the new void of his wife. Her mom is a free spirit photographer, who has just left the family when the film begins. While Belle seems used to handling pressure, the vacancy of her parents in her life, and regular emotional instabilities that come with being a teenager, compound into an inescapable pressure cooker.

As the film moves forward, Belle begins to choose to do things that will make her happy and relieve stress. Unfortunately, those choices consist of dating Gus (Jeremy Fernandez), a decent-hearted flunky from the neighboring all male private school, and joining an online competitive eating disorder site where girls find pleasure in watching the numbers on the scale drop to unhealthy levels. While Little Miss Perfect explores eating disorders on a story level, it really serves as a backdrop to the deeper issues behind it like self-doubt, abandonment and feeling worthless. It also exposes the dangers of not asking questions or talking about the elephant in the room. As Belle’s weight continues to drop, everyone around her either helps her hide what she’s doing, like her best friend Lyla (Izzy Palmieri), or is too self involved to ask what’s going on and push past her seemingly perfect appearance.  

First time feature writer/director Marlee Roberts does an excellent job of pacing and capturing each step of Belle’s downward spiral visually. Her frame speaks so the characters don’t have to. Whether Belle decides to confirm friending someone on the site, or shifts her salad around on her plate to make it look like she ate, the camera sees all. Subtle choices like Marlee (as not to confuse her w/ her sister/star of the film) keeping the camera on sticks throughout the film, but going handheld when Belle throws up in the bathroom for the first time or argues with her boyfriend, exhibit savvy skills of a budding director who is in tune to the cinematic story and technical side of filmmaking.

Little Miss Perfect is a timely film that speaks to members of today’s online generation who may chase likes and follows for self-esteem. We all want to be loved, and for a teenager with a vulnerable mind, it can be a dangerous thing when left unchecked. Yet, the message of the film for parents is to stay involved in your child’s life, and for teens is that you don’t have to struggle alone and it’s never too late to change. It’s a message I hope many people receive! 

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.

Annapolis Film Festival '16: (T)ERROR Review

In a world where terrorists make the news weekly, someone has to be on the lookout for people who want to harm others. But what’s the price of that security? Who watches the watcher? What does it take to catch the bad guy? Saeed "Shariff" Torres, the main subject in (T)ERROR, is a documentarian’s golden goose. After two years of knowing the filmmakers, he confessed to being an FBI informant, and then proceeded to ask them to document his next assignment. What the viewer is presented with, is an astonishing, albeit limited look, at surveillance and the human impact of it.

We’re first introduced to Saeed as he complains about being on camera.  It’s interesting because we find out that he wanted to be documented. Shortly after, he’s calm and enjoying a basketball game. He explains that he became an informant in exchange for a reduced prison sentence for a New York City robbery he committed. We find him getting ready to go to another assignment in Pittsburgh. He needs the money, and he doesn’t have any love for muslims who malign the teaching of the Quran. He only has an obvious love for his son. 

As Saeed begins to settle in the safe house in Pittsburgh we see a map that he pins photos on. He explains that he has a POI (person of interest) that he is going to befriend at the local mosque. He makes it clear that he has his own way of gaining their trust, and that if he did things the way the FBI wanted he would never get any of the busts he’s gotten. His arrogance is somewhat off putting, but the espionage drama pulls you in closer.

When we’re first introduced to Khalifa, Saeed’s POI, we see him in black and white surveillance photos. We see a picture of him with an automatic weapon. Probably most importantly, we see his appearance in muslim garb. So it’s easy to side with the FBI and Saeed. What directors Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe do next is stunning as they interview Khalifa himself behind Saeed’s back.

As the viewer, you’re instantly hypnotized at watching a documentary being made without the FBI’s awareness with their paid informant Saeed; at the same time you get to see and hear the extremely intelligent, other side of the story through Khalifa’s own account of what he believes is happening. You’re able to put the truth together yourself seeing all sides “straight from the horse’s mouth” as they say.

(T)ERROR successfully leads us down a path of preconceptions and shocks us by providing truths that disturbs them. Perhaps the most disturbing realization is the questionable entrapment schemes set up by the FBI as shown in the documentary. Yes, it is limited in scope. No, paid informants aren’t new. But the questionable ethics of counter-terrorism as displayed is worth analyzing.

