"In Search of Greatness" Review: One of The Best Sports Docs Ever Made

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In Search of Greatness is a unique documentary that exposes a different side of athleticism that is oftentimes overlooked. The creator, Gabe Polsky, is an up and coming filmmaker and a former Division 1 athlete who graduated from Yale University. His first film Red Army focused on the history of Hockey in the Soviet Union. In Search of Greatness doesn’t focus on one sport, instead it highlights athleticism joined with mindful dedication and training. This film exposes the sacrifices famous athletes have had to make in order to be the best of the best. From the interviews, sound editing, and archival footage, the film paints a beautiful perspective of what it takes to be the greatest. 

Kevin Sampson reviews Gabe Polsky's exciting documentary "Red Army".

The first important element to note are the interviews; Polsky was able to speak with legendary athletes from history like Wayne Gretzky, Jerry Rice, and Pelé. These interviews carry the storyline of the film, but most of all they give direct insight into the mind of a professional athlete. I was fortunate to interview the director Gabe Polsky, and he stated that it took about a year to get in contact with these athletes for a video interview. He also went on to state that it was incredibly difficult to get in touch with these legendary people, which lead to difficulty finding female athletes to interview. The lack of female athletes in the film is the only criticism I have of the film itself, but it is understandable how difficult it would be to schedule time to interview these athletes, let alone find the perfect mixture of athletes from throughout history. In order to alleviate this issue, Polsky includes a great deal of archival footage from female athletes, which attributes to the reconciliation of not being able to interview any women.

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On that note, the amount of archival footage that is included in this documentary is astonishing to say the least. The clips included are able to emphasize what the athletes are saying in the interviews perfectly and allows the audience to get inside the athlete’s mind. The dense amount of archival footage is so impressive that it truly makes the film; it adds to the storyline in such a way that it makes you as an audience member want to be great right alongside these athletes. This documentary inherently breeds feelings of nostalgia as a great deal of these athletes were highlighted in past commercials, movies, and television shows. You can’t help but reminisce on the moments, if you were lucky to be alive during that time, that you saw this history made. Alongside the clips included, the editing of the archival footage makes the film even more electric through juxtaposition, clever transitions, and emphasizing significant moments. They are an important addition to the film’s success as without these strong elements the film would have been completely different.

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The sound editing and mix is both profound and shocking. One particular moment that stands out is the juxtaposition of Jerry Rice preparing for a game with the throat singing of chanting monks replacing the natural sounds of the stadium. This particular juxtaposition alludes to the mindfulness of a great athlete; the complete presence they have to have while they are in the game. This combination of chanting and archival footage is so beautifully thought out and exquisitely illustrates the thought process that Rice used to go through. This philosophical undertone exposes the thoughtfulness that of director Gabe Polsky, and exposes his brilliance as a filmmaker. 

This film should be regarded in history as one of the greatest sports documentaries created. From the athletes highlighted in the documentary, to the intelligence exposed behind the athleticism, and the historical clips that show greatness; this film truly captures the magnitude of power one human can acquire if they believe in themselves. Documentaries like this one creates universal inspiration, allows aspiring athletes to see what it truly takes to be the best (and even how to get there). In Search of Greatness is beyond inspirational and one of a kind; I highly recommend attending a screening it when it is released.


Rating: A-

Comment

Julia Moroles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middleburg Film Festival '18: "Widows" Review

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In lesser hands Widows would be a run of the mill heist film. Give this script to any other director and you may not be challenged to keep up visually in the way Steve McQueen intelligently crafts this film. Give this script to any other cast and the words wouldn’t be elevated from the page to create characters that we see transform throughout the course of the film. Grab your popcorn folks; this is why we go to the movies!

Set in Chicago, Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Amanda (Carrie Coon) are found grieving the loss of their criminal husbands. After the hubbies perish in their latest heist attempt, their death means nothing to the people they owed. Local crime boss turning politician, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), seeks the money that Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his crew stole from him on principle, but also because he’s running against Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), the man whose family has been alderman of their district for two generations prior. Manning’s motive for getting the two million dollars is solid and with his cold-blooded gangsta brother, Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya), eager to help his brother win the elected spot, Veronica has no choice but to get to work. Equipped with a notebook her husband Harry left, Veronica decides that she can get out of debt and start a new life if she and her fellow widows can pull off the big caper Harry plotted out.

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McQueen’s work has always been raw, dark, and visually biting. He’s able to use those elements, set against the climate of current day Chicago, to give us a memorable, blockbuster heist film. The opening itself is a Soviet Montage of sorts that doesn’t lovingly bring you into the story but crashes together in a rhythmically edited mashup that quickly brings the audience up to speed. McQueen leads the story with his camera, laying the ground work for his actors to step in and knock the ball out of the park, and they come through.

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This review would be too long if each cast member got their time to shine here, but know that they do. Of note, Davis delivers a stellar performance as per usual by giving Veronica an internal conflict that is exhibited in a way that only Mrs. Davis can do over the course of the film! Elizabeth Debicki may certainly have the best character development throughout the film as you literally watch a shutdown and abused widow become a leader and empowered woman. All of the lead and supporting cast give us well rounded characters to watch on screen.

McQueen and co-screenwriter Gillian Flynn never telegraph an overt message in dialogue, but rather McQueen uses visuals to explain the issues in Chicago. The political race between Mulligan and Manning is a plot point, but there is a larger conversation to be had in our minds as audience members about the violence in the streets of the Chi. There’s a beautiful single take shot that shows the economic disparity that pushes the story forward while making you think afterwards. 

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The only small issue with the film may be in the eagerness to gain their dignity and respect, there is an ever pervasive message of the widows trying to prove themselves in their words. Their actions already show that they’re more than capable so we don’t need on the nose lines like “no one thinks we have the balls to pull this off!” While well delivered from Davis, it would be nice to be shown more than told. This in no way takes you out of the film or detracts from the empowerment that it delivers.

Widows proves that heist films can have layered meaning and story to them. It’s a good night out for the ladies, date night, and even time for the fellas! However you see it, make sure it’s in a theater. It will be well worth the money spent!

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.

