"Incredibles 2" Review

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Incredibles 2 is a fun summer movie sequel. The new film from Brad Bird, whose previous film 2015’s Tomorrowland underperformed greatly at the box office, returns to the world that he created back in 2004 (which feels oddly similar to how after 2012’s John Carter bombed badly at the box office, director Andrew Stanton retreated back to Pixar to direct 2016’s Finding Dory). Even though it feels safe at times, this is an enjoyable film from start to finish! Given Pixar’s spotty track record with their sequels, I would say that this is their best sequel they have made since 2010’s Toy Story 3.

Immediately picking up after the events of the first film, the Parr family comes across Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a telecommunications tycoon who wants to bring superheroes back into the spotlight. With the assistance of his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), they propose a plan to have Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) be the face of the new program. Helen goes off on her missions leaving Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) in charge of looking out for their kids: Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (newcomer Huck Milner, replacing Spencer Fox), and Jack-Jack. Along the way, the Incredibles comes face to face with The Screenslaver; a mysterious figure that has nefarious plans of his own.

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I enjoyed how Bird switched up the dynamic in this one by having Helen take the lead while Bob watches the kids. It’s hilarious to see how Bob adapts to being a stay at home dad, and you can tell that Bob wants no part of it as everything slowly overwhelms him. More often than not, some of the strongest parts of the film revolve around the domestic aspect of the story with fun moments Bird plays with. The voice acting is still on point, especially between Hunter and Nelson and the chemistry they have with one another. Bird gives strong characterizations to the family themselves allowing each family member have their own standout scene. The MVP of the film is easily Jack-Jack, who they all come to realize is way harder to handle than they previously thought. Although at times it feels as if his scenes are lifted from a Looney Tunes short. Side note, if Disney/Pixar can make a spin-off film or a short involving Jack-Jack and Edna (also Bird), that would be awesome!

The animation in this was a beauty to look at, which is expected from Pixar, and there are some gorgeous shots that Bird and his team put together. The 60s aesthetics that Bird employed with the first film is carried over into here, and at times, the film feels like an animated James Bond movie come to life. The action scenes are inventive and nicely edited, with each having their own rhythm and pace to them that doesn’t feel stale. Finally, Michael Giacchino’s score is an absolute standout! Make no mistake about it, it’s one of the best film scores I’ve heard in a theater so far this year!

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While I had a good time in the theater watching this, the story in this is predictable at times. This was one of those films where you can figure out the basic plot points of the film from watching the trailers. I didn’t buy into the villain’s motivation at all in the context of the story. In fact, a couple of the storylines that we are introduced to don’t get resolved at all, as if Disney/Pixar were setting certain things up for an inevitable Incredibles 3. Finally, even though the family had great character development, there isn’t much character development with the other characters in the film.

Overall, I think families will love this film. If you enjoyed the first one, chances are you will get a kick out of watching this one. As I said in my opening, I had an enjoyable time watching Incredibles 2. The question I had going into this film was whether or not the story that was presented was absolutely necessary for Disney/Pixar to tell. Even though I had some slight issues with the film, Bird accomplished what he needed to do, which is to make a fun superhero film for families to watch.  After watching this, would I watch an Incredibles 3? Sure I would. When you do see this, you will be treated to Pixar’s latest short Bao, which is a sweet and touching story about a lone dumpling. So, on that note, I would say check this out in the theater.

Rating: B

"Deadpool 2" Review

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Deadpool 2 wasn’t the film I was expecting it was going to be, but in the best way possible. After the first film just over two years ago went on to exceed everyone’s expectations, Wade Wilson is back with his misbehaving ways. For a minute, I thought that the trailers were giving you a general view of the film itself, but they only hint at the insanity that the film entails. It’s bigger, bolder, and a whole lot of fun. In short, if you like what you saw the first time around, be prepared for something more outrageous, including something that might just be the funniest thing I’ve seen so far this year. 