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.

Annapolis Film Festival '16: "Pervert Park" Review

Film can be a powerful tool. It can serve as a conversation starter, and allow you to experience something without having to get your hands dirty. Pervert Park has to be the darkest, most disturbing film coming out of the Annapolis Film Festival this year, and probably one of the bravest choices by its’ programming committee. Someone saw the opportunity to use film as a conduit to a conversation on a generally rarely talked about topic and let the viewer come to their own conclusions about it. 

Pervert Park captures the stories of select individuals that live in Florida Justice Transitions, a trailer park in St. Petersburg, Florida. In Florida, sex-predator laws are in place where offenders can not live within 1,000 feet of places where children regularly assemble. Sexual offenders are looked at as the lowest of society, but they all have a story. Directors Frida and Lasse Barkfors capture the stories of park residents with no cinematic flare, just straight shooting and following.

The stand out story in the doc is that of Tracy Hutchinson, who was abused by her father as early as second grade. By the age of 11 she had already had an abortion,  and years later she seduced her own son, who later molested a 3 year old boy. Hearing Tracy confess about taking her son’s trust and dismantling it by sexually abusing him is absolutely heart wrenching. The guilt, shame, and deep regret is so apparent that it’s hard not to get emotional yourself. It’s clear that a life of abuse had adverse affects on her, but her vulnerability in being honest and apologetic can be felt on a gut level.

While everyone in the film seems to take ownership of their crimes, they also seem to rationalize them with twisted logic. If there is one thing that is clear from the film, it’s that getting help and being open about abuse is a necessary resource. Many of the individuals in the film kept their past pain buried inside and hidden from society, which in their particular stories manifested into sexual offenses. It shows how much counseling can play a key role in an attempt to transform and unlearn behavior.

Watching the film is an absolute test in self control, staying in your seat and sitting through it. (Plenty of people walked out of the screening.)There is no way of getting around the fact that it is a disturbing documentary on a soul level. The filmmakers obviously worked to keep a balance of letting you hear the horror, and then changing the tone to something that humanizes the offenders. Most people won’t view a documentary like this, but for those who can stomach it, it examines and challenges how and why we should deal with the taboo issue. 

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.

"The Clan" Review: A Detached Family Portrait

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In a modern day and time where social media allows you to be whoever you want to be publicly, but totally different behind closed doors, The Clan tells the true story of a family who mastered that art in the late 1970s in Argentina. While outwardly, this family seemed to have it all, inwardly the patriarch led his sons in kidnapping the wealthy for large ransoms. What may be even more ghastly is that the victims were kept in the house with the rest of the family.

Arquimedes Puccio (Guillermo Francella) is a shop owner and father of five. His son Alejandro (Peter Lanzani) is a star rugby player on the Pumas. Even though Alex has promise with rugby, his father wants him to help with the family business, both of them. While Alejandro is internally torn, he carries out his father’s wishes, working in the shop and helping to kidnap those his father has marked.

The longer you watch, the more enthralled you become with the story of obvious detachment of Arquimedes’ morality, Alejandro’s internal conflict as he loses his own, and who else in the family is complicit in what’s happening. In fact, part of the intrigue is the vague understanding of who amongst the Puccio family knows what’s going on. You think that they all have to know what’s going on, but it’s never quite clear. As the film moves forward, more layers are revealed that solidify the eeriness of a family that seems to be free under the house of their father/husband but chained to his unspoken regime.

Francella is stellar as Arquimedes. His unassuming look and polite demeanor in an aged body, make his performance that much more powerful and intrinsically scary. You can tell that he did the pre-production work to come to grips with how his character lived with himself at the end of the day and justified his actions internally. Kidnapping in one scene and loving his family in the next is as natural as breathing.

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Director Pablo Trapero is very comfortable with the relationship between his camera and cast. He knows when to move the camera and when to keep a still frame, striking a sweet balance that leads to a beautiful dance of blocking. Trapero’s controlled yet visually eloquent camera brilliantly mirrors the controlled and calculated efforts of Arquimedes. He allows the viewer the freedom to choose where to look, while still manipulating the frame.

