Empire: "Without A Country" Review

Empire
Season 2 Ep. 2
“Without A Country”

Building off of “The Devils are Here”, it’s all about set up in this episode. Empire is laying the foundation of the warring factions in the Lyon household. We’ll give it another episode or two, but the pink elephant in the room is the clutter of distracting cameos and slow brew storyline. This could be, however, the set up to an incredibly dramatic face off or plummeting story. We’ll see.

The episode starts off with Lucious still in jail and is the king of the jungle, fresh off his Frank Gathers kill. His medication has been mysteriously misplaced so he’s showing signs of fatigue in this episode. He looked like he was seizing up trying to rhyme in the yard. This week’s major feature was Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and he was doing too much in his first scene as the overbearing Officer McKnight, but came around as the episode went on.

Jamal meets with dear old dad in prison to give him the scoop on what’s happening with the company. The cameos were cool last season because each episode had a new artist guest star, but that was it. This season there are so many cameos I can’t keep up with everyone in their bit roles. However, Andre Royo steps in as Thirsty Rawlings, a shady lawyer who seems to have an interest in being Lucious’s lawyer. Royo seems like a good casting choice and an interesting addition to the drama.

Never the one to roll over, Cookie goes to the old recording studio (you remember the one where they “tried” to kill Jamal) to set up shop. Booboo Kitty is already there trying to mold an artist, but now that the alliance is no longer needed Cookie kicks her out. The studio is meager in comparison to the Empire and is visually setting up the David vs. Goliath companies through the settings of the show.

Jamal is stepping into a zone as the sensitive leader. He still isn’t fit for the throne because he’s too sensitive for the ring, but Jussie Smollet is doing his thing as an actor. He’s molding Jamal into a character that you root for, because his heart is in the right place as an artist and family member. Hakeem still desires the crown and tries to put together a three woman group to prove his A&R abilities, while leaking his album online to shake things up at Empire.

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Lucious managed to record another banger for the streets behind bars. Was it just me or did it seem like Lucious was about to get got when he opened that closet door? Maybe I’ve seen too many prison shows. The “Hustle & Flow” reminiscent throwback in the prison was dope though!

Andre is going to go crazy if you don’t let him back in the fold Lucious! After meeting his father at the prison, Andre got the cold shoulder. Honestly, this is all too familiar as Lucious continues to use his son’s blind ambition and desire to please him to do his bidding...which I’m sure will happen next week.

Lyon Dynasty, Cookie’s record label, is a nice wink at the tv series this one happens to be similar to. Here’s to hoping episode 3 shakes things up a bit. As the ratings have slipped slightly, it needs a pick me up!

Cookie Crumbs:

Andre hasn’t shown his crazy yet this season, but I have a feeling it’s coming soon. Lucious’s emotional manipulation of his son’s is starting to age.
Hakeem is showing himself to have a mind of his own, which will likely be an advantage for him down the line. Leaking his album to the world was a bold move.
Jamal is going to have to step aside once pops gets out. That, or Lucious is going to play puppet master.

Best Empire Tweets This Week:


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.

Empire: "The Devils Are Here" Review

Empire
Season 2 Ep. 1
“The Devils Are Here”


“Empire” is back and is steam rolling ahead to continue its’ juggernaut status on prime time television. It’s obvious when a show is doing well, and last night’s episode had too many cameos to count! This show is here to stay!

Three months after Lucious’ arrest Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) throws a Free Lucious (Terrance Howard) concert, not because she wants to but because Cookie is that business woman! Always making moves, Cookie brings on lesbian mogul, Mimi Whiteman (Marisa Tomei), as a potential investor of Empire Entertainment in an attempt to create a hostile takeover. Jamal (Jussie Smollet) is still in control of the company, and Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), Andre (Trai Byers), and even Anika (Grace Gealey) can come together to see that that changes in this episode.

The show flexed its’ muscles with social commentary; interweaving current events in the real world and the world of “Empire”, the writers know that it has a platform and people are listening. While at the concert, Jamal says“Bill Clinton is out there”  to which Cookie responds “He need to be. If he want his wife to get elected.” Cookie dresses as a guerrilla and is locked in a cage while making statements on the current prison and policing system in a beast mode monologue! I’m interested to see how the influence of this show will manifest in the real world.    

If you remember last season, Cookie snitched on Frank Gathers, the drug kingpin that Cookie and Lucious used to deal for. In perhaps the worst casting ever, Chris Rock showed up as the highly feared man. I’m sorry, but not enough building his character up by everyone else, and big dudes standing around him can make Chris Rock scary. Yet, there he was as Frank Gathers the cannibal.

Once Frank found out Cookie snitched, he sent flowers to the house and included the head of her cousin, putting everyone on alert and on lockdown at Lucious’ home. Cookie finally goes to see Lucious in prison to get him to handle Frank. As much as I didn’t like his casting, it was a dope exit for Chris Rock as Lucious turned the tables on him and had him murdered. While Porsha had to booboo, Booboo Kitty had to dance with Mimi and some. As the attempt to takeover the Empire went south, Lucious proved that he still runs things, even from a federal prison. With one visit from Mimi, Lucious talked her into siding with him and kept control of the company.

