GI Film Festival '15: "The Forgotten Angel of Bastogne" Review

As the saying goes, “history is written by the victors”. Director Michael Edwards’ “The Forgotten Angel of Bastogne” dares to revise the history of Bastogne during World War II’s Battle of the Bulge by highlighting the heroic, herculean efforts performed by a black nurse amidst a racist era. After decades without praise, this documentary gives honor to a very deserving, courageous figure in history.

The film tells the story of Augusta Chiwy, a young nurse born of Congolese and Belgian descent, who with one trip home for Christmas had her life changed forever. In December of 1944, Augusta’s father asked her to come home to Bastogne for the holiday. She made a long trek from Louvain, Belgium to Bastogne. What should have been a few hours turned into an almost day long trip due to the Nazis pushing forward in what’s now known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Photo Courtesy of GI Film Festival.

Photo Courtesy of GI Film Festival.

After arriving in Bastogne, swarms of wounded and dying American soldiers poured in to the local aid station. Augusta was asked to help Dr. John Prior at the station, which turned into a triage facility overnight. She worked tirelessly side by side with Prior to save lives in some of the most gruesome scenes imaginable. The pair had to use crude, makeshift surgical instruments, and make due with a lack of supplies. While there, she also worked alongside nurse Renee Lemaire, who has been regarded as the “Angel of Bastogne” since she was the only documented nurse at the aid station due to her race.

Photo Courtesy of GI Film Festival.

Photo Courtesy of GI Film Festival.

The documentary takes nothing away from Lemaire, who deserves the title as history shows, but brings evidence to the forefront that Augusta deserves as much credit for the efforts she made during those brutal days. Perhaps Augusta’s story would still be rumored if not for Martin King, a military historian and authority on the Battle of the Bulge, who set out to find the truth of Augusta’s story. The film presents us with a parallel story of the historical event and the present hunt for the truth by Martin.

Photo courtesy of GI Film Festival.

Photo courtesy of GI Film Festival.

For those who love history, and those that don’t, what makes this documentary worth seeing is how it brings history to life. Historical photos are displayed throughout the documentary but are infused with moving graphics and sound effects to help viewers be immersed in the moment. Nuanced touches, like light coming through a window of one of its still illustrations, make small details visually stimulating and engaging. The combination of clear historical storytelling and a present day mystery hunt makes for a riveting documentary. 

While the documentary presents us with an abundance of history at times, it does a good job of keeping it organized and digestible for the average person. Augusta Chiwy took a stand to save lives regardless of the dangers around her, soldiers who didn’t want her help based on her skin color, and never retreated because it was the right thing to do. It’s that type of character that makes the story worth telling and the documentary worth watching. So many stories of heroism by minorities have been lost to history due to prejudice. This documentary and Martin King’s fight to tell her story, puts Augusta Chiwy in the annals of history where she belongs!

Rating: B+

Check out my interview with director Michael Edwards below!

Here's the trailer for the film:

1 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.

"Maggie" Review: Almost but Not Quite

When your child is sick you feel helpless, but when your child is dying a part of you is too. Boiled down, that’s what “Maggie” is, or should be about. If director Henry Hobson and writer John Scott III focused on that phrase, then the film wouldn’t have been an average tale with a small twist on the zombie genre. It could possibly have been a movie that people would be talking about in early 2016!

There’s nothing more powerful than a parent’s love for their child. Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a small town farmer, has spent weeks out in the zombie-ravaged city searching for his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin). He brings her back home after finding her in a hospital with an oozing zombie bite.

With limited time until she “turns”, Wade must decide what he will do once she turns into a zombie and Maggie has to deal with her “death sentence”. Most bite victims in town are taken away during the last couple of weeks before they turn or are killed, and the local police make sure Wade knows Maggie is no special case. Maggie’s step mom, Caroline (Joely Richardson) is equally skeptical of Wade’s decision but supports it with both eyes open.

The anticipation of the end and the journey to get there has all the makings of a suspenseful, slow burn drama. Unfortunately, it derails a third of the way into the film. As Maggie deals with the loneliness of exile, she reaches out to Trent (Bryce Romero) an old flame further along in the turn then she is. Rather than keeping the drama to an intimate family problem, we’re forced to watch Maggie and her teen friends that we don’t care about deal with the turn.

You can tell that Arnold dug deep for this performance, and while his dialogue and acting is still stiff at times, he certainly displays his internal conflict in his eyes. Breslin, on the other hand, seems to be swallowed by the character and disconnected from emotional gravity of the situation, which results in an awkward performance. Sure, she’s a teenager and teenager’s emotions are all over the place, but even a teenager can pinpoint and articulate their feelings verbally and nonverbally.

“Maggie” has moments of emotional significance that if explored further would have made it a better film. While on the surface it’s about a parent’s love, when the film plays out, it doesn’t quite tap into that power. Instead, it is an interesting concept that missed the mark.

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.

Tribeca Film Festival '15: "Cronies" Review

If “Friday” met “Baby Boy” on a blind date to see “Boyz In the Hood”, the resulting love child would be “Cronies”. As complicated as that equation is, it perfectly sums up the influences and themes the film explores like friendship, loyalty, personal evolution, not letting the past define you, and masculinity. Executive produced by Spike Lee, “Cronies” is the second feature length film from Michael Larnell and likely won’t be the last. 