Where The Clan succeeds is in its ability to tell a dramatic and horrifying tale, without being cinematically dramatic. From the soundtrack choice (songs like “Just a Gigolo” during a kidnapping scene) to the strong internal performances by the cast, the movie heightens its intensity by not being intense. It certainly will remind you of the question, how well do you really know your neighbor?

The Clan opens Friday March 25 in DC.

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.

DCIFF '16: "Driving While Black" Review

If “Crash” had the slight edge of a stoner film it would be “Driving While Black”. The film blends comedy with the serious and timely subject of racial profiling and police brutality flawlessly. What makes “Driving While Black” so enjoyable is it makes its points without proselytizing. At its heart, the movie is about the ups and downs of a flawed individual trying to make ends meet while pursuing his passion. Dealing with the police just happens to be a part of the story woven into his daily life. In many cases we see play out in the news, I think this is what makes police brutality so appalling and the film so relevant.  

Set to the sounds of hip-hop and the visual background of LA streets both seen and unseen in films, “Driving While Black” is a guaranteed conversation starter. Writer/star Dominique Purdy is Dimitri, a pizza delivery guy trying to make it as an artist in LA. He’s had his fair share of discriminatory run-ins with the police in his lifetime, which has left a distrustful taste in his mouth as evidenced through flashbacks in the movie. After his car breaks down giving him some time to take a tour of celebrity homes in LA, Dimitri has an opportunity to get a better job as a star maps guide. Each time he makes an attempt, something comes up that keeps him from the interview, and it’s usually the police.

The film also works at portraying a balance of both sides of the coin. Simultaneously throughout the film we are able to see the inner workings of a local police unit comprised of ethnically diverse cops that weave in and out of Dimitri’s storyline. The workplace banter amongst the cops is filled with realism that brings them down to a “next door neighbor” type of vibe that is relatable. From Officer Borty-Lio (Sheila Tejada) trying to get promoted to provide for her family in a squad full of men, to the bad apple Officer McVitie (Peter Cilella) whose past demons have created an over-aggressive monster behind a badge, the film does a good job of developing all characters involved on both sides of the issue.

“Driving While Black” doesn’t sugar coat its character’s decisions either. In one scene, Dimitri is pulled over with a friend who has been driving while high on marijuana, and in another a friend has a gun in the car. It almost makes you question Dimitri’s choice in friends, but these are real life examples that show we all aren’t perfect.  It’s a great mixture of ingredients that help to allow the viewer to decide what’s right and wrong in the situation.

Director Paul Sapiano does a great job of pacing the film out and allowing the film to disarm you with its comedy.  But when the film gets serious, it’s hair-raising.  It’s the situation that black men prepare themselves and their sons for. It’s the type of situation that every move and word counts if you want to go home that night. It’s exactly what makes the film a great display and analysis of the subject matter that will have you talking after the lights come up.

“Driving While Black” takes a comedic approach to a controversy that has become all too common these days. Sometimes comedy is the best medicine. Hopefully, it can serve as another resource to open the door to conversation about this troubling issue in America.

Rating: B+

“Driving While Black” screens at the DC Independent Film Festival Friday March 11, 2016.

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.

"Until 20" Review

Childhood cancer is one of those topics that I believe we don’t want to address as a society. Numbers don’t lie; only 4% of the budget of the National Cancer Institute goes to pediatric cancer research. As long as it doesn’t affect us personally, by those numbers, sadly it seems we’d rather keep living our lives with no regard to the issue, myself included. Perhaps it’s because we’d be faced with our own mortality, our children’s, or because to be honest, it’s somber. So when it comes to a movie, why would you want to watch one about childhood cancer? Keep reading and I’ll tell you!

James Ragan was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 13. When we first meet him, he’s bald, skinny from treatments, and way stronger than most of us. He’s viewing the latest results from a scan with his doctor and family. He tells the doctor that he’d like to “preserve a little bit of quality for when we’ve sorta kicked the can as far as we can kick it so to speak.”  It’s this statement and James’ strength in the face of a doctor telling him that without further treatment he has six months to live- within the first five minutes of the film- that engages you to want to see and learn more about James and his journey.

What “Until 20” provides is a pure look into a young man and his family’s life as they’re going through it.  There’s no doubt that when the film picks up James has already been through the fire, and his strength and resolve to help other pediatric cancer patients is inspiring. James created the Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation in 2007 as a way to raise money and awareness to the cause. Throughout the film it’s obvious that because life isn’t promised to him, he lives his to the fullest, enriching and encouraging the lives of those around him.