"The Predator": A Case for Diversity & Feminism In The Sci-fi Genre

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Seasoned director Shane Black is no novice when it comes to making action films. In the past he’s been known for the Lethal Weapon Series, The Last Action Hero, and The Long Kiss Goodnight; and he doesn’t hold back in 2018’s The Predator. Not only did Black direct, but he also co-wrote the script for this film, which explains the superb dialogue. Black is considered one of the pioneer screenwriters of the action genre. While he made his mark with the Lethal Weapon Series, he also wrote the cult classic Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. So it’s no surprise that this installment in the Predator franchise is stand out in comparison to similar films in the Sci-Fi genre. The diversity of representation is truly thoughtful, the humor is timely, and the amount of blood and guts is just right. I’d go even as far to say the film pays homage to the original in a clever, new age way. 

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First and foremost the comic relief is perfectly timed, and every character has their quick-witted moment. However, something that is most prevalent is the politically correct lens that the humor is placed under. In a film that one may expect to have hyper-masculine dialogue, no one makes a sexist joke, and if a character makes a comment that is remotely sexist it is always thwarted with a feminist response. There are many types of comedy reflective of the film’s diverse characters. Of course, there is the typical archetype in all action films, “the comedian”, played by Keegan-Michael Key, but he is by no means the sole funny person in the film; the film doesn’t depend on his humor. Not only did the humor add a wonderful element to the film, the diverse humor from the characters also makes it a unique film. This type of humor isn’t often found in action films, but it can be found in the sci-fi genre; Shane Black hones in on the comedic diversity of his cast and plays to their strengths, making their humor inclusive yet different.

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Another strong aspect of the film is the diverse cast. The Sci-fi genre hasn’t always been incredibly inclusive with diversity, especially for people of color and women. This film broke the barriers by upholding people of color and women in a positive light within the script; even the “evil” characters were relatable on some level. With that being said, there are only two women in the film, which is typical of the Sci-Fi genre (usually there’s only one female lead and she is almost always the love interest). However in this film, there are two women. Emily (Yvonne Strahovski) is the wife of the main crazy soldier, Quinn McKenna played by Boyd Holbrook. Within the film the other male characters expect Emily to be like the other female archetypes of the Sci-Fi genre (just an ignorant love interest) but she is not only the wife of a soldier, she is trained like a soldier as well. There is a moment where I was actually surprised; Emily starts commanding the men around her to do things and as she proceeds to take a gun off the wall she clearly knows how to use it. Emily’s character isn’t a huge role by any means, but she certainly made an impression by being a badass. The second badass female character who is featured prevalently in the film is Olivia Munn who plays scientist Casey Bracket. She is clearly the most informed character on the Predator and she is also trained in combat. The main thing that stands out to me about Olivia Munn’s character is the fact that the other male soldiers expect her to be strong-willed and cunning; they even make jokes about how she surprises them. Throughout the film Olivia’s character is surrounded by men, and yet none of them really made a pass at her, beyond giving her a pathetic tinfoil unicorn as a gift. She does not become a love interest and she is a key character to understanding the “ultimate” Predator. There is even an eco-feminist lens that could arguably be placed on Olivia Munn’s character as well; she is the only character to interact with the alien dogs within the film, as she alone plays fetch with them. Both of these female characters outsmart men within the storyline multiple times; they are independent, smart, refreshingly tactful and well equipped to handle weapons.


Not only does this film represent women in a positive way, it represents men in a way that’s also unique to the genre. Male characters show more emotions than usual, they have heart to hearts with each other, and they understand that nobody is perfect. What makes these characters perfect, is their imperfections. Keegan-Michael Key plays the comedic soldier Coyle who I mentioned before, he has PTSD from being an incredibly accurate sniper. Key even has an anxiety attack in the film and one of the other male characters consoles him then says, “Its okay, this happens sometimes.” The fact that his PTSD is addressed along with Coyle’s anxiety attack is a big advancement in Hollywood action filmmaking, in the past soldiers would probably say something toxic like, “man up!” or “No time for tears soldier!” In action films, men are oftentimes displayed as emotionless and violent, especially men of color. However this group of crazy soldiers is a diverse bunch. Key is one of three men of color within the group and there are more men of color throughout the film as well including the actor behind the Predator, government officials, and scientists. Nebraska Williams, played by Trevante Rhodes, is an especially interesting character. He is clearly an insane man, but he is also loyal to his fellow soldiers and has a good heart. There is a moment in the film where Nebraska opens up about being a suicidal soldier, which is something I have never seen in Hollywood cinema before unless it is the sole focus of the film. This moment where he confides about his past depression is a monumental step away from the toxic masculinity that has hindered so many films in the past. The fact that the character felt comfortable to talk about his mental troubles truly is an important highlight of how men should be able to talk to each other.

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Alongside the soldiers defeating toxic masculinity, Quinn McKenna’s son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) is an interesting character as well. Rory is on the spectrum and it is believed that he has Aspergers (other kids tease him by calling him ASS-Burgers). This representation is certainly underrepresented in cinema and this film finds an interesting way to highlight how smart some people with Aspergers can truly be.  Even though Rory is a child, he is one of the smartest characters in the film.  In films of the past, the soldier father imposes toxic masculinity onto their child, yet in this film that was not the case. Quinn and Rory seem to have a wonderful relationship and communication, which says a lot when you have a son who has Aspergers. Alongside all of these characters, there is a Latino character that is incredibly religious and socially awkward, and a character with turrets syndrome. These representations might not seem like a lot, but they are incredibly important if we want to create meaningful cinema that is relatable to the population as a whole. This is a film that relates to more people than other Sci-Fi films in the past, which is important because white men are not the only demographic in this world. 


Finally, let’s talk about the gore. Horror films are one of my favorite genres of cinema and oftentimes Sci-Fi films dabble in horror elements to improve the action of the film. The Predator had the exact amount of gore that was needed to make the film great. There are still guts and blood but it isn’t to the degree where you feel queasy after you watch the film. Someone with a feint heart probably shouldn’t watch the film (I am quite desensitized to horror), but if you are a horror fanatic like myself, you will truly enjoy the effort behind the special effects horror makeup. Alongside the blood and guts, the costuming was great. I remember making a note while watching the film that the female scientists aren’t sexualized much like I have seen in the past. They don’t have a ridiculous amount of makeup on, they aren’t showing cleavage and they are viewed as equals to the male scientists. There is even a part where Olivia Munn’s character is naked and she is still not sexualized. This is almost revolutionary for the sci-fi genre, a naked woman who ISN’T sexualized.? Again, the costuming for the female scientists is great simply because they are equal to their male counterparts. The special effects makeup and 3D animation of The Predator was chilling! It’s both terrifying to look at and yet you can’t look away; its almost as if you want to figure out how they operate biologically. This element truly made the film, because in the past you could easily point out what is digitally added and what is makeup. This felt like they have finally found a perfect blend that makes the Predator more realistic than ever. 