Without going into too much detail, for fear of spoilers, the film is set some time following the events of the first film. Cable (Josh Brolin) has come from the future to stop Russell (Julian Dennison), a young mutant who destroys the future that Cable is from. In order to save Russell, Wade/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) will need to assemble a group, which he names the X-Force, to stop Cable from completing his mission.

Even though I was a fan of the first film, when you compare this with that, Deadpool 2 feels more cinematic this time around. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde and co-director of John Wick, which may or may not be referenced in the film) has come in to replace original film director Tim Miller, who left after creative differences with Reynolds. After the nice surprise that was John Wick and the step back that Atomic Blonde was, Leitch has made a wonderful rebound and gives the Deadpool series the touch that it needed. Unlike Atomic Blonde, which became needlessly overcomplicated, the storyline that Leitch is working with, credited to Reynolds and returning writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, is clear and very simple. Reynolds and the writers also bring some depth to the character with some of the larger themes the film displays. Unlike the first film, which felt self-contained at times, this film opens the Deadpool world up more, as evidenced with the more expansive sets and locations that the film takes us to throughout the 119-minute runtime. In a way, they do the same thing that 2014’s 22 Jump Street did in understanding what a sequel is and should be and flipping it on its head.

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For the humor, it’s still consistently funny (full disclosure: I think I was probably the loudest one laughing in the theater), and the meta humor is still clever as ever, poking fun of everything you can think of, from their own X-Men films to Marvel Studios to DC films to general films. And there are some killer payoffs to some jokes that were setup within the first film. Also, the visual gags in this film are something else. The visual look that Leitch and his cinematographer Jonathan Sela (who shot Leitch’s first two films) give Deadpool 2 makes it feel more like a comic book come to life. It’s safe to say that this is the most colorful film of the X-Men series so far, while also showcasing the future and a few shots like the original Terminator film. The action scenes, as expected from Leitch, are nicely edited and have a rhythm to them. With the marketing of the film, I was worried that the film wouldn’t mesh the tones well together, but somehow, Reynolds and the writers find some way to blend them together. I was also nervous that Deadpool 2 was going to go the way of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice by shoehorning in X-Force like BvS did with the Justice League, but the way that the film handles that is something that has to be seen to believe.

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Acting wise, everyone here is still game. Reynolds still appears to be having the time of his life with this role. After crushing it last month as Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, Josh Brolin gives another solid performance as Cable, and I enjoyed the odd couple dynamic that he and Reynolds exhibit towards one another. I also enjoyed that Reynolds, Reese, and Wernick don’t stop the film in its tracks to explain Cable’s complicated backstory, but give you the basics of who the character is and what he needs to accomplish. Julian Dennison, in his American debut after breaking out in 2016’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, put in a good effort as Russell. Zazie Beetz was also surprisingly good as Domino. I also enjoyed how, for the most part, everyone plays the straight man to Reynolds’ Wade. The music from Tyler Bates is more memorable this time around, in particular one song he composes that you will not get out of your head.

There’s so much I liked about the film, but there are some drawbacks that I had with it as well. The villain, like in the first film, is lacking again. As a much broader film, it feels like the filmmakers were throwing in everything that they could, when they could have easily reduced the film by 10 minutes or so and nail the effort. Some of the characters that return from the first outing meander with nothing to do and aren’t as funny this time around. Even though these films are on the lower end budget scale of the X-Men films, there are still scenes with obvious CGI that could have used another pass or two on to make it look at least better.

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Overall, in not knowing what to expect, the end result was more than I hoped for. Going in, I was worried that Deadpool 2 was going to retread the same waters that Deadpool exhibited, but I loved that Leitch, Reynolds, Reese, and Wernick attempted something different. Who knows what the future will bring for Deadpool with the possible acquisition of Fox’s film and TV division to Disney, and Reynolds’ recent statements about a third film. The film does a nice job of setting up for the future X-Force film, which is slated to begin filming in the fall. If you enjoyed what you saw with the first film, you will get a kick out of this. Be sure and stay through the mid-credits for a nice fun surprise. I would definitely recommend checking this out in the theater!

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!

"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+

"Spider-Man: Homecoming" Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: B+

"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

Comment

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+

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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.

"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+

 

 

 

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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.

"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.

"Suicide Squad" Review

It’s no secret that DC is trying to get its footing with every film it puts out. Suicide Squad is not able to escape this dilemma, but I get the sense that they are learning and re-working with each installment in its world. The film starts strong, and ends flat, but in a film that didn’t take itself so serious :), it’s the summer movie popcorn fun that it’s supposed to be.

Picking up after Superman has died from Batman V Superman, a secret government agency decides to comprise a group of meta-humans and bad guys as a contingency against anyone who may rise up and wish to destroy the world. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) leads the charge and seeks out some incredibly talented but villainous individuals. There’s the assassin Deadshot (Will Smith) who never misses a shot, Joker’s (Jared Leto) crazy girlfriend Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a fire powered Diablo (Jay Hernandez), an Australian thief named Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), and a witch who goes by Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). Right off the bat we’re introduced to each character in an efficient, fun, albeit we’ve seen it before way.

After a mystery villain begins to destroy Midtown, the squad is called into action. The rules are simple, go extract a high powered official and defeat the villain at risk of death, or be killed by the nanite implants in their necks. There you have the motivation for each villain and story in a nutshell. 

Writer/director David Ayer had his work cut out for him in having to introduce us to each character having not seen a solo story for them prior. The first hour of the film starts out pretty strong, introducing us to the characters, seeing them play with others, and getting them into the mission. Ayer’s tactical know how and ability to visualize action as seen in prior films like Sabotage and End Of Watch is displayed throughout the film. Yet character development gets the short end of the stick. 

Smith’s Deadshot, and Robbie’s Harley Quinn are the obvious stars of the film. With the rest of the group being tag alongs almost as dispensable as the group is to the government. Smith brings the charisma we love in a character that isn’t just Will Smith being Will Smith. Robbie loses herself in her character, but unfortunately the Hollywood male gaze pins her as an object more than anything else. Viola Davis brings the ruthless, pragmaticism that we’d expect from Waller. There is a glimmer of shine that comes from Hernandez’s Diablo that I would have liked to see more of. Of course, the character most of us have been waiting to see, the Joker, weaves in and out of the film a lot more than I thought we'd see, but not quite enough to judge how good he is.

The villain in the film gets the least development of the bunch, but is probably way too powerful for the group minus one. All that said; I still enjoyed watching the film. There were moments in the film that gave me goosebumps (Deadshot leaping on the car), character flashbacks that helped you identify with the villain and see where things may have gone wrong, and the team building of the group works for this rag tag team of bad guys.

While we’re constantly reminded that the group is comprised of bad guys, it’s a one off that works to bring new characters into the DC movie universe. These characters will never have their own film, but they’re not supposed to. DC has introduced us to some of their villains, and when we see them in future films we have an idea of what they’re capable of. So while the film has a simple plot, plenty of style and character charm, it’s not supposed to cure diseases. Let’s be real, if Ayer was able to give us a rated R version of this like he’s accustomed to it would have been a better film. Given the parameters, I think it came out alright. Let the trolling begin!

Rating: B-

 

 

 

 

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Kevin Sampson

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

"Captain America: Civil War" Review

The world entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with 2008’s Ironman. Eight years later the MCU enters phase three with its latest installment, Captain America: Civil War. Believe me, the eight years you’ve devoted to following the MCU is well worth the culmination and seamless integration of characters, emotion, and action in this film!

