"The First Purge" Review: It's Just a Movie...But

220px-The_First_Purge_poster.png

They say that practice makes perfect. While the fourth installment in the Purge franchise is far from perfection, there is something to it that is undeniably breaking through to speak to real world issues. Yes, The First Purge is more refined and closer to B-movie, survive the night status like some of the classic John Carpenter films. However, the real  magic is in how much its’ premise feels a lot more tangible and believable in our present day political climate.

This film takes it back to the beginning when The Purge became The Purge. At this point, it’s called an experiment, created by Dr. Updale (Marisa Tomei). Rather than being nationwide, its’ first at bat is localized to Staten Island. In an effort to get members of the community to participate, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) offers $5,000 for wearing contacts that double as cameras with bonuses for committing violence. Potential candidates that range from psychotic and mentally ill to people trying to feed their family are analyzed by NFFA staff.

hero_Purge-2018.jpg

The formula here is no different. We’re introduced to the main characters early. Dmitri (Y’lan Noel) is the drug king of the borough. Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and Isaiah (Joivan Wade) are siblings who have each other’s back in a world without parents. Nya is an activist who believes the experiment is not good, while Isaiah is caught in the middle ground, seeing an illegal way to provide for him and his sister he starts dealing on the corner. Dolores (Mugga) is their hilarious neighbor and aunt figure in their lives. 

In the midst of main character development, the NFFA is setting up cameras and surveillance around the island to broadcast to the world. Right before and once The Purge commences, so do the one-liners that strike a nerve. The Founding Father president states “We’re all Staten Islanders tonight”. Nya tells her old flame, Dmitri, “we have to make choices to heal or to hurt” after approaching him due to a setback Isaiah had on the street corner.  

purge.jpg

Since there is little ruckus outside of people robbing and looting when things start,  Dr. Updale notes that in order for people to truly embrace The Purge “morality and religious dogma must be dropped”. It’s easy to gloss over that line, but it truly is the key to why The Purge works and why our current real life political climate is as it is. Even if you’re not religious, we all have a moral compass. Whether that compass has been pointed south by life, we all start out with the purity of knowing right from wrong. The statement is truly has Last Action Hero, off of the screen and into the real world impact.

purge4.jpg

With our morality in question, Arlo Sabien (Patch Darragh) the NFFA Chief of Staff, makes a call to spice things up. Simultaneously, director Gerard McMurray and writer James DeMonaco (who wrote all Purge films) do the same cinematically. Suddenly, white men wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods and throwback Nazi-like regalia show up on the island, forcing Dmitri and friends to fight back. There are particularly harrowing moments of racism and violence that come straight from our history’s headlines as klansmen shoot up a church with predominately black community members. One man is dragged through the street by his leg attached to a vehicle by chain. Tiki torches light the night. These images seem vaguely familiar. While the formula of the film calls for the main characters to get some payback on their oppressors, the joy that one feels for those kills is worth questioning. Sure, it’s just a movie, but why use Klan hoods as masks? That hadn’t been done before. It’s just a movie, but why are the clean cut white men in power positions to experiment in low-income neighborhoods that are comprised of people of color? It’s just a movie, but why does Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” close it out? The song is the rallying cry of this generation’s people of color. Again, see my opening statement, practice makes perfect and DeMonaco’s pen is getting closer to making powerful statements on the state of our union and lack their of.

Ultimately, the final act of the film is tense and suspenseful as Dmitri must “old school video game” his way up to the 14th floor of Nya’s project apartment building, taking out the bad guys along the way. McMurray’s direction is controlled and his frame is claustrophobic at times, allowing us to see what he wants us to see. He leads the audience to the end like a Carpenter throwback. 

Some of the performances in this film are worth noting. Mainly, Y’lan Noel, who has an enormous presence on screen and natural charisma that forces you to root for him, even when he’s murdering people. Mugga provides plenty of laugh out loud moments in the film. In one scene she tells Nya that she left the church to look for her, then got the bubble guts and had to purge another way! Joivan Wade truly portrays a scared teenager trying to do what he thinks will help his family. Perhaps one character that will be a fan favorite is Skeletor, played by Rotimi Paul. He’s a giant psycho who wants to Purge from the opening scene. Rather than playing crazy, Paul truly makes Skeletor feel like the neighborhood fiend who finally gets to reek havoc on the world that looks down on him.

ylan.jpg

The First Purge certainly shows us how everything started. It’s the right length, and an authentic installment in the thesis of what all Purge films rest on in answering the question “what if all crime was legal for 12 hours?”. However, it low key shows us ourselves as well. That’s worth a deeper conversation after the lights come up. 