Typically in a film like this you expect to focus on how awesome the main character is, and hear from people who will testify to it. While that is a part of the film, you slowly get to know the people surrounding James, pulling you into his family and village of loved ones. Whether it’s his mother Gloria, who is trying to keep it together and be there for her son, while simultaneously missing out on being present for her daughter because of it. Or his sister Mecklin, who loves her brother with all her heart, and yet sacrifices attention and love from her parents at times because her brother needs it more. The doctor, who has to tell James (and one would assume other cancer patients) the bad news, while also viewing him as someone that he hopes his sons will grow up to be like. The list goes on, but the evidence of how cancer’s effects ripple out to those surrounding James is apparent.  Yet, a constant sense of love and resilience comes through in every frame. That’s what makes the film powerful.

Another thing that stands out about “Until 20” is the stylistic shot choices and poetic technical nature of the film. One would usually expect a film of this theme to be run and gun, with not much thought into the shooting style outside of capturing the events. While a couple of times the style choice feels a little too much (some scenes in which an interviewee is emotional and the camera continues to dolly side to side), it is aesthetically beautiful. The time and care given to the film by directors Geraldine Moriba-Meadows and Jamila Paksima is evident in the film’s construction from production value to the way the story is laid out. As I watched, I couldn’t help but feel like the Ragan family came together and agreed to tell their story, unfiltered, as a unit, and that James wanted to document his journey for the world to see. Faced with that responsibility, Meadows and Paksima stepped up to the plate and hit a home run.

Sitting through “Until 20” is in no way a walk in the park. It’s unsettling at times, causes you to put your own life in proper perspective, and has its Kleenex moments. Grounded in the reality of life, the film puts a face to childhood cancer and allows you to experience the love, trials, and pain that a family affected by cancer must endure.  At the same time it’s uplifting and beautiful! It's cliche to say, but the film is truly more about living your life and embracing each moment. The love that the Ragan family has for one another is undeniable. I couldn’t help but think that the film is exactly what James wanted.  While our lives are but a mist, film is forever, and with this film his message lives on and speaks to the heart of a viewer in ways that a speech never could! Hopefully with this film, one family’s loss is the world’s gain, as it inspires us to get involved in some small or large way.

You can learn more at http://triumphoverkidcancer.org/.

Visit http://until20.com/ to find out more about the film and future screenings.

Rating: A+

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.

"Playin' For Love" Review

“Playin’ For Love” is text book indie flick predictable storytelling. It’s filled with unknown actors, sprinkled with familiar faces, and occasional cringeworthy dialogue. In fact, you may be tempted to brush past it online or on DVD. Yet, the film’s leads, Robert Townsend and Sali Richardson-Whitfield, take the content and turn it into a romantic comedy that’s hard to resist.

Coach Banks (Robert Townsend) is known as the “general amongst generals” in high school basketball. He has six championships under his leadership and now he has upcoming star Justice McCoy (Daniel Yorel Cooper) on his team. Justice, however, comes with a hefty price tag in the form of his strong-willed mother Talisa (Sali Richardson-Whitfield). 

The movie plays out over the course of Justice’s senior year. Coach Banks has an opportunity to coach in the NCAA if he can get Justice to sign to a certain team. With his mother in the way, Coach Banks tries to work his angles to remove her. Talisa’s intelligence and love for both the game of basketball and her children proves to be more than he was expecting as a genuine relationship blossoms. 

The film’s major flaw is that the supporting players are only there as vehicles to keep Banks and Talisa’s story going, coming in and out conveniently. Basketball takes backseat to the driving romance. The majority of the film is off the court, and the camera stays on sticks when it’s on the court instead of moving around with the action. You really have to trust that the basketball team is as good as they say it is, because the film edits heavily around games. So don’t look for incredible action in the form of basketball.

That being said, the romantic story off the court makes up for what it lacks on the court. The chemistry between Townsend and Richardson-Whitfield is palpable and the butterflies of falling in love are equally tangible in the frame. In typical Townsend fashion, the film hits on poignant familial themes like blended families, fathers being present in their child’s lives, and watching what your kids listen to. The moments are real and bring heartfelt social commentary to the film. 