After Frank’s death, Jamal kicks everyone out of his father’s home. It’s interesting to see Jamal’s loyalty to his father after last season. Cookie slaps the mess out of him twice before leaving. The possibilities for this season’s storylines are endless!


Cookie Crumbs:

  • Jamal ain’t fit for the thrown! He’s not ruthless, and his heart is divided between music and the business. We’ll see where this goes.
  • The music is still on point in this show. I’m looking forward to hearing the soundtrack for this season.
  • If I may geek out for a second. The hero shot of Cookie, Andre, Hakeem, and Anika walking toward the board meeting was dope. Simply because it was the typical set up with the characters turning the corner and walking in slow motion, but the kicker was Hakeem on the scooter! It said so much about his character and the show’s knowledge of bucking the norm at the same time.
  • It’s obvious Lucious is getting out soon from the previews for next week! Let’s see what happens.

Best Empire Tweets This Week:

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.

East Los High: "The Bi+ch is Back" Review

East Los High

Season 3 Ep. 2

“The Bi+ch is Back”

Starting where "La Virgen De East Los High" left off, Pedro catches Ceci’s hand and prevents her from killing him, but thank God for neighbors who don’t just ignore sounds next door. Another life lesson taught by East Los High (don’t ignore the rumble next door, even if you have to call the police to keep yourself safe), as the next door neighbors saved Ceci from another abusive encounter with Pedro. Camila tries to call Nick and clear things up. In his eagerness to drive away from home, Nick gets picked up by the cops for driving a stolen car. 

Mean while, back at the bachelorette party, the bomb squad girls enjoy dancing the night away (are they in college or high school?). JACOB’S DAD!!!! He’s back, and I still don’t know his name. As one of the solid character actors from Season 1 (video right) in my opinion, it was great to see him back for season 3. Ceci interrupts a father and son moment as she turns to Jacob to help her in her current predicament. (I told ya'll Ceci only having high school girl friends is a problem!) Being the good man that he is, Jacob gets a hotel for Ceci and Isela (Julianna Gamiz) and stays the night. 

As Camila’s world seems to be coming to an end over being caught with Jocelyn, I can’t help but think of how quickly she flipped on Jocelyn. The girls wake up from the bachelorette party in a somewhat funny stupor. Jacob wakes up to a cup of coffee from Ceci, who has already got the ball rolling for going to a women’s shelter (good job Ceci). 

Camila meets Nick in a face to face convo behind prison glass. (Increased budget to be on location or at least make a new set! Whoop whoop!) The fact that Nick is so worried about Camila and Jocelyn’s fling, rather than how he’s going to get out of jail is a little strange to me. I mean, I don’t ever want to go to jail, and my first thought in his situation would be how do I get out. (Although he deserved it...he was riding around with and knowingly dealing drugs.) If the conversation between them had been anywhere else it would have been more riveting, but it felt out of place. Shout out to Ray Diaz on the heartfelt scene though! 

Unfortunately, Camila feels extremely guilty about Nick’s arrest...because he was carrying drugs and got caught it was her fault?. Hello! That’s his fault! Her misguided guilt leads her to move out of Jocelyn’s place. Ceci is also dealing with misguided priorities as well, as she is more concerned about being at the almighty regional dance competition with the Bomb Squad. When the squad finds out that Ceci won’t be making it, they flip out. Which brings one of my favorite ELH characters, Vanessa (Tracy Perez), back into the fold to step in as interim Bomb Squad coach.

Maya (Alicia Sixtos) comes home after being in Sante Fe for a month for a chef bootcamp. She tells Jacob that she got a job and wants him to come with her. That would force Jacob to say goodbye to East LA. Does he love Maya enough to do that? After getting some good eats in his belly, and a semi-valid story from Maya, he decides it is!

Of course with Vanessa in, Ceci can’t be left out. As the Squad gets ready to perform at regionals, Ceci loses her mind and decides it would be a good idea to head over to the competition after receiving a text from her biggest little influencers. Guess who shows up in the crowd?! 

East Los Addict Geek Out:

  • What I love about ELH is that it educates while entertaining. In the past, many of the educational moments feel like PSAs. While this season does have those moments, the scene with Ceci talking about the women’s shelter educated me and I barely noticed it! I learned about what women can do to be safe in abusive relationships, which is beneficial for victims and friends being able to instruct. As always you can find helpful links on their website: http://eastloshigh.com/take-action/
  • I hate to say it, but I have a love/hate relationship with the bomb squad. Although the dancing in East Los is dope (most of the time), I can never quite wrap my head around why the Bomb Squad is “life” to all involved. I mean, it’s not giving out scholarships and it isn’t putting them on a platform to be professional dancers. So why is regionals so important that it could break up friendships or is worth Ceci exposing herself to her abuser? Ya’ll fill me in in the comment section below please! "message!"
  • I loved seeing Vanessa back on screen. She always has the good one liners. “1985 wants their dance moves back”! lol. I’ve got no desire to wear them, but those shoes looked killer! Were they a special pair of somethings? 
  • That older woman in blue playing the competition assistant was hilarious!  “Don’t trip. Tuck your butt in hon.” She certainly played her role and got her 15 seconds in! 
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.