The low budget film is shot in black and white, and uses color to highlight major events much like “She’s Gotta Have It”. Covering the course of a day in St. Louis, the film starts  at the home of Louis (George Sample III). Louis is trying to get on the good foot after making a promise to his girlfriend. They are raising a daughter together, and plan to celebrate her birthday the next day. Jack (Zurich Buckner) is Louis’s uncouth, hot headed, live-wire friend. It’s obvious that they were probably best friends at a point, but it’s not quite clear what is dividing their relationship in the beginning of the film.

Andrew (Brian Kowalski) is Louis’s stiff, white co-worker from the local car dealership. When Andrew stops by to hang out with Louis, Jack takes it upon himself to inquire as to why. From there, Jack becomes the third wheel as he pushes his way into Louis and Andrew’s activities for the day. It’s an uncomfortable ride as Jack grills Andrew with questions like a jealous ex-girlfriend. Perhaps Jack feels that Louis is moving on in their friendship, and he doesn’t want to be left behind. Regardless, Andrew keeps his cool and stays on Jack’s good side, while Louis barely talks at all.

As the day goes on, Andrew slowly wins favor and a mutual tolerance with Jack. It could be the half naked girl, high on ecstasy, who swims in the pool at Andrew’s friend’s house. It could be because Andrew isn’t afraid to “holla” at random chicks Jack points out. It could be because “Andy” (as Jack calls him) keeps giving him squares (cigarettes) and let’s him smoke his weed when he asks. In all these instances Jack asserts his masculinity for the world to see. It’s in these moments that Larnell examines the perception of masculinity. Whether and how you rise to the occasion seems to define the trios level of manhood and perhaps establish the alpha in the group.

Each character hides behind a costume. Whether it’s Louis’s glasses, Jack’s shades and hat, or Andrew’s clean cut look, everyone uses their exterior wardrobe to shield themselves. It’s something we all do. It’s in Larnell’s one on one, man on the street interviews that their shields are set aside and their true identity is pierced by Larnell’s searing questions. In one scene, Larnell asks Louis if he’s in love with his girlfriend. It takes him a while to admit it and he finally concedes but not without a coinciding statement that asserts he’s not soft. Jack actually takes has his sunglasses off while answering a question. The man on the street interviews serve as story building emotional beats that work.

By the next day, the trio has been through enough to continue their friendship, proving that experiences build relationships. Louis and Jack have squashed their beef, and Andrew is a part of the family. The guys have matured just a little bit and regardless of if they continue to evolve as men, for the moment, they have. 

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 '15: "Live Fast Draw Yung", a Missed Opportunity

Photo Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Photo Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

One short film that came out of Tribeca this year that I couldn’t shake was “Live Fast Draw Yung”. The film stars Yung Lenox, a 7 (now 8) year old hip hop portraitist who, thanks to his father’s aid, has risen to notoriety in certain hip hop circles. It played as a part of the Be Yourself shorts screenings. The irony is that Yung Lenox isn’t a hip hop lover by choice and inspiration, but by his father’s influence. 

While the film displays Lenox’s talent and artwork, it’s not from his perspective. Instead, it’s entirely narrated by his father, Skip Class. The moment a filmmaker picks up a camera, they’re going to shape a story. The story directors Stacy Lee and Anthony Mathile created could have been shaped by Lenox, or shaped in a way that shows his passion for hip hop and his craft but it wasn’t. “Live Fast Draw Yung” has a punk feel with a hip hop twist and a cute kid at the center of it. So if you get swept away in the smoke and mirrors of it, you may miss the fact that Lenox is just a kid in a world created by his father. 

Photo Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Photo Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

So why did the film stick with me? As a hip hop lover, it was evident to me that the drawings Lenox creates could only come from a hip hop lover of a certain age. Lenox isn’t old enough to know some of those classics, so he was pointed in the right direction. No matter how many photo ops Lenox has with rap stars, how the film is shot  in a hip hop style, or clothes he wears, Lenox isn’t hip hop. His father loves hip hop and he found a great way to turn a business out of his son’s passion for drawing. Sadly, in its attempt to pose as a film about a phenomenal, young hip hop portraitist, it actually misses the opportunity to tell the story of one of the biggest love letters from father to son.    

The apparent thread throughout the film is that Skip loves and adores his son. A chance instagram share of his son’s artwork turned into a business opportunity for the two to work together in a way any good father would love to do. Their collaboration has become so successful that there is now a short documentary focused on them opening at Tribeca! It's one father's love that made dreams come true. That’s something special, and the real story to be told. As a hip hop lover I squirm seeing the spin put on Lenox’s “talent” as hip hop’s Carvaggio, because he's actually just a kid drawing the pictures he's been told to draw. As a father I totally get the love that has propelled Skip to put his son out there, and try to instill lessons of confidence, business and hard work. The film is polarizing, but the message is mixed...or should I say missed? Sometimes even a film should dig deep and “Be Yourself”. 