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.

"Incredibles 2" Review

The_Incredibles_2.jpg

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.

elastagirl.jpeg

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!

incredibles fam.jpg

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

"Superfly" Review

SF_ONLINE_1SHT_TSR_CANE_10_rgb.jpg

Whoa boy, Superfly is something, but not in a good way. It’s a reimagining of the 1972 Blaxploitation film that had the famous Curtis Mayfield soundtrack to it. The newest version comes to us from veteran music video director, Director X, who makes his feature length debut with this film. I was a little nervous about the film when after it began shooting this past January, Sony announced it was going to be released five months later. It’s worse then I feared. Devoid of any personality of its own, this is a misfire on all accounts, from the questionable acting to poorly staged scenes and everything in between. It also makes one of the worst cardinal sins of any film: it’s boring.

If you’ve seen the original film, the newest version hits on the same basic story, for the most part. Priest (Trevor Jackson) is a successful drug dealer in Atlanta who has enough to get by and flying low from capturing the attention of the authorities. After getting into an altercation with Juju (Kalann Rashard Walker) of the rival Snow Patrol gang, which leaves a bystander getting shot, Priest wants out of the game and wants to make one last big score with his pal Eddie (Jason Mitchell). Since Priest’s mentor Scatter (Michael Kenneth Williams) won’t give him more coke, Priest goes directly to Scatter’s source and makes a deal with the Gonzalez family, a Mexican cartel. Supplied with more coke than they ever gave Scatter, Priest makes his way into trying to make fast cash and then exit the game for good, hoping he doesn’t get killed or captured along the way. 

superfly-movie-2018.jpg

If there’s anything that I liked about the film, which isn’t much, it’s that Williams, Mitchell, and Big Boi (playing Mayor Atkins), are decent enough in the film. These three knew the type of film they were acting in. Whenever Mitchell is on screen as Eddie, it makes you wish that the filmmakers decided to have him play the lead role of Priest, because that version would have made things more interesting to watch. The soundtrack curated by Future, who also produced this update, got the job done, and it was nice to hear some of the classic Mayfield songs from the original film in this. Whenever those songs played, the film suddenly became slightly better. Finally, there were some lines in this that made me laugh, whether that was intentional or not.

Too bad the screenplay sucks the life out of the film. The screenplay, credited to Alex Tse (whose last credit was the under-appreciated and underrated 2009’s Watchmen adaptation), hits the same plot points and beats that you would typically see from a cliché gangster/drug dealer film about someone who’s trying to get one last score equipped with the same basic narration from the main character we hear from every film of this type.  Even though this has more story than the original film, it’s all over the place to the point that you won’t care at all as the film tackles police corruption, drug cartels, and potential gang war during the course of the runtime. Superfly is the type of film whose bread crumb trail is comprised of biscuits! You know exactly what’s going to happen, so there’s no tension at all. At least the original film had style to it; this one lacks style or any type of personality. It’s just bland. 

superfly dice.jpg

From the opening frame of the film, you can feel something’s off. Even though Director X is a music video veteran, you can tell this is a work from a first time feature length filmmaker. The few action scenes that are in this are poorly edited with no flow and a lot of quick cuts to the point of overkill. Even for a dialogue scene, Director X and his editor overcut to the point of distraction. The pacing that Superfly has is extremely slow. For a 103-minute film, this feels even longer than that. Acting wise, the actors ranges from completely amateur hour, like Walker’s Juju or Big Bank Black as Q, Snow Patrol’s leader, to over the top, like Jennifer Morrison’s Detective Mason. I also hate to say this, but the film was completely miscast. No disrespect to Jackson, since he’s good as Aaron in Grown-ish, but I couldn’t believe him as Priest since he looks way too young. There’s no character development for anyone and I didn’t care for any of the characters for me to sympathize with.

Overall, Superfly is easily one of the worst films I’ve seen in the theaters this year. Could a remake have worked in today’s age? I think it could have, but for this iteration, it showed that the filmmakers clearly didn’t care, or had no idea about how to properly adapt it for today. Coming out five months after you started shooting doesn’t help matters at all. With careful development and maybe a different filmmaking team on board, this had the potential to be an entertaining update. Alas, this is a generic, cliché film that follows formula with a capital F and is ultimately super-forgettable. You don’t need to pay money to see this. Truth be told, don’t even bother watching this update. Stick with the original version and whatever you imagined for a remake, it would be infinitely better than what you would have paid to see this. Skip this one.