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Overall I truly enjoyed the film, I think it is the first of many modernized and diverse Sci-Fi films that are to come. Of course the film isn’t perfect, there are still only two women in the film, and the majority of the main cast is still white, but these efforts of diversity are note-worthy and appreciated. As an audience, we need to support more films that are focusing on a diverse lens; we need to make it known that these types of films are welcomed. The world is not filled with only white men, so our films should not be filled with only white people, this change in diversity and inclusion will create a new generation of cinema that will possibly be even more enjoyable than the past; simply because the voiceless will now have a voice.

Overall Grade: A-

Comment

Julia Moroles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mission Impossible- Fallout" Review

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Mission: Impossible – Fallout might just be the best film of the summer! Like a nice fine wine that has aged gracefully, this series just keeps getting better and better. In a way, this series has taken off ever since JJ Abrams came on-board to direct Mission: Impossible III (he has stayed on as producer since). This is a film that somehow manages to outdo each action sequence it builds on and with every minute, slowly shows the great madness that Tom Cruise and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (who returns from 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, a first for the series) has in store for us. This film goes past nourishing your cinematic needs and leaves you yearning for more! It demands you see this on the biggest IMAX screen possible.

In a nutshell, the film takes place two years after the events of Rogue Nation and the successful capture of Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). After a deal goes south, the IMF team loses a case of three plutonium balls. A group called the Apostles, who spun-off from The Syndicate (the organization that we were introduced to the previous film), plan to detonate them in three cities, causing nuclear destruction. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) must find the missing plutonium case before its too late while being forced to work with CIA Agent August Walker (Henry Cavill), who has been ordered by CIA Director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) to find the case by any means necessary. As they track down the missing plutonium, Hunt and his team once again cross paths with Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who has orders that go directly against what IMF is trying to accomplish.

One of the ways that this film succeeds is that McQuarrie decided to make a more direct sequel than previous films in the franchise, while still, for the most part, having this entry stand on its own. McQuarrie does a good job in bringing in various threads from the past films together, while also having some fun nods to the first two films. For all the twists and turns that the story brings us, McQuarrie writes it so that it’s easy to understand the situation Hunt and his team are in. McQuarrie doesn’t overload you, and there’s no expositional dump, but instead he spaces it out so that you get the information when you need it. 

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Character building is strong in this one. For the first time in a long time, you feel more connected with the core group of characters. The chemistry between Cruise, Rhames, and Pegg is great! The humor lands when needed. In a sense, the subtitle has both a literal and figurative meaning, in that the threat of nuclear fallout, and figuratively, the fallout of the choices and past actions Ethan has made throughout the course of this series.

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Acting wise, Cruise continues to bring his all to the series. There’s no doubt that with this franchise, he has found his groove. Even more so with his facial expressions and body language, you can see the wear and tear that Ethan has endured for all these years, including some of the choices he had to choose. While not as charming as he was in 2015’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I liked what Cavill brought to the table as Walker. The dynamic of how Ethan and Walker approach what needs to be accomplished is noteworthy. (While I will say, Cavill is certainly more memorable in this than most of his appearances as Clark Kent/Superman in the DC films). Rhames has more to do this time, and Ferguson still delivers emotionally on what Ilsa has to deal with throughout the course of the film. 

For being the longest film in the series at 147 minutes, the pacing was quite good. We’re talking not look at your watch good! With each passing minute, you’re waiting to see what’s next. The real reason you’re reading this is get a feel for the action sequences, and let me tell you this: just when you think the action can’t top itself, it does. The practical stunts in the films are amazing to watch, and you can’t believe how much they were able to pull off. There are no over-edits on the action, and McQuarrie and his editor, Joe Hamilton, make the action easy to follow! The geographical location of the action scenes are well staged. Some of the action scenes, particularly the bathroom scene, are particularly brutal (and for how committed Cruise is, they left the take in of him breaking his ankle and the aftermath of what happened). 

Why do you need to see this above anything else? The IMAX sequences in this film are something to behold! They are absolutely jaw dropping. For sequences alone, and not counting films that basically used IMAX cameras for their entire shoot, they are some of the best usage of the IMAX format to date that I’ve seen since the Burj Khalifa sequence from 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. I implore you, you have to see this on the biggest IMAX screen you can find! The music from Lorne Balfe was certainly memorable in places, with it being more emotional than the past couple of the films, while still employing and updating the classic theme we all know.

Some of the plot twists and revelations in the film are easy to predict, with just a tad too much plot convenience. I’d suggest going into this movie cold outside of this review. While the practical effects soar, some of the visual effects looked a little wonky, particularly during the third act.

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Overall, Mission: Impossible – Fallout certainly ranks as one of the best films of the series, if not the best when it’s all said and done. This is one of the best action films ever assembled during this decade and deservedly needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible. It’s a blast from the first minute onward, and leaves you ready to watch the next film immediately. I could watch a new M:I film for the rest of my life so thank you Tom Cruise for putting your life on the line to continually bring us entertainment for our disposal. This entry was one heck of a ride!

Rating: A-

"Solo: A Star Wars Story" Review

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Solo: A Star Wars Story is the surprise of the summer. It’s a miracle that the final product turned out the way that it did. I wasn’t expecting much because of the behind the scenes chaos the film production had (in short, original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired by LucasFilm with a few weeks left in production due to disagreements between them, Lawrence Kasdan, the screenwriter, and LucasFilm over the direction that the film should take and Ron Howard stepped in as their replacement). Since this happened, I thought this was going to be another Justice League situation where you could tell which director shot each scene, and the trailers didn’t do much to gain my confidence. Truth be told, since this had the most publicized troubles of all the Disney Star Wars films, I thought this was going to be a disaster, but much to my surprise, I was wrong on that. And this is the most fun film that Howard has directed in a very long time, and it’s up there with 2013’s Rush as one of the best films he has made during this decade.

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The film covers the early days of Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), how he came to be the character we all came to love, and how he crosses path with his future co-pilot and loyal companion Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). In short, after a job goes south, Han, Chewie, and Han’s mentor Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrleson) need to repay the debt that Beckett has with gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). In order to complete their mission, with Vos’ top lieutenant Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), someone from Han’s past in tow, they will need Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and what he considers to be the best ship in the galaxy, the Millennium Falcon. 