Over the years some people have criticized the explosions and destruction in these films. Captain America: Civil War addresses the issue head on. It raises the ethical and moral questions of “what innocent collateral cost comes with superhero protection?” and “who watches the watchers?” in a way that Batman vs. Superman attempted to, but does a far superior job. After a mission with the Avengers stopping mercenaries from executing a terrorist plot ends with the loss of innocent lives, the United Nations steps in to put the team in check.

The UN draws up a huge document called the Accords that will stand as a law for super humans and those with powers to abide by. This sparks a rift between the Avengers in which they are forced to choose sides. While Captain America (Chris Evans) thinks there has to be another way, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) thinks that being governed and held accountable makes sense. While this perspective seems unnatural for these characters (you might think it should be switched) it works well and makes for great conflict both internally and externally with our heroes!

While the team takes sides, a mysterious enemy named Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) creates problems that they must deal with. But with a rift in the team on how to handle situations, it becomes a squabble on numerous levels! The squabbling is awesome to watch! The action sequences are phenomenal. We get to see each character’s power used in ways that highlight their skill and supplement the team fights. There are so many scenes in which directors Andrew and Joe Russo let the action happen in front of the camera (don’t worry, you can follow the action on this, unlike the Avengers: Age of Ultron) in beautiful choreography between the two. One chase scene through a market feels like a verite documentary as the camera tries to keep up.

This installment introduces us to T’Challa aka Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Peter Parker aka Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Both characters are introduced effortlessly and are showcased well! Holland may be the best Spider-Man to date (including Toby Macquire) in my opinion. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely nailed Spidey’s trade humor, verboseness, and youthful energy. I can’t wait to see Boseman in his solo film in 2018! Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) made his entry into the MCU last year with Ant-Man, and we finally get to see him interact with the Avengers on a larger scale!

Captain America: Civil War fires on all cylinders, and is certainly the film to see this weekend! Save your money though, and see it in 2D. I saw it in IMAX 3D and it did nothing to enhance the film. Nonetheless, once again, Marvel reigns supreme!

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.

"Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice" Review: Little Brother Fights Back

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice had a lot riding on it. Forget the hardcore fanboys’ opinions, huge budget, and bringing major DC characters together on the big screen for the first time in this generation. If DC didn’t get this film right, it could have sunk the franchise. Period. With this installment, director Zack Snyder and the crew give us a very entertaining gateway into the next chapter of DC super hero cinema.

As to stay away from spoilers, let’s establish the rules of this review. I’ll keep it inside the lines of a few things: 1) nothing you haven’t seen outside of the trailers, 2) nothing you can’t deduce from the title, and 3) I will only paint pictures that color the cinema techniques in the film. Fair enough?

From the start you know that the film is in the hands of a visual director. Snyder has a distinct way of telling the story with the frame and dark palette cinematography. After a brief Bruce Wayne origin sequence, the film picks up with the title “Mankind is Introduced to The Superman”. We see what was going on from Bruce Wayne’s (Ben Affleck) perspective during the massive fight between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) from Man of Steel. It’s an incredible sequence that answers the question of “what was happening on the ground during the fight between these two super beings?” It immediately sets the stakes for the film. Is Superman someone that humans can trust, and with so much power, how can we keep him in check?

After the showdown in Metropolis, Bruce develops a grudge against the seemingly unstoppable alien. He spends time preparing to fight Superman, which obviously entails him having a level playing field because head to head there is no match. Jesse Eisenberg is introduced as Lex Luthor, and Eisenberg’s signature tics and fast talking antics from characters past really works for this Lex Luthor. He’s crafted an entitled, insecure, brilliant, low key maniac with just enough swag that for me worked well. Luthor’s money and intelligence allows him to have a pulse on what’s really going on in the world and gives him the power to influence it as he sees fit.

A large part of seeing Batman V Superman is not wondering what the outcome will be, but what will things look like? Is Affleck a good Batman. Yes. There is no point in which I didn’t think he was Batman or an older Bruce Wayne for that matter. When he’s in a scene with Cavill, you know who the seasoned actor is. Is Gal Gadot a good Wonder Woman? She fits in the film as it needs her, and when it does, she does a good job. Her introduction to this world felt a little clunky and forced, but seeing her fight...I look forward to future films (perhaps more so to see Wonder Woman’s powers more than Gadot’s acting). Overall, the acting in this film as a collective is solid. 

The movie works really hard to engage your senses and thrust you into a cinematic experience. The weight of objects are seen visually, and heard aurally on an extremely detailed level. The sound and effects departments deserve a round of applause. One of the best sequences in which you can appreciate this is watching the batmobile tear through the streets, buildings, other cars, and then get tossed like a toy car when it runs into Superman. It’s a set up you know is coming (from the trailer) but works to show Superman’s power and strength. Let’s not leave out the amazing score from Hans Zimmer (my favorite film composer of all time) and Junkie XL! The score is its own character and pushes the story forward in all the right ways. 

Batman V Superman has its issues. In fact, the film builds up to the ultimate showdown so well that once it gets there things get a bit awkward. In some ways it's like writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer had the beats they wanted to get to in the story outline but couldn't make smooth transitions between major plot points. However, it delivers on the spectacle that you want to see! For a team up film, everything comes together as it should, and sets us up for an entry of more characters in this world. It’s hard to bake the best cake ever, but the film is very tasty and satisfying! Will DC take the reigns from Marvel in the box office now? No. But little brother just got a good lick in that the rest of the world has to give him props for! I’d pay to see it a couple more times!

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.

Super Hero Films Won't Be The Same: "Deadpool" Review

Burnt butt naked fighting, a nude sex scene, and enough f-bombs to flatten New York. The latest installment in Fox Studio's X-men Universe has certainly taken things to a whole new realm in its world and ours. Super hero movies now have an option of fun for the whole family or 17 and up only thanks to Deadpool. So since they’ve taken it there, did they get it right?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no comic book fanboy. I’m a film head, but I love talking with my fanboy friends about the accuracy of the movie versus the comic book. When it comes to the tone of the film directed by Tim Miller, Deadpool certainly has its own. From the opening credits, rather than seeing actors’ names we see “A Hot Chick”, “British Villain”, or “A Gratuitous Cameo”. So, yes, the film is on point tonally as it plays with credits, the fourth wall, our sense of what a super hero movie should be, and knowing itself.

The film starts out in the middle of an action sequence on a high rise bridge with Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) in the midst of taking out bad guys. He quickly makes us aware of his awareness of our presence by talking into the camera and takes us back to when he was just Wade Wilson, a former Special Forces operative turned mercenary, who spent his time intimidating people for money. He’s the anti-hero we can get behind because we see him putting pressure on a teenage pizza boy who’s stalking a female classmate. The first half of the film intercuts between the present day fight and Deadpool’s backstory.

Surprisingly in a world full of sarcastic humor and quick whit, the film does have an emotional heart. As Deadpool constantly reminds us, his film is a love story. After meeting Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a woman who is every bit his equal verbally and mentally, he learns that he has terminal cancer. Rather than letting her watch him die, Wade leaves under the cloak of night to become a part of a government program that will cure him and give him super powers...after they torture him for months to awaken his mutant gene. 

Once he is able to escape, Wade vows to get revenge on the people who left him with deformed skin and the ability to rapidly heal from anything (which is kind of ironic in itself). His enemies have names, Francis (Ed Skrein) who has no physical feeling due to lost nerves and Angel Dust (Gina Carano) who is a super strong woman. Deadpool desires to tell Vanessa he’s still alive but believes his disfigurement is so bad a mother wouldn’t even love him so he vows to stay away. Yet, your worst enemy and the love of your life have to meet at some point in a super hero film right?

