Movie Review: The Curious Case of "Proud Mary"


Proud Mary is a sequel to a movie we never saw. It expects us to have a certain level of knowledge about its’ characters that could only be known by having met them before. Writers John Stuart Newman, Christian Swegal, and Steve Antin expect us to care and buy into their script in a way that they don’t earn nor attempt to construct. Yet since we’ve never seen the prequel to this film, we’re left with the work of three clearly inexperienced writers (check their imdb creds) whose rushed script was passed through the Screen Gems studio hierarchy and green-lit without a thorough analyzation of the work. A vehicle for female protagonists like this doesn’t come along very often, especially for African American women. We deserved better than a hooptie.


Taraji P. Henson is Mary, a hit woman working for an organized crime family in Boston led by Benny (Danny Glover) and his eagerly “waiting in the wings for the throne” son Tom (Billy Brown). After sparing a kid named Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) from a hit she clearly should have done more research on, we find her keeping tabs on the boy one year later out of the immense guilt of leaving him orphaned. Poor Danny is now a runner for Uncle (Xander Berkeley). He’s physically and verbally abused by Uncle and struggling to find food. So Mary takes Danny in but is sure to omit the small detail of killing his father. 

Out of her love for Danny, Mary decides to defend him by confronting Uncle. When this results in Uncle’s death, the white crime family (last names aren’t given) wants blood and the black crime family has to serve someone to them in order not to start a war. If I stopped here and said that Mary serves up someone in her stead to covers her tracks and has to keep the lie going, this would be the premise for a good violence begets violence and covering a lie with a lie never ends well type of film. Instead, we get the one last kill to get out of the game completely storyline, which mushrooms into a kill everyone to get out story. In fact, the entire film feels like a convergence of different crime tale stereotypes we’ve seen before to get to the closing credits. It even boasts of dialogue like “Wake up! He was never gonna let you out!” or “if it weren’t for this family you’d still be a guttersnipe”. 


The chemistry in the relationships within the film is lacking or forced. The driving relationship between Mary and Danny has sparks of realness mixed with moments of on-screen mothering that would make Madea proud. There’s a strong theme of the one time romance between Mary and Tom, but even those scenes that bring up their past love are cringeworthy. Everywhere you turn, there’s no escaping the underwritten and underdeveloped characters that have to hit certain beats to make this film a 90-minute feature.

Director Babak Najafi understands how to structure an action sequence. Don’t let this film fool you. He’s done it on the larger $60,000,000 London Has Fallen. Yet, in this film, he can’t quite figure out how to set up his shots in such a way that we can have a frame of reference for our space and location within the action scenes. Cliched shots of Mary with a gun in both hands firing every direction in a stairwell, sliding on her knees and shooting down human targets, or firing out of the window of a bullet-ridden car are all there! We’re just missing the proper orientation of how it all visually works together.


Outside of the terrible screenplay, direction, and editing, the film was executive produced by Henson herself. I’ve seen her elevate a screenplay with her talent alone in a film like From The Rough, but here it’s not enough. Which leads me to point at the elephant in the room. Are black female action leads so uncommon in Hollywood that a film like Proud Mary can get green-lit with hacks for writers, a director who is asleep at the wheel and an attached Academy Award Nominated African-American star in the producer chair who closes her eyes to the flaws in order to get the film made? What am I missing? Female action stars are rare, and black female action stars are unicorns. So why wasn’t more care taken in making this film? Why not create an iconic character that we’ll want to see again? I can only come up with desperation to fill a gap and see a character like this on the big screen. 

If numbers don’t lie, then the fact that Proud Mary has virtually made it’s budget of $14,000,000 back in under two weeks since its release and the fact that it was narrowly beaten out by The Commuter (which had double its budget and Liam “particular set of box office skills” Neeson starring in it) in its’ opening weekend says a lot. To me, it says that there is a market out there for this type of film with people ready to support it. The film didn’t get a huge marketing push like last year’s Atomic Blonde or the upcoming Tomb Raider. So the duckets were earned on this one. Yet, it goes back to the age-old debate and double-edged sword of backing a film like Proud Mary with your dollars. Do you do it to tell the industry we want to see action films like this with a black female lead or withhold your hard earned cash to say we demand better?

I backed the film with my money even though I was hearing bad things on social media channels because I want to see minority women as action stars on the big screen. I sat through the film on the edge of my seat, not because of the white-knuckle action, but because I couldn’t wait to get out of there. But I showed up and gave the film a fair shot. What you do is up to you, but our daughters, wives, and mothers deserve to see more representation of themselves on the big screen as action stars that are better than this! Perhaps it will take a Patty Jenkins-esque scenario in which the powers that be empower a female director who actually cares about the story to take the reins. Maybe Taraji should handle the screenplay, producing and direction next time. Maybe. Whatever it is, Proud Mary is the poster child of what not to do in the future and it saddens me to say that! 

Rating: F


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.

"12 Strong" Review


12 Strong is the same song and dance that we’ve seen before with a war film. Directed by first-time director Nicolai Fuglsig, this is also the first war film that producer Jerry Bruckheimer has been involved with since 2001’s Black Hawk Down. Riding the wave as such films like 2013’s Lone Survivor and 2016’s 13 Hours (Iraqi war films that came out in January or expanded wide), 12 Strong is cliché to the capital C and plays it relatively safe. In short, it’s a formulaic film that hits on the same points previous war films go through.

Based on the true story, the film is about Task Force Dagger, a group of twelve American soldiers led by Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) who are sent into Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. Once they get into the area, they form an uneasy alliance with General Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) of the Northern Alliance, and together, they take on the Taliban forces and do their best to defeat them, and as one of the soldiers states, they would be the first twelve Americans to fight back.

On the plus side, the actors do all they can with the material on hand, with the standouts being Michael Shannon and Michael Pena. They are all likeable enough, and there’s more humor in this than what I expected when I saw the trailers. It’s nice to see Hemsworth and his wife Elsa Patsky act together, even though they’re playing a married couple. Some of the scenes work as well, particularly those that involved Hemsworth and Negahban. The pacing of the film, for the most part, was fine. Finally, there were a handful of cool images that Fuglsig and his DP Rasmus Videbæk come up with, whether it’s a horse running alone through a battlefield, or the landscapes of New Mexico doubling for Afghanistan. 

As for why this falters, the screenplay that’s credited to Ted Tally (The Silence of the Lambs) and Peter Craig (The Town) does it no favors. For a war film, they hit on the same beats that we see time and time again with these films. With war films, you’re supposed to feel sympathy or relate too the characters that we see on screen. In this film, I didn’t feel for any of the characters as the runtime progressed, and the film is bland enough that I didn’t even know what the characters name were, thus resorting to the actors that were up on the screen. Also, there’s no character development at all in this film, and some characters are underdeveloped. We hear it, but we don’t see it. And Tally and Craig write some cliché dialogue through the course of the film. The cinematography was nothing special, opting to go for the same grittiness that we’ve seen before with war films. As for the action scenes themselves, while they were decently edited for the most part, too many times there were quick cuts to know what’s transpiring on screen, thus making it hard to make sense of the geography of the land. The villain of the film was one-dimensional and they could have trimmed some scenes out and the film would still played the same way.

Overall, while 12 Strong is technically competent, but it’s ultimately a forgettable film. With the subject matter of the story, this could have been an interesting film. Sadly, it just plays it safe. When I came out of the screening, all I had was a shrug. It’s not a bad film per se, but it’s an unmemorable one. You don’t need to rush out and see this opening weekend. This is a film that you could have playing on the background when it makes its eventual debut on TNT. By year’s end, you will probably forget that this film came out this year, if not sooner.

Rating: C

"The Post" Review: Truth is Timeless


What happens when you get one of the greatest directors of our time to work with two of the greatest actors of our time? Well, it may not be the best journalism thriller of our time, but the answer is The Post. It’s still a good time at the movies and a movie that speaks to our time!