Robert Townsend brings years of experience to the role, giving Coach Banks an arrogant external shell and vulnerable interior needed for the role. Sali Richardson-Whitfield’s performance made me look up her IMDB page to find out what else she’s been in! (I found out it’s mostly television, which I plan to watch just to see her performances.) Her character is ferocious and a moral center as a single mother providing for and looking after her four children. She brings a fully fleshed out character to every frame she’s in. 

“Playin’ For Love” is an unexpected, welcomed surprise for a date night streaming movie or Redbox pickup. Sure, there are elements of cheese to it, but the backbone of the film is entertaining and I had a few good laughs.

The film is available online and DVD Feb. 9th!

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.

Middleburg Film Fest '15: "Hitchcock/Truffaut" Review

Alfred Hitchcock is a legend in film, but he didn’t start out that way. In fact, not all of his “classic” films that we think of today were box office hits. It was after French director, Francois Truffaut penned the book Hitchcock/Truffaut that his work as an auteur was appreciated on a deeper level. Unfortunately, the film “Hitchcock/Truffaut” doesn’t do much to expand what fans already know from the book.

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Part of the issue with the film is that it’s more of a gushing text message than a love letter to the book/meeting of Hitchcock and Truffaut. Director Kent Jones interviews numerous directors (Martin Scorcese, David Fincher, James Gray, Olivier Assayas, and more) to have them weigh in on Hitchcock’s work as highlighted in the book. In short, it’s a fanboy geek out session which is great for the fan, members of the film community, or newcomers to Hitchcock’s work.

Some of the nice touches of the film come in seeing the photos from Hitchcock and Truffaut’s meeting, hearing some of the audio recording of the interviews, and the way Jones brings them together with footage from the films. It’s as though Hitchcock and Truffaut become one of the talking heads commenting on the film’s footage we’re seeing within the documentary. The voices of the past become voices of the present under Rachel Reichman’s editing.

“Hitchcock/Truffaut” is a must see for any cinemaphile, filmmaker, and Hitchcock fan. If you’re looking for a serious education on the book, their meeting, and their work, the film leaves much to be desired. A love letter would have been nice, but I guess these days a quick text will have to suffice!

Grade: 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.

Spooky Movie Fest '15: "They Look Like People" Review

Are humans really being taken over by demons cloaked as humans in this cinematic world? It’s hard to say what’s real and what’s not in writer/director Perry Blackshear’s “They Look Like People”. The film sucks you in with its direction and performances because on this psycho paranoia train, you can either get on or get left at the station.

Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) shows up on the doorstep of his old friend Christian’s (Evan Dumouchel) NYC home. The two haven’t spoken in years, but were very close at one point. Close enough that Christian is willing to let Wyatt tag along on his date with his boss, Mara (Margaret Ying Drake). The date goes wrong for all the reasons you wouldn’t think, as Mara’s friend has slipped on the sidewalk before they meet. This makes for a night in the emergency room for the trio, and a newly formed bond to boot.

Wyatt tells Christian that he plans to move on, but Christian insists he stay for a while.
Even though they haven’t kept up with each other we find they share a couple similarities. They both have recently had a breakup with their longtime girlfriend. They both hear voices speaking to them. While Evan listens to self-empowerment albums, Wyatt listens to a voice on the phone that tells him about the impending war that’s coming. The phone voice describes invasion of body snatcher-like creatures that look like people, but have already infiltrated the world.

As Wyatt begins preparing for the battle by stockpiling an arsenal in Christian’s basement, the paranoia of the film really takes off. Blackshear achieves this on two fronts. Aurally he gets into the viewer’s mind with the voices that play in narration. Christian’s self-empowerment voice is soft, soothing, and disarming. Wyatt hears from two different voices; one male voice that is older and authoritative, and one female voice that sounds genuine and at times worried. The combination of the voices talking to the main characters non-diegetically (off screen), becomes just as swaying for the viewer in forming opinions of what’s real and what’s not.

The other weapon in Blackshear’s arsenal is the film’s editing, which he did himself. The film hard cuts forward in time throughout its scenes. This compression of time keeps the audience’s attention as they are forced to piece together what to take away from the scene, and wonder if anything was left out. It’s easy to follow, but the technique slowly seeps into the mind and causes a bit of uneasiness.

