"Glass" Review: A Disappointing End to An Entertaining Trilogy

glass poster_picture lock.jpg

Almost two decades in the making, Glass (the final piece to the Unbreakable trilogy) written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan is creatively shocking. It could be easy to lose focus in the storyline when making a trilogy over such a long period of time, however Shyamalan certainly connects these films seamlessly. Unbreakable, Split and Glass are three stories that correlate within a semi-realistic world that Shyamalan has created, which is unique and noteworthy in itself. However, while the plot of this final installment is interesting, it’s also where the film falters. With all of the wonderful elements put into the making of this film, it certainly isn’t perfect; Shyamalan’s strengths and weaknesses are displayed in various ways throughout Glass.

The film picks up with David Dunn (Bruce Willis) on the hunt for Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy). Dunn can see into people’s lives by brushing up against them and is seemingly unbreakable, while Crumb’s split personalities hold the key to The Beast, an animal like persona out for blood. Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass is the final piece to the trio; he’s the evil genius whose bones are so brittle that they shatter to pieces when hit. They all wind up being tossed into Dr. Ellie Staple’s (Sarah Paulson) psych hospital to be analyzed as humans who believe they are superheroes.

The casting of this film couldn’t be more perfect and I would be remissed not to talk about the performance of James McAvoy (Kevin Wendell Crumb), the villain with 24 split personalities (good and bad) in one body. His performance is truly amazing to say the least, as he is able to stay in each character authentically, yet split into a new character instantly; I have never seen a performance like this one and his talent should be noted. Alongside James McAvoy, Sarah Paulson is notable. She grabs your attention almost hypnotically throughout the film. Sarah Paulson is well known for her roles in the hit series American Horror Story and her skills as a horror film actress do not go unnoticed in this film. Her character is eerie and engaging at the same time; she is an interesting addition to Shyamalan’s universe. Finally, Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson- they certainly make this film and are the reason why the trilogy is as great as it is. Bruce Willis has aged but is the same action hero we all know and love. Samuel L. Jackson is a badass not to be messed with and his character Mr. Glass is exactly the same. All together the acting is great; the cast is strong- especially with previously supporting characters making a come back as well. 

Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis (known for: It Follows, Split and Under the Silver Lake) uses the different characters to display camera angles from their perspective. Gioulakis is brilliant when it comes to filming the multiple personalities of Kevin Wendell Crumb, he uses the camera to note the change of personality and emphasizes the new personality with camera framing. Gioulakis is the cinematographer for ⅔ of the Unbreakable trilogy so it is understandable why the cinematography is strong in Glass!

paulson.jpg

Glass is entertaining but it is also disappointing. One positive thing about the plot is the seamless connection between all three films within the trilogy, which is certainly well done. However, the storyline is limiting and doesn’t allow space for much excitement in its climax. There is not much variation in scenery which becomes boring. At times there are nods towards other possible plotlines but the film decides to follow the most anticlimactic path. To say the least, the film is enjoyable because of the other strong elements but the storyline does not live up to the potential it could have. It is unfortunate that the trilogy is finalized with a film that doesn’t entirely satisfy the Unbreakable series, especially since it started off strong.
Glass is not the best film, but it is not the worst. With some praiseworthy elements of in it, I highly doubt it will win any awards or turn too many heads. With that being said, I do recommend seeing the film in theaters because the visuals are incredibly well done and the actors are extremely entertaining to watch. You should especially see this film in theaters if you are a fan of the trilogy, it does answer questions but since it is an M. Night Shyamalan film, it sparks more questions as well. As a fan of the trilogy, overall the film is entertaining and it isn’t all bad, but I am definitely disappointed with the anticlimactic storyline and wish Shyamalan put more effort into the climax of the iconic trilogy.

Rating: B-

Comment

Julia Moroles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The Upside" Review: Solid Performances, Formulaic Story

The Upside is one of those films that tackle how two vastly different people’s lives can intertwine to help one another see the brighter side of life. The film is based off a true story and a remake of the 2011 French film The Intouchables. While the performances are solid, this version ultimately lands a bit flat.

the upside_Picture Lock.jpg

Philip (Bryan Cranston) is a quadriplegic in need of a live in assistant. Dell (Kevin Hart) is an ex-con in search of employment. After Dell stumbles upon the job interview, Philip hires him as the worst candidate for the job in hopes that he might just kill him with his lack of experience. As the two get to know one another, they are called out on their excuses that they make for the cards that life has dealt them.

This film is certainly Hart’s film. When he’s in scenes, they come to life, and when he’s not the film’s energy is sucked out. As a comedian at the top of his game, this film is Hart’s vehicle that will help him crossover in being taken seriously as a dramatic actor. The interactions between Hart and Cranston are authentic and at times hilarious. Due to their blunt honesty with one another, we’re able to analyze life truths that resonate. Nicole Kidman turns in a subtly wonderful performance as Philip’s executive in charge of his affairs. 

hartkidmancranston.jpg

The issue with the film is that it’s full of beautiful but formulaic moments. These moments are loosely strung together with choppy start-stop pacing. Furthermore, it fails to pull you in and genuinely care for its main characters. You may appreciate Dell and Phillip’s relationship, but you don’t really feel the connection to them that is necessary for the film to soar. 

If you’re looking for a feel good film to take grandma to see this weekend, this is it. However, this is a film that I’d suggest you wait to catch when it’s streaming. You’ll forget about it moments after leaving the theater.

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.

"Replicas" Review: Best Sleep I've Had In The Theater in A While!

replicas poster.jpg

When a film opens cold (not screened to critics ahead of time) that’s never a good sign. It signifies that there was a point during the production of Replicas in which someone said, “this isn’t going to do well.” By that point, it was too late to go back or abandon ship, and the production pushed forward and was distributed to theaters. 

Will Foster (Keanu Reeves) is a scientist on the cusp of transferring human consciousness by mapping the brain of the recently dead and inserting it into a synthetic brain. If the science of what I just said doesn’t make sense, don’t worry, there’s more! After a recently failed attempted transfer, Will and his family decide to take off for the weekend. On the rainy streets of Puerto Rico they get in an accident in which Will is the sole survivor.

Will quickly calls Ed (Thomas Middleditch), his assistant of sorts, to come to the scene so that they can get his family’s consciousness in hopes of cloning them. From there we get a series of moral debates, more scientific jargon that doesn’t make sense, and a scene in which Will grieves more over picking a name out of a bowl than when his family initially died.

Replicas-moviereview_Picture Lock.jpg

This film is not even half baked, it hasn’t even been in the oven. Our connection to the characters in this film is as weak as Will’s to his family. We barely see them interact before the accident, and therefore his push to replicate feels as lifeless as Reeves acting in this film. Middleditch is the bright spot of the film as he offers up the moral questions to the premise that just didn’t transfer well to the big screen. However, his character continues to be complicit in the “nefarious” behavior as even he notes.

The best part of this movie was the minute of sleep that I got during the third act. I woke up refreshed, ready to take on the rest of the snoozer, and push through. I wouldn’t even watch this when it comes out on Netflix if I were you.

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.

"The Upside" Review

The_Upside.png

Based on a true story, The Upside is a film that is both unexpectedly hilarious yet humbling. Bryan Cranston plays a wealthy quadriplegic named Phillip and Kevin Hart is his caretaker, Dell. Both Cranston and Hart are an unstoppable duo on screen. The duo are no strangers to comedy which makes their interactions more genuine and comical. Their endearing relationship gives you hope for humanity. Alongside the serious moments, the comedy is well written and delivered with perfection. 

The acting is great; the relationship between Dell and Phillip in the film seems genuine and playful. The actors are able to portray the writing in a beautiful way that exposes a different aspect of the relationship Dell and Phillip have (they are still friends to this day). In a way, both of the characters are outcasts of society; Phillip as a quadriplegic doesn’t often receive the respect he should, even in small interactions; Dell has a similar experience being formerly incarcerated and now looking for a job. Their relationship builds off of their differences and in result of their friendship growing, they come to find that they are very similar. This development alone is one of my favorite aspects of the film and it is the first reason to go and see The Upside. Cranston and Hart lead the film with great acting but one cannot overlook the talented performances of Nicole Kidman and Golshifteh Farahani as supporting actors as well. 

the-upside-time-off-reviews-1.jpg

The second reason to go see the film is for the writing, the comedy is innovative and edgy, especially with the quips that Dell and Phillip throw at each other. I found that some of the humor is so awkward and cringe-worthy, you can’t help but laugh. The comedy delivered through the acting carries the film as Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart truly have a positive chemistry which makes it even better. Together the duo forces the audience to experience every emotion they’re experiencing, and they don’t hold anything back. Both of the characters go through significant change with each other and it is a beautiful process to see.

hartkidmancranston.jpg

Alongside the writing and acting, the camera work is lovely and even whimsical. The director of photography, Stuart Dryburgh captures the film in a significant way; at times the cinematography reminded me of a painting, especially when the visuals are paired with dramatic moments. The director uses a technique with the cinematographer to expose bits and pieces of Phillip’s past through imaginative visual representations in a way that’s well executed. Joined with the drama and comedy within the film, the cinematography allows space when it is needed, the breathtaking shots are peaceful and meditative; it is almost as if the audience is supposed to feel the peace the characters do. These small decisions of the director and cinematographer makes the film stunning in a unique way.

Overall The Upside is great, it forces the audience to think differently about how to treat the outcasts of society and how much we take for granted on a day to day basis. If you wish to see a film that is action packed with explosions, this is not the film for you. However, if you wish to view the world differently and open your mind to new perspectives, this is a wonderful film to watch. I highly recommend this film if you are familiar with the actors, they certainly hold true to their acting reputations. See The Upside in theaters while you still can, the lovely visuals are made to be seen on a big screen.

Grade: A

Comment

Julia Moroles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ralph Breaks The Internet" Review

Ralph poster.jpg

When Wreck-It Ralph was first released in 2012, it quickly became one of my favorite animated Disney films to come out within the last few years. It was innovative, the video game references I grew up with were fun, and it was a perfect starring vehicle to utilize the talents of John C. Reilly. When Disney announced that a second one was coming, it was one of the films I was looking forward to watch this year. After watching the film, even though there are some bumps on the road, I’m happy to report that Ralph Breaks the Internet is a solid sequel.

Set six years after the events of the first film, Ralph (Reilly) and his best friend Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) find themselves traveling to the world of the Internet after Mr. Litwak (Ed O’Neill) recently installs a WiFi connection in his arcade. When a mishap causes a player to accidentally break the controller to Sugar Rush, Ralph and Vanellope have just days to find the part and raise the money before Mr. Litwak pulls the plug on Sugar Rush for good. Along the way, Ralph and Vanellope come across a game called Slaughter Race, which sparks Vanellope’s interest and causes her to question if she wants more to life.

First off, the animation in this film is still absolutely gorgeous to look at. Returning director Rich Moore and co-director Phil Johnston (who co-wrote the first film) and their animators do a good job in separating the different worlds and characters apart to have each stand on their own. Conceptually, Moore and Johnson’s visualization of the Internet to make it a futuristic and Utopic view, works well. Initially, I was somewhat worried that the product placements in the film, since it takes place on the web, would be overbearing or just be paid advertisements for the various apps or websites featured, but for the most part, the filmmakers don’t shove it down your throat, or have the story be compromised with the apps or websites that agreed to be in this film. 

ralph princesses.jpg

Since this is a Disney release, luckily, they don’t overdo the synergy of their various franchises that are featured in this. You can believe the hype you’ve been hearing about Vanellope meeting the Disney Princesses. In an amazing act of genius they got all of the actresses to come back and the banter includes a fun joke at another animation company that Disney owns. The film really begins to hit its groove when Ralph and Vanellope need to find the funds to get the new piece, and some of the skewing of the material is absolutely spot-on and extremely funny at times.