Rating: D

"Won't You Be My Neighbor?" Review

v1.jpg

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a thoughtful, celebratory documentary about the impact of the classic landmark series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The new documentary from filmmaker Morgan Neville, who previously directed the 2014 Academy Award winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, does not have a dull moment throughout the runtime. At times fascinating, other times jubilant, this celebrates the joyful soul that Fred Rogers was and the positive attitude the show was aiming towards. Be prepared to bring some tissues before you head into the theater.

In 1967, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was launched on a local Pittsburgh television station. Fred Rogers, the host of the show, wanted a show that was aimed at the very young age group, as a sort of educational tool to teach them values and talk to them as if they were just another person and not dumbing it down, like some children’s programming were doing at the time. Interspersed with archival footage of Fred are interviews from cast and crew involved with the show, as well as his wife and two kids. In a way, what people saw, and if you grew up on the show, were all aspects of Fred himself.

wont-you-be-my-neighbor-633x356.jpg

One of the great tactics Neville does with the documentary is the format that he uses when he interviews Fred’s family or the people who were closely involved with the show. The style of the interviews, and the documentary itself, employs a feel like the show itself. It connects with you, as if they’re talking to you, about the impact the show had on all their lives. The use of the archive footage was well put together, in that we feel like we’re inside of the room as it happens. Rather than have people talk about Fred’s philosophies, we hear from Fred himself about what he hoped to achieved. It was also quite fascinating that he was just about to become a minster before he came across a television, and switched career paths in an instant. Even though he made you feel comfortable, he got his message out more so than if he was a minster. Another item that they touched on was that even though he was a registered Republican, he didn’t make decisions based on his party, but on his faith. If we saw something taboo on the news, he would make it a point to showcase it on his show.

Using puppets and fantasyland, the show would tackle some big subject matters, like Vietnam and Robert Kennedy’s assassination. It also discussed some big questions, like what happens when someone dies. Fred, throughout it all, spoke to the kids in an impactful way, rather than trying to gloss over them. Speaking of puppets, the documentary points out that he couldn’t really express his feelings on his own, but rather used his puppets, like Daniel Striped Tiger, to express his actual thoughts, especially around his family. To further illustrate this, they use animation of Rogers as Daniel, which was effective at times. Another big question that the documentary talks about was if the Fred Rogers that people saw on TV was the real Fred Rogers in real life. The film’s answer to that is yes he was, and he’s someone that we don’t see that much anymore in television, if rarely. 

mister-rogers.jpg

The documentary primarily focuses on the show itself. Even though we do get to hear some aspects of his personal life, the film skims over certain aspects. At times I wanted them to go more in-depth with some of the avenues that they explored throughout the course of the film; I felt like they just didn’t pull back the mask enough. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the length was perfect, but at the end of it, I was ready for more. This documentary could have gone a million different ways, but for the most part, I think Neville went down the right route.

Overall, I truly believe that Won’t You Be My Neighbor? will be nominated for Best Documentary at next year’s Academy Awards. It’s that good of a documentary! We need figures like Mister Rogers in today’s age, since we live in a time of fake news and sometimes discontent. As Mister Rogers showed us on his show, and what the documentary points out, if we’re nice and kind to each other, the world could potentially be a better place to live. It’s a feel good film to watch with everyone, and when it comes to your area, I hope you seek this out. If you were a fan of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, then this is a must see. I would highly recommend checking this out in the theater!

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.

"Hereditary" Review

Hereditary-Banner.jpg

I’m still speechless about what I saw coming out of the theater. Hereditary is the best horror film that I have seen in the theaters since 2016’s The Witch, which coincidentally was another horror film that A24 released from the same producer. The directorial debut of newcomer Ari Aster, this film signals a new filmmaker that you should keep an eye out for from now on following this release. Unsettling and tense at times, Hereditary is that type of film that slowly builds and builds until finally all hell breaks loose. Super creepy as well, this is a film that will stay with you long after the credits roll, and it might give you some nightmares along the way.

Without going into too much detail, since you should try and go to this as cold as possible, the film begins with the grandmother of the Graham family dying and her family members attending the funeral. After the funeral, Annie (Toni Collette) and her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), and their children Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro) start experiencing strange occurrences around them, which results in a tragic accident. In the midst of everything, Annie starts to uncover things about her ancestry and must figure out what’s happening to her family before its too late.

hereditary scream.jpeg

To start off, this is Collette’s film through and through. This is a phenomenal performance that results in what could probably be her finest hour yet as an actress (if you must know, she and Byrne are also credited as executive producers of the film as well). Some of the scenes that Collette’s required to perform are absolute standouts, and for all the different types of ranges she goes through, she performs them all flawlessly. I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of year, Collette is in the mix for award discussions. Another actor that stood out to me was Wolff, who turns in an impressive performance as Peter, as a man who slowly begins to lose his grip on the world. It’s safe to say that for his career so far, this is his best role yet (he’s way better in this then say Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle or Patriots Day). For her debut film, Shapiro as Charlie definitely plays up the creepy child vibe, but in a good way! Don’t be surprised if she blows up into a future star in Hollywood after this. Most of the characters are well rounded as Aster, who also wrote the film, peels back on the layers to get a sense of who these people are and how each are affected with what’s going on.

Hereditary is that type of horror film that I tend to enjoy a lot, which are those that take on a more psychological approach than having it shoved in your face and being too violent. In my book, horror films are much better if they show you creepy images or imply things rather than showing what happened. If you didn’t know that this was a feature length debut, you would think this was from a master class horror filmmaker. I loved the look that Aster and his cinematographer, Pawel Pogorzelski, came up with. Even though in theory the scenes have simple setups, the shots are meticulous, and for the most part, the only camera movements they employ are either pans or slow zooms in or out. Aster never over-cuts on the scene, but rather lets the scenes play themselves out; to the point where scenes start to get unsettling since you don’t know what’s going to happen next. The bluish tones that the film employs also represents the mood and mindsets our characters are going through. In addition, the use of silence in some of scenes help further the mindset of some of the characters. The sound design gets creepy at times, and the music from Colin Stenson hit the spot. I like the slow burn approach that Hereditary takes as it builds and builds until basically an all out assault, since it takes time to let us know who is who and we get to know them before things start to hit the fan.

fire.jpg

If there are any drawbacks that Hereditary has, it is that it may leave people scratching their heads about what’s going on. For a 127-minute film, it relies on you to figure things out on your own rather spelling things out. If you keep up with the dialogue, you should have a grasp in what’s going on. Speaking of scratching your heads, like The Witch, the end gets completely bonkers to the point that you are either on-board or not. The slow burn that the film takes might put people off, but trust me, keep with it and you will be rewarded greatly. 

Overall, A24 has another winner on its hands with Hereditary. If you can, try and go into the film cold outside of this review. The less you know about it, the better off you will be. Go see this in a packed theater. This film will give you the creeps, I will assure you of that. By the end of the film, you won’t be able to sleep with what you just saw. I thought going into the film I was getting one thing, but the film became something else than what I expected, with some of the themes and ideas that the film presents to us. I would definitely recommend this to you. Now it’s time to get some of these images out of my head.

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.

"Solo: A Star Wars Story" Review

solo-theatrical-poster_f98a86eb.jpeg

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.

SOLO-ew-han-tall.jpg

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.

solo-a-star-wars-1.jpg

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.

solo-star-wars-story-review-2-1200x675-c.jpg

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

"Deadpool 2" Review

deadpool poster.jpg

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.

deadpool2-mb0340_pubstill_v0212.1010_rgb.jpg

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.

deadpool2-pb0380_comp_v2002.1023_rgb.jpg

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.

deadpool2-DF-28538_rgb.jpg

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+

"Breaking In" Review: Payback is A Mother

breaking in poster.jpg

If your kids were trapped inside a house with criminals, would you fight to get to them? That question is answered by the lead in James McTeigue’s Breaking In. She answers with a resounding yes!

Gabrielle Union is Shaun Russell. Her father recently passed and she takes her kids with her to his secluded vacation home to get it ready for sale. Little do they know, four men are already in the house on a mission of their own to steal money from a safe inside. The home is heavily fortified with a security system, cameras in every room, and one remote that controls it all.

hero_brak-2018.jpg

What happens next is both formulaic and unconventional. Rather than falling into the usual traps of a damsel in distress, Shaun thinks through her options and slowly works her way to a resolution. Writer Ryan Engle gives us a strong female lead in Shaun and Gabrielle Union deserves a lot of credit in her portrayal of this mother. She’s not a woman scorned as you may think from some of the sound bites of the trailer. Instead, she’s just a woman with baggage. That baggage is never fully explained, and it really doesn’t need to be, but its presence is there throughout the film’s running time. 