Not long into the running time will you be able to draw the parallels between the need for the freedom of the press now and the same need during 1971 in which the movie is set. The film covers the Washington Posts’ fight to print the Pentagon Papers, documents containing highly classified information about the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Meryl Streep is Katharine (Kay) Graham, the owner of the Post. She has to walk a thin line of being a woman in power, pleasing her board of directors in seeing papers sell, and trying to stay true to the paper’s journalistic integrity. Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is the editor of the Washington Post. He’s old school and doesn’t care about the politics behind the scenes that Graham has to deal with. 

When the New York Times gets the scoop on the Pentagon Papers, Bradlee is on a mission to get the story. An opening arises when Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) chases down sources to get his hands on the Papers and the Times comes under fire from the government. The crux of the conflict in the film comes down to whether the Post should publish the truth by printing the classified documents and risk being destroyed. It’s the moral conflict that director Steven Spielberg is able to explore with his camera and cast of amazingly talented actors that makes this film so intriguing.


Both Graham and Bradlee come to see that the frequent social activities they’ve shared with government officials they call their friends has put them in a tough spot. Publishing the papers can bring sons of the United States home from a war that they’ve been losing for years, but it may put their friends in legal trouble. It’s the personal connection that we all have had to deal with in our lives that can create a moral dilemma out of something that should be simple. Of course, the right thing to do is to burn the establishment down and print the Papers, but it’s difficult when you know the faces of those who will be affected. 

Spielberg uses plenty of one takes to draw us into the tension. He gives a master class in how to keep the camera rolling through a long scene without cutting away, but instead allowing the camera to focus on what’s important. He moves out of a closeup with one character, into a two-shot with another, and then to a wide with effortless ease. It’s also evident that Spielberg respects the process and importance of the printing press in the era. He takes moments to show letters being arranged for printing, and groups of people running to the paper to consume information that we take for granted receiving these days in an instant on our cell phones. 

There’s no doubt that there is a beautiful dance between the camera and the actors’ performances. With lines being delivered by Hanks, Streep, Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Jesse Plemmons, (an underused but serving the storyline of woman’s roles in the 70‘s household) Sarah Paulson and more, the combination makes for an entertaining film.

While The Post may not stand with titans like All The President’s Men and Spotlight in regard to incredible journalism thrillers, it’s not too far behind. The public should know the truth about the government who is supposed to serve them, but The Post explores the grey area that makes it hard to be done at times. Nonetheless, it shows that the right side of history is always the one that tells the truth. 

Rating: B+


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.

"Bright" Review: The Rumors Are True


By this time, you’ve unwrapped your gifts, dealt with a little family love and drama, and might be getting in a little work before the New Year break. So why not escape from reality for a couple hours with director David Ayer’s Bright? Let’s just say that’s not a bright idea. Yeah, because the film is about as corny as that last pun.

Will Smith is Daryl Ward, a veteran cop who is getting back out on the street with his orc partner, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), after being shot by a criminal. It’s bad enough that orcs are considered scum in this world of humans, elves, and fairies, but diversity hire Jakoby is a part of the reason Ward was shot. So Jakoby is hated by virtually everyone in his life and his own kind. When a routine response uncovers a magic wand at the residence, the two partners are the most sought after cops in...can we call it Middle-earth for kicks? Everyone wants the wand because whoever wields it can be granted whatever they wish for. The problem is, only a Bright can hold it and live. 

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Thus, a survive the night film of sorts kicks off. Not the kind that Ayers is good for, but the kind of buddy-cop drama that just doesn’t work, reminiscent of the films that came out post Lethal Weapon. While the world building in the film is decent, you constantly feel like something isn’t quite right. You’re waiting for a punch line that’s never revealed. Maybe that’s the problem; the film takes itself seriously. With elves that do acrobatic martial arts moves and don’t miss when it comes to taking a shot, in the midst of a barrage of bullets that miss, it’s hard to believe. It’s also hard to believe there’s no racist themes underlying the film. With the orcs as baggy clothe wearing gangsters living in the slums, the elite elves wearing the latest high-fashion clothes and living in a gentrified area, and humans fitting somewhere in between, the “races” lean into stereotypes. It’s certainly not the District 9 environment it strives to be.

When news hit that superstar Will Smith would be starring in a Netflix film, a sense of excitement hit blogs and media outlets. Seeing Smith in Bright is the equivalent of the time that you beat your dad in a race for the third time. You knew he hadn’t been winning for a while, and you thought maybe it was a fluke. This film cements Will’s range and the fact that his delivery is still stuck in the Bad Boys 2 era. Edgerton is wasted, but it’s probably a good thing that you can’t recognize him in all his orc make-up. Genius decision! Noomi Rapace adds a small spark of excitement as Leilah, the big baddy hunting down her wand.


At the end of the day, in order to bake a good cake, you take different ingredients and bring them together. Generally, they’re brought together with one or two key ingredients that can gel them all and poof! Deliciousness! Bright has all the right ingredients, but it’s lacking the jell to bring them together. Ayer is known for his signature style in the cop genre. He wrote Training Day! He wrote/directed End of Watch (a film I enjoyed)! He has skills. Ayer teamed with his longtime cinematographer, Roman Vasyanov, so the film’s look is definitely there. The cast on paper is a solid ensemble. Taking Ayer’s style and infusing it into a fantasy world could work had Max Landis’ script not been so disjointed.

There’s a reason Bright is getting a lot of buzz for being bad. It’s bad! Yet, the word of mouth that has drawn in 11 million viewers in the first three days maybe the kind of thing that years from now makes it a cult classic. Perhaps that’s why you checked out this review. Perhaps that’s while you’ll check it out yourself. Just don’t say you weren’t warned.

Rating: D


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.

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri" Review

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a white knuckle of a film. The newest film from writer/director Martin McDonagh, who previously helmed 2008’s In Bruges and 2012’s Seven Psychopaths (both of which I enjoyed a lot). He’s back with a timely film. With the subject matters at hand with the film, it could have gone one or two ways: either skim the surface or be overly exploited, but with McDonagh at the helm, he turns the film into something even more. In short, this is one of the very best films that I have seen in the theaters this year! 

Mildred Hayes (Francis McDormand) has had enough. It’s been close to a year since her daughter, Angela, was murdered. No arrests have been made or any suspects questioned, and it has become a cold case. To take matters into her own hands, she decides to rent three billboards outside of the town, but close to her home, to call out Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) for lack of progress. With this, Mildred hopes that it will put pressure on the police to finally solve the case. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what the film explores.

Three Billboards is a hot button film that presses on a lot of issues, especially in today’s climate. Some of the issues include racism, police brutality, and sexual assault. McDonagh touches on these subjects greatly and doesn’t hold back about his views on these, yet he never hits you over the head with what’s he’s trying to say. Similar with In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, the writing is brilliant and darkly funny at times. McDonagh knows how to balance the comedy with the drama that thankfully, the comedy doesn’t overshadow what’s transpiring on screen. It’s funny when it needs to be funny. McDonagh also does a great job in rounding out the characters in that they all feel three-dimensional and each has their own personality. By the end of their introductions, you know exactly who the characters are and how they act around people. In fact, it’s easy to identify with the characters and believe in the actions they take throughout the course of the 115-minute runtime. Behind everyone’s façade, McDonagh shows us the pain that they face, whether they face their demons externally or internally. 

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Acting wise, everyone shines in this. McDormand gives a fearless performance as Mildred, who’s just trying to find the answers to her daughter’s murder. She’s headstrong and sometimes a bull in the china shop. This might be the best role that she has had in a long time! In particular, a scene that involves her and the local priest that may just be one of the best-written scenes in a film this year. Harrelson (reuniting with McDonagh after Seven Psychopaths) puts in good work as Sheriff Willoughby. At first, you don’t know how to feel about him, but you quickly will. By far, the best performance from the film belongs to Sam Rockwell (also returning from Seven Psychopaths) as Officer Jason Dixon. It’s a powerhouse performance that Rockwell gives as a character who’s vile, despicable, insensitive yet sympathetic towards the end of the film. Rockwell’s the MVP of the film, and this is the type of role that could finally be his breakthrough performance. Don’t be surprised if he gets some awards love this season.

If there are any drawbacks that I had with Three Billboards, some of the characters could have been left out of the film or fleshed out a little bit more. In particular, while I’m a fan of Peter Dinklage, the subplot between Mildred and his character goes nowhere, and he’s basically not in the film enough to leave an impression. Likewise, there are scenes that run in circles and should have been condensed or left out entirely for a much tighter film. Because of these scenes, the pacing feels a little off at times.


Overall, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a film for the here and now. This is a film that I enjoyed way better then what I was hoping for going into the screening. It’s a film that will stay with you long after you watch it. I hope that this film will spark discussions about what people saw on screen, including the ending that will surely be up for debate for years to come. With this film, McDonagh makes us confront what’s going on today in America. It’s angry and raw at times, but pushes for people to be held accountable for their actions. All we need to do sometimes is talk to the other side or see the world from a different perspective. This might just be McDonagh’s best film yet as a filmmaker. It’s one of the best films of the year, and a treasure. You should absolutely see this in the theater ASAP.

Rating: A

"Thor: Ragnarok" Review

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Thor: Ragnarok is a very fun film, and sometimes extremely funny. The third film in the Thor series, and the seventeenth film overall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this latest installment comes from filmmaker Taika Waititi, who after directing indie hits such as What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (which was one of my favorite films last year), makes his big budget debut. Fully embracing the comedy aspect that the first two Thor films explored, you’re in for a fun time in the theaters. While the story itself is a little lacking, Thor: Ragnarok makes up for it with some huge laughs from start to finish. Truth be told, this might just be my favorite of the Thor films.

The basic plot of the film follows Thor (Chris Hemsworth) who after an encounter with Hela (Cate Blanchett) finds himself on the planet of Sakaar and gets taken prisoner by The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Forced to battle his old friend Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in a gladiatorial arena, Thor must find a way to get back to Asgard to battle Hela and prevent Ragnarok from occurring on Asgard with some assistance from old and new allies.

Right off the bat, this is a much better film then his last solo film, 2013’s Thor: The Dark World.  The humor from Waititi’s films translates well to this film. If you’re a fan of the type of humor his films provide, you’ll have enjoyment with this. The jokes come fast and furious, and there were times that I was laughing so hard that I missed the next joke. Essentially, this is a buddy comedy film with good comedic timing throughout and a lot of improv. There are some fun callbacks to other MCU films. For 95% of the film, it finally did what I was hoping a Thor film would be: a story that’s set in the cosmos and not on Earth. The production design from Dan Hennah and Ra Vincent is on point. The colors are vibrant and the design really stands out, especially on Sakaar. I could watch a movie set on that planet or get lost in that for hours. This film would make Jack Kirby proud, since it seemed like they looked at his artwork for inspiration.


The acting across the board is good. Blanchett appears to have a ball as Hela. Tessa Thompson (a new face to the  group) is solid as Valkyrie, and she holds her own in every scene she’s in. Hemsworth, as always, embodies the role. This film features my favorite portrayal of Banner yet in the MCU, and the CGI when he’s The Hulk is probably the best looking so far. The way that Ruffalo plays him is brilliant. Since you can’t have a Thor film without Loki (Tom Hiddleston), I thought what they did with their storyline was good and how they basically have to come to terms with one another. There are funny cameos throughout, especially with the one and only Stan Lee! When the film was set on Sakaar, I dug the 80s synth score that composer Mark Mothersbaugh provides. The use of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” was great. Instead of getting bogged down with exposition, screenwriters Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher L. Yost basically give you the bare minimum without overly complicating it. Finally, for a 130-minute film, the pacing was good.


If there are any drawbacks I had with the film, the story isn’t particularly deep and somewhat skims the surface. Some of the characters aren’t developed well, and maintain their one note status in the choir, like Karl Urban’s Skurge. There is a little too much CGI in certain scenes, and noticeable in others. If you’re coming in looking for explanation to what happened to certain characters, you either won’t find it, or it’s said in passing dialogue. I saw this in 3D, but the 3D aspect didn’t do much for me and nothing really stood out.

Overall, Thor: Ragnarok is a fun comedy adventure film. It’s the most fun of the series. It felt like I was watching a comic come to life. For his first big budget film, Taika Waititi succeeded. This is yet another winner from Marvel Studios, which did their own version of a 80s buddy comedy sci-fi film. If you’re looking to spend some time in the theaters and laugh your head off, you can’t go wrong with this. As always, be sure to stay until the end of the credits. Go see it!

Rating: B+

"Happy Death Day" Review: A Unique Twist on the Genre


It’s a theme we’ve seen before. The protagonist has to repeat the same day over and over, except this time her murder is what hits the reset button. Happy Death Day is a refreshing take on the repetitive day genre, whose charm resides fully in the capable hands of its lead character, Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe).

We first meet Tree waking up in the bed of stranger Carter Davis (Israel Broussard). She came home with Carter after drinking too much, and while attractive on the outside, her insides are pretty snobby and shallow. As we patiently munch popcorn through the obligatory set up of her day, we realize just how shallow she and some of her sorority sisters are. Patience is key in the first act of the film, because we know she’ll live, die, repeat, but the payoff is what happens next.


Once the rules are established and Tree is up for the challenge of figuring out who her killer is, here lies where the film succeeds. Screenwriter, Scott Lobdell, allows Tree’s character growth to mature in a way that makes the film enjoyable while building on the overall story. Each day brings another clue that we didn’t know before, as well as the opportunity for the shell around Tree’s heart to slowly give way to a person that we can really root for. She’s funny, not as shallow as he appears at first, and she becomes more kind and grateful for those around her. Did I mention that she embraces each day with a comical, nonchalant sarcasm that is as charming as laugh out loud funny?


Some praise has to be given to Jessica Rothe, who we spend every scene with. Her acting choices with Tree are subtle, natural, and likely to make her a new, popular face in Hollywood (while she has been in other films). With a film like this, the protagonist makes or breaks the film, and she makes it work!

While the solution to the mystery is laughable, there are some twists along the way to make up for it. Overall, Happy Death Day takes us on an entertaining ride and manages to side-step foibles that could drag it down. Surprisingly, this would be a good date movie with your boo and likely fun in a full theater. While I saw it with one other person at a mid-day showing, if it doesn’t do well in theaters, it’s certainly a must see on Netflix or Red Box! It’s a worthy entry into the genre that should get more love than I fear it may receive.

Rating: B


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.

"Professor Marston and the Wonder Women" Review


Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is not a bad film. Coming off the heels of the wildly successful comic book adaptation from this summer, writer/director Angela Robinson shines the light on the backstory for how the classic character came to be. Even though they’re completely separate films, this reminded me of a similar situation in 2006. After Superman Returns was released that summer, the film Hollywoodland, which centered on the death of Superman actor George Reeves, came out that following fall. While there are parts that I liked as I watched this, Professor Marston falls into some of the same trappings that you would normally see in a traditional biopic.

Luke Evans and Rebecca Hall play Professor William Marston and Elizabeth Marston, a husband and wife team who work together. Since Professor Marston teaches psychology, he takes notice of a college student Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) and tells Elizabeth he wants to study her. Olive eventually becomes Professor Marston’s assistant. Professor Marston is also trying to prove the DISC Theory that he’s been researching that focuses on dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance. The three of them form a bond, and after realizing they all have feelings for each other, Olive becomes their mistress and moves in with them, with both Elizabeth and Olive having William’s children. From the DISC Theory, to how the three co-habited with one another, to finally how William sees the best in both Elizabeth and Olive, this paves the way for his biggest breakthrough yet: Wonder Woman.


The acting across the board, especially from Evans, Hall, and Heathcote, was generally good. No one here gave a bad performance or stood out like a sore thumb. This is another solid performance from Evans after his scene-stealing turn in the Beauty and the Beast remake, and Heathcote makes more of an impression here then she did earlier this year in Fifty Shades Darker. Relationship dynamics are a key theme here. The dynamic between Evans and Hall is great, and the film re-emphasizes Elizabeth is more dominant and controlling than William. Once Olive enters the scene, she quickly asserts herself as the more innocent of the group. The way that they play off from one another is extremely effective. The visual look that Robinson and her DP, Bryce Fortner, is distinctive. In particular, during happier times, it’s more colorful and when it’s not, it’s bluer. The best-looking shot of the film probably has to be when we see Olive in what looks like the inspiration for the Wonder Woman outfit. 

The film is certainly funnier then what I was expecting, and there’s some playful energy that the film exhibits as well. The best part of the film is when the advisory board is asking William questions about Wonder Woman. Everything they ask about from the pages, we see is based on some part of their life, like a mirror image of sorts. In addition, during a montage sequence, the juxtaposition of the pages of the comics to the inspirations they were from is great. 


Since this is a biopic about their life, it follows the same old song and dance that previous biopics hold. If you know the formula, you know what’s coming. Like other biopics, there’s a feeling that at times, they condense parts of their life to make it a more mainstream narrative. The music by Tom Howe tended to be overly dramatic at times. Even though Evans is good in the film, his American accent is off-putting and distracting at times. As for the creation of Wonder Woman herself, while the film is framed around William’s meeting with the advisory board, they don’t start to explore why he created it until the end of the second act/beginning of the third act. Lastly, and this might be a pet peeve, even though the timeline is spread throughout a couple decades, none of the actors seem to age. 

Overall, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a serviceable biopic. It is better then what I expected going into the film. While it’s formulaic, the film features good performances, and the dynamic between the three leads is surprisingly good. If you like Wonder Woman and want to see where she came from, go check this out. This is a fine film to watch this fall. It’s one of the better biopics to come out recently.

Rating: B







"Goodbye Christopher Robin" Review


Goodbye Christopher Robin is an above average biopic. Director Simon Curtis and screenwriters, Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan, explore the origins of how Winnie-the-Pooh was created and the relationship that author A.A. Milne had with his son, Christopher (who served as the basis for the character named after him). As a kid, I remember growing up on the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh and his adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood. While the film features good performances from the actors, the film ultimately suffers from some of the tropes you would normally see in your typical biopic.

The film is set after World War I and A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) is trying to find inspiration for his new book. Cold and distanced from his friends and family, Milne has trouble connecting with people. After Milne, his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) and his son Christopher (Will Tilston) move to the countryside, A.A. still has trouble finding his inspiration. As he finally starts to connect with Christopher, A.A. begins to write more, and Christopher asks to write a story for him. Using Christopher’s imagination and his stuffed animals as basis, A.A. begins to write stories about Winnie-the-Pooh (which is based on Christopher’s stuffed bear) and it becomes an instant success. With the fame that he wanted in hand, A.A. doesn’t see the harm that it causes Christopher until it’s too late.

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The film succeeds with the acting that’s on display. Gleeson as A.A. Milne, or ‘Blue’ as Christopher calls him, is particularly good and I liked the arc that his character goes through in the film; going from somewhat cold to caring and everything in between, it’s a good showcase for the actor. Robbie, playing Daphne, A.A.’s wife, puts in another solid performance as someone who doesn’t particularly care for her son and constantly shifts the blame when things go bad. Kelly McDonald as Olive, Christopher’s nanny, stole the film from time to time as she looks out for Christopher’s well being. The kid who plays Christopher, Tilston in his first role, succeeds as well with a natural performance. Another aspect of the film that Goodbye Christopher Robin does well is showcasing A.A.’s PTSD and how it affected people around him. The film displays interesting transitions, like when A.A. goes from the battlefields of World War I to a ballroom in an instant.

I also liked the contrast between A.A.’s cold-hearted reality that he’s seen to Christopher’s innocence, and for the most part, they balanced that well. This is a well paced film. The makeup effects that they placed on the actors as older versions of their characters was believable. Perhaps the strength of the film is that it works to show how much of Christopher’s childhood that A.A. basically exploited for gain and the toll that it took. What’s the ultimate price for selling your child’s life and can you ever recover for what you did? Can you reconcile that you basically had no childhood?

The film could have fought harder to go against some stereotypical biopic tropes that you’ve seen time and again. With a biopic, you know that they have to hit certain beats along the way. Adversely, the film seemed like it glossed over things, when it should have gone more in-depth in sections. The third act feels truncated, as if they were running out of time. I wanted to see and feel more of the torment that Christopher went through as kids started to pick on him and the growing resentment he had for his parents. It’s as if the filmmakers were close to nailing it, but pulled back. If they went more in-depth, I think the film could have been even stronger then what we see on-screen. 

Overall, Goodbye Christopher Robin features some good performances. As I said before, even though they go in-depth in some places, I wished it did more when it came to some important facts. I will give the film points in that it’s rare to see a biopic that focuses on the negative side of what was its main character’s greatest creation. If you’re a fan of the Pooh, you may want to spring into theaters this weekend!

Rating: B

"Victoria & Abdul" Review

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“Victoria and Abdul” the biographical film about Her Majesty’s controversial affair with an Indian servant was, to be frank, mediocre at best.

It is difficult to overlook the lackluster approach to comedy and the poor representation of class divisions in a film that was supposed to embrace and celebrate diversity; it’s reminiscent of a Rodgers and Hammerstein King and I: it’s just not funny.

The film follows Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), who arrives in England from India to participate in Queen Victoria’s (Judi Dench) golden jubilee. Karim is to present a gift to the Queen without making eye contact with her. His disobedience to rules opens the door for their unlikely relationship to unfold, much to the dismay of the royal family and all of the Queen’s staff. The mystery and the aberration of this pair’s affiliation are by no means boring, but the ebb and flow between comedy and drama falls flat in this film. Perhaps this issue could have been resolved in making “Victoria and Abdul” a documentary, in part because it only seemed to get better during the end credits.

These credits expound upon the gaping fact that it took researchers and devotees over one hundred years to discover evidence of their relationship. Woah! That’s your story. Not the blossoming friendship, which is only saved on screen by the grace of Dench, who pulls off the Queen’s likeness admirably. The intensity that would have gripped audiences could have been found in the documentation of what happened afterward.


I do digress, however. Stephen Frears is a fantastic director. In fact, I would go as far to say Frears (at his best) rivals the best Hollywood has to offer. But I cannot ignore the fact that this film doesn’t work. The story is unsuitable for three-act screenplay structure and there is no looming conflict until—as I mentioned before—the film is over. Additionally, there were sloppy cuts, poor lighting at times and CGI-effects that distract even the non-attentive eye.

All this being said, there were some redeeming qualities in the cast. Judi Dench is masterful in her role. Her poise and cutting remarks shine so far above the body of work that many moviegoers will be drawn to theaters near and far for this alone. More surprising, however, was the performance of Adeel Akhtar who also played an Indian servant. His comedic moments were the only ones of the film that landed. Equally as funny in “The Big Sick,” which released earlier this year, Akhtar helps lift this film up as it comes slowly crashing down.

“Based on real events … mostly,” is what the opening credits read. If you can get past the fact that the film presents a “mostly” real story stricken with laughable material then it may be enjoyable. To any end, it has its moments.

Grade: C


Ryan Boera

I am a 2017 graduate of the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C. I received my degree in Film Production, I am a strong believer in cinema and I'm a storyteller at heart with an insatiable curiosity. I have editing/design experience with the Adobe Creative Suite; acting experience in theater productions and low-budget shorts; writing experience through two feature film scripts, two television spec scripts and a compelling (read: not-so compelling) blog. Lastly, I've gained cinematography experience while working with the Canon 5D, C100, DJI Phantom 4 Pro Quadcopter, Osmo Handheld, Panasonic AG-DVX200 4K, and ARRI Arriflex 16mm cameras. Suffice to say, I love film. I am also a fan of hikes, travel, craft beer, singing in the shower, the Yankees, Survivor, and of course, chocolate chip cookies. 

"American Made" Review

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American Made is one of the surprises of the fall season. It’s one of the better Tom Cruise films to have come out during this decade, and it’s definitely better then this summer’s The Mummy. With this film, Cruise reunites with director Doug Liman, who previously directed him in 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow, a highly underrated film. 

In this film, based on a true story, Barry Seal (Cruise) is a commercial airline pilot who gets employed by CIA Agent Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleason) to do reconnaissance missions for the CIA by flying over locations in South America and taking photos. As Seal starts to do more jobs for the CIA, like becoming a courier for General Noriega in Panama and running guns to the Contras, he comes into contact with the Medellin Cartel, who asks him to smuggle cocaine back into the US. Within a few short years, Seal makes more money than he’s ever dreamed of since he works for both the CIA and the drug cartel, but as things slowly start to collapse, Seal will do anything to save his own skin.

For the subject matter at hand, Liman and screenwriter Gary Spinelli play with it fast and loose. Just when you think the story can’t get crazier, it does. I enjoyed how it didn’t take itself too seriously, and the tone, for the most part being light-hearted, stayed consistent. Cruise seems like he hasn’t had this much fun in ages, and this film shows that if you pair him with the right material, he’s still got it. It’s also no surprise that teaming up with Liman brings out the best in Cruise. Charismatic and charming, Cruise does make you root for a slimeball of a guy. The visual style that Liman and his DP Cesar Charlone bring to the film is unique, and they do a good job in visually highlighting the locations in the film with a distinctly different color. Like with this month’s It, that was also set in the 80s, Liman doesn’t bash you over the head that this is a film that takes place in the 80s. Also, the film does make concepts that seem complicated easier to understand, with map animations and documentary footage mixed in. 

There are a few drawbacks that I had with this film. Since the film primarily focuses on Cruise’s Barry, other then him, the other characters felt underdeveloped. I wanted to learn more about certain people, like for example, the people who made up his Snow Birds team. There were also story threads that didn’t bring much to the table, like a subplot involving Barry’s brother-in-law JB (Caleb Landry Jones) that they could have cut out completely. There are also characters in the film, that after a scene or two, completely disappear from the film. It makes you wonder if there was a much longer cut that Liman and his editors cut down from. Finally, the score from Christophe Beck (also reuniting with Liman after Edge of Tomorrow) was okay, as well as the music selections. They could have done a better job with that.

Overall, American Made won’t win any awards, but I think you will have fun with it. Between this and Edge of Tomorrow, hopefully Cruise and Liman continue to work with one another and this is a start of a long-term collaboration. I dug it, and it’s a breezy film. As I said before, this is one of the better films that Cruise has made in the last few years. If you’re looking for something to watch in the theater, you won’t go wrong with this.  

Rating: B


Richie Wenzler

Richie Wenzler is currently finishing up getting his M.F.A. in Film and Electronic Media at American University. He's currently working on his thesis film. Previous to that, he received a BA in Communications & Culture and Telecommunications at Indiana University. He's a perpetual film student and is chasing his lifelong dream of working in the film industry.

"Kingsman: The Golden Circle" Review


Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a solid sequel and a whole lot of fun. The follow-up to the 2015 hit film Kingsman: The Secret Service, director Matthew Vaughn expands on the world that he brought to life from the comic book series from Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. To put it in comparison, this is miles ahead better than the last sequel to a Millar comic that Vaughn was involved with, 2013’s Kick-Ass 2, which was a disappointment. It’s insane, outrageous, but never takes itself too seriously. At times, it matches the level of enjoyment that I had for the first film, and Vaughn has another winner of a film.

Taking place sometime after the events of The Secret Service, Kingsman comes under attack from a mysterious organization known as “The Golden Circle” that’s masterminded by Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore). After Poppy destroys the Kingsman headquarters, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) head to the United States to team up with their American counterparts the Statesman, who are lead by Champagne (Jeff Bridges) and agents like Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry). As they uncover Poppy’s master plan, Eggsy and Merlin must also contend with something else: how Harry (Colin Firth) is seemingly still alive.

Like with the first film, the action sequences here are kinetic, frantic, and over the top. The action starts within the first minute, right after the opening titles. Instead of making the action sequences hard to follow like some directors would do, Vaughn directs these sequences in such a way that you’re not confused with what’s happening on screen. There’s an action scene in here that’s up there, in my opinion, with the church sequence from the first film. Speaking of the first film, the callbacks that Vaughn and his writing partner, Jane Goldman, put in the film was for most of the time well placed.  With the subplot involving Harry and how Vaughn and Goldman brought him back into the fold, I bought into it. The film, at times, wears its references loud and proud, like James Bond (you’ll know them when you see it). The production design of the film is interesting, and each location seems to stand on its own, in particularly Poppy’s color-coordinated red diner. 


All of the actors in the film seem like they are having fun, knowing what type of film they signed up for. As with the first film, there are some huge laughs, and you can expect the same here. The pacing, for the most part, is good and the music choices that Vaughn selected for the soundtrack were right on, like Prince and John Denver (with this and Alien: Covenant, seems like a resurgence with his music). Finally, there’s a cameo in here that’s so brilliant that it had me rolling on the floor laughing. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, please do your best in not spoiling it before you see it. Worth it.

If there’s anything negative that The Golden Circle had, it’s that for a 141-minute film, there were parts that Vaughn could have condensed. Even though the callbacks were good, sometimes they are overkill. Lastly, like with The Secret Service, there are some scenes that had questionable CGI or it’s really noticeable, as if Vaughn and his team ran out of time.


Overall, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a good sequel. As a fan of the first one, I was quite pleased with the results. If you liked the first one, or like these types of films, chances are you will like this. This is another comic book movie winner for this year. Since there’s a tease at the end for a potential third film, I’m looking forward to the next one!

Rating: B

"IT" Review


IT has been a long time coming. Not only was this a film stuck in development hell, but it comes as an example of this generation’s property-driven adaptation streak that includes the prolific but often poorly adapted Stephen King. Each reworking of the unimaginably popular and massively prolific King is something like pulling the sword from the stone.  So far only two have definitely done it: The Shawshank Redemption and The Shining. Kubrick’s The Shining altered the material enough to receive a full dismissal from the author, even as the standalone film is one of American cinema’s most extraordinary and cryptic works. The other was touching critically praised, but not in any way a horror film.

Andy Muschietti’s film (along with this summer’s other long-simmering King work, The Dark Tower) comes with introductory endorsement from the author himself. The reasons for a poor page-to-screen transition are numerous, let alone King’s winding, character driven epics. Even then, IT is an albatross, a cinder-block sized horror-text about childhood trauma, friendship and a decades-long wrestling match with an inter-dimensional being who appears as a clown. But the premise is simple, IT is a creature that preys on the fears of children. 

So, take a minute King fans…horror fans. IT is a great movie--a worthy adaptation of King, an unrelenting visual delight and horror film first and foremost. 


Set in the Derry, Maine in the summer of 1988, IT tells the story of Bill Denbrough, a junior high kid whose brother Georgie was snatched down a storm drain by a maniacal clown the previous fall. All the town knows is where he disappeared. As school lets out for summer, Bill and his friends (known as the Loser’s Club) discuss whether they will pick up the abandoned search for Georgie. Here, we’re introduced to a collection of stock roles and identities: Stanley Uris, the Jewish one (Wyatt Oleff), Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer) the hypochondriac and Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard) the foul-mouthed one. They will add to their ranks Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) the girl, Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) the black kid and Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) the new kid/the fat kid. They are antagonized by a trio of shaggy haired bullies, lead by the mulleted Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). What pain isn’t inflicted by the bullies is portrayed by cartoonish parents who are dismissive, predatory or smothering. Given that nearly every character is given some type of minor arc the stereotypes are a way to identify a barrage of introductions and early interactions. 