When we view sequels, we tend to see the same song and dance, rinse and repeat again. I appreciate that the screenplay that Johnston and Pamela Ribon concocted in trying to tell something different. If the first film was about how someone who is perceived as bad can become good, this one is about how you grow up and realize that you and your friend sometimes don’t share the same dreams and aspirations as one another and you both come to that crossroad, which is something that I can relate to from time to time. With how they handle it, it’s a nice message and this film wears its heart on its sleeves. Even though we see the Internet these days use for hate and vitriol, this highlights how sometimes the Internet can bring people together for good. Voice wise, the chemistry between Reilly and Silverman is still strong as ever, and they bring some new dimensions to their respective roles that can be quite effective at times. All the other voice actors were good in this and don’t feel out of place, including an uncredited Bill Hader as J.P. Spamley, a figure that Ralph and Vanellope meet along the way, and Gal Gadot as Shank, a racer in Slaughter Race. The cameos in this are fun as well.

Ralph-Breaks-the-Internet-trailer-2-screenshot-600x334.png

Ralph does take a bit to actually get going. Since it’s introducing so many things that at times, it tends to be a little clunky, which is especially evident in the first act. For the 112-minute runtime that this has, Ralph in hindsight, could have been trimmed down in some places as the pacing hits a snag. There are some story threads that the filmmakers introduce that they don’t follow through on, and some of the characters from the first are barely in this, like Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) and Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch).

Overall, I enjoyed what Ralph Breaks the Internet brought to the table and what it was trying to accomplish. Reilly and Silverman give it their all, and the filmmakers were smart in having the sequel focus more on them and their growth. With the beating heart that this sequel shows, if they continue making films in this series, I’ll surely be there every single time. If you’re looking for something to watch with your family during this holiday season, you can’t go wrong with this. When you do, I would suggest staying until the end of the credits for something special that will surely bring a smile to your face. On that note, I would recommend watching this in the theater!

Rating: B

"Creed II" Review: A Sequel 30 Years in The Making

creed ii poster.jpg

With eight films under its belt, the Rocky franchise has seen its share of recycled story with a new twist. Creed II knows its legacy and the pressure to get it right had to have been high on writers Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone. Director Steven Caple Jr. gives us a film that doesn’t live up to the power of Ryan Coogler’s Creed, but still goes the distance.

The film opens with Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) rising to the height of boxing. Simultaneously, in the Ukraine, Viktor Drago (Florain Munteanu), lives a hard life as a blue collar worker while training with his father, Ivan (Dolph Lundgren). The inevitable fight is brokered by promoter Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby), who tells  Adonis his father understood he needed a legacy story that would “stick to the ribs”. Thus, the central concept of Creed II

The film understands the dramatic weight it carries and plays off of the hype, although at times feeling undercooked. Yet, much like a fighter, it discerns that it has to shake up the story to keep its audience entertained and engaged. It does that in the form of building character backstory. We learn just what we need to about life for Ivan after the infamous showdown and the affect it had on his son. We see Adonis and Bianca’s relationship bloom as their family grows. With key placements like Phylicia Rashad’s Mary Anne Creed and Brigitte Nielsen’s Ludmilla Drago giving just the right touch of nostalgia and added spectacle, the film manages to make it out of the ring in one piece.

creed_ii .jpg

The original Rocky was a little engine that could film. It was a character drama Trojan Horsed inside of a boxing film. It’s the man vs. man, man vs. self storytelling that Creed II hones in on and creates a decent installment in the franchise. After all, seeing Adonis fight Viktor isn’t really what we are going to the movie for. Instead it’s to answer the deep rooted question of what would you do if you could avenge your father’s death in the ring? Will you get back up when you get knocked down? It’s in this space that the the franchise lives and Creed II delivers. It doesn’t quite pack the same punch as Creed, but certainly a solid entry and sure to please fans that never knew this purported sequel to Rocky IV was the film we’ve been waiting over thirty years for. 

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.

"The Front Runner" Review: A Timely Bio Drama

front runner_picture lock.jpg

The Front Runner is proof that there’s nothing new under the sun. The film looks at a pivotal moment when politics and media crashed together to change the way we analyze political candidates personal lives and decisions forever. We still deal with political scandal today, much like the 1988 presidential run that crashed within a matter of weeks for Gary Hart, but this is when the idea of news media being a watchdog and covering candidates personal lives to ensure they match. We’ve seen bio drama films like this as well, but co-writer/director Jason Reitman gives us that old gum with a new way to chew it.

Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) is a man of the people. He is charismatic, smart, handsome, and willing to take a stand against politics as usual. You know, the kind of stuff we like to see even today. All signs pointed to him being the frontrunner of the ’88 election before suggesting to a reporter that he’d be bored if he followed him around, and thus encouraging him to do so. Hart’s bluff is called, as the Miami Herald follows him and uncovers a scandal that ultimately ends Harts political run.

the-front-runner.jpg

Reitman gives us an inside baseball look at the situation as things unfold. In fact, perspective is key in Reitman’s direction both in the script and in his frame. Numerous times throughout the film he tells two stories simultaneously so that you have to keep up. In one particular scene, Hart sits at a table in a wide shot with his back to the camera as it moves around capturing the conversation amongst Hart’s team. In the background you see a young reporter enter the room and begin a discussion with a member of Hart’s political team. Reitman’s ability to keep our mind engaged, while cleverly displaying multiple stories and pushing each scene forward is what makes the film fun to watch. We know the ending as we watch the story unfold in 2018, but getting there is probably as stimulating cinematically as it was to live through in 1988.

This is an ensemble film in which everyone brings their A game. Jackman, known for his ability to be a larger than life on screen presence, shows considerable controlled restraint and focus. He makes Hart, a player on the team, rather than the star in the film.  In doing so, you can focus on all the angles and members of the cast. Vera Farmiga as Lee Hart doesn’t have a lot of screen time in comparison, but her presence is felt. In fact, in one confrontation scene between Gary and Lee, the atmosphere changing of her presence and what’s about to happen is so palpable that you feel as bad for Gary as when your sibling was about to get spanked back in the day. JK Simmons, Molly Ephraim, and Mamoudou Athie all have incredible character archs as they come to grips with Hart’s infidelity and what the fallout means to them. Each perspective gives the audience something to chew on.

The Front Runner may not appeal to mass audiences. It’s certainly a character study that allows viewers to draw conclusions on politics today, and a director’s masterclass on framing and technique. However, its undeniable timeless and timeliness of its subject matter is worth the view! 