On the flip side, the criminals in this fit the bill for generic home invasion thrillers. You have Eddie (Billie Burke) the mastermind, Duncan (Richard Cabral) the psychopath amongst the thieves, Sam (Levi Meaden) the reluctant one, and Peter (Mark Furze) the tech genius. Eddie does a lot of mansplaining throughout the film. He not only tells his gang what to do, but how Shaun will think. In some ways he’s the embodiment of stereotypical thought as to what a woman or mother may do in this situation as we’ve been taught in cinema. In other ways it’s just irritating to hear his thoughts connecting each new development. 

Screen-Shot-2018-01-11-at-5.00.06-PM.png

The film has a tight pace and gets started within the first ten minutes. There isn’t a ton of exposition and backstory as to what Shaun’s father did, why they’re estranged, etc. By getting into the action, preceded with some genuine moments with Shaun and her children, Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr), we’re sucked into the story. There’s an internal clock built into the movie as the criminals have 90 minutes before the cops arrive, but it’s not used to the best of its ability. Regardless, the tension and suspense slowly build in a what would you do, yell at the screen sort of way due to the honesty of Union’s performance.

While the film does well in pacing and suspense, McTeigue seems to have trouble with his framing within the film. It doesn’t feel well thought out and translates to poor spatial awareness at times. You don’t know exactly where characters are in relation to each other. While he does do a good job of isolating characters within the frame (specifically Shaun and her kids are noticeably separated from one another once they are inside the house for the first time) creating a sense of that heightened feeling you get when you’re by yourself and hear a noise, when they do come together it can be jarring.

What keeps this film from being superb is that it doesn’t add anything new to the genre.  Films like The Purge and You’re Next brought something fresh to it that keeps you interested. Here, the film is a straightforward invasion thriller and therefore could be considered bland by many. Yet, the writing is driven by an authentic sense of a mother trying to protect and ensure the safety of her young. The crowd I saw it with was hooked into every moment of narrow escape, one-upping the bad guys, and fight Shaun has to give. The emotional strain was so high at one point they didn’t laugh during a scene that was clearly supposed to release the tension. But maybe that was due to the poor performance of the villain? Regardless, this is a good escape for 88 minutes of entertainment 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.

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

Avengers-Infinity-War-April-poster.jpg

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. 

moon killer.jpg

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.

avengers-infinity-war-14.jpg

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.

hero_Infinity-War-2018.jpg

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.

"Traffik" Review

Traffik poster.jpg

Refuse to become a victim. That’s the tagline of Deon Taylor’s new film Traffik. You ever feel like you’ve been okey doked? There’s a lot of weight in that tagline. It screams survival, defiance, fight. Yet, the film is the definition of a slow burn thriller. Once the film takes off, it’s a fun ride, but it takes far too long to get there.

Brea (Paula Patton) and John (Omar Epps) decide to get away for the weekend by going to John’s buddy Darren’s (Laz Alonso) vacation home in the secluded northern California mountains. On the way up, the couple has an unpleasant interaction with a racist biker gang when they stop at the local gas station. While John has a verbal and physical exchange with one of the bikers outside, Brea unbeknownst to her, receives a phone from Cara (Dawn Olivieri), a woman who appears to be in danger with her biker boyfriend, in the restroom. 

While the exchange in the restroom didn’t send off a red flag in Brea’s mind. It finally goes off once the phone starts ringing later that night. Now joined by Darren and his girlfriend Malia (Roselyn Sanchez) at the house, the foursome unlock the phone to discover a secret that could cost them their lives. Especially, when the bikers come looking for their phone.

traffik-2018-101-600x245.png

The biggest issue with the film is that it takes almost half of its running time to get started. There is a lot of exposition in the beginning. Characters establish how wonderful another character is or isn’t through lengthy dialogue. Brea and John stop randomly on the ride up the mountain to make love in the car John built from the ground up as a birthday present for Brea. Brea debates and compares notes with Malia whether she wants to take the next step with a man who seems to be proving himself at every turn. It’s these random pit stops in the script’s attempt to verbally over-talk us into caring along the way to the big event that detract from the story.

traffik-lead-18B.jpg

However, once the biker gang comes to retrieve their phone, the film really takes off. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti paints the first half of the film with a glamorous hue, and switches to limited, natural lighting when it’s time for the characters to survive. Scenes are lit by headlights, or lamps in a home. The lighting really pulls you in to the intensity and solitude being exhibited in the film. Taylor has a way of building the suspense in the film visually by establishing the space of locations and then using the frame as a peak into what’s happening.