East Los High: "La Virgen de East Los High" Review

Check out East Los High on Hulu!

Check out East Los High on Hulu!

East Los High

Season 3 Ep. 1

“La Virgen De East Los High”

The much anticipated season 3 of “East Los High” starts off right where Season 2 left us, yelling at the TV screen! Your favorite cast is back with some fresh faces. Most importantly, “East Los” has now entered a new realm with Emmy nominations under its belt, a seasoned cast, and a clear vision for where it’s heading.

“La Virgen De East Los High” opens with Ceci (Danielle Vega) answering Pedro’s question (Rene Alvarado) with a yes. We all probably threw up our hands and debated shutting off the TV, but that was followed with Camila (Vannessa Vasquez) seated with her “keep it on the DL boo” Jocelyn (Andrea Sixtos) and fresh cuts on her arm. Last season’s incest/molestation reveal was a shocker, and took the show to a serious level. Nick (Ray Diaz) is dealing with the fallout from Remy’s (Robert Paul Taylor) death.

The episode jumps forward a month and doesn’t spell out what we’ve missed. Ceci gets fitted for her dress with her bomb squad girls: Filli (Vivian Lamolli), Tiffany (Ashley Campuzano), and Jazmine (Olivia ‘Cachi’ Gonzales). I still kind of question why she hangs with high school girls when she clearly is a couple years removed from them.? The bomb squad girls make it clear that they’re family though, even equipping her with a jacket.

Camila attempts to tell Gina (Alexandra Rodriguez) the truth about their father. Gina thwarts her semi-admission. Camila finds herself face to face with her father in the school parking lot. While her father acts like he doesn’t remember molesting her, Camila makes it clear that she’ll kill him if he touches Gina. 

It’s clear that Jacob (Gabriel Chavarria) is still a thorn in Pedro’s side as Ceci avoids Jacob at school. She stops by Tio Pepe’s to pick up food, and has an awkward conversation with Jacob as Pedro enters the restaurant. Pedro puts on the machismo performance and throws a couple low blows Jacob’s way and proceeds to make it clear that Ceci is his girl physically by wrapping his arm around her on the way out. Insecure much?

Later that night, the bomb squad surprises Ceci with a bachelorette party fitted with a cute dance number, but we all knew it would probably come back to bite her. Camila and Jocelyn have a moment in the powder room, letting us know that Jocelyn still has a soft spot for Camila that's likely mutual. As the two leave the party to go home, we see Pedro creeping outside of the dance studio, watching Ceci. 

Nick gets a call that the Vegas deal is off, which sends him back home. Camila and Jocelyn are in the midst of getting "reacquainted" when Nick busts in on them, sending him off in a huff. Ceci returns home to Pedro asking how things went. After telling him a lie, he beats her, but Ceci comes at him with a knife to end the episode with on a cliffhanger.

East Los Addict Geek Out: (This is where I get to go a bit deeper for the episode.)

  • Rene Alvarado gets the acting salute on this episode. After seeing Ceci in the dance studio, Pedro looks like a lost boy in his thoughts sitting on the couch when Ceci comes home. I gave him a shout out for his performance and character arch last season, and his crazy this season is full throttle. He truly appears to have issues, and you can see them on his face.
  • The budget has gone up for season 3! With new locations, a beefed up cast, and a clear advancement in cinematography/camera moves, “East Los” seems to be in its zone and on a grander scale. 
  • Camila has matured, and now that the truth is out you can tell that her past is sitting on her shoulders. Vannessa Vasquez has had some time to live with the character in between seasons and it shows.
  • I didn't know who Chachi Gonzales was until I was looking at various ELH YouTube videos. Come to find out she's kind of a big deal (almost a million subscribers on YouTube for starters...can I borrow a couple..hundred...thousand Chachi? LOL), and it looks like she'll be talking a lot more this season! So her fans should be excited about that!
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.

Empire: "Sins of the Father" Review

“Empire” 

Season 1 Ep. 10

Sins of the Father

After Andre’s dramatic breakdown in “Unto the Breach,” I wasn’t quite sure how this week’s episode would unfold. It’s clear that the family had known about Andre’s disorder since his first incident in college. Of course Cookie had no idea due to her seventeen years of incarceration. Yet the opening scene showed how much the family (albeit minus Lucious) cares for their brother/son/husband. 

There was a heavy handed  PSA in the therapy scene that I didn’t care for. I know Lee Daniels has been quoted saying that with "Empire" he wanted to "blow the lid off of homophobia in my community” and I think this is the approach that was used here with Bi-polar disorder. Cookie’s line about it being “white people problems” was so early ‘90s that it lost some of the emotional appeal to me. Yes, she’s been locked up for a while, but I think we’re above that level of that type of scripted ignorance. Jennifer Hudson and Mary J. Blige had brief cameos almