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

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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.

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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?

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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

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

"Professor Marston and the Wonder Women" Review

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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.

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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. 

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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. 

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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.

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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

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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. 

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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. 

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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

Comment

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. 

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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

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.

"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-

Comment

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. 

"Baby Driver" Review: Wright is Right

“Baby Driver” is the cinematic fresh air that you hope to catch during the summer season! It’s the movie that will be talked about on everyone’s end of year lists, and deservedly so. Director Edgar Wright has turned out another hit!

The film follows Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young getaway driver, whose skills behind the wheel are unmatched. He works for Doc (Kevin Spacey), a brilliant crime boss who masterminds heists. Doc never puts the same crew together, but his one consistent “lucky charm” is Baby. Baby lives the way most of us would love to, with a song for every occasion, which he plays on an old school ipod or three that he keeps on himself at all times to drown out the hum caused by a childhood accident.

Off the rip we see an awesome get away car chase sequence, introducing us to Buddy (Jon Hamm), his dangerous girlfriend Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), and a nice bit part for Jon Bernthal as Griff. These characters are fully realized, while over the top criminals. As we’re introduced to Baby’s world we see just how much it all contains music.

In fact, the key to this film is the infusion of music. It’s comprised of the moments when you’ve been in your car and punched the gas because of a dope beat, played that Adele song to match your emotional state, or that love song when you’ve found that special someone! Except this is a movie, and therefore the story can be told at tempo. It’s edited to cut to the rhythm of the 808, slows down to the strings, and even machine guns fire to the beat. What could have turned out to be gimmicky is used with just the right amount of detail at the right time, that it adds to the engagement of the film.

The movie’s pace is a bit awkward after the initial sequences, but once it’s in the zone it’s a joy ride until the end. Perhaps some of that has to do with the casting. Overall, this is a stellar cast, beautifully blended together. I think it’s some of the best work we’ve seen from Jamie Foxx in a while with his character Bats. He’s the scary mixture of volatile and street smart that you respect but don’t turn your back on if you’re in the same room; which helps to add to the intensity and suspense when the film gets cooking. Ansel Elgort seems a bit outmatched and I preferred the moments when he was not talking, but he works for the film. His love interest, Debora (Lily James), is an acquired taste as well, reminiscent of the character work Juliette Lewis did in her youth. However, by the end of the film you settle in to the odd couple romance.

If you’re looking for an original film to see this weekend, “Baby Driver” is it! Honestly, if you’re looking for something original in the past few years it’s still a contender. While the idea of “one last job and I’m out” is nothing new, it’s the getting there that’s fresh. The chase scenes are stand out, the soundtrack is on point, and the script is great. Go see it this weekend!

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.

"All Eyez On Me" Review

When Tupac was at his height of popularity, I was in middle school. So I didn’t really get into Tupac’s music pas what I heard on the radio until I started getting tapes (yes, cassette tapes) from my friends and sneaking to listen to the unedited version in high school. Pac was raw, dynamic, and there’s a reason that he’s still talked about today. Unfortunately, All Eyez On Me doesn’t quite do the legend justice.

The film is like a patchwork quilt. From a far, you can see the full scope of Tupac’s life, but it’s made up of what feels like different films. It starts out framed by Tupac (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) being in the Clinton Correctional Facility in 1995, giving an interview to a journalist (Hill Harper) which allows him to talk about his life up until that point. We see how he comes from a leader and fighter in the Black Panther movement, Afeni Shakur (a stellar Danai Gurira). Which gives room for us to see how Tupac the revolutionary was influenced and raised by his mother.

The movie starts patching in odd or dispensable scenes as it moves toward the Tupac most people know, with his big break in the movie “Juice”. Perhaps the worst thing director Benny Boom could have done was recreate iconic scenes from films that the real Tupac starred in. As an audience, we automatically compare performances, and Shipp Jr. is no match. Yet, this happens multiple times throughout the film, continually throwing us off with each patch. The movie also camps out for a while on Tupac’s rape case in which he’s portrayed as wholly innocent in the matter.  

It’s hard to believe that Tupac was only 25 when he passed because he did so much in his short time on Earth. If there’s one thing that the film does capture, it’s how a man can start out on one path in life and end on another. We see how his multiple court cases, the expenses that came with them, and the shady business of the hip hop industry itself led him to sign with Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana), the infamous owner of Death Row Records. By the time the movie gets to that point, we forget about the Tupac who set out to be a revolutionary and see a man who is fed up with the system and wants to get money because he needs it. That journey is fascinating to watch.

 2015’s Straight Outta Compton set a high bar for hip hop biopics because the script, acting and direction were top notch. All Eyez On Me had nothing short of the same type of electrifying material but missed the mark on all levels by settling for a banal form of storytelling with a lead, who despite giving his all, only has brief moments of embodying the dynamic man who was Tupac Shakur. This is a rated R made for TV movie. It’s not bad for Netflix at home, but you might want to save your money at the theaters this weekend on this one.

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.

"Cars 3" Review

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Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) revs up for a victory lap and a chance at one last cup before he’s pushed out of the spotlight by the new cars on the block.

This last film of the ‘Cars’ trilogy excites only the unwavering fan of the franchise. However, I will submit that ‘Cars 3’ tied a satisfying bow on a trilogy that may have otherwise lost its novelty over the years. The first ‘Cars’ movie was wildly underappreciated by the critic community, but has held vacancy in the hearts of viewers. Although I disagreed with many critics in their analyses of the original movie, I can stand firmly behind the idea that the second of the three drove way off track. At best, it is the old beat-up Camaro that dad doesn’t want to bring to the dump. But I digress.

‘Cars 3,’ while staunchly predictable, softens up the viewer to the all-so-familiar Pixar feel-good narrative. It may fall short in the echelon of movie sequels, but I enjoyed the journey it takes you on. Not to forget, however, how egregiously ‘okay’ the screenwriters were with making the plot unsurprising, the jokes repeated to the point of annoyance, and the odd use of modern technology that felt foreign in a world of 80s vehicles. But hey, the kids will love it.

The first act of the movie, the explanation of the story world so-to-speak, is brief because if you haven’t gotten it by the third movie than you don’t deserve an idiomatic setup. That being said, ‘Cars 3’ derails when the hero’s journey begins.

The strange introductions to new characters, the pathetically lazy montages, the passive protagonist, all contribute to an at-times unbearable middle act. More importantly, perhaps, is an ending that saves the legacy of the trilogy. It offers the opportunity for a ‘Cars 4,’ not that we’re asking for it, but the opportunity exists nevertheless.

As stated in the opening sentence, this movie could only possibly be enjoyed by the youngest of kids or the most delusional of Pixar fanatics. However, the message (because there is always a deeper meaning with Pixar) transcends age and intelligence. It is, simply put, the idea of the underdog. The veteran. The Rocky Balboa that is fighting for relevance. The fifty-something near retirement with nothing on the horizon. The middle age crisis of longing for purpose. The student becomes the teacher saga. A beautifully cyclical poem or a connecting puzzle that just makes sense.

As unapologetically foreseeable as the plot of ‘Cars 3’ is, give it a pass for making us smile in the end. Good save Pixar.

‘Cars 3’ is out in theaters this Friday (June 16)

Rating: C

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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. 

"It Comes At Night" Review

Americans are primed for the apocalypse. Whether the deluge of doomsday preparation and undead apocalypse TV shows or cardio-based zombie evasion fun runs, we’re a nation steeped in the possibility that all men will eventually become zombies. And when that time comes we’ll have achieved a 40-yard-dash time quick enough to outrun the bloodthirsty masses to a fortified armory and help rebuild civilization. Escaping danger is our collective middle name. 

Thing is, once we’ve hacked and slashed our way to safety, all that time spent locked away in the abandoned fort will be tedious. There’s drama, sure. Leaders will emerge and be challenged, resources will go dry and need replenishing and all our social networks will be useless. Survival is a waiting game, meal after meager meal, day after dull day, month after miserable month.

It Comes at Night, the second feature-length movie from Trey Edward Shults (Krisha), is laced with small doses of excitement, but spends much of its running time watching its characters wait in fear. Shults employs the camera as a tight third-person observer. While boogeymen real and imagined circle the limited world of the script, the camera is focused on the mental and physical strain our heroes suffer as they undertake survival. They are bound to a day-to-day exercise in trust, regiment and they hold a skeptical gaze toward any stranger in their midst. 

The family in question is only identified as father Paul (Joel Edgerton), mother Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), as fear has a way of grinding units down to individuals. The familial clan of survivalists are holed up in the woods while an ambiguous plague threatens the world around them. At the start of the film, the illness has already claimed one other family member, but little else is explained about its origin or effects. It Comes At Night is not about the fight against the undead, but the threat of sickness penetrating the family unit. It opens in a tragedy meant to solidify the family unit and warn the viewer of both the outsider itself and the fear of outsiders. 

After the deceased is laid to rest Paul, Sarah and Will must move on and bury sadness with trust and routine. When a young father, Will (Girls’ Christopher Abbott) barges in on the trio in search of supplies, it takes some time before Paul agrees to bring Will’s family into their fold. Joel Edgerton’s Paul is nothing if not a cautious realist, but he’s flawed in his fearfulness. While the two families attempt to live together in tension and mistrust, Travis has visions that wind the daily tension with nightly terror. His insomnia is the lens of horror tropes. He sees his mouths filled with blood, animal corpses and one of the film’s very few jump scares.

Shults uses Travis’s nightmare sequences to explicate both the characters fears and his desires. It Comes At Night follows through with a drama film that plays as horror because the viewer, through close camera focus, is meant to watch the characters diligently to see how and when they break. While the familiar beats of zombie films and backwoods horror will delight enthusiasts of both genres, the subdued action may disappoint some. Still, It Comes At Night holds so steadily in its watchful gaze that the viewer must see themselves walking down every empty hallway. And as horror films are often a chance to live out death from the safety of an armchair, It Comes At Night is a chance to be the weary eye of a survivor, waiting and watching in fear.

Rating: A-

"The Mummy" Review

The Mummy is Universal’s second attempt in the past couple of years to relaunch their Universal Monsters series, now called the Dark Universe. Their first attempt, 2014’s Dracula Untold, was a bit of a misfire. This one is better then that. It’s also a step up from the last Mummy film, 2008’s The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. A good analogy would be that this was Universal’s Man of Steel to their Green Lantern (when that film was supposed to launch their DCEU). Now dubbed the first in a new franchise, The Mummy had to tell a story while at the same time launch the universe around the dealings of an organization known as Prodigium. For the most part, it’s a fun popcorn film.

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On the plus side, Tom Cruise still commits himself to the role. Yes, this is another movie where he can outrun or out-swim you, but he does a good job with the performance he gives as Nick Morton, a soldier who pillages antiquities in Iraq. After unearthing a giant Egyptian tomb with archaeologist, Jenny Hasley (Annabelle Wallis), the evil Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) is unleashed on Earth.

Russell Crowe seems like he's having a blast as Dr. Henry Jekyll, the head of the organization. He’ll be an interesting character they can explore later. The music from Brian Tyler is epic and seems to be better then it should have been. Whenever the film works, it’s fun, with some funny lines sprinkled in here and there. Since this is supposed to set up the new Universal Monsters universe, be on the lookout for some of the other famous monsters along with a blink and miss it reference from the previous Mummy trilogy. The film also plays with the viewers’ expectations in a few places. Finally, the action sequences throughout the film, like the airplane sequence from the trailers, were well choreographed and not overly edited so it was easy to follow.

On the negative side, Boutella doesn’t get to do much as Princess Ahmanet. Since she was a scene-stealer in 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service and 2016’s Star Trek Beyond, this should have been a big breakthrough moment for her. Instead, it feels like she didn’t have anything to do other than stand there and try to look menacing. It’s a missed opportunity for her, and she deserved better. The film is derailed by some of its exposition scenes, especially during the opening sequence where it feels like someone is reading a book to you as they try to tell how Prodigium works. It’s also derailed by multiple, repetitive flashbacks to sequences that you saw literally a couple of minutes prior. The CGI is obvious in places and overboard in some places. You know it’s a problem when they repeat some of the same visual cues as the previous trilogy.

With an inconsistent tone, one minute the film is funny and knows what movie it’s trying to be, and then the next it takes itself way too seriously. This could be the case that this film had six credited screenwriters (screenplay from David Koepp and Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman from a story by Jon Spaihts and Alex Kurtzman & Jenny Lumet). It’s easy to see which scenes were a part of the reshoots to help this film fit in to the larger universe at play. With the combination of writers and reshoots, the climax is a bit of a letdown since it feels like they ran out of money or changed the ending to fit their needs. You don’t need to see this in 3D because it didn’t really bring anything to the film, and instead make some of the night scenes look even darker. 

Overall, when it knows what movie it’s trying to be, The Mummy is a fun popcorn film. It’s better then what the trailers advertise, but it does have problems. If you turn your brain off during it, you might have some fun with this, knowing it suffers from trying to set up future installments rather than focusing on The Mummy. This universe might be DOA before it even starts, but if they work on the problems, it could potentially work. If you have to see it, go with a matinee screening. It’s not a bad film, but it’s not a great film.

Rating: B-

"Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie" Review

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is the type of film that makes me go look up the property it’s based on. Not because I was enamored with the film, but because I want to know why this film was made. The children’s novel sold more than 70 million books worldwide! Unlike some of the animated features that share the same space, you have to dig through the sophomoric humor to get to the heart of the film but it’s there. With that said, I’m not sure the book should have been put on the big screen.

George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) have been besties ever since they heard their kindergarten teacher say Uranus. Since that moment, they spent as much time together as possible, telling jokes, pulling pranks, and creating comic books about a superhero they’ve created called Captain Underpants along the way. Their jokes and pranks never go unnoticed by teachers (who are usually on the receiving end), students, and especially their principal, Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms). Their latest prank pushes Mr. Krupp over the edge and he decides to separate the two.

With the doom of their friendship on the horizon, George acts quickly and uses his ring to hypnotize Mr. Krupp. And it works! He believes he’s Captain Underpants. His mission, is to put fun back in the school. Too bad Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) has other ideas as a dastardly villain in disguise as a teacher.

The film feels exactly like it should if an elementary school boy wrote it and a top notch animation house produced it. (No offense to writer Nicholas Stoller.) The narrative quickly derails, comes back and goes off in other directions much like a conversation with an elementary student, but traded for side bits within the film. It’s smart enough to know what it is and make self deprecating jokes. It has a great underlying theme of how friendship can overcome all. 

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie might be a good time for youngsters, diehards who read the novel, and adults who still get a kick out of fart jokes. If that kind of thing doesn’t float your boat, then this movie is not for you. If anything, the film might just take you back to your childhood and what the definition of best friend meant then.

Rating: C

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.