The performances in the film are serviceable but certainly not memorable. While the film’s title alludes to human trafficking, it touches on it, but feels more like it’s using it as a background plot device within the film. Which leads me to my opening point in that the film doesn’t really give what it’s selling.

I ultimately enjoyed the survival portion of the film. This is the type of film that you want to see with someone else so that you can yell at the screen and tell Brea and John what to do. It’s the type of film that you lean over to your spouse and say “make sure you shoot to kill if we’re ever in a situation like this.” It’s the type of film that will give you 96 minutes of escapism while viewing, and you’ll forget about it next week. Know what you’re getting into when you enter and you’ll have a good time at the movies.

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.

"You Were Never Really Here" Review

8105_5924.jpg

You Were Never Really Here is a gripping film from start to finish. The new film from filmmaker Lynne Ramsey, whose last film was 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, is an adaptation of a 2013 novella from Jonathan Ames. Anchored by an incredible performance from Joaquin Phoenix, the film premiered at Cannes Film Festival last year where it won Best Actor and Best Screenplay. This is the type of film that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

The basic plot of You Were Never Really Here centers on Joe (Phoenix), a hired man who specializes in finding missing girls. No matter the job, he always gets it done. After completing his latest job, Joe is recruited by Senator Albert Votto (Alex Manette) to find his missing daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), who Senator Votto believes is part of a local sex trafficking ring. As Joe searches for Nina, he unknowingly stumbles onto a conspiracy that’s much bigger than him.

you-were-never-really-here-joaquin-phoenix.jpeg

As I said in my opening statement, Phoenix’s performance as Joe is simply phenomenal;  he’s a man of few words but will get the job done by any means necessary. No matter what Joe does, whether suffocating himself or playing chicken as he tries to hurt himself, pain is never far from him. For the violent subject matter at hand, Ramsey chooses to play the violence off-screen or won’t let us clearly see what’s going on until its aftermath. It’s always blocked out or obscured, even though we know what’s transpiring is swift and brutal. Ramsey also does a good job of visually portraying PTSD on screen. The flashbacks that are presented in the film are fast, furious, unpleasant, and painful, communicating to us that Joe doesn’t have any pleasant memories. The 90-minute length of the film was absolutely perfect to get in and out of the world, and the story that Ramsey adapted for the screen is pretty simple and straightforward. 

The visual look that Ramsey and her DP Tom Townend gave Here did its part in highlighting the loneliness and emptiness that Joe exhibits. At times he blends into the darkness, much like the title of the film. The colors are muted and not vibrant, showing the seediness of the world that Joe is a part of. What we see are simple, yet powerful images that are beautiful to look at. Unlike some directors who would go overboard with their shot selections, Ramsey lets the scene play out to focus squarely on the actors, and there are a lot of close-up shots that she employs throughout the film. Ramsey puts the visuals over exposition, emphasizing more of a characterization of Joe. Like the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and it’s evident here. 

youwerenever.jpg

This might be one of the best film scores that Jonny Greenwood has composed, if not his best. One minute, it’s synth music we would normally hear from an 80s film, the next it’s screeching music that’s in your ears to represent Joe’s mindset. Greenwood does a great job in blending all those sounds together. Finally, in addition to the music, the sound design is also superb, showcasing that Joe is basically a ghost in the world. If he wasn’t there, no one would notice.

I think if there are any drawbacks that this film has, it’s that the pacing might put some people off. Even though it's methodical, people might not like how one scene could go quickly, while another scene could take its sweet time. Some might be confused about the lack of exposition in the film, but if you stick with it, you will figure out what’s going on. Lastly, Joe is a strongly developed character, but other characters aren’t quite as developed as him. Then again, maybe that was the point since the film is squarely focused on him.

Overall, I strongly enjoyed You Were Never Really Here and what it brought to the table. I thought it was refreshing to see how Ramsey put her spin on a story we’ve undoubtedly seen countless times before. It will make you uncomfortable as you watch the film, as it slowly gets underneath your skin to the point of having you sit in silence after watching it, which happened to me, but you’ll be rewarded with a masterful film. I wouldn’t be surprised if this ended up being in my top ten films of the year by year’s end. I would definitely recommend checking this film out in a theater.

Rating: A

"Isle of Dogs" Review

iodposter.jpg

Isle of Dogs might just be Wes Anderson’s most accomplished film yet as a filmmaker. Coming off his most successful film with 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson returns to the world of stop motion animation that he previously visited having directed 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, which I very much enjoyed when I saw it. Isle of Dogs is a charming film from start to finish with some huge laughs along the way and a big heart. Even though this is in the same wheelhouse as previous Anderson’s films, this is oddly enough his most accessible film to date.