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.

Middleburg Film Festival '18: "Boy Erased" Review

Boy_Erased_Picture Lock.png

Boy Erased is based on the memoir of Garrard Conley’s experience with gay-conversion therapy. Adapted to screen by writer/director Joel Edgerton, the film allows its audience to come to a conclusion based on what’s presented. At its heart, the movie is about where we draw lines in our love, and if we do, is it truly unconditional love?

Lucas Hedges is Jared Eamons, son of minister Marshall Eamons (Russell Crowe) and first lady Nancy Eamons (Nicole Kidman). Growing up a preacher’s kid, Jared finds himself at a crossroads between his faith and family after coming to terms with the fact that he’s gay.  Upon his son’s coming out, Marshall seeks wisdom through church elders, while Nancy defers to Marshall’s leadership. 

Marshall and Nancy enroll their son in a conversion program called Love in Action that’s directed by Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton). As time moves forward, Jared quickly sees that something is off in the therapy. His dutiful trust in his parents becomes shaken as he witnesses  the degradation of his fellow participants. This sparks action in Jared to take his destiny into his own hands.

lucas_hedges_copy.png

The film jumps around in chronology to give us a picture of Jared’s life leading up to Love in Action and beyond while giving us the “full picture” of Jared’s struggle. The key to this film is that Edgerton makes Jared our eyes into this world. Hedges has a way of displaying his internal conflict without wearing it on his sleeve. Instead, his journey in finding himself, standing up to his abusers, and charting his path in life is easier to understand because the message is not clouded by accusation or heavy judgement. Crowe and Kidman turn in authentic performances as well with both sides clinging to to their belief system. 

Boy Erased’s conspicuous restraint allows its viewer to be haunted after the film by what they witnessed. After all, it’s the quiet, solitary moments in life in which we wrestle with the big questions.

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.

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

insearchof.jpg

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

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

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

Gretzky.jpg

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

hero_greatness-Picture Lock-2018.jpg

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

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


Rating: A-

Comment

Julia Moroles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"mid90's" Review

mid90s poster.jpg

Jonah Hill’s directorial-debut film Mid90s is a movie, at face-value, about a group of skateboarders; but it is certainly more profound than that.

In 1990s Los Angeles, 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) flees from a turbulent home life by finding solace in a new group of friends he meets at a local skate shop. The eldest, and leader of the group, Ray (Na-Kel Smith), takes Stevie under his wing and shows him what a family outside the home can look like. Like most families, however, this one has their fair share of tribulations. Their journey is beautifully honest on screen. In fact, their acting is possibly the only thing that rivals the poise of their skating.

hp-jonah-hill-mid90s-movie-skater-style-outfits.jpg

There is a scene in the film, a close-up shot of Ray gripping Stevie’s new board and drilling in the wheels, that’s gloriously over-the-top. It is evident that Hill wanted to make a film about skating and hip hop, but it isn’t until the final frame that it becomes clear these two vehicles for narrative offer a unique metaphor for perseverance. Perseverance, I submit, is an underlying message in the film. Can you fall and get up? How hard can you get hit, rather, and still find the strength to get back on your feet? Falling is inevitable. As Hill eloquently puts it, “we are all under construction.” But what Hill finds more important, and what is expressed through the film, is the journey to loving yourself.

This idea is similarly expounded upon in the magazine Hill released in conjunction with A24 and Mid90s. It serves as a companion piece to the film but is also quite an engaging read on its own. In short, Hill interviewed some of his close friends and asked them about the process of loving yourself or, reversely, hiding a part of yourself you are ashamed of. In a way, the film is a representation of how these tough questions can materialize within friend groups.

mid90s.jpg

In that regard, the magazine feels like a director’s notebook for the film. However, there is the film you write, the film you shoot and the film you edit, and it is difficult not to get the impression that much of the film was cut out in the final edit. Although not much change happens over the course of the movie, it runs a mere 90 minutes in length and has ubiquitous quick cuts that are jarring at times. This editorial style is only used effectively during a tense scene towards the end of the film, but I’d be remiss if I gave too much away.

On the other hand, the music in the film is beyond redeemable. Fantastic. A Tribe Called Quest meant to Hill what the Beatles meant to his parents. It was clear before the film began that music would have a significant role in the piece and kudos to Hill for curating and developing this soundtrack with his team, because it carries you through the melodic roller coaster splendidly. I even found myself bouncing my head up and down to the beats.

You may vibe with the music as well if you grew up in the 90s. Or even if you didn’t. You may be brought to tears by the film because it is, like The Florida Project a year ago, wonderfully sad. You may find yourself laughing hysterically because it is filled with wit. And although it is unconventional, the story still seems to work. Jonah Hill may have made this film for himself, and for those kids who feel they do not belong, but I believe everyone can enjoy this film.

Rating: B+

Comment

Ryan Boera

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

Middleburg Film Festival '18: "Widows" Review

widows poster.jpg

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

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

widows-picture lock-review.jpg

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

widows Rodriguez Picture Lock.png

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

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

widows-picture lock.jpg

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

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

Rating: A

Comment

Kevin Sampson

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

Beautiful Boy Review: A Haunting Story of Addiction and Family

beautiful boy poster picture lock.jpg

I’ve spent the passed few nights thinking about Felix Van Groeningen’s film “Beautiful Boy.” Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers said it best when he quipped, “[Beautiful Boy is] hard to take and impossible to forget.” I echo these sentiments.

This film depicts the brutally cyclical demons of addiction, while not boasting authority over the conversation. A topic many filmmakers shy away from, however, Groeningen accepts this responsibility with aplomb. What started as a reality for the Sheff family, blossomed into two, moving memoirs and now is a film that calls for an evening indoors this fall.

I recommend this film not because it is enjoyable to watch but for the revered performances given by Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet. This, of course, is no knock on the integrity of the film’s narrative. I submit, rather, that this film is difficult to watch purposefully. Perhaps overbearing at times, but this film juggles addiction and the idea of letting your children go as well. At times, the film feels more about the feeling (as a parent) of watching your children outgrow dependency. A sad truth that permeates through the film and is brought to life by Carell’s character.