But IT loads the titular monster early. Pennywise the dancing clown (Bill Skarsgård) appears to each of the kids as a manifestation of their own fear or trauma. For instance, Mike Hanlon, having been orphaned in a house fire and raised by his grandfather, a livestock farmer and butcher, is confronted with a vision of the house fire and the clown, strung up on a meat hook, eyes glowing in the dark. Stanley Uris, sees the clown first as a creepy Edvard Munch-like portrait come to life. Each child is confronted by IT as Pennywise and IT as a creature. They have to find and confront the clown as a group or risk being picked off in isolation.

The script deals each bit of exposition with bursts of thrilling nightmares, all Dutch angles and swift editing. There is little time to catch your breath before the next scene and the narrative is incomprehensible. At 135 minutes, IT is barely contained, stuffed to crown of its encephalitic clown skull with wondrous and terrifying set pieces. Assembled more episodically, IT pulls away from the coming-of-age story to deliver a finely crafted creature feature. There’s some half-baked structure around how fear (literally) divides the Losers club, but the adventure lies in the variety and ingenuity of the scares. 


Skarsgård wisely crafts Pennywise’s persona from scratch, trading the harsh taunting of Tim Curry’s 1990 portrayal for a childlike charisma that emanates wordlessly from the painted contours of Skarsgård’s face. IT/Pennywise is given no backstory and reigns in the immediacy of each encounter, bursting through slide projectors, rising from floodwaters, and menacing in a room full of clown dolls.  

For horror fans, this is a must see. IT is old-school fun and deserves the experience of the big screen. The film leaves no doubt of a sequel, and remains highly re-watchable until that time.

Rating: A




"The Dark Tower" Review

The Dark Tower is considered by many to be Stephen King’s magnum opus. Spanned across eight novels and across other media, it’s the series that sometimes connects to other stories from King. The film adaptation has been in development for quite some time, and after some false starts, the film finally came to life under the direction of Nikolaj Arcel. I feared, given the lack of promotion, that this would be this summer’s Fantastic Four. Well, the film isn’t the disaster that some thought it would be. Instead, it’s just an average film that has some good elements in it.

Described by the filmmakers as a sequel to the novels, and combining elements from the series as well, the film is about Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who has been having nightmares about a Dark Tower and Walter Padick/The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) who seeks to destroy the tower to let evil forces take over. In his search to find the mystery behind his visions, he suddenly gets transported to Mid-World, where he comes across another person from his dreams, Roland Deschain/The Gunslinger (Idris Elba). Together, Jake and Roland must find a way to stop the Man in Black from accomplishing his goals.

One of the things that I thought worked with the film was McConaughey’s performance as The Man in Black. He seems to be having a lot of fun chewing the scenery in every scene he’s in. McConaughey gets what film he’s in, and the way that he interacts with people and manipulates them to do his bidding is great. Elba does a good job as well playing The Gunslinger. For their characters, this was perfect casting. Whenever they interact with one another, for the most part, the film comes to life. For non-readers of the story, the screenwriters (including Arcel, Anders Thomas Jensen, Akiva Goldsman, and Jeff Pinker) do somewhat a good job in describing what the Dark Tower represents. The film is also humorous in places, especially when Roland comes to Earth. Lastly, since this is supposed to connect to other works from King, be on the lookout for references from The Shining, It, and The Shawshank Redemption to name a few.

For the first third of the film, it wasn’t bad and I enjoyed the pacing of it. Once it gets to Mid-World is when the film sadly collapses to mediocrity. Since this is a 95-minute film, it felt like it was gutted from a much longer film. It felt rushed in places, and some of the editing didn’t feel right. For example, the final battle goes so quickly that it doesn’t make that much sense. On top of this, there’s basically no character development at all in the film, and some of the characters were severely underwritten, like Katheryn Winnick’s Laurie and Jackie Earle Haley’s Sayre. Also, Taylor was somewhat bland as Jake, being very one-noted throughout the runtime. For being based on a fantasy series, most of the film takes place in NYC, as if to save cost. The monsters look isn’t imaginative and there’s some questionable CGI throughout the film. The visual look of the film wasn’t great, especially when Roland and Jake are roaming around Mid-World. The music from Tom Holkenborg isn’t memorable either. The action scenes weren’t staged particularly well, and they make the mistake of overcutting so you have no idea what’s going on.

Overall, The Dark Tower is an average film and nothing more. What could have been a fun summer film instead felt like it was compromised in places, and the filmmakers decided to play it safe instead of going for it. For fans of the series, I have a feeling that after seeing this, they might be disappointed with this adaptation. For the lofty plans that they had, which included films and a TV series, this might just be a one and done film. Like I said before, it’s not a disaster by any means, but it’s not a great film. If you’re a Stephen King fan, maybe save your money until next month when It comes out. If you do go see The Dark Tower, I would suggest go to a matinee screening or just wait until TV.

Rating: C

Is ‘Dunkirk’ Nolan’s Magnum Opus?: Review

The filmmaking virtuoso who brought us Memento and The Dark Knight is back to dazzle us once more with Dunkirk, the gripping WWII story of heroic sacrifice. 

Christopher Nolan has never been one to shy away from cinematic challenges, and Dunkirk is no outlier to this methodology. The film was beautifully shot by Hoyte van Hoytema in 70mm (watch it in IMAX 70mm if possible), and not a single frame in the 120 minute thriller is wasted. Nolan’s use of this format is masterful and commemorates the artistry of filmmaking, unlike Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. The conventionality of Nolan’s color scheme in this film is not only aesthetically enjoyable, it makes sense. The deep blues and vibrant oranges pop off the screen while the grey of war leaves us with holes in our hearts. Nothing with Nolan is fake. Therefore, appreciate the long sequences in the air tailing fighter planes, the terrifying underwater scenes and the explosions, because it is all real. More accurately, it is jaw-dropping and equally horrific. Only Nolan could make the massive Dunkirk beach feel claustrophobic. 

The film is set in 1940 during WWII, and Hitler has pushed 400,000 British, French, Canadian and Belgian soldiers to sea, trapping them on the beaches of a small French town called Dunkirk. The soldiers all await evacuation while the imminent threat of death looms over their shoulders. To put it simply, the Allied troops are dead-men walking, stuck on a beach that allows for a pain-staking spectacle to watch. The English Channel is too shallow for large rescue ships to pass through, meaning the lives of 400,000 men rest in the hands of brave civilians daring enough to pass underneath the German air fleets. Nolan states in the opening titles of the film that a miracle is the only thing that would save these men. Well a miracle is what they got. 

The successful evacuation of these troops was only made possible by a handful of prominent heroes the story follows. First, civilian boat captain Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), fighter pilot Farrier (the always masked Tom Hardy) and Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) to name a few. Although Nolan cuts right to the action leaving out any backstory, it is easy to empathize with the incredible heroes that fought for each other and for their country. On the other hand, Nolan strips the Nazis of any human quality. They stand merely as grey wisps in the sky, bomber planes but never faces. The soldiers on the beach and the audience can hear them coming but we never are truly connected to the enemy. 

The sounds of the planes and the explosions, the panting and running, gasping and breathing, the underlying ticking of a clock to emphasize the importance of haste, all of these sounds contribute to a riveting, viewing atmosphere. Hans Zimmer’s all so familiar score pulsates through this film with an electrifying cadence that may only be out-shined by Hoytema’s cinematography. The cacophony of war is so breathtaking that not a moment of relief goes by until the final cut to black. Dunkirk leaves us hanging to the edge of our seats, looking to the horizon for the British ships, and it isn’t until the sun finally rises in the end that we can exhale. 