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 '15: "Stranded in Canton" Review

Photo Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Photo Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Independent cinema allows us to be presented with characters who are typically underrepresented on the big screen. With “Stranded in Canton”, writer/director Mans Mansson gives us an interesting character study in Lebrun (Isibango Iko Lebrun), a Congolese farmer whose dreams for a better life both propel him forward and blind him simultaneously. 

Lebrun  is a wanna be entrepreneur who believes every excuse that comes out of his mouth and hopes you will too. In fact, he’s counting on it. His most recent endeavor finds him stranded in China after ordering a large amount of t-shirts for the election back home in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Unfortunately, he receives them after the election has passed and with boxes full of shirts that say vote for a president who can not run for office again, Lebrun has to figure out a plan B.

Lebrun doesn’t have much time to figure things out. Wassim (Wassim Hasbini), an overweight storage space owner who rides a moped to travel a few yards away, wants the money he’s owed for holding the t-shirts in storage. The Chinese want the money for making the t-shirts, and Lebrun makes calls to an elder back home who he’s seemed to promise a watch and an engine at least. As the movie continues it becomes more apparent that Lebrun doesn’t really have a plan, and may not have had one when he ordered his shirts, outside of selling them for a profit. 

Sylvie (Sylvie N’Dya) is a fellow African living in China, and the one person who takes the time to listen to Lebrun and give him advice. She has her own shop and the wisdom that comes along with it. Yet when she tells Lebrun the truth about his shirts (possible failure), he continues to push forward off of his half-baked idea to make money with an eerie sense of calm and a desire to prove his worth as a businessman. 

Mansson has complete control of the direction of the film. He uses pacing and extreme close ups as tools, forcing us to focus on what he wants. In a film in which so many different languages are spoken, he understands that sometimes the eyes convey what the lips are saying. While the film is subtitled, its visuals speak volumes. He let’s moments within the film play out to the point of exhaustion in a way that feels more like a documentary than a fictional narrative.

While we’re left with a real look at what an unskilled businessman looks like, the film spends too much time in the same position. There are not many new developments in plot, nor a major conflict. Everyone wants their money, but there’s not a real threat to Lebrun to give it to them. While the film does raise questions of politics and what success is, it struggles to bring it all together.  Like Lebrun, “Stranded in Canton” is a great idea running off fumes rather than cinematic fuel.

Rating: C

Now playing: https://tribecafilm.com/filmguide/stranded-in-canton-2015

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 '15: "Cafe Glass" Review

As the internet and social media continues to expand, writer/director Wen Ren paints a future where online dating is the social norm. People walk around with “wearables” (technology that you wear like glasses) that give you automatic access to the internet. Users are alerted when another user is checking them out, and they can reject their virtual advances on the spot. The film’s CG work does the heavy lifting to make this world a reality as it’s main character, Zayn (Devin Goodsell), visits the local cafe to sit with his friends. 

 As the cafe loses internet connection, the entire patronage is in an uproar as they have to come face to face with one another with no online connection. Zayn is then forced to make a decision as to whether to take his most recent encounter offline. While “Cafe Glass” may be a comedy, it stirs up serious questions for what seems like a not too distant future. As we exchange personal connections for virtual ones, what does that mean for future generations? Are social skills morphing or declining? “Cafe Glass” is sure to give you a couple laughs, but it will equally give you something to chew on.

Now playing: https://tribecafilm.com/filmguide/cafe-glass-2015

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 '15: "Catwalk" Review

Photo Courtesy Tribeca Film Festival

Photo Courtesy Tribeca Film Festival

Much like it’s title, “Catwalk”, is an exploration of the fine line between parenting and allowing your child to find his or herself amidst peer pressure. Ella (Freddie Mosten-Jacob) is nine, an impressionable age, and her classmates are interested in labels, selfies, and fashion blogs. Ella desires to break out of the world of glittery shirts and other “ugly” clothes that she currently wears in order to fit in. 

Most of the film is from the perspective of Ella. Freddie’s performance is natural and personal, allowing the audience to remember when they were at her crossroads or dealing with their own child's journey to adolescents. Writer/director Ninja Thyberg presents a well rounded, universal story that makes you think from both sides of the coin as to how to build a child’s confidence. With a pulsing score, and great performances, "Catwalk" is a short to see!

Now playing: https://tribecafilm.com/filmguide/catwalk-2015

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 '15: "House of Manson" Review

Writer/director Brandon Slagle’s “House of Manson” chronicles the life of Charles Manson (Ryan Kiser) leading up to the infamous Tate and LaBianca murders.The film doesn’t attempt to glorify or villianize Manson. Instead, it’s a by the books account of one of America’s most talked about killers.

The film moves swiftly through Manson’s early life. It focuses more on his time as a wandering musician, eventually leading up to starting the Manson Family. There is a lot of emphasis on the use of sex and drugs as a way to seduce, particularly the women in the family. Overall, the charismatic “star power” of Manson (the ability to influence others to kill at the time) is lost in the film, and his influence seems to stem more from the drugs, but perhaps that’s the point. 

The cinematography throughout the film is incredible. It captures the look and feel of the late 60’s shooting many scenes at golden hour to create a dream like look that’s close to the drug induced haze its characters are in. It also uses chiaroscuro (Italian word for strong contrast between light and dark) to its advantage. Once the violence gets going in the movie, the black is crushed and there is a steep drop off from light to dark in all of the scenes. The skillful implementation of this technique casts ominous shadows on the actors in all the right places, supplementing the horrific actions they carry out. 