The first thing on everyone’s mind will be, how is Ehrenreich as Han? Well, he’s a little clunky at first and somewhat stiff, but then he finds his rhythm about 30 minutes in, and makes the character his own. I enjoyed that he doesn’t try to amp up or imitate Harrison Ford’s Han, yet you can still see hints of who Han will become in the future. Glover puts in an amazing performance as Lando. Glover absolutely kills it! Whenever he’s on screen, he basically steals the film. Lando is charming as ever, showing how much he’s full of himself, while still possessing the charisma to win you over. Harrleson seems like he’s having fun playing Beckett, and it’s a nice change of pace from some of the serious roles he has taken on for the last few years. In the tradition of scene-stealing droids throughout the series, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Lando’s droid companion, gets the job done and provides some laughs. Clarke as Qi’ra was fine in this, certainly better than some of her film roles she has taken on outside of Game of Thrones. Chewie finally gets to do something in this one unlike in the past few episodic films, and I enjoyed the chemistry that Suotamo and Ehrenreich exhibited between one another.

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For the story itself, credited to Kasdan (who previously co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens) and his son Jonathan, it is serviceable enough. They pay some nice homage to the original films, and there are some fun Easter Eggs along the way. Since this is basically an origin story, the Kasdans for the most part, provide some fun answers about Han’s background. If anyone knows Han inside and out, Lawrence would be your guy. Story and directing wise, you can see the western influence that the Kasdans and Howard were going for with this film. Howard does a good job in visually depicting each of the planets that we go to throughout the film, with some help from his DP, Bradford Young (this is his first big budget film he shot after films like Selma and getting an Oscar nomination for his work on Arrival). Howard keeps the fun up, and for the cynic like me going into the screening; I will admit that I had a smile on my face from time to time. If you didn’t know about the BTS problems, you wouldn’t be able to tell which directors shot what scenes, and it felt seamless enough that nothing felt out of place. As expected, the creature and set designs were on point. For a 135-minute runtime that Solo displays, the pacing was good and it kept right along (it did seem to go by faster than Star Wars: The Last Jedi), and some of scenes were nicely edited that they had a fun rhythm to it. Finally, the music from John Powell, with some help from John Williams, might be the best-composed music yet for a Disney Wars film. Powell does a nice job in paying tribute to what we heard before, or in this case what we will hear later on, and putting a new spin to some of the classic tracks.

If there were any problems that Solo exhibited, it’s that some of the plotting felt a little too convenient at times, in that you can probably figure out what’s going to happen.  The first 15-20 minutes or so are a little clunky and rough around the edges, with the first few scenes so darkly lit that it’s a little hard to see what’s going on. The villain of the film, Vos, isn’t particularly interesting and didn’t grab me, but I wonder if this was one of the casualties of the reshoots and the switching of directors (Michael K. Williams had originally played Vos as a motion capture alien, but when he couldn’t come back, they brought in Bettany and reconfigured the character as a human). For being featured in the marketing, Thandie Newton’s Val was wasted and basically had nothing to do whenever she was on screen. Lastly, the love story that they hint at in the film between Han and Qi’ra is nothing special. Unlike Han and Leia, you never really feel it with Han and Qi’ra, even though we hear throughout the film that there’s something between them.

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Overall, and I know that I said this word a few times over the course of this review, but Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fun film. It starts off rocky, but once it finds its rhythm, it gets good. If you were one of those people who were disappointed with The Last Jedi, I think you will have some fun with this. This won’t change the game, but if you’re looking for something to sit back and relax for a few hours, this is a good choice. I would be open to see more Star Wars Stories in the future, since I thought this was going to be the last film in this series, after the problems that this and Rogue One had. I wouldn’t even mind seeing more films with Ehrenreich as Han, but get me that Lando spinoff film ASAP! On that note, I would recommend checking this out in the theater. If you were a skeptic like me, you might be surprised with the outcome of this.

Rating: B

"Avengers: Infinity War" Review: It's All Led Up To this!

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Wait a minute, wait a minute. Let me catch my breath! We’ve been leading up to this battle for ten years, and I don’t think anyone who sees Avengers: Infinity War can say that they are disappointed. For the few people who inevitably may, at minimum you have to respect the gargantuan charge that Marvel had in bringing everything and everyone together. 

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You’ll know the film’s tone and stakes from the opening scene. Things are grim. The villains (Thanos and his cronies) are extremely powerful. They have a power that feels like we haven’t seen before. It’s exercised in such a way that it feels like they can’t be taken on one on one or even two on one at times. The main bad guy in this film is Thanos (Josh Brolin), the purple giant that we’ve only caught glimpses of up until now. He’s bent on collecting all of the Infinity Stones now that he has the gauntlet that can wield their power. Marvel gives us a complex villain in Thanos in that through his twisted logic, he believes he can bring balance to the universe by wiping out half of it.

Doing the math on the number of stones, and where to find them, the Avengers quickly spring into action on taking a stand. Throughout the film, different heroes are in different place across space but they’re all working towards the same goal: stopping Thanos.  It’s a desperate situation that literally has the fate of the universe in the balance.

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Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely had an extremely large task on their hands in weaving a tapestry of different characters together while creating one cohesive story. For the most part, everyone gets some time to shine. Characters like Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are more than just eye candy in this film. They have a heft to their story that makes them feel more apart of the story than they have in the past. It’s great to see the continued evolution of characters like Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and Shuri (Letitia Wright) in their power or intelligence. The writing suggests that in between films thing happened rather than spelling it out for us.

The Russo brothers did a great job in making sure that they respected the directors work that has come before them. So Thor (Chris Hemsworth) feels like Taika Waititi’s Thor (thank God). Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Wakanda feels like Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther and his vision of Wakanda. The pacing of the film is on the money as well. The 156 minute run time is earned in such a way that you want to see more. 

The biggest issue I had with the film is that at times it did feel like you could see the stitches in the segments being put together for the overall story and to give each character some screen time. While there were plenty of emotional moments throughout the film, some of them felt hollow due to either the writing not setting up the weight of its  importance or the power of the Infinity Gauntlet.