In the not too distant future in Megasaki City, a fictional Japanese city, there has been an outbreak of dog-flu and snout fever. To quarantine this epidemic, Mayor Kobayashi (story co-writer Kunichi Nomura) declares an order to place all dogs on nearby Trash Island. It’s also revealed that throughout the ages, his family lineage prefer cats to dogs. After several months, a young boy named Atari (newcomer Koya Rankin) crash lands onto Trash Island to find his beloved dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). Assisting Atari on his journey to find Spots are fellow dogs Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and King (Bob Balaban).

isleofd.jpg

Since Japanese cinema heavily influenced this film, we can tell that Anderson wears those influences heavily on his sleeves. For example, the mechanized dogs look similar in design to Mecha-Godzilla from the Toho’s Godzilla series and the laboratories look like something you would see from a science fiction film. The storyline (written by Anderson from a story from him, Nomura, Roman Coppola, and Jason Schwartzman) is simplistic enough that throughout the 101-minute runtime, you never get confused about what’s transpiring on-screen. The pacing is good for its runtime as well. With the way that Anderson presents the story to the audience, at times, it feels like a story coming to life, which is given since the film is split into five chapters like a book, and most of the characters speak directly to the camera, as if they’re talking to us. Even though it’s a stop motion film, I bought into the story that the film was trying to tell. Like with his previous films, you get the humor that Anderson typically exhibits, whether it’s a deadpan delivery or a visual gag. Truth be told, some of the visual gags were the funniest parts of the film.

Isle-of-Dogs-hug.jpg

On top of that, all the actors that Anderson assembled for the film (most of them are from his previous films) were enjoyable in the roles they were selected, with the MVP in my opinion being Cranston as Chief, a stray dog in the pack that helps Atari. Like with his other films, Anderson plays with symmetry in the look of the film, and the visual design that was employed was splendid. Case in point, whenever the dogs fight, it becomes a ball of smoke like we’ve seen in previous animated films or shows. The film gets political here and there. Even though it’s a stop-motion film about dogs, Anderson uses it as a springboard to discuss larger topics at hand, like the use of fear mongering, corruption in politics, and uses the plight of the dogs as metaphors.  The music choices were spot on, including tracks from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Drunken Angel, since Anderson started that his films were a big influence, and once again, Alexandre Desplat composes another great score for Anderson (he previously won an Oscar for The Grand Budapest Hotel).

If there are any criticisms that I had with this film, it’s that sometimes Anderson throws too much info at the audience. Since we have an overload of information, it feels like as the film gets toward the end it runs out of steam just a tad. Some of the subplots don’t bring anything to the film and if Anderson trimmed some of them out, the film would have played just as well. As usual, if you don’t like the humor his films tend to employ, you might not view this as funny. 

Overall, even though we’re in the month of March, it’s safe to say that Isle of Dogs is easily one of the best films of the year so far. At the heart of the film, it’s a story about a boy’s love of his dog, and how dogs are truly man’s best friends. This film shows growth for Anderson as a filmmaker, and is clearly one of his best films to date. I enjoyed this more than what I was anticipating going into it. I urge you to seek this film out as soon as you can, and I would most definitely recommend checking this out in a theater!

"Annihilation" Review: Subverting The Norm For The Win!

Annihilation poster.jpg

It’s been a while since I’ve watched a sci-fi thriller that used silence in such a way that I could hear the leather of my neighbor’s seat when they moved. Annihilation is one of those film’s that reminds us of what a big budget Hollywood machine can do if given the opportunity. It takes us to perhaps one of the scariest places, our own imagination, and asks us to probe the unknown along with its protagonists.

Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biologist and Army veteran whose husband just returned home after twelve months of radio silence. Army sergeant Kane (Oscar Isaac) was thought to be dead, but his presence brings up more questions than a joyful reunion. Lena finds out that he went on a mission inside what’s called the shimmer. It’s a growing bubble that looks and glistens just like the stuff we used to play with as kids but is far from something to be toyed with. All we know is that things go in, but don’t make it out.