Where the actors shined, the musical score did not. The song choices made in this film are as confusing as the trials of addiction: unpredictable and strange. Notable songs include "Sound and Vision" by David Bowie, "Nanou2" by Aphex Twin, and "Territorial Pissings” by Nirvana. As a non-drug using colleague of mine said, “It’s as if you’re high and relapsing over-and-over again throughout the film.” You truly ride the ever-changing roller-coaster of addiction along with these characters, and the music is the vehicle that carries you there.

From a cinematography standpoint, the film plays exactly as expected. Using bright, natural light and dark shadows when appropriate, while also falling back on color conventions with blues and oranges. More noticeable, however, is the expressions upon the faces of the aforementioned characters. The way their foreheads twist and turn with discomfort feels oddly impressionable.

At this point, it’s fair to conclude this film is held up by it’s acting, but nevertheless an important film. If only for the final credit: Overdoses now leading cause of death of Americans under 50. This is a much bigger problem than most realize.

If you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free and confidential information.

Rating: B-

Comment

Ryan Boera

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

"First Man" Review: The Best Space Race Film to Date

first man poster.jpg

First Man could be the best space race film created to date! Plenty of films have taken us to the moon. Plenty have shown the complications that can arise when an astronaut is alone, hundreds of thousands of miles away from the Earth. None have captured the human sacrifice, internal struggle, and loneliness of getting there so well as this motion picture.

Director Damien Chazelle, hot off his success  with La La Land, tells the story of the life of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) in the eight years leading up to his infamous walk on the moon on July 20, 1969. With a film like this, you know the outcome, but it’s the journey to get there that’s intriguing, entertaining, and educational. Chazelle does more showing than telling with his production of the story. His camera predominately stays in tight on his subjects, forcing us to connect with them, see what they see, and absorb small moments that we may usually miss in wides or mid-shots. 

first-man-last-chance-633x356.jpg

Sound is another important element in the film. Every breath, turn of a knob, rocket roaring, bone crunching accidents, and even the silence of space matters in this film. It accentuates the moment and submerges the viewer further into the emotional weight or lack there of in a scene. The grand stakes of the mission to the moon is perfectly balanced between moments of devastating failure and nuanced humor backed by a beautiful score from Justin Hurwitz.  Hurwitz manages to insert a piece of percussion that ticks throughout many of the songs subconsciously pervading the sense of time, whether it’s running out or seemingly nonexistent in space.

first fam.jpg

The casting is spot on with this ensemble. Gosling turns in a stellar performance as Armstrong with an emotionally distant, introspective yet caring portrayal of the American hero. In films set in the 60’s we typically see the stay at home mother and housewife character portrayed as seen and not heard but there for support. Yet, Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong is able to evoke this enormous sense of a highly intelligent woman, emotionally strong enough to shoulder the burden of raising kids with the ever present reality that her husband could lose his life at any moment. With notable performances from Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin, Kyle Chandler as Deke Slayton, and Jason Clarke as Edward White you get the authenticity of the best indie film performances in a blockbuster.

While the film never focuses specifically on the politics of the time, you are able to get glimpses of the economics of the day through various meetings NASA has with politicians and protests. Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey On The Moon” gets a surprising moment in the sun during this film. The powerful spoken word allows Chazelle to highlight the disparity of funding for the expensive space program versus the hard working citizens paying for it with tax dollars while trying to survive. 

First Man is a film about perspective. It gives the viewer a moment to feel what it must have been like to be in Armstrong’s shoes, what his family and other family’s who lost loved ones for the mission endured, and how small we are in the universe. The focus on character and story, using all of the components of film to engage its’ viewer, makes this film soar above all other race to the moon films that have come before it. Treat yourself to an IMAX showing of this film, because it deserves star treatment!

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.

"A Star Is Born" Review: A Fresh Look At A Classic Story

A-Star-Is-Born_41706_posterlarge.jpg

Even before its release, A Star is Born (2018) existed as a landmark point in the history of contemporary American cinema.  This is the third version of the story to hit the screen since 1937.  It also marks the directorial debut of Bradley Cooper, as well as the big screen debut of Lady Gaga.  The press for this iteration has been brimming with praise since the film’s premiere screening at the Venice Film Festival.  While not destined for classic status, A Star is Born is a strong debut feature and provides a fresh look at a classic story. 

Ally’s (Gaga) life is a struggle; she lives at home with her father (Andrew Dice Clay) and works as a server in an upscale restaurant in the city.  Her only reprieve is her weekly slot at a local bar, where her vocal talent allows her to perform live alongside a group of lip-synching drag queens.  This all changes when singer-songwriter Jackson Maine (Cooper) swings by the bar on his way home from another headlining arena show.  Maine immediately falls for Ally, and the couple embark on a journey through the contemporary music industry filled with soaring highs and soul-crushing lows. 

a-star-is-born-from-left-bradley-cooper-lady-gaga-2018-ph-neal-preston--warner-bros-courtesy-everett-collection.jpg

The film serves as a strong directorial debut for Cooper, who quickly draws the audience in, even though they may be familiar with the story.  The numerous musical performances were shot live in secret during a number of large musical festivals and feel extremely authentic…because they are.  The camera stays close to its characters, resulting in extremely intimate moments within the context of packed stadiums and festivals.  The songs, many of which are penned by the stars, are emotional earworms that support the main storyline and will likely stay with audiences after the lights come up in the theater.

Cooper’s reliance on close-ups throughout the rest of the film keep this intimacy going when its characters are offstage as well. Despite the quality of the direction, the film is not without issues.  The film’s 135 minute runtime starts to crawl after a while; the momentum built in the opening hour drifts away in the final act.  In addition, Cooper’s choice to replace an existing narrative of the rise and fall of musicians with a battle over “authenticity” is an interesting one, but it doesn’t quite land. 

gaga a star.jpg

While the film serves as evolution for Cooper’s career, it’s Lady Gaga who steals the show.  The pop star’s stripped-down turn as Ally makes her a serious contender in the film industry.  Near unrecognizable sans the elaborate costuming she’s known for, Gaga becomes her character and elevates the emotional core of the story.  This is in contrast with Cooper, whose performance as Maine, while good, wasn’t born of the same immersion  While the leads are obviously the focus here, much could be said for the supporting cast, all of whom provide a real sense of depth to their roles.  This is especially true of Sam Elliot, who plays Cooper’s older brother/manager Bobby. 