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With that said, I haven’t seen a movie where the audience was one in experiencing it together in a while. Funny moments receive uproarious laughter, grim moments received pen-drop silence as we all held our breath, and awesome fight scenes and choreography got us all cheering. This was a daunting task. It’s the type of task that you say shoot for the moon and if you miss you’ll be among the stars! Well Marvel shot for the moon, and in my opinon, planted their flag as Titans in movie magic. The ending will send you reeling!

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.

"Black Panther" Review: Why Representation Is Key!

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Any thoughtful critic would tell you that there are some films that you just don’t know where to start in writing your review. You may need to see the film more than once. You may need the time to live with the film in your mind to find the words to describe it eloquently in written form. Black Panther is one of those movies for me. It’s a cinematic experience that, having seen it twice before penning this, is equally powerful on repeat viewings.

Following T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) after the events of Captain America: Civil War, the film picks up with him returning to Wakanda as king. So in short, the film is about a young man ascending to the throne and dealing with the weight of that. Yet, writers Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, give us something more. It’s a movie that analyzes what a person is made of. What really makes a king, a leader, or a person great? Similarly, what makes us bad, evil, or the villain? 

Wakanda is the most technologically advanced nation on Earth. Hidden in plain sight, it’s main resource, vibranium, has allowed the nation to evolve leap years ahead of the rest of society. Yet, there are those who want to get their hands on the precious metal. As an old and new enemy comes on the Wakandan radar, T’Challa fights to make the best decision for his people and the world as a whole. 

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The casting in this film is absolutely perfect. Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue is a man you wouldn’t even let your kids say hello to. Danai Gurira’s General Okoye is fierce, intelligent, strong, and has a beautiful spirit that pops out at just the right times between upholding her duties to the throne that she takes seriously. Lupita Nyong’o is another stand out as Nakia, T’Challa’s love interest and friend. Nakia is not diminished to just a romantic interest in this film. She’s a fighter for justice who would prefer to live outside of Wakanda, making a difference with people who are impoverished, over enjoying the spoils of her royal bloodline. Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger is the first villain we’ve seen that we could get behind, at least understand and earnestly believe his motives. His calm, intellect and patience in execution of the long game is what makes him so dangerous. It creates an equally powerful enemy that T’Challa has to go up against and sets the stage for serious stakes! But is he really a villain? The Martin versus Malcolm of T'Challa versus Killmonger metaphor is there. T’Challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), brings the humor in some scene stealing moments. The chemistry between Boseman and Wright is totally believable as a family unit!

That was just the main characters in the film. You’ll certainly enjoy Winston Duke’s M’Baku as the funny but beast of a leader of the Jabari tribe. Everywhere you look, there’s black star power in Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Sterling K. Brown, John Kani and more. Writer/director Ryan Coogler was the right person for the job. His use of the camera is masterful. His angles stress the magnitude of the environment when necessary, and singles in on intimate moments appropriately. Knowing what to put in the frame and equally what not to show is a skill not all directors have. Watching his set ups and reveals after an additional viewing proves that he’s one of the great directors working today! (I may have to write a separate analysis review as to avoid spoilers here, but Coogler doesn’t play.)

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The score of this film is absolutely beautiful. Ludwig Goransson blends in tribal shouts and African drums in such a way that it very subtly pays homage to Africa, while accenting and supplementing the action or drama on screen. The combination only helps you sink further into the world of Wakanda.   

The costume design from Ruth Carter is exquisite! Black Panther is a film in which it’s costume and wardrobe is like wallpaper, done well you won’t notice it but tacky wallpaper sticks out like a sore thumb. The colors, designs for different tribes, and materials are incredible. The production design is a beautiful imagining of an advanced civilization in Africa. Everyone came to WORK on Marvel’s first black superhero film in the MCU. 

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Black Panther represents Marvel’s showcasing of a lesser known character, who after this film will be a global favorite (for those who didn’t know the comic character). It also represents the showcasing of a predominately black cast and afro-futuristic story. It represents! In some ways, the importance of this film with the cinematic representation of a black superhero is on par with Barack Obama becoming president. Whoa! Did I say that? I did. Until this film, we haven’t had a black superhero who is as intelligent, rich, and powerful as his white counterparts. We haven’t seen a King and a hero like this. We haven’t seen black women who are equally elegant, poised, and intelligent as they are strong, skilled in combat, independent yet team players. Can movie characters be role models? They may not be the type you can talk to in the flesh, but they certainly are displayed as examples that little black boys and girls can be inspired by.

Who are you? It’s a question that is asked multiple times throughout the film and in various ways. Knowing yourself and who you are is huge. This film subtly pushes the importance of knowing who you are, where you come from, and charting your path to greatness. Sometimes that takes seeing someone like you do something that you want to do but never thought possible. (Don’t read this next portion if you don’t want a spoiler, but this example doesn’t have any importance to the overall plot of the film.) Those possibilities and the beauty of sparking a young mind is encapsulated in the closing scene of the film when a young inner city kid is exposed to a Wakandan aircraft. As he looks at the aircraft he takes a moment and connects the dots of T’Challa being its owner. For anyone who doesn’t understand why this film is so important from a cultural level, that’s why. When a barrier can be broken, or a glass ceiling shattered, that means everything to the person who has been held back. Everyone should have the opportunity to dream and strive to see their dreams realized!

There is no wasted space in this film...except maybe the ubiquitous Stan Lee appearance. The film hits a perfect pace and tone, and has a great balance of suspense, humor and action. It’s Marvel’s best at-bat in my opinion, and how it represents is just icing on that cake. Ok. You’re finished reading, get to the theater ASAP! Talk to me in the comments section if you’ve seen it!

Rating: A

Listen to my interviews w/ Black Panther producer Nate Moore and costume designer Ruth E. Carter here!

Movie Review: The Curious Case of "Proud Mary"

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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.

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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”. 

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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.

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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

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.

"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.

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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.

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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+

"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

"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

"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.

"Wonder Woman" Review

With DC’s recent track record, it was hard to be any more than cautiously optimistic going into Wonder Woman.  But in the end, it is one of their best films!  I’d say it’s my favorite DC comics movie since Christopher Reeve.  It might not be a coincidence that Gal Gadot embodies Wonder Woman in a way that’s reminiscent of Reeve.  Reeve showed a Superman who actually enjoyed being a hero, even if it was difficult.  Gadot’s Wonder Woman is the same and it’s always refreshing to see that on the big screen.