Undoubtedly, this Christopher Nolan film is Oscar-worthy and one of his highest rated films to date, which begs the question: is Dunkirk Nolan’s magnum opus? Historical war films often receive waves of historical accuracy criticism, however, Nolan tackles this story with such honest grace that all the critics will be talking about this summer is the raw emotion of the narrative. In a present-day that offers a world of doubt and uncertainty, Nolan gifts to his audience solace. Solace in a film that shows the suppressed fighting together and forging bonds out of suffering. It is the best film so far this year, and I would be remiss if I did not answer my own titular question. Yes, this is Nolan’s magnum opus.

Rating: A


Ryan Boera

I am a 2017 graduate of the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C. I received my degree in Film Production, I am a strong believer in cinema and I'm a storyteller at heart with an insatiable curiosity. I have editing/design experience with the Adobe Creative Suite; acting experience in theater productions and low-budget shorts; writing experience through two feature film scripts, two television spec scripts and a compelling (read: not-so compelling) blog. Lastly, I've gained cinematography experience while working with the Canon 5D, C100, DJI Phantom 4 Pro Quadcopter, Osmo Handheld, Panasonic AG-DVX200 4K, and ARRI Arriflex 16mm cameras. Suffice to say, I love film. I am also a fan of hikes, travel, craft beer, singing in the shower, the Yankees, Survivor, and of course, chocolate chip cookies. 

"Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets" Review

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has been a lifelong passion project for filmmaker Luc Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element, Lucy). Based on a French comic book series entitled Valerian and Laureline, Besson has been trying to get a film version off the ground during his entire filmmaking career. After scoring his biggest hit yet in 2014 with Lucy, Besson finally decided to pull the trigger and make the film. While there were parts of the film that I enjoyed, there were other parts that stopped the film dead in its tracks. 

During the opening credits of Valerian, we are treated to a montage about how the space station Alpha became the city of a thousand planets. Hundreds of years later, special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are assigned by the government to investigate a dark force that’s taking place within the center of Alpha. Not only could it affect Alpha, but it could have ramifications across the entire universe.

One of the things that I liked about Valerian is the visual look that Besson and his longtime DP, Thierry Arbogast, gave the film. At times, the film looked like it was leaping off the pages of the comic book. It’s probably one of the most colorful films you will come across this summer. Both the production and creature designs in this were great as well. They did a really good job in making sure one stood out from the other. The production design, especially with Alpha, was astounding. I will say that for both DeHaan and Delevingne, this was better then their last films they were both in (A Cure for Wellness (the 2nd worst film I’ve seen this year) and Suicide Squad). The action scenes were cool, well designed, and imaginative, especially during a sequence at the Big Market that takes place on different dimensions. Including the mostly single take shot from the trailers of Valerian running through different sections of Alpha. When the film was good, it was fun.

One of the biggest problems that I had with this film is the runtime. The story that Besson presented to us in no way warranted the 137-minute runtime that this had. Even though this was his passion project, Besson needed to trim the fat. There are characters and scenes in this film that could be easily eliminated and the film still would have played the same way. With this runtime, the film takes awhile for the plot to kick in (the same issue Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 had earlier this summer). As soon as the film started to get good, it would stop dead in its tracks and nothing would happen. So it keeps you waiting and waiting for developments. 


The plot itself was a little confusing to follow, and it’s not particularly exciting. Also, while I said that this was better then their last films respectively, DeHaan and Delevingne had zero chemistry with one another. Maybe there were better actors for these roles. The music from Alexander Desplat was a little disappointing as well in that it’s not particularly memorable. When I first saw the ads, I thought it would be a great film to see in 3D. Sadly, the 3D doesn’t add much to the film, and only a couple of spots here and there. Lastly, the subtitles for a film like this weren’t particularly imaginative, and oddly, they were framed on the extreme edges of the screen.

Overall, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets wasn’t a bad film per say, but it wasn’t a great film. I wished it fully embraced the weirdness that the ads were showing us. For some of the runtime, it delivered what I was hoping for. If they would have cut down the runtime, I think I would have a much more positive outlook on the film. It’s a film that sometimes goes around in circles not knowing what it wants to be. I don’t see this doing well here in the United States, but it’ll be interesting to see how it does overseas. If you want a great sci-fi film from Besson, stick with The Fifth Element. You don’t need to pay the price for a 3D ticket. If you must, go see this during a matinee screening. If not, catch it on TV sometime.

Rating: B-

"War For The Planet Of The Apes" Review

For a summer filled with fast paced, loud, thinly developed character blockbusters...War For The Planet of The Apes is the exact opposite! It’s an emotional roller coaster of a character drama, sprinkled with just the right amount of action, led by a stellar cast and driven by a director who knows what he’s doing. Let’s not forget that this is the third installment in a trilogy that continues to build on itself with films that are just as good as its predecessor!

After an epic battle that tore the apes apart in more ways than one in Dawn of The Planet of The Apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis) is wrestling with his emotions. With the apes hiding in the forest, a group of soldiers have their scopes set on the simians that they view as a threat to their existence. Woody Harrelson’s Colonel is the merciless leader of the soldiers and he’s bent on taking Caesar out. After tragedy strikes, Caesar is just as focused on the Colonel.

The new school Planet of The Apes films have always been a character study of who we are deep down as human beings. Our morality is what makes us, and it’s explored beautifully through the apes. Where the prior films had a little bit more balance between humans and apes on screen, this installment is certainly ape heavy. But that’s fine, because stripped of heavy dialogue, this movie focuses on themes like love, family, sacrifice, justice and mercy. These subjects are matters that we wrestle with at the core of our being. It’s displayed magnificently here and you can certainly identify with the character struggles in the film. 

Andy Serkis is one of the great motion capture actors of our time. He crushes this role once again as Caesar! Caesar is a deep thinker who always has to think ten steps ahead to protect his kind, while leading them at the same time. Serkis is able to physically show that throughout the entire film in a way that grabs a hold of you and won’t let go. There are also great motion capture performances from Karin Konoval as Maurice, Terry Notary as Rocket, and Michael Adamthwaite as Luca. You have to tip your hat to the entire team for what they’re able to bring to life through technology in creating believable, relatable ape characters.

The sound and score of the film is an ever present character as well. Whether it’s the grunt and breathing of the apes, or the timpani pounding on your heartstring; the music and sound in War can not be denied. It’s moving.

Co-Writer/Director Matt Reeves is in command of his camera much like Caesar is the apes. He frames the film in such a way that captures the performances and accentuates what’s happening in the story in an effort to push it forward. Mark Bomback gets a nod as well in co-writing the film with Reeves to create a strong screenplay. I just have to re-emphasize that this is the third at bat and there is nothing “dialed in” about it. 

I did have some issues with certain characters in the film. Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape has a minority vibe to him that doesn’t sit right as the lovable idiot comic relief. Also, Amiah Miller’s Nova could have been played by any girl of a different race, but we’re stuck with the embodiment of innocence being that of a blonde white girl. It’s not that blonde white girls can’t be the embodiment of innocence, it’s just the repetitive nature of it in films that sends a message. Yeah, I opened that door. The film also had interesting parallels to the slave narrative we’ve seen in our country, right down to the in-fighting amongst slaves. That’s not necessarily a negative thing about the movie, but an interesting theme that is explored but not fully developed into making a statement.

Outside of those foibles that can be looked past for the larger experience, War of The Planet of The Apes is certainly an experience. It’s a great time at the movies because it has something to say about who we are and how we treat each other. This is certainly the film to see this weekend, and will be talked about in film circles for the rest of the year!

Rating: A


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.

"Spider-Man: Homecoming" Review

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It’s an awesome feeling to watch another great Spider-Man film. Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of the best MCU films to date, as well as the best Spidey film since 2004’s Spider-Man 2. With an unprecedented deal between Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios to allow the webhead into the Marvel Cinematic Universe after the disappointment that was The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, as a lifelong fan of his, I’m happy to report that Spidey is in good hands once again. This is a film that will have you grinning the entire runtime.

Two months after his scene-stealing turn in Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) adjusts to life in Queens after the Battle of Berlin, which they recap greatly via a cellphone movie that he created about the trip. As he waits for his next big assignment from Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Peter comes across the crosshairs of Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton), who has a personal vendetta against Tony after basically putting him out of business after the events of 2012’s The Avengers.