A Star is Born isn’t perfect, but it will likely be remembered as a watermark in the careers of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.  The film will probably receive a number of Oscar nominations, although wins are not guaranteed.   This reimagining of A Star is Born manages to take a classic Hollywood tale and update it with the visual playbook of modern independent cinema.  Fans of either may come away with a positive opinion of the film. 

Rating: A-

"The Old Man & The Gun" Review: A Nice Curtain Call For Redford

oldman poster.jpg

We’re at the curtain call for one of the greatest actors of his generation. After entertaining us for close to sixty years, Robert Redford announced that The Old Man & the Gun would be his final film role. The new film from director David Lowery, who previously directed Redford in 2016’s Pete’s Dragon and last year’s A Ghost Story (which was one of my favorite films of last year), Old Man is a breezy film, in a good way. Never taking itself seriously, it’s nice to see a film set out and do what it’s trying to do: to simply entertain us and have fun with the material on hand. Even though Redford claims this is his final role, this shows that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank should he decide to “un-retire.”

Based on a mostly true story, as the opening title card tells us, Forrest Tucker (Redford) is a seasoned bank robber who’s been in and out of trouble since the age of thirteen and successfully escaped prison sixteen times. Forrest, even though he’s a criminal, is a proper gentleman and always polite. His latest string of bank robberies along with his accomplices Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), whom the media dubs the Over the Hill Gang, catches the attention of local cop John Hunt (Casey Affleck) who’s hot on their trail. Along the way, Forrest develops a relationship with a widower, Jewel (Sissy Spacek), as he and his team plan for one last big heist.

robert spacek.jpg

For what he’s calling his final film performance, Redford absolutely delivers as Forrest, a man who just can’t help himself and loves what he does. Watching him charm up the screen and playing it cool shows why he’s considered one of the best of his time. For the story at hand, written by Lowery and based on a 2003 New Yorker article from David Grann, I enjoyed the depths Redford brought to Forrest.  He presents himself as a polite, charming gentleman, but beneath the façade, there’s a sort of loneliness to him. I believe no one else could have pulled it off as great as Redford does. The chemistry that Redford exhibits with everyone, from his accomplices to Jewel to even John, was great. In fact, the storyline between Forrest and Jewel was one of the strongest parts of the film, and for these actors to finally be in a film together, you would have been fooled to think they’ve done this song and dance plenty of times. Lowery also presents Forrest and John as the yin and yang to each other. While Forrest is happy to be doing crimes in the prime of his life, John seems like he’s burnt out from being a policeman. All of the other actors were solid in their roles as well.

With each of the films that he has directed, Lowery has shown a certain growth with the ability to navigate through different genres while still giving each film a style and personality of its own. The jazzy soundtrack from Lowery’s musical collaborator, Daniel Hart, helps move the film along and feels appropriate for the film. The look of the film that Lowery and his DP Joe Anderson went for, with shooting on 16mm and then blowing it up, helps to make the film look like something that took place in the late 70s/early 80s. The montage sequences, particularly showing Forrest robbing banks or how he escaped prison so many times, are spot on and have a certain energy to them. The length of the film, at 93 minutes, was perfect to get in and out, so it never overstays its welcome. 

the-old-man-the-gun-034_tomatg_00825_rgb.jpg

Even though it’s breezy fun, it doesn’t go too in-depth. Since Lowery, at times, feels like he’s focusing more on Forrest, the supporting characters aren’t developed very well. Some of them come and go without any real significance to the story. It would have been fun if there were just a few more scenes with either Glover or Waits’ characters, and to see more interactions with John’s wife Maureen (Tika Sumpter). 

Overall, for his final performance, you couldn’t ask for anything more from Redford. This is his film through and through. In this time and age, it’s refreshing to go to a film and just have fun for a couple of hours. The Old Man & the Gun delivers on that front. If this indeed is the end of the road for him, he picked a good film to go out on. And I’m looking forward to whatever Lowery has coming up next. I would recommend checking this film out whenever it comes to your theater.

Rating: B+


"Night School" Review: A Lesson in Bad Comedy

Night_School.png

Let’s start with an alliteration. Night School begs for comedy charity chuckles. Let’s do the math. Kevin Hart plus Tiffany Hadish doesn’t make comedy gold. Now, let me take you to school.

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee, Night School follows the story of Teddy Walker (Kevin Hart), a high school drop out who has used his quick wit and charm to get ahead in life. He has it all. His girlfriend Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke) is a beautiful businesswoman, and the porsche he drives is equally elegant. The only problem is he’s maxing out on his credit cards to keep her impressed and in his life. After a freak accident following his proposal to Lisa, Teddy finds himself unemployed and unable to keep up the facade. So he decides to go to night school in an effort to become a financial analyst. 

From there we’re introduced to the ragtag bunch of night school students in Teddy’s class. There’s the stressed and under-appreciated stay at home mom Theresa (Mary Lynn Rajskub), woke brother Jaylen (Romany Malco), former jock Mackenzie (Rob Riggle), high school teen queen Mila (Anne Winters), wanna be pop star Luis (Al Madrigal), and in confinement convict Bobby (Fat Joe).  They’re all led by an underpaid teacher named Carrie (Tiffany Haddish). 

NightSchoolpic1.jpg

The problem with the film is that at the script level its thinner than a sheet of paper. With six names on the writing credits you would think that someone would say, “hey, let’s make sure the stakes are more than our main character has to hide educating himself from his fiance.” There is no major emotional investment for the viewer to take the ride on this unlikely story. Yet, the six writing credits may explain why the story goes into so many different directions. It’s a caper comedy, teen comedy (equipped with choreographed dance moves from a group of students during a prom scene), buddy comedy, and more. So we’re forced to hope that the banter amongst the characters will be worth the entry. It’s not.