There’s been a trend lately where movies feel like your glass is half full or half empty.  But Wonder Woman has moments of intense sadness and despair mixed in with feelings of humor and love.  This isn’t just an action movie with some jokes, it’s a film where the central theme is that pain and joy are often never far apart.  Some of that comes from the setting.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film that even tried to capture “the war to end all wars,” but it really works here.  The setting and the narrative intertwine very well.

Love is one of the main themes of the film, but it was also clearly a driving force behind the production.  Nearly every aspect is put together with a sense of pride and skill that has been missing from quite a few summer blockbusters of recent years.  The fight scenes were not just enjoyable, but you could actually see and follow most of the action.  When you watch Diana fight, you'll be able to really appreciate her skill and power.  The art direction and costume design are perfect, and the soundtrack is fantastic!  All the performances are really good, though Etta Candy is underused and several of the villains are not particularly three dimensional.

 Director Patty Jenkins giving Gal Gadot instruction.

Director Patty Jenkins giving Gal Gadot instruction.

Everyone is going to be looking at Patty Jenkins as a barometer for the future of women-led blockbusters, which is an unfair and unnecessary burden to place on her shoulders, but what are superhero movies about if not unfair burdens?  Jenkins rises to the task, and honestly I’d like to see DC give her a lot more to do in the future. 

There are things to quibble with, as always.  While it’s the best use of slow motion I’ve seen in years, it is still overused.  There’s a framing story that could have been left out, but I could see why some audience members would want it, especially if they’re coming in from the more recent franchise films rather than a comic book background.  But none of that takes away from a film that is incredibly enjoyable, and one of the best of its genre.

Rating: A

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Mary Ratliff

Mary Ratliff is a storyteller at heart, and is equally at home working on fiction and documentary films.  As an active member of the D.C. film community, she has worked on several features, a webseries, commercials, and numerous short films as a member of the art department and a script supervisor.

As a screenwriter, Mary was a finalist in 2010's DC Shorts Screenwriting Competition and the recipient of the Will Interactive Dramatic Short Screenplay award for her script, "Catching Up."  The film also received the Panavision New Filmmaker Grant, and the completed short won the Visions Award for Outstanding Thesis Project in 2011.

Ratliff has earned a Masters of Fine Arts in Film and Electronic Media at American University (Washington D.C.) and a BA from Hollins University (Roanoke, VA) with a major in Film and Photography and a minor in Art History.

Besides her work in Film, Mary is also an avid photogapher and writer, and has written articles for online magazines including io9 (see below). Mary also enjoys playing video games in her free time. It was her love of the gaming community that lead to her latest film, the feature length documentary Good Game.

"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" Review

It pains me to say that if you liked this year’s Power Rangers (I did not), than you’ll really enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. If you enjoy the Fast and Furious franchise (I know I do), then you’ll enjoy this film. If the combination of those two films makes you want to wait for this film to come on Netflix, do it. While it has the self-awareness and humor of its’ predecessor, this sequel is just another step in the ever widening pyramid that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

We find the Guardians protecting batteries for an elite group of beings in the opening scene. The scene encapsulates the fun that we’ve come to like with baby Groot dancing in the midst of danger. Director James Gunn keeps us focused on Groot without letting us know what’s really happening in the fight. Gunn nails his vision and direction in this film, but traded his effort in the writing. Just as quickly as the Guardians become heroes, they have the same group of elite beings chasing them through the galaxy. Thus, the film takes off.

Family is the tie that binds the movie together much like the Fast and Furious. Whether the Guardians are dealing with blood relatives, or their own makeshift family, they each have to learn what family is all about. The cast has great chemistry and it comes through in the film but more so when they're fighting and taking jabs at each other. Seeing them learn the true meaning of family in the midst of saving the galaxy from insurmountable odds is the part that’s tough to swallow. You can easily visualize the index cards mapped on the writer’s room board with each character, what they should learn in this installment, and lines connecting them to the points in the film where it should happen. 

The problem with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is that it feels like re-hashed soap opera storylines set to a decent soundtrack and beautiful visuals. It has the son who finally finds his long lost father, the sibling rivalry so strong that they’re enemies...except they love each other deep down, a character who tries to protect his own heart by keeping people at a distance by being a jerk, and so on. The movie is full of moments that should make you tear up or feel good inside, but they feel forced and designed, much like Power Rangers

Basically, this film wants to ride the successful formula of Vol. 1 but doesn’t want to put in the real work to make it great. So while the film was entertaining and a break from the real world for me, it couldn’t stop me from checking my watch. Sure, it did its job in expanding the MCU, but this was a bland installment. I dare someone to tell me this doesn’t look like The Expendables 6 with its cameos and characters at points in the movie! Stay to the end of the movie for the multiple credit scenes, but you could also just stay home this weekend.

Rating: D+

Comment

Kevin Sampson

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

"Logan" Review: Super Hero Films Take Note

Can you imagine an X-Men film in which there is less focus on spectacle and powers and more focus on drama and human relationships? How awesome would that be? Well look no further! Director James Mangold’s Logan manages to give us the perfect blend of emotional drama, storytelling and brutal action! 

Set in 2029, a rundown Logan (Hugh Jackman) aka Wolverine is a limo driver. He’s trying to save up enough cash to buy a boat and sail off into the sunset with Professor Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart) and mutant tracker Caliban (Stephen Merchant). He just wants to be off the grid, and he seems to be doing it right off the Mexican border. Until a nurse named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) comes to him for help.

Gabriela wants to enlist the battle scarred Logan to get a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keene) to a place called “Eden” in North Dakota. With enough cash dangling over his head to get the Sunseeker he desires, and a little prodding by Charles, Logan takes the mission. 

The Wolverine quickly finds out that Laura aka X-23 is a product of biotech company Transigen, and they want her back. Laura’s powers are similar to Logan’s with a small improvement. Logan embraces its rated R status to drop a few F bombs, but mainly to show us the most brutal violence we’ve seen in the X-Men movie-verse. It’s the kind of brawling that takes Logan back to his animalistic roots at times, especially when faced with the “soulless” X-24. Yet, for a supposed swan song for the character, it’s equally a chance to see how damaged Logan is and how each fight seems to make him more mortal with his healing ability so slow. The makeup team really deserves some credit here.