First things first, it seems like Tom Holland was born to play Peter/Spidey. Throughout the 133-minute runtime, it appears that Holland is having the time of his life. He builds on his appearance from Civil War into what I would imagine Peter being if I was reading the comics. Holland takes the best qualities of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield and rolls them all into one! He plays Peter perfectly. Michael Keaton as Adrian/The Vulture is quite honestly the best villain in the MCU since Loki. I had doubts about The Vulture since he’s typically goofy in the comics, but the way director Jon Watts and his screenwriters (which included him, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers) approached him in the film was well done. There’s a scene between him and Holland that’s quite honestly one of the best scenes in a Spidey film yet. Like Holland, Keaton seems to be having fun playing a bad guy. Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend Ned steals the film from time to time with some of the funniest lines in the film! 

I also enjoyed the grounded tone that the film has compared to the other MCU films. If I had to make a comparison, this is probably the most grounded film since 2015’s Ant-Man. Rather than use end of the world stakes in this film, it was a story that suited Spidey’s needs as a high school student with great power. The cinematography that Watts and his DP, Salvatore Totino, went with complements the storytelling. Some of the shots in the film look like something you would see straight out from the panels, and they even recreate some here and there. The action scenes are fun and easy to follow as well. 

This is probably the funniest MCU film to date, from the in-jokes of the MCU, to how hot Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May is to some running jokes (you’ll know it when you see it). I was surprised by how much I was laughing throughout the film. Finally, unlike The Amazing Spider-Man 2 which tried to cram in every character they could possibly think of, Spider-Man: Homecoming opens doors that they could further explore in future installments in a natural way.

If there’s anything wrong with the film, there was not much character development with some of the characters in the film, especially with The Vulture’s crew: The Tinkerer (Michael Chernus) and the Shockers (Bokeem Woodbine and Logan Marshall-Green). The CGI in some places seemed like they were unfinished and if you want to know as little as possible about this film before going into the theater do your best to avoid the trailers.

Overall, if you can’t tell, I loved Spider-Man: Homecoming. After the hiccups of the past couple of films, they got him right again and I’m excited to see where Sony/Marvel take Spidey next. Watts seems like the perfect director to steer this franchise forward. There’s so much I can talk about this film, but I don’t want to spoil the fun for you, and I can’t recommend this film enough. It’s one of the most fun films you’ll watch this summer. As always, be sure to stay until the end for a little surprise. Go see this! 

Rating: B+

"A Ghost Story" Review

Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting that. A Ghost Story is the new film by director David Lowery, who directed Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and last year’s remake of Pete’s Dragon (which I contend is probably the best of the Disney remakes to have come out in recent years). This film reunites his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara and this was shot quickly and quietly after Lowery finished post-production work on Pete’s Dragon. This is a film that captivates you throughout the 87-minute runtime.

In this film, Affleck’s C and Mara’s M are a married couple living in a house. After he gets killed in a car accident off-screen, C wakes up in a morgue and walks back to his house. There, C watches M grieve over his death. I don’t want to talk more about the film out of fear of spoilers, but from the trailers I was expecting one thing, but I was quite surprised (in a good way!) when the film becomes something else entirely, with themes about death, the concept of time, and life after death, but told in a straightforward storytelling. All of this is set within the confines of their house to brilliant use. 

One of the things that this film does well are the long takes that Lowery and his DP, Andrew Proz Palermo, employ throughout the course of this film. In particular, a scene with Rooney Mara’s M and a pecan pie plays out almost as if we, the audience, are ghosts observing what’s happening on screen. Lowery also does a smart move in not overly editing the film, given that he edited this film himself. Each frame is pretty simple in its execution. A Ghost Story also employs an interesting visual palette, in that it’s presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio. So it plays out like you are looking at old photographs or home videos. Some of the images in this film are absolutely haunting as Lowery and Palermo frame C’s ghost within the shots. The use of the music and sound design works well for this kind of story. Even the extended use of silence in scenes compliments the story. They could have easily been overly dramatic, but Affleck and Mara both give restrained performances. 

While I very much enjoyed this movie and its themes, this film isn’t for everyone. The pacing, especially in its first third, is slow. While I get what Lowery was going for, some might be bored with it. With the use of silence, there are long periods where there’s no dialogue or music forcing us to focus on the visuals on screen. 

Overall, I can’t stop thinking about A Ghost Story. It’s a film that will stay with you long after the credits roll. I could easily write more paragraphs about just how much I liked this film. A24 has another winner on its hands. With this and Pete’s Dragon, Lowery has shown us that he’s one of the best young filmmakers working today and a filmmaker that to watch. Even though it may feel like a small story, Lowery is showing us something much bigger than ourselves. Please, do yourself a favor and watch this film. It’s seriously one of the best films to have come out so far this year. 

Rating: A-

"The Big Sick" Review

‘The Big Sick’ Review By Ryan Boera

‘The Big Sick’ Review By Ryan Boera

Kumail Nanjiani weaves an exceptionally brilliant story of love and sacrifice in his newest romantic comedy, ‘The Big Sick’. 

In an archetypal romantic comedy, the two, leading lovers tend to be young, likable and otherwise destined for each other. Yet, they are kept apart by some complicating circumstance until, surmounting all obstacles, they are finally wedded. In Kumail’s case, this obstacle takes the form of class differences and parental interference. Two themes that undoubtedly heighten the relevance of the film. 

Kumail is a Pakistani comic who meets an American graduate student named Emily (Zoe Kazan) at one of his stand-up gigs. As their relationship unfolds, he gloomily anticipates what his traditional Muslim parents will think of her. Parents who will jump at the opportunity to gift upon their son an “arranged” marriage. Suffice to say, they don’t approve of Emily. 

‘The Big Sick’ undeniably occupies the romantic comedy genre, however, I would argue it’s gift is that it pushes the categorial envelope. The screenplay is incredibly intelligent, to put it modestly. But more importantly, it handles difficult topics; it’s topics other filmmakers are afraid to even look at, with such grace and deference that it has almost created a new standard for the genre as a whole. 

Romantic comedies have become passable films. Two-hour, running clichés, rather. Studios evolving into hamster-like wheels that churn out flick after flick with no integrity. The longer we allow these clichés to consume our films the harder it becomes for us to escape them. At which point you must tip your hat to Kumail and Emily Gordon (an author and Kumail’s life partner) for crafting such an intriguing piece of literature. 

The film is exceedingly honest, an open book of sorts, and so ridiculous it must be a true story. Kumail learns from his relationship that honesty is the best policy. A golden-rule that protrudes from the screen with vibrant colors. It is hard-pressed not to laugh at the unbearable circumstances presented throughout the film. Somehow, the tension and the humor live symbiotically together. 

Even at the risk of running too long, ‘The Big Sick’ is good for more than just a few laughs. In fact, the anticipation of the succeeding one-liner is so ever-present in the theater, you can feel the audience’s mouths agape with expectancy. Above all else, ‘The Big Sick’ will make you laugh, cry, and think, and that’s a win in anyone’s book. 

Rating: A-


Ryan Boera

I am a 2017 graduate of the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C. I received my degree in Film Production, I am a strong believer in cinema and I'm a storyteller at heart with an insatiable curiosity. I have editing/design experience with the Adobe Creative Suite; acting experience in theater productions and low-budget shorts; writing experience through two feature film scripts, two television spec scripts and a compelling (read: not-so compelling) blog. Lastly, I've gained cinematography experience while working with the Canon 5D, C100, DJI Phantom 4 Pro Quadcopter, Osmo Handheld, Panasonic AG-DVX200 4K, and ARRI Arriflex 16mm cameras. Suffice to say, I love film. I am also a fan of hikes, travel, craft beer, singing in the shower, the Yankees, Survivor, and of course, chocolate chip cookies.