“They Look Like People” is definitely a pot that simmers slowly throughout its running time and leads to a climactic boil that pays off. With a strong direction from Blackshear and equally natural performances from its actors, the film makes you want to turn on thehouse lights in the theater and take a second look at the person next to 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.

Spooky Movie Fest '15: "Bite" Review

If you’re a fan of gore, “Bite” has more than a mouthful. Director Chad Archibald has concocted a film that with all its slimy ugliness, is beautiful to look at. However, its story is about as shallow as an episode of the Kardashians.

Bachelorette Casey (Elma Begovic) goes to Costa Rica with her friends to celebrate before her wedding. While there, she’s bitten by a mysterious bug. Upon returning home, she gets cold feet and wants to call off the wedding. Before she can however, she starts exhibiting signs of a major infection, or something worse.

“Bite” makes an admirable attempt to mix found footage with straight narrative at the out start. While giving it’s viewer context to Casey’s trip to Costa Rica, it becomes distracting as Casey consults the footage on her laptop to retrace her steps in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, like many other plot points, even that vice quickly fizzles out and we’re left with watching Casey turn into a human bug through a thinly stitched storyline.

Where “Bite” falls short is that it soars in visual ideas, but lacks a plot. It’s not long before you abandon the idea of a genuine story and accept that you’re watching Casey transform into a bug. Characters make unrealistic decisions, ignoring blatantly obvious signs of abnormal behavior to move the story forward, quickly turning it into a film that you yell at rather than scream from.

The film’s secret weapon is its crew. Cinematographer Jeff Maher paints exquisitely with light in each frame. Jason Derushie’s special effects makeup is incredible. The bug bite looks disgustingly real, and the sound design supplements it so well. As Casey transforms, the makeup does too, heightening the intensity of the bizarre happening in her life. In fact, the makeup and set design become the star of the film. As days go by, Casey’s apartment is taken over by ooze, eggs, and a stench that I’m sure viewers will be happy they won’t have to smell. The aesthetics of the film sells every frame of it.

“Bite” certainly is an acquired taste. It may be great for true horror/gore fans. It’s been known to make some viewers faint and puke as it makes its’ festival rounds. Whether you enjoy it or not, it’s bound to sting in some way.

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.

"The Second Mother" Review: A Beautiful Comedy Of Manners

A film like “The Second Mother” is an arthouse gem! You can be thoroughly entertained by the beautiful story, and dig into the social commentary all at the same time. It’s a comedy of manners that speaks to class boundaries that can mold someone’s character and stir an inner desire to break through them.  

Val (Regina Case) is an old school, by the book, live-in housekeeper who takes pride in her work. She missed out on much of her daughter Jessica’s (Camila Mardila) life by working for her employers, Barbara (Karine Teles) and Carlos (Lourenco Mutarelli). Their teenage son, Fabhino (Michael Joelsas), filled the void of hands on motherhood for Val as she spent ten years practically raising him.

When Jessica has the opportunity to study in Sao Paulo, Val invites her to stay with her, with permission from her employers. It’s in Jessica’s entrance to the household that the boundaries between Val and the family she works for become apparent. Jessica is treated with respect as an honored guest in the home. Regardless of her daughter’s fresh arrival, Val has to fetch water, clear the table, and continue to fulfill her obligations as the housekeeper.

In fact, Val is treated like a remote control throughout the film, called upon when needed and tossed aside for later when she’s not. In seeing her mother treated this way, Jessica looks at her with disdain rather than love. She can’t understand why Val submits to being treated as a “second class citizen”. On top of the fact that she already feels like her mother abandoned her, Jessica refuses to subject herself to the unspoken rules of being in the home. A pool is just a pool to Jessica, but to Val it’s her employer’s pool and she can’t go in.

The light-hearted humor is what makes the film fun to watch, and Regina Case’s performance is the driving force behind it. You can tell that Val keeps her wild child locked away due to years of suppressing her desires to get the job done, but certain scenes that let her come out of character give us a glimpse at what she feels inside. Whether she’s hiding behind the kitchen door to eavesdrop on Barbara and Carlos’s conversation with Fabhino, applying a bit of Barbara’s lotion in secret, or hiding Fabhino’s weed for him, Val is more than just the help.