Hugh Jackman puts it all on the line for the character that catapulted his career some 17 years ago. Watching Sir Patrick Stewart as an aged Charles Xavier with a degenerative brain disease is nothing short of a treat! The relationship and chemistry between Logan and Charles is equally authentic and touching. One would have to believe that the personal off screen friendship and historic relationship of these characters is what comes through on screen. Dafne Keene is equal parts believable (as a kid unleashing brutality on dangerous men), funny, cute, and scaryall in one. The kid can do some damage! The relationship between Logan and Laura is another great example of character development that we invest in as viewers. 

Logan just might be The Dark Knight of the X-franchise films. It’s dark, gritty, but packed with heart. They could have easily shaved off 15 minutes, but it’s certainly worth the watch and should serve as a reminder of what super hero films can be and do!

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.

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" Review: Keep Em' Coming!

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is not a film about if, but how. How did the Rebel Alliance get the plans to the Death Star? Well, it wasn’t easy, and that’s where this off shoot from Star Wars episodes fits in.

Imagine what it was like in 1945 as the Atom Bomb was about to be tested. That’s where things stand in Rogue One. The Death Star is up and running, but the planet killer has yet to be used. With time running short, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is recruited by the Rebellion early in the film as an access key. Her bloodline and past makes her important to the group’s plan to see the Death Star destroyed. 

The movie is more a war film than anything like its predecessors. Most of the film is tactical in nature. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a recruiter and soldier in the Rebel Army, extracts Jyn out of Imperial transport vehicle with the help of his reprogrammed K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). Jyn is offered the opportunity to help the Rebellion, or continue as she was in the hands of The Empire.

Time is of the essence on both sides as Orson Krennic (the always stellar Ben Mendelsohn) is going to show The Empire that the Death Star, the project he’s headed up, is in full working order. As plans on both sides move forward we’re introduced to Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and Baz Malbus (Wen Jiang), two guardians of the temple on planet Jedha, which is being mined by The Empire as fuel. The Empire is on high alert as an extremist in the Rebellion named Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) keeps them on their toes, along with the rest of the Rebel Army.

Suspense and tension is high in this film, while keeping some humor sprinkled in to break things up. With everyone on edge as the clock is running out, it makes for good pacing. Director Gareth Edwards captures the ground and air fights in such a way that we feel entrenched with soldiers, while seeing the scale of the enemy.

A lot should be said about the diversity of the cast. Felicity Jones brings a nice balance of strength to her character, while carrying the emotional weight of her past in her eyes. The combination of Jones, Luna, Yen and Jiang throughout the film make for a great rag tag family and diversity that isn’t too often seen in a big budget film like this because screen time is spread well amongst the group.

In case you were wondering, Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) is in the film just the right way and for the right amount of time! His presence is known and when it’s felt it’s felt, but it is sure to please any Vader fan. Rest assured, they got that part right!

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a nice entry in setting up the epic saga to follow. It instills confidence for more stand-alone movies in the coming years as well. Since my kids won’t know the difference, when they reach an age that Darth Vader doesn’t scare them, we’ll start with Rogue One and work our way up to episode 8 (by then)! One through three will always be extra credit.

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.

"Doctor Strange" Review

Another lesser-known hero is being introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe this weekend in Doctor Strange. As we near a decade of the super hero powerhouse charting unchartered territory, we can expect to see more heroes and teams of the sort. Doctor Strange is a visually captivating and entertaining installment that I’d place ahead of its similarly lesser-known Ant-Man predecessor.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant neurosurgeon with an ego to match his brains. When a car accident gives him nerve damage in his hands, he sets off to the Far East to find a solution after western medicine fails him. While in Nepal, he meets a group involved in mystic arts at a place called Kathmandu. This allows him to shift his focus and brilliance into studying under The Ancient One (a bald Tilda Swinton), the leader of the group. Strange learns quickly and is able to apply his photographic memory that once helped him retain information on the body, to retain information of various spells.

While there, Strange meets Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) a master amongst the group, Wong (Benedict Wong) guardian of the library of spells, and eventually Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) a disciple gone rogue to learn the darker arts. There is nothing too new here in terms of basic story and plot folks. Yet what is refreshing is the way in which we’re brought into this new side of the Marvel world. As Wong says “the Avengers save the world from physical dangers. We safeguard it against more mystical threats.” While this film does have a certain feel of Inception meets The Matrix, there is no set up as to how things work. We’re just thrown into it from the opening scene. And it’s awesome!

We go on the same trippy ride that Strange goes on as he learns about the mystical realms and multi-verse. The visual effects are stunning and director Scott Derrickson does a great job of keeping us aware of where things are happening in the frame without losing us due to them. Benedict Cumberbatch brings a swagger and arrogance to the role that rivals Tony Stark's, so I can’t wait to see the two of them (Robert Downey Jr.) in a scene together. This is a movie with tons of A-listers though, so the performances of Swinton, Ejiofor, Mikkelsen and Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer (Strange’s work colleague and pseudo love interest) are all top notch.

This is a smooth installment in bringing in another Marvel character and revealing another side of the universe that is mind-bending. It keeps its light-hearted dialogue but well-rounded storytelling that we’ve come to expect. I’m looking forward to seeing Dr. Strange using his powers in a team up film. There’s no question that we’ll see that soon enough as you’ll find out in the film. Be sure to stick around to the end for 2 post-credit roll sequences. Due to the visuals, IMAX 3-D may be worth the upcharge if you’ve got a little extra in your pocket 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.

"Jason Bourne": Older Damon, Old Formula

Matt Damon is back in arguably his career defining role as Jason Bourne. The new film, re-teams Damon and director Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy, Bourne Ultimatum) and the formula still works. It’s the action and set pieces that make this spy thriller pop, while it tastes like bubble gum on it’s way out. You know, the kind that started out great but you’re getting a couple final chews out of it before you spit it out?

Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), embedded in a hacktivist group, hacks into the CIA and finds information that’s just good enough to bring Jason (Damon) back on to the grid. Or maybe, it’s the fact that she in particular contacts him to meet. Whatever the case, the two meet in Athens, Greece amidst an uprising, bringing the agency to the party as well. Armed with new information about his past, a chain reaction kicks off for Bourne to follow the trail.

In this installment, we’re introduced to the new CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and the head of the CIA’s cyber ops division, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander). Lee is put on the case after using her skills to prove she can keep up with Bourne’s moves. Vincent Cassel is also introduced as the knew Asset from the program, who just may have a tie to Bourne’s past as well.