You start out wanting to see more of Haddish, but quickly realize she’s underused in her role. Hart works too much and brings nothing new to this character. So the lesser names in the ensemble wind up bringing more creativity to the mix. Romany Malco is almost unrecognizable as Jaylen and he brings a full character to the screen and some good moments of humor. Even though Fat Joe can’t act, you can tell he was being himself as the Skyped in convict, and it makes for some good bits. In fact, the small details in the film are worth paying attention to. I’ve compiled my top five things to look for if you dare to go:

1) Fat Joe’s graduation jewelry.

2) The names of the sodas at Christian Chicken where Teddy works. Names like Ruth’s Beer and Coconut Christ Water were pretty funny.

3) How (Jaylen) Romany Malco brushes his hair. If you pay attention to what he’s doing, you’ll see it’s pretty funny.

4) Poor editing during the film. There are more than a few times when an action takes place from one angle and then the same thing happens again in the very next cut. (Haddish hitting Hart in the Christian Chicken parking lot for one.)

5) The terrible dub-overs in the film. There were plenty of times where you wonder if the audio is out of synch. My theory is that to keep the rating PG-13, certain dialogue had to be changed. There is a specific moment where heffer is used instead of the clear f-bomb Haddish actually said.

haddishhart.jpg

Overall, this film is a great pitch concept and nothing more. Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish are talented comedians at the top of their game, but this experiment didn’t produce a great outcome. I stayed awake through the end in order to write this review, but the man snoring extremely loud in the last ten minutes of this twenty-minutes-too-long movie provided more laughs and conversation amongst the audience than the movie itself. Save your money on this one!

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.

"The House With A Clock in its Walls" Review

thehousewithaclockpicturelock.jpg

The House with a Clock in its Walls is masterfully nostalgic; director Eli Roth reignites the forgotten appreciation Millennials have for Jack Black. Even though the film is technically created for kids, I was on the edge of my seat throughout the movie. The film is based on a mystery fiction novel written by John Bellairs in 1973. The House with a Clock in its Walls certainly pays homage to the book in its own unique ways, however books are rarely fully realized when adapted to the big screen. The story is not quite the same as the book, but the movie makes up for that with polished special effects,  great acting, and multi-generational humor. The movie is reminiscent of such films like A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Golden Compass, and even Goosebumps

Lewis Bernavelt (Owen Vaccaro) is a recently orphaned 10 year old who moves to the fictional town of New Zebedee, Michigan to live with his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black). His uncle happens to be a warlock with a best friend, Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), who is a powerful witch. This hodgepodge of characters form a makeshift family on a mission to do one thing, find a way to stop the doomsday clock left by an earlier tenant of the house!

black picture lock.jpeg

The first notable thing about the film is the casting, Jack Black  does an amazing job in his role as the creepy, misunderstood uncle. This role is the Jack Black we’ve come to expect to see on screen through and through; he creates such an interesting character within the storyline, it’s hard to look away. Owen Vaccaro steals the show with his ability to cry on cue, competency with linguistics, and charming character. He is the typical nerdy, misunderstood kid, but he certainly proves himself time and time again. Finally, sure to be a character favorite (she was mine) is Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), the platonic friend of Jack Black; their friendship is hilarious and wonderful. They truly care about each other as friends but they don’t waste a moment without dishing out a good insult towards one another. Overall, the acting truly carries the film, and the relationships between all of the actors feels genuine, adding to their creativity.

family_picture lock.jpg

Alongside the quarrels and quips between characters, the storyline is incredibly intriguing. The plot is solid and engaging, yet you can never assume what will happen next. The House with a Clock in its Walls is a story that cannot be forgotten (not recommended for kids under age 8), and yet it is filled with humor for different generations. At one point during the screening I saw, an audience member nearby noted out loud that there were more adults laughing at the jokes within the audience than kids which truly speaks to the talent behind the writing by Eric Kripke. As was mentioned before, the character interactions are incredible, and the writing can partially be thanked for this. The actors are able to create palpable, genuine relationships on screen with the dialogue; some of the most impressive acting came from Owen Vaccaro, simply because of the way he “used his words,” (this is even commented on within the film). 

The House With a Clock on it's Walls uses a variety of cinematic elements to give an entertaining final product. The production of the film is well thought out, the creativity shines, and the plot doesn’t falter. The dedication of the actors alongside the great writing help make these characters memorable. As stated earlier, the film is incredibly nostalgic for Millennials; it relates to so many movies in the past that are now reminiscent of our childhood. Hopefully, Jack Black’s role sparks the same sentimental value for the next generation that he created in past films like School of Rock; this film definitely has potential to become a Jack Black cult classic. 

Rating: A-





Comment

Julia Moroles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mandy" Review: A Vision Both Strange and Eternal

Mandy-poster-1.jpg

It has been seven years since filmmaker Panos Cosmanos burst onto the scene with the cult sci-fi film Beyond the Black Rainbow, and many have wondered if and how the writer-director could top Rainbow’s ramped-up hallucinogenic visuals.  Fans of the director now have their answer, as Cosmanos has returned with Mandy, an acid-drenched revenge thriller unlike anything released in theaters this year. 

Lumberjack, Red Miller (Nicolas Cage), lives a quiet life in the forests of the Shadow Mountains alongside the love of his life, the titular artist Mandy (Andrea Riseborough).  However the serenity of the forest is disrupted by the arrival of Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), a failed folk singer- turned-cult leader and his group of God-loving hippies. After a passing encounter on a desolate logging road, Sand decides that Mandy must join his group. Tragedy eventually ensues and leads Red and his home-forged battle axe into the night seeking revenge at any cost.  

Cosmanos takes this simple plot and drowns it in gallons of blood and LSD.  Mandy’s forest setting is constantly punctuated by beams of Giallo-influenced color, animated hallucinations, and an ever-present heavy metal-influenced score composed by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. The film contains homages to midnight films of the past, but these blend seamlessly into Cosmanos’ world and never feel tired or cliche.  It takes a special film to do that in a nostalgia-dominated media landscape, and Cosmanos has shown that a throwback film doesn’t need to consist of yelling “HEY REMEMBER THIS?” at its viewers.  