The biggest issue with “House of Manson” is that its actors play crazy, and do more acting when they aren’t speaking. The cast of characters have an uncanny likeness to their real live counterparts. However, most of the lines are delivered based on what should be said next rather than a reaction and response to what was said. There are glimpses of three dimensional human beings in Davanny Pinn as Susan Atkins, Reid Warner as Tex Watson, and Kiser’s performance, but most moments feel like caricaturizations

Slagle’s unbiased approach is helpful in swallowing the extreme violence the last thirty minutes of the film delves into. Thankfully, he uses more of a Hitchcockian technique by showing less, and using audio to clue us into what’s happening. Overall the film is a bit sterile for the subject matter. “House of Manson” has its East Coast premiere tonight at 9:20pm at the DC Independent Film Festival.

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.

DCIFF '15: "Southeast 67" Review

“Southeast 67” is a documentary that speaks to the power of education, altruism, hard work and love. Using a mixture of archival footage and photos, and shooting presently with some of the first I Have A Dream program students, it tackles the age old question of who wins: nature or nurture? The documentary refreshingly dares to answer “life isn’t that black and white.” 

In the 1980s, Washington D.C. was known as the “Murder Capital”. Stewart Bainum, a businessman in the area, promised college scholarships to 67 rising seventh graders through the I Have A Dream program. Out of the 67 Dreamers, 72% graduated from high school and 6 went on to get degrees. Writer/director Betsy Cox catches up with some of the Dreamers and their teachers, Phyllis Rumbarger and Steve Bumbaugh, and captures a family reunion on screen amongst the group. It’s clear that the time in the program was a special moment in everyone’s life. 

Each personal story presented is diverse. No two Dreamers are the same. The entrancing part of being able to catch up with the Dreamers twenty years later, is that you can formulate an answer to whether the opportunity to get out of a drug and violence filled environment to pursue a better education was enough to put them on the path to success. For some of the Dreamers that appear in the documentary, the opportunity came at a price that we may not instantly think of. Most of them were worried more about their mother being in an abusive relationship, possibly overdosing on drugs in their absence, or where they would get money to live while being away. These haunting thoughts kept some of them paralyzed to move forward, while others were able to take full advantage of the opportunity. Yet, the outcomes twenty years later are equally positive in their own way.   

One of the most intriguing things about the documentary is seeing the generational impact of decisions. Sadly, many of the Dreamers were fighting just to make it into the middle class, but the opportunity to have hope for a different future had a lasting impact that has touched their children's lives. The film could have easily slipped into the sensationalism of one white man giving 67 underprivileged black kids a helping hand. Instead, it focuses on love, which sees no color, and permeates each frame from the inside out with undeniable results. “Southeast 67” plays at the DC Independent Film Festival on Friday, February 27th at 7:30PM

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 '15: "Blood, Sweat, and Beer" Review

It would be easy to dismiss a documentary about beer, or think that it would be best displayed in the background of a fraternity party. While “Blood, Sweat, and Beer” does make you want to grab a cold one, directors Chip Hiden and Alexis Irvin have crafted a film that’s more about the American dream, dedication to a burgeoning trade, and following your passion no matter the cost. Whether you’re a beer connoisseur or not, this documentary speaks to everyone on some level. 

The film follows two main stories. In Braddock, PA, a trio of 23 year olds start The Brew Gentlemen Beer Company against all odds. Braddock, a run down former steel town, has suffered from years of abandonment and a population decrease. The young men hope that their brewery will be a beacon of hope for the city’s revitalization. While that lofty goal sounds great, the struggle to see the brewery come together finds them working around the clock with little to no income. It’s do or die for them, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars that investors have put in the company has to be paid back.

In Ocean City, Maryland we’re introduced to Danny Robinson. Robinson is a brewer whose business struggles to get sales on the boardwalk on a regular day, but  is now in a nasty trademark lawsuit battle. The filmmakers track his story over the course of a year, from the storefront opening to his final court date. Robinson’s underdog story is perhaps the emotional core of the film as he continues to try and run his business with the mammoth suit hovering over him. Yet his resolve to keep pressing forward is what the American workforce is built on.  

Towards the end, the film struggles to stay on track. It dips into the realm of women in the craft brewing industry. While it’s a worthy topic to explore, it comes out of no where and is gone just as quickly as it appears. While it certainly doesn’t derail the film, it would have been great to learn more and have it weaved throughout the film or not touched at all.

Coming off of their debut documentary, “The Dream Share Project”, Hiden and Irvin  have managed to infuse their passion for people following their dreams with their love for craft beers in their latest  project. Ultimately,  “Blood, Sweat, and Beer” is an informative documentary about craft brewing through the lens of brewers trying to earn a living. “Blood, Sweat, and Beer” plays at the DC Independent Film Festival March 1st at 2:40PM

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.

"Keep On Keepin' On" Review

One of the most uplifting documentaries of 2014 is “Keep On Keepin On”. The film centers on the relationship between jazz legend, Clark Terry, and his blind student Justin Kauflin. It’s a story of two men with a mutual passion for jazz music, and the will to fight to keep pushing forward despite physical challenges.