Greengrass knows how to build tension visually. He gives us the lay of the land in a wide and then twists our focus with mids and close-ups as to keep us on edge with the characters. He offers us two amazing chase sequences in Athens and on the Las Vegas strip! It’s the type that will have you hold your breath, and if you need a reminder that it’s just a movie, you have to salute the choreography of it all!

While the film is stacked with a talented cast, everyone seems to have either dialed in their performance, or been written into a stereotypical corner. Vikander’s Heather Lee is fresh off the cookie sheet of other driven, elite hackers who have risen to the top of the bad guy class. She’s cold, calculated, but bland personality wise. Which is sad because Vikander is such a talent as evidenced by her recent Oscar win. Tommy Lee Jones just got paid for this one. He picked up a check and paid bills. It’s in Damon and Cassel, the two characters who do the least talking, that we get the heartfelt performances.

Jason Bourne is a solid entry into the franchise as far as giving us another chance to see Matt Damon as Jason. The action sequences alone are reason to see it in theaters on the big screen. It’s unfortunate that the overall story and some of its characters don’t get the same care!

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.

"Star Trek Beyond" Review

In today’s world, where daily demonstrations of violence, hatred, and fear offer us an uncertain vision of our future, we need an escape. We need movies that take us to worlds that are not our own. Movies that depict people of different races, backgrounds, and sexualities working together in harmony. Movies that thrill us, make us laugh, dazzle us.

We need movies like Star Trek Beyond.

Taking over the captain’s chair from previous series director J.J. Abrams, Justin Lin (Fast and Furious) has crafted a vessel that’s just as sleek, fast-paced, and exciting as its predecessors. Make no mistake: this is not cerebral, thought-provoking sci-fi; it’s a full-speed-ahead action flick. However, there is something notable about Star Trek Beyond in how it celebrates the series’ fifty-year history and how it honors its enduring characters. This film was made with so much love, warmth practically radiates from the screen.

While on their five-year mission to explore the far reaches of space, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise fall under attack by a hostile alien threat and find themselves marooned on an uncharted planet. With a damaged spacecraft and no means of rescue, the crew must find a way to get back home while evading the grasp of Krall (Idris Elba), a mysterious enemy who will stop at nothing to destroy them.

This film really is the total package. It has terrific action set pieces orchestrated by Lin, a witty script co-written by Simon Pegg (who also plays Scotty), and an impressive new character in the form of Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, Kingsman: The Secret Service), a badass alien warrior who aides the crew on their journey.

Beyond also has something unexpected: genuine heartstring tugging. In touching ways I will dare not spoil, the film pays tribute to the memories of two legendary Star Trek actors: our Spock Prime, Leonard Nimoy, and our Chekov, Anton Yelchin. Seeing Yelchin, who tragically died just last month, onscreen—so youthful, so energetic—is melancholy indeed.

But Beyond also engages us emotionally in another way: it furthers the development of these characters we love so. There is a very tender and heartwarming scene involving Spock and Bones (Karl Urban) that reveals layers to each character that were not even hinted at in the previous entries. And Captain Kirk, Scotty, and Sulu (John Cho), who were all so lacking in any kind of character growth in the last film, Into Darkness (2013), all have their moments to shine here. These actors embody their characters so thoroughly and work with each other so well that they transcend any shortcomings the film might have.

And Star Trek Beyond does, indeed, have its shortcomings.

While it is an entertaining and well-made film, Beyond doesn’t seem bold enough to break away from the established formula. Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) continue their lover’s quarrel that seems to never end, and we are treated to the now-routine sight of seeing the Enterprise get totally wrecked yet again. Idris Elba’s Krall—at first an imposing screen presence—is drained of all menace or intrigue once his “motivation” is revealed in the third act. It’s here where the film completely deflates, for what begins as a tale of adventure and survival takes a turn for a plot we’ve seen before.

Despite these flaws, Star Trek Beyond is still a rousing—and as I said before, necessary—entertainment, and until that third act twist, it’s true to the spirit of discovery and camaraderie established in the original series. When Gene Roddenberry first created the Star Trek television series in 1966, he envisioned a future of unity and optimism. Fans will be happy to discover that Star Trek Beyond is very much in keeping with that vision. It encourages us to boldly go… and to look beyond to a bright and beautiful tomorrow. Happy fifty years, Star Trek. Here’s to fifty more.

Grade: B

"The Nice Guys" review

Co-writer/director Shane Black is back at it again with a buddy action-comedy film. Known for penning hits like Lethal Weapon, modern noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and mixed genred Iron Man 3, this time around he’s cooked up a 70’s retro-noir starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. The duo come together to solve the case of an alleged suicide of a female porn star in The Nice Guys

The film asks you to set aside your brain and understand that coincidences are going to happen from the opening sequence. A young boy is checking out his father’s adult magazine, when a car crashes into the house. The car happens to be driven by adult-film actress, Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), the same woman the boy was just looking at in the magazine. From there, you can expect the rest of the story to follow suit.

Enter muscle-for-hire Jackson Healy (Crowe) and alcoholic/private eye Holland March (Gosling). Although they first meet when Healy breaks March’s arm for a seemingly separate case, they combine forces to search for a missing girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley), who seems to be connected to the dead adult film star. As the two begin down the rabbit hole, they eventually run into plenty of dead bodies from the porn industry and uncover a large conspiracy. 

Did I mention they allow March’s tween-age daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice) to tag along for a lot of the ride? While her character is a "girl who has had to grow up quickly by looking after her to-drunk-to-drive father" at times throughout the movie (and we can assume in the past), the humor that she’s supposed to infuse doesn’t always work. Should a little girl really be watching pornography at an adult industry party? Drunk or not, should March and Healy really allow her to tag along? (Although at times they do try to send her away.) Holly is a major part in the film who works and doesn’t work throughout the movie in such a way as to act as a speed bump rather than acceleration pad.

Crowe and Gosling give performances worth most of the buzz the film has been getting. Crowe’s straight man compliments Gosling’s entertaining physical humor. They play off each other well and own the dialogue. 

Black has fully developed characters in The Nice Guys. He has nice touches of mystery and restraint with issues like Healy’s aversion to alcohol versus March’s indulgence. He hits many of the twists and turns that you expect from a film noir. Yet it’s the plot that is too convoluted, asking you to just go with it as the detectives make random connections through happenstance. I just wish the plot was as thorough as it’s likable characters.  

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.