Mandy_2.jpg

Of course, the film isn’t all nostalgia, and provides a number of original set-pieces that must be seen to be believed.  Otherworldly S&M bikers are summoned via ocarina, and grown men duel with chainsaws under the lights of a mining quarry.  These (and other) insane sequences aren’t for everyone, but they certainly draw the viewer into Mandy’s unique vision. It takes a total commitment to the craft to pull things like this off without irony, and the film succeeds where other camp-focused features may fail. 

Mandy_1.jpg

This all-in feeling is buttressed by the film’s impressive cast, many of whom turn in milestone performances in their respective careers. Nicolas Cage’s monolithic filmography has been varied to such a degree that the internet has designed a four-point matrix on which to graph his performances.  This, however, is a role no one else could pull off, and Cage’s performance as Red transcends the points on the aforementioned Cage matrix.  Red’s transition from loving partner to blood-soaked death machine requires just about every emotion to come through on screen, and Cage nails every beat required of him.  The viewer really feels Red’s emotional arc, and when Cage engages in one of his legendary on-screen freak-outs, the moment is more than earned.  This is a performance for the ages, and should be seen as a return to form by one of Hollywood’s finest. 

While most of the press surrounding the film’s post-Sundance premiere has focused on Cage, Andrea Riseborough and Linus Roache deserve equal amounts of praise.  Riseborough’s portrayal of Mandy is wonderful, and Roache’s turn as the villainous Sand should be seen as a breakout moment in his career. A confrontation between the two is one of the film’s highlights and provides a clear piece of social commentary in the age of #metoo.  Expect to see both actors doing big things in the future.

Mandy4.jpg

All of this praise is certainly warranted, but the film is not without some issues. The filmmaker’s editing style is a bit of a double-edged sword, as it was in Rainbow.  The pivotal shift in tone occurs about halfway through Mandy’s 2-hour run time.  This gives the viewer plenty of time to invest in Red’s eventual rampage, but the film does drag a bit.  Those expecting a pace similar to other action-oriented films may find the glacial pace of Mandy’s first half off-putting, but it’s hard to say whether the film’s tender first half could be shortened. 

Nontheless, Mandy is a strong addition to Cosmano’s filmography, and fans of genre-filmmaking looking for an unforgettable experience should strongly consider giving Cosmanos’ latest a view.  Mandy is showing in a limited run of theaters and is available on VOD.  

Rating: B+

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

The-Predator-2018-Movie-Poster-Images-and-Wallpapers.jpg

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

landscape-1536145411-the-predator-cast.jpg


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

lots-of-new-stills-from-the-predator-696x464_0.jpg


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


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

predator-jacob-tremblay.png

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


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

hero_thepredator_01_requested_to_be_lead_image.jpg


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

Overall Grade: A-

Comment

Julia Moroles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The Nun" Review: Save Your Money for the Warren's Next Adventure

the nun poster picturelockshow.jpg

Since its debut in 2013, The Conjuring has grown beyond stand-alone status into a fully realized cinematic universe, all fueled by the real-life investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren.  The newest entry in this gathering of demons and ghouls is Valak, the hell-spawned nun first seen terrorizing the Warren’s home in The Conjuring 2.  Director Colin Hardy takes the viewer back to the source of the demon’s power in the newest Conjuring-related film.  However, the interpersonal relationships and horrific imagery of the source films have unfortunately been stripped away, leaving a carnival ride that fans of the horror genre have ridden a few too many times before. 

Upon hearing of a suspicious suicide at the Abbey of St. Carta, the Vatican dispatches paranormal investigator Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to the Romanian countryside.  Upon their arrival at the Abbey, the pair, along with French Canadian farmer “Frenchie” (Jonas Bloquet), confront and attempt to overcome Valak’s evil influence.  

Despite providing an imposing, Hammer Films-esque haunted house and vague glimpses of the dark history of the Abbey, the film chooses to provide a minimum amount of world building.  After all, the filmmakers have viewers to scare! However, the scares here mostly fall flat, as the viewer is rarely exposed to anything truly terrifying.

father picturelockshow.jpg

The old standbys are all here: unseen forces inverting crosses, undead beings lurking around the corner, and mysterious pairs of hands reaching out from the dark-all accompanied by a shrieking violin or loud otherworldly thump.  Look, a jump scare is an effective way to get a reaction from the viewer, but so is any unexpected loud noise.  The most iconic films of the horror genre invade the mind of the viewer, implanting imagery and a sense of unease that lasts long after the lights go up in the theater.  Unfortunately, The Nun provides very little in the way of true nightmare fuel. Instead, the film relies on recycled cliches and involuntary nervous system responses to illicit cheap reactions from its viewers.  Some imagery may have felt transgressive at an earlier time but feels tired in 2018.  

The quickly established characters of Burke and Irene, both possessing hints of a troubled past, ultimately serve as little more than engines to move the barebones plot forward.  The dialogue between the two consists mainly of heavy exposition punctuated by screaming. The duo constantly separate, dragging the audience from scare to scare until finally reuniting with Frenchie and Valak for the film’s welcomed ending.  

Credit should be given to Farmiga, who injects some level of humanity into her character. Nonetheless, the film gives the viewer little reason to care about the fate of its inhabitants. Bichir’s portrayal of Father Burke is relegated to a confused facial expression and the desire to run towards any strange sight or otherworldly sound the film throws at him. The campers at Camp Crystal Lake had more sense than the Vatican’s top “Miracle Hunter” has in this film. 

farmiga the nun picturelockshow.jpg

It could be argued that the traditional imagery and lack of characterization is itself an homage to the B-movies of old.  After all, weak characterization in horror films isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, and lord knows film buffs have seen their fair share of haunted houses/castles/hotels/etc, but The Nun doesn’t fully commit to B-Movie status. Instead, it floats somewhere between Hollywood blockbuster and midnight trash.  If the filmmakers chose to lean further toward one of the two extremes, it may have resulted in a better product. However, the lack of commitment here hurts more than helps.

Save your money for the Warren’s next official adventure, and leave The Nun alone. 

Rating: D+