Clark Terry has over seven decades of playing jazz music under his belt. Starting out playing for Count Basie and Duke Ellington orchestras, Terry went on to bring up new artists by teaching what jazz with his signature enthusiasm and passion.  Some of the household names he taught are Quincy Jones and Miles Davis. His contribution to music and jazz is incomparable.

Justin Kauflin lost his sight by the time he was in middle school. Rather than sulking, he decided to work hard at playing the piano. He eventually began to study under Terry. We find him trying to make it as a musician in New York, and on the eve of an audition for an elite international competition.

Throughout the film the beauty of human relationships and investing in someone continues to be explored. Terry and Kauflin share more than a love for music, but a serious love and respect for each other as they both keep working at their craft regardless of their “disabilities”. While they’re total opposites in age, race, and their background, that’s what makes them so special to watch. Quincy Jones visits his mentor during the film and it’s obvious that the two have a tight bond from their history as titans in their industry. Yet in their moments together they’re just two older men with a deep friendship. The most beautiful relationship is between Terry and his wife. It’s obvious that they’ve been through a lot together and even though they’re both tired (as they state in the film) their love clearly propels them forward while strengthening their bond.

Director Alan Hicks has crafted a heart-warming film by focusing on the human interests of his subjects rather than the fame surrounding them. It’s the difference between who you are versus what you do that Hicks is able to capitalize on and make the film special. “Keep On Keepin On” is an inspiration to not just be great at what you do, but love those around you and create great memories while doing it.

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.

"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" Review

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is a cinematic experience. It’s one of the films that going into knowing very little about it, makes the viewing that much better. From the opening frame you’ll be swept up in its direction. 

Michael Keaton is Riggan, once a big movie star of a franchise entitled Birdman, he is now directing and starring in an adaptation he’s written of a Raymond Carver story. He’s doing if for glory and redemption. He wants the court of public opinion to be swayed back in his favor. He wants to mend the relationship with his fresh out of rehab daughter, Sam (Emma Stone). Most of all, he wants to prove to himself that he still has what it takes. 

Throughout the film, Riggan is haunted by the voice of Birdman. His younger self continues to taunt him by telling him about how great he could, should or would be if. It’s the voice that we all have heard in our own heads at some point, but the difference is our voices don’t give us magical powers. It’s not even clear if the “powers” Riggan has are real in this cinematic world or not, but that’s part of the fun of the film.

It doesn’t help that Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), the darling of Broadway, is now slowly making himself the star of Riggan’s play by inserting his method acting into the show. As the film moves forward, Riggan fights against himself and his young co-star for the praise of Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan). With one stroke of the pen, Tabitha’s critique can launch Riggan’s play to Broadway heaven or hell.

Co-writer/director Alejandro Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki deserve more credit for the brilliance of this film. Inarritu’s vision to use single takes with invisible cuts makes the film flow seamlessly and forces the actors to deliver strong, in the moment performances.  The occasional time jump that happens so discretely your mind has to catch up makes the film even more magical. It’s engaging and exciting to watch, and that kind of filmmaking doesn’t just happen. It’s a great collaboration between the visionary and the painter who ensures the picture will support that vision.

The intensity and mundaneness of life behind the curtain on Broadway is captured with just the right amount of ebb and flow pacing. The buzz surrounding Keaton’s performance is warranted as he quarterbacks the ensemble team. Each actor brings it in the film.

Overall, the “Birdman” is a bit trippy and sometimes you don't know what's real and what's not, but it's done in such an artistically inspired way that works for the objective of the film. Which on the surface is about a one time celebrity's internal struggle and fight to make himself relevant again, but ultimately it's about our desire/need as humans to be loved and remembered.

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.

"Whiplash" Review

 

“Whiplash” is “Rocky” with band instruments! No, really! It has an underdog with a dream, bloody training montages, and the coach that’s trying to push him to greatness. It’s an utterly mesmerizing film about the lengths some people will go and subject themselves to in order to achieve perfection!  

You know that goofy smirk you make, when a character you’re rooting for does well? You’re guaranteed to make more than a few of those throughout the film. Never have you rooted for a protagonist so quickly than with freshman Andrew (Miles Teller). From the opening frame he’s in a room by himself practicing the drums, laboring away at his passion. We’ve all been in his shoes as the nervous, new kid on the block. He’s awkwardly trying to figure his way through the fictional Schaefer Conservatory. He’s doing what he loves most at the number one school in the country.

J.K. Simmons is an atmosphere changer as Fletcher, the school’s core band maestro. Fletcher commandeers respect, and has a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to his band. He brings Andrew up from “JV” to play with the big boys in the core after hearing him practicing alone. As Andrew slowly assimilates into the core, he witnesses and becomes the subject of Fletcher’s abusive push to make his band great.

The humiliation at the hands of his director drives Andrew to practice harder. As he becomes more laser locked on achieving greatness, he also destroys relationships and sometimes himself in the process. Regardless, Andrew’s arch over the course of the film is something to see as you watch the underdog rise!