With Kane deathly sick, Lena decides to join the next ragtag group of people going into the mysterious shimmer that only her husband has come back out of. She joins psychologist leading the team, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Anya (Gina Rodriguez), a paramedic from Chicago, Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), an anthropologist, and Josie (Tessa Thompson), a physicist. The film unfolds over various points in time. It’s told in present day with Lena being investigated by a man in a hazmat suit, so we know one part of how the story ends, but through flashback, we’re able to fill in the gaps.

annihilation group.jpg

Director Alex Garland (Ex Machina) is in full control of his film as he cleverly parses out information at just the right pace. He allows us the film to push forward by constantly dangling a question before us. Whether it is what’s the shimmer? How has time passed within it? How has a shark and crocodile crossbred? Or something as simple as what’s that noise? We constantly question what’s happening on screen right along with the group of women who are trying to get the same answers. 

As the group slowly begins to unravel and questions themselves and each other, we too are pushed to stretch our minds as to what’s possible within the shimmer. The casting in this film is exquisite as each woman is playing a character that goes against type for what we’ve come to see them in. Sheppard says at one point in the film “we all are damaged”. The way that Portman, Leigh, Rodriguez, Novotny, and Thompson display that on the screen through nuanced performances is a joy to watch. Tessa Thompson certainly stands out as the shy physicist with her physicality and ability to make her character seem so small in compared to the larger than life personas we’ve seen her take on in past works.

tessa.jpg

Garland’s imagery of this world is beautiful. Yet, he drops clues to what the world is through mise-en-scene (things specifically placed before the camera) by shooting through a glass of water, or plants in the shape of humans. What Garland keeps off screen is equally important as what is on at times and shows his understanding of the power of suspense and mystery in a film like this. In a film like this, the third act is the difference between a downer or a memorable film. Annihilation certainly delivers on a trippy but suspenseful third act that will leave you questioning the future of its world.

While Annihilation may not be on par with Ex Machina, it is a solid addition to the sci-fi/fantasy genre. It’s reminiscent of The Thing in how it constantly makes us and its cast question what we know. The fact that its all women in the lead makes it that much more exciting as they handle the material in a beautiful way that’s subversive of the norms we expect! 

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.

"Black Panther" Review: Why Representation Is Key!

bp poster.jpg

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. 

black panther.jpg

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.)

hero_Bp-2018.jpg

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. 

black-panther-6.jpg

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!

"Early Man" Review

early man poster.jpg

“Early Man” is an amazing visual spectacle and storytelling debacle simultaneously.  That may be a little harsh, because it attempts to have a sweet message. Like its protagonist, it’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, which is unfortunate coming from the folks that made “Wallace and Gromit” and “Shaun The Sheep”. 

EARLY-MAN---New-Trailer---Starring-Eddie-Redmayne-Tom-Hiddle.jpg

Set in the dawn of time, after seeing his tribe pushed out by an army that has mastered bronze making, Dug (Eddie Redmayne) decides that he wants to save his home. The best way to do it is to play a soccer match against Lord Nooth’s (Tom Hiddleston) professional soccer team. It’s your classic underdog versus the bullies story in which the primitive tribe has to learn how work together if they want to get their home back.

If the soccer match in the middle of what should be prehistoric time throws you off, it’s ok, just go with it. You can guess the twists and turns in the story from a mile away. The unique aspect is the elaborate story animation. Seeing a stadium filled with spectators fade into one character being on the pitch by herself after daydreaming is a outstanding.  It’s just unfortunate that the film’s story isn’t as unique.

You could definitely take the kids to see “Early Man” and have a good time with them. They’ll laugh. You’ll be thinking about what’s for dinner in between laughs. It’s a nice family film that falls flat in its predictable story. 

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.

Movie Review: The Curious Case of "Proud Mary"

proudmary-1200x585.jpg

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

taraji-henson-proud-mary1-ht-mem-180109_4x3_992.jpg

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”. 

taraji-henson-proud-mary3-ht-mem-180109_4x3_992.jpg

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.

tumblr_ovwvim0yk01qiohboo3_500.gif

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.

"12 Strong" Review

12-Strong-movie-poster.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: C

"The Post" Review: Truth is Timeless

The-Post-Movie-Poster.jpg

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

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

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

The-Post-Movie-Trailer-2017-Spielberg-Hanks-Streep.jpg

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

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

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

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

Rating: B+

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.

"Bright" Review: The Rumors Are True

Bright-Netflix-Poster-e1513687353756.png

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

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

will and joel.jpg

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

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

bright_unit_09677_r.jpg

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

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

Rating: D

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.

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri" Review

three billboards poster.jpg

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

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

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

dixon vs.jpg

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

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

billboard.jpg

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

Rating: A