Framing is everything in this film! Not a shot was taken without director Anna Muylaert’s direction. The camera stays locked down in the beginning of the film with no pans. Every shot is a rigid frame, much like Val’s life. She shoots from the kitchen, into the family dining area, allowing us to see a sliver of Barbara sitting at the table. It’s the visual inaccessibility of the frame that supplements the lack of access that Val has within the home. When Jessica arrives at the house, the camera is still selective as to what it captures, but starts moving within scenes and it continues to be less stifling through the end of the film as Val starts to take of some of the chains in her life. These subtle camera decisions are what makes the film worth multiple viewings.

“The Second Mother” is a foreign film but a universal story. It’s about class, forgiveness, and the different types of families that can exist. It’s certainly award worthy, and solid entertainment!

Rating: A

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.

DC Shorts '15: "The Red Thunder" Review

If ever there was a short that should be made into a TV series pilot at the very least, “The Red Thunder” is certainly one. It’s an appetizer that leaves you wanting the main course. In an age where the Marvel Cinematic Universe expands from the big screen to the small screen, co-writer/director Alvaro Ron offers us what looks like an original, unlikely hero.

Sarah (Allie Grant) is a nerdy teenager with an uptight, controlling mother (Karen Strassman). At least it seems that way to Sarah. After getting asked out by Danny (Miles Heizer), Sarah decides she needs to use her mom’s car. Little does she know, her mom may not be as bad as she thought!

With solid performances from its cast, “The Red Thunder” gives just the right amount of entertainment and special effects that would make a viewer want to see more backstory and what will happen to the mother/daughter dynamic after Sarah’s night out. Its mix of quirky comedy, action, and a dash of romantic interests make it fit for say, the CW line up. Whatever happens with it, it’s a short super hero fans shouldn’t miss!

http://festival.dcshorts.com/films/red-thunder/

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.

"Five Star" Review

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and according to writer/director Keith Miller’s Five Star, neither is getting into a gang. While using non-actors in a film can typically be a major success or massive fail, it certainly helps to have its main character, Primo (James Grant), a real Blood gang member both in and out of the movie. In this film, the authenticity of the non-actors’ work and the camera’s ever roving eye make for a unique take on crime genre films that soars.

John (John Diaz) lost his father recently to a stray bullet, or at least that’s what everyone says.  His father was a well respected gang member in his New York community.  His protege, Primo, takes John under his wing out of respect for John’s father and as a chance to help mold John.  As Primo shows John the ropes, he makes it quite clear that if he decides to follow in his father’s footsteps the line between being a boy and being a man (gang life) is one that you can’t run back behind. As John witness the power and confidence of Primo, he is also seduced by the lure of quick cash.

As the film moves forward, two stories unfold. We get a glimpse at Primo the Five Star leader of the community gangs, who rules with an iron fist and draws respect from fear.  We also see Primo the father.  It is in between this dichotomy that we see both strength and vulnerability in Primo.  Day-to-day moments like cooking food for the family or simply telling his daughter to behave juxtapose with brutally beating someone for not having his money, creating a character that you can both love and hate. At the same time you see John in his daily life. Who in essence is just a teenage kid with a girlfriend, a widowed mother he wants to take care of, struggling with the impact of not knowing his father except through second hand accounts.

The beautiful day-to-day moments don’t just take place with Primo, but with other characters in the film as well.  For instance, as John takes steps closer to gang life, he and his mother (Wanda Nobles Colon) have what feels like an unscripted conversation about why she doesn’t want her son to follow in his father’s footsteps.  The conversation is so genuine that the film feels more like a documentary than a narrative feature.

Keith Miller lets scenes play out and breathe, putting the handheld camera to use to create a documentary feel. He captures things not typically on screen in crime films, but are apart of the complexity of living a dangerous life, and perhaps life in general. Miller edits the film as well, and it’s top notch. With aural intros, the scenes blend together and push the story forward at a purposeful pace that leads its viewer. Miller allows you to get caught up in the little moments of the character’s lives, building up to a pins and needles climax.

Five Star is a worthy indie intro in the crime genre.  It slowly builds, and snowballs, into an earned pay off. Five Star is out on DVD September 1st and is definitely worth the view!

Rating: A

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.