Deadpool almost feels like a sitcom at times, throwing out jokes every thirty seconds. The likelihood of each joke sticking is slim, unless you like sophomoric humor, but many of them work. We’re constantly reminded that we’re in a world comprised from other films with Deadpool making jokes about Green Lantern, the Blade franchise, and Wolverine (all films in which Reynolds was in). As Deadpool is visited by Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), two X-men in the film, Deadpool manages to get off an excellent comment about how large their mansion is but we only see the two of them as though the studio couldn’t pay for more characters to be in the movie. The combination of developing Deadpool’s tender heart beneath all of the jokes, the love between Wade and Vanessa that is certainly all their own, and being pummeled with well thought out humor (outside of potty jokes) makes Deadpool work as a stand alone film/character.

As Marvel movies continues to grow (no matter the studio it comes from), an occasional off-beat character serves well for two reasons: it gives audiences a break from the major tent pole characters, and allows the studios to bring in new characters down the road. Deadpool is definitely an original and fresh character that I probably would have rather spent an hour and a half with rather than its almost two hour running time. However, for a fresh face every few years, I don’t see him going anywhere anytime soon! Just remember parents with kids under 17, this film is rated R for a reason!

Rating: B-

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Kevin Sampson

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

"Fantastic Four" Review

“Fantastic Four” is simply the Tin Man. It’s got the same old cinematic structure we’ve come to expect in a super hero film, but it has no heart. In fact, the actors look pretty soulless as they get their lines out to fulfill their contracts. Even the film’s villain is cheated out of being seen for at least half of the movie. (He gets 30 minutes, if that.) It’s sad, because this movie could have finally gotten the Fantastic Four franchise on track. While it dug into new territory with a new approach, it still dug itself into a hole that we should all hope it won’t return from.

Reed Richards (Miles Teller) has been a genius since he was a child. He was able to teleport a toy car between dimensions with his friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) in middle school. After being brought into some kind of an off the grid super science college (??? it’s never really clear as to what the place is) ran by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), Richards teams up with Sue Storm (Kate Mara), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) to create a stable inter-dimensional teleportation device.

After teleporting a monkey safely, the boys are looking for glory with their discovery. They decide to teleport themselves, only to return infected by the other world’s energy. Of course, the U.S. government steps in to try and weaponize the group, and for some reason a guy who can turn into flames and fly, a woman who can make herself invisible and create force fields, a guy super strong and made of rocks, and a genius who can stretch his body, all decide that they can’t fight the government and will do whatever they say. 

It makes no sense. Much of the movie makes no sense. What are all the design schematics that they pull up on computers, monitors and displays throughout the movie? We’ll assume it’s something real for the movie. As Sue Storm quickly presses keys almost violently in a particular scene, we’ll assume she’s really getting somewhere for the movie. When the Earth has yet another portal beam sucking its contents through it, we’ll assume...wait, no we won’t. This doesn’t make sense, and we’ve seen this stuff before! Any super hero film asks you to believe what you’re seeing is real, but this one goes to far.

I had high hopes for “Fantastic Four”. The Fantastic Four cast (Teller, Mara, Jordan, & Bell) are all stellar young actors and have individually done much better work, but together the chemistry in this film didn’t work. The rote story and dialogue will make you regret that you paid for admission and think to yourself “could I walk out and sneak into Mission Impossible?” Save your money folks! Don’t even get it on Red Box. Just wait until it’s on cable.

Rating: F

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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.

"Ant-Man" Review

Ant-man isn’t a well known name to most moviegoers and lovers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). In fact, the average reader probably would be interested in knowing that the creation of Ultron was due to Dr. Hank Pym according to the comic books. That being said, “Ant-man” is a solid, scaled back entry into the MCU.

The film begins in 1989 as Dr. Henry “Hank” Pym (Michael Douglas) retires to try and live in seclusion. We then jump to president day where Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) finds himself fresh out of prison. Trying to keep on the straight and narrow and make his child support payments, he looks for work. After Baskin Robbins finds out that he’s an ex-con, he’s let go and turns to his former crime partner and friend, Luis (Michael Pena) for a big score.