This film is an excellent example of when a writer also being the director can create something truly amazing due to his or her deep understanding of the film they are making. Damien Chazelle absolutely knocked this film out of the park in pacing, tone, and direction! Simmons range throughout the film is undoubtedly incredible. He walks the line of genius and psychopath with ease as he pushes his students in dehumanizing verbal rants and the occasional hurling of instruments. Miles Teller turns in a terrific performance as a young student willing to pay the cost to be the best. It’s obvious that Teller gave all of himself to the role as he physically sweats and bleeds over his drum kit. The chemistry between the two is perfect as they have a battle of will. 

“Whiplash” is definitely one of the best films of the year! The final scene, much like a “Rocky” movie, is one of the best emotional showdowns without the use of words or fists-just music-that I’ve seen in film. It’s an all around hypnotic film that will have you playing to the beat of its drum!

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.

"Two Days, One Night" Review

If there is one foreign film you should see this year it’s “Two Days, One Night” from the Dardenne brothers. In short, one woman fights to keep her job over the course of a weekend. The film’s simple premise however, provides the groundwork for a universal human story. 

Sandra (Marion Cotillard) is a young Belgian mother who just received the news that her employer is going to terminate her position at the local factory while she is out on sick leave. In fact, after taking a vote, her co-workers elected to take a 1,000 euro bonus rather than keeping her in her position. With only two out of sixteen voting in her favor, Sandra has one weekend to convince the majority to vote for her to keep her job in a secret ballot to be held on Monday. 

As the weekend moves forward, Sandra, encouraged by her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), slowly starts to visit each one of her co-workers to humbly ask for them to vote for her to keep her job to help her provide for her family. Each person she encounters has a heart-wrenching decision to make. For most, it’s providing for their own families versus supporting her to keep her job. 

Cotillard is definitely one of the great actresses of our time. There is something magnificent about her performance in portraying the everyday blue collar worker with such grace and honesty. She absolutely vanishes into the role in a film directed by brothers who usually cast unknowns. 

The Dardenne brothers’ direction in the film is present throughout. Their use of long takes in which the camera doesn’t cut away from the action, but lingers on long enough to make things feel awkward, captures the beauty of Sandra’s journey. The moments when she lets down her confident mask after putting her heart in her hand and offering it to her co-workers only to be rejected, or sheds tears of joy when a co-worker gives her their backing. Their understanding of the subject and use of the medium to tell the story is powerful.

The film is a suspenseful journey into one woman fighting for the ability to earn a living. It’s a reminder to be grateful for those of us who are employed. Most importantly, it’s a lesson in how to keep your head up and never lose yourself in spite of the circumstances.

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.

"Dior and I": Middleburg Film Festival Review

Director Frederic Tcheng explores a world that most of us have no idea about outside of the label or knock off we wear in “Dior and I”. It’s a film full of moments that are superficial at best. It’s also a beautiful look at what harnessing our passion, talent, and drive can create in our lives and the lives of those around us.

The film documents the struggle of Raf Simons as he becomes the newest Creative Director at House of Dior. It leads up to his first collection showcase that he only has eight weeks to pull off. (Usually the process is allotted four to five months.) Simons is extremely nervous about the process, as anyone would be, and imposes his high expectations on the people working under him.

While Simons is a ball of nervous energy on screen, the heart of the film is the ateliers and workers who tirelessly grind day and night to create the signature collections that so many people love. Dior has a low turnover rate, with many of it’s employees having been their for over twenty years. We’re introduced to many of the key members of the staff. The family environment that Dior himself created is seen and felt throughout the film and most of that is evident in this segment of the film. Yet as parallel stories begin to weave together and become one, we see the common thread of Christian Dior. His impact and vision both haunts and motivates everyone long after his death. 

In the days and hours leading up to the collection showcase, the pressure intensifies for Simons and the Dior employees. It’s in this moment that Simons breaks down and we see the human behind the mask. In fact, even during the showcase he bawls uncontrollably, and it’s beautiful! It’s a moment that anyone can relate to. The moment when you’ve put your all in to something and it comes together exquisitely; it’s an amazing feeling no matter who you are or what position you hold.

“Dior and I” is a documentary that allows a glimpse into the world of high fashion. In the wrong hands it would be a reality TV show that us regular folk point fingers and laugh at! Instead, it fights to push past the glitz and glamour to tell a universal tale of creativity at its best! 

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.

"Red Army": Middleburg Film Festival '14 Review

I’m not a sports fan, I’m a movie fanatic. The closest I’ve been to seeing a full game of hockey is “The Mighty Ducks” 1-3. So going in to see “Red Army” at the Middleburg Film Festival I was expecting to be bored by an archival documentary about a specific team in hockey’s past. Instead I was blown away by a fast paced, exciting film. “Red Army” is the perfect blend of sports drama, history lesson, and compelling cinematic storytelling!

The film focuses on the former Soviet Union’s Red Army hockey team. Director Gabriel Polsky brilliantly uses playful humor with the pre-baked dramatic themes of the Cold War, democracy vs. communism, and sports competition.  The star of the film is Viacheslav Fetisov, the former captain of the Soviet national team, and he delivers first-hand commentary as we weave through time up to present day. Whether talking about the Red Army’s extreme work ethic and discipline, the thrill of winning Olympic Gold, or pain of failed and lost relationships, Fetisov is the heart and spine of the film. We also hear from other star players of the team, retired KGB officers, sports journalists, and government officials which gives the film a dual feel of a behind the scenes look at the hockey team and communism simultaneously.

Polsky shows his mastery of the medium using all the tools at his fingertips in a symbiotic effort to push the story forward. Lower thirds translate from Russian to English, the titles and awards of Fetisov quickly fill up every inch of the frame around him showing just how talented he was, Russian tunes compliment the visually silly but amazing work out routines of child hockey soldiers! He dollies the camera in to cap off an interview at times throughout the film, making the interviewee and viewer on edge, but many times evoking a priceless reaction from the on camera talent.   

“Red Army” ultimately gives us a glimpse at how much can change in one lifetime. Whether it’s the change of thinking/regime from the USSR to Russia’s current state, Fetisov’s personal life from “child soldier” to holding the position of Minister of Sport in Russia for a time, or the sport of hockey itself, the film speaks to our ability as humans to learn, grow and change. Whether you're a sports fan or not, it’s a must see documentary!

Rating: A

Check out the live Q&A after the film:

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.

"Fort Bliss": The Other Side of War

“Fort Bliss” has all the makings of a Lifetime Original Movie in theme. A decorated U.S. Army medic and single mother returns home after touring in Afghanistan to face a troubled relationship with her five year old son. The film however, is far from a Lifetime movie! It’s a character study that civilians probably have never thought about, and the military community knows all too well.

If “The Hurtlocker” spends 90% of it’s time in the war and 10% at home, “Fort Bliss” is just the opposite. In fact, you could say that it picks up where it left off. Maggie Swann (Michelle Monaghan) has been through it. We first meet her on the battlefield where the tough-as-nails medic saves a soldier who has a live explosive device lodged in his stomach. She’s a hero to the core, can hang with the boys, but wouldn’t take credit for anything but doing her job. Upon arriving home in the states she’s greeted by...no one. Her ex-husband Richard (Ron Livingston) meets her outside of the welcome facility to explain that her son doesn’t want to see her after her extended tour has left him with few memories of her.

This is where the real fight of the movie takes place. Swann desires to reconnect with her son Paul (Oakes Fegley) and goes to pick him up to take him home with her, but it’s an uphill battle. He’s been under the tender wing of Richard’s girlfriend Alma (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and doesn’t want to leave. Monaghan does fantastic work in this film, as from the beginning you can read so many thoughts on her face without her saying a word. You can tell she’s decompressing and trying to turn off the battle she just left in Afghanistan, while at the same time trying to fight for the love and connection with her son that they once shared. How do you get there? On the battlefield orders are made and actions take place, but when it pertains to someone’s heart...things aren’t so simple. Every decision Swann makes stems from the tug of war between her professional and personal emotions and ideals.

Written and directed by Claudia Myers, the film is a labor of love as Myers poured years of research into it. The balance of character driven drama and action on the battlefield is exciting to watch. It’s Monaghan’s performance that grounds the film in a real, tough, and universal struggle that anyone can relate too. The film opens today in select theaters and everywhere on Video On Demand. Check it out if you want to see a war movie that sheds light on the side of war we tend to forget, but should have a healthy respect and appreciation for!

Rating: B+

 

Check out my interviews with some of the stars of the film at the GI Film Fest earlier this summer!

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.

"Hellion" Review

A family dealing with the aftermath of their matriarch’s death, slowly unravels at the seams. It’s an all too familiar  theme, and “Hellion” is one of those indie flicks that doesn’t get good until the last twenty minutes. Unfortunately, most viewers probably won’t last long enough to see it.

Writer/director Kat Candler’s short turned feature film stars Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”) as Hollis Wilson, a father in mourning. He spends his time at work, with his friends, or in a bottle of booze while his two sons fend for themselves. With the physical absence of their mother, and emotional absence of their father, the boys do what most boys do with no supervision...get into trouble. 

Newcomers Josh Wiggins and Deke Garner deliver solid performances as Jacob and Wes Wilson respectively. Wes looks up to his older brother Jacob and is willing to follow him anywhere, even when it leads to police visits and the state separating them. After a couple run ins with the law, Wes is forced to live with his aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis). It’s only then that Hollis and Jacob start to fight for Wes and maybe some semblance of structure in their lives. 

In an indie drama like this, it’s essential for you to be invested in its’ characters. Unfortunately, it takes too long to get that buy in. The story itself doesn’t seem to move forward for most of the movie. It circles on a merry-go-round of similar sequences over and over until it finally let’s go and propels forward in the last twenty minutes. The actors worked with the material they had, but I think this is a case of a short film that probably should have stayed that way.

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.

"Dom Hemingway" Review

The opening monologue sets up the rest of “Dom Hemingway”. We hear a prison door open while visually we see red, and then we watch in a mid-shot as a naked Dom (Jude Law) gives a three minute monologue about his private part. It’s a scene that writer/director Richard Shepard won’t let you turn away from. It’s something that shows the insecurity, vulnerability, anger, poetic wordsmithing and self-taught swagger that is stored up inside Dom. It sets the rules for a stylistic character study of Dom Hemingway, a flawed safe-cracker who despite his bravado is just a man who wants to be loved.

After finishing a 12-year sentence in prison, Dom is let back out into the real world. While serving his time for an untold crime for boss Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir), Dom didn’t name names or talk with authorities. For that, his best friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant) has been sent to pick him up, show Dom a good time, and bring him to Mr. Fontaine. Before he arrives in the French countryside, we see how volatile Dom is as he finds the man who dated his wife while he was in prison and rearranges his face. It’s this “rules don’t apply to me” attitude that makes Dom such a colorful anti-hero scumbag.

Wherever he goes, calamity seems to ensue as his mouth tends to get him in trouble. He has an explosive outburst with Mr. Fontaine that, while speaking the absolute truth about how 12 years has been taken away from him, he crosses the line and asks for Mr. Fontaine’s girl Paolina (Madalina Diana Ghenea) as a gift. He later asks for forgiveness and is given an enormous amount of money instead. As Dom parties with Mr. Fontaine and Dickie, he crashes the car he’s driving drunk and coked up. The accident allows Dom to show us his soft side as he rescues Melody (Kerry Condon) but gives Paolina the opportunity to steal and getaway with his cash.

With no money, and a busted up body, Dom turns to the one person he can think to go to; his daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke) wants nothing to do with her father. Yet even through the twelve years of pain, Evelyn is still kind enough to help her father get back to where “he can pee on two legs” before kicking him out. The rest of the movie is about Dom trying to get back on his feet and back into Evelyn’s life.

“Dom Hemingway” is one of the most memorable movies to come out so far this year. Jude Law’s performance is trans-formative as a train wreck of an anti-hero. While the film isn’t totally fluid in its’ story, Dom takes you to the finish line as only he can!

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.

LUV

luv poster.jpg

If you haven’t seen “LUV”, it’s a great indie pick for your Netflix instant queue (as of this review).  It’s a unique look at masculinity, the absence of fathers and positive role models in the black community. In other ways it’s a “Training Day” meets “Boyz in the Hood” type of film. Although some parts of the film seem far fetched, this is a ride along that you can’t take your eyes off of.

luv-banner.jpg

The film stars rapper/actor Common as Vincent. Having recently left prison, Vincent has big dreams of making a life for himself as an owner of a crab shack on Baltimore’s waterfront. Living with his mother for the moment, the day begins with Vincent takes his nephew Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.) to school. As some men do, Vincent asks Woody how he’s doing with the ladies at school. Woody replies as most 11 year olds trying to impress their uncle would, with a lie. When Woody hesitates to talk to the prettiest girl in front of the school after being pressured by his uncle, Vincent decides to take Woody on a day long lesson in the “real world”.

From there, the film plays like a film school master thesis...the refreshing “this kid is on to something kind”. Their first stop is at a tailor, where Vincent helps Woody to dress the part. Then it’s off to the market where Vincent meets with Cofield (Charles S. Dutton) to get a stolen identity and paperwork in order to apply for a loan for his crab shack at the bank. It’s this weaving in and out of loving moments and then into the crime world that makes the film interesting. The entire time young Woody sits close by watching, listening, and being influenced. His innocence being taken away slowly, meeting by meeting.

I hate when exposition is handed to you on a silver platter. That doesn't happen in this film even though it could. Instead, this film makes Woody our “eyes in” character. He asks the questions we want to know in a natural flow throughout the day. How did Vincent get out of jail early? Every grown up he deals with seems to be worried about that answer but we’re not sure why. Where’s Woody’s mother? Woody obviously misses her and pines for her return. This helps to create and extend the suspense throughout the film.  

1LUV_filmstill1_Common_Michael_Rainey_Jr_by_Bill_Gray1.jpg

As the day moves forward, Woody is exposed to Uncle Vincent’s world of deceit and criminal history. Every journey to a new location builds on the last. Woody learns by seeing and doing with his uncle. The “skills” that Vincent equips Woody with early in the day come into use later on as well. The truth is, Vincent is a morally confused ex-con whose outer dashing appearance cloak his darker thoughts. Showing Woody how to dress and drive his car in one scene, and then how to shoot a gun in the next. Yet, this is so believable because it happens all the time in portions of all communities. Kids have ideals of what manhood means impressed upon them by those around them that may not have a total grasp on it themselves. 

The film is a who’s who of black actors with Common, Dennis Haysbert (Fish), Charles S. Dutton, Danny Glover (Arthur), Meagan Good (Beverly), Russell Hornsby (Det. Pratt), and the list goes on and on. Being able to swing to either extreme of the pendulum of morality throughout the film, Common shows real growth in his performance as an actor.  Michael Rainey Jr. gives a decent performance as a young boy in need and looking for love. 

Common-Stars-In-the-Movie-LUV-3.jpg

There are a few scenes in the film that call for you suspension of disbelief, but writer/director Sheldon Candis helps us to move through it with the help of Cinematographer Gavin Kelly’s visual handy work, and Composer Nuno Malo’s brooding scores. Candis is definitely a young director to watch. He has delivered a solid film, that refreshingly makes social and demographic statements without hitting you over the head. By taking familiar stereotypes but not giving an uplifting lesson, the film allows its viewer to have their own takeaways. 

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.