Let’s say the score leads Scott to Dr. Pym, who enlists his help to go against Pym’s protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Cross is on the crux of finding the secret to Pym’s particles (which allows a person to shrink to ant size), and is working in league with HYDRA. Which means trouble for the world! It doesn’t take long before the film turns into a caper.

“Ant-Man” takes a light hearted approach to Marvel’s character and likely in part to writers Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. From the opening credits, you can see, hear and feel a different vibe for this limb of the MCU. Rudd and Douglas bring heart to the film, and Rudd sells the every man role of Lang. Michael Pena also adds comic relief to the film with plenty of memorable moment. 

The bottom line is that “Ant-Man” is a solid first time out for the character’s origin story in the MCU. The film’s casting is stellar, and the reason why it won’t tank in the box office. It’s an entertaining time at the movies, but you could wait until it comes out on DVD or streams.

Rating: B-

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Kevin Sampson

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

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" Review

After seeing “Avengers: Age Of Ultron”, I totally understand why beloved writer/director Joss Whedon is stepping down from the helm. While the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is entertaining and has it’s high points, it also proves that Marvel may need to slow things down or at least not overwork their brilliant writer/directors. 

The opening sequence shows our heroes are used to working as a team as they storm a Hydra base. They fight individually, using their incredible powers, and together with cool moves like Thor (Chris Hemsworth) striking Cap’s (Chris Evans) shield with his hammer to create a wave of energy. It’s the type of beginning that gets fanboys to start clapping and hollering. (It happened in the screening I saw.) Yet, Marvel movies aren’t number one in the super hero film world solely because of CGI awesomeness. They’re number one because of storytelling. That’s what separates them from the rest.

From the opening we’re introduced to a visually and script level busy movie. It’s hard to follow the action on screen, and once the movie gets started, it’s hard to follow the story. After storming the Hydra base to retrieve Loki’s scepter, Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) finds a secret lab housing Hydra experiments. Along the way, he and the team face opposition in the Maximoff Twins, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), two of Hydra’s human experiments bent on destroying Tony.

Always the rebel, Tony sleuths in his own lab and concludes that Hydra has been working on artificial intelligence. With the help of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), aka Hulk, the two are able to unknowingly finish Hydra’s research. In doing so, they create Ultron (voiced by James Spader), an omnipresent digital robot who was supposed to be Stark’s security guard for Earth. Instead, they get a powerful, schizophrenic bot with twisted dreams of a better world.

Ultron eventually breaks captivity and begins to build his own army. We get to see the Hulkbuster suit put into good use in a city demolishing scene after the Avengers try to capture Ultron! With an enemy that’s everywhere, the team retreats to the middle of nowhere and lays low with Hawkeye’s (Jeremy Renner) family. This is also when the team starts to go off separately on mini missions that aren’t quite fully fleshed out. We get our first look at the seeds for “Civil War” as Cap and Iron Man have a discussion while chopping firewood. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) makes all kinds of advances toward Bruce. It’s a lot of bread crumb excitement for future films with minimal direction. 

Let’s wrap this up. There is a big fight between the Avengers and Ultron. Heroes do what heroes do, but not without taking an L along the way. We get a glimpse at a new Avenger team, and if you stick around at the end you can see the cliffhanger for what’s coming next in the MCU pipeline! The formula is an amazing business model, but in an effort to churn out films and stay on schedule and budget, I fear we may see more films like “Age of Ultron”. Sure, it’s an entertaining time at the movies, but so is a Michael Bay film. It has too much going on, understanding that it's a movie with plenty stand-alone-movie heroes in it. I'll let it go this time, but let’s not lose what makes Marvel films great Kevin Feige, superb storytelling. We didn’t set the bar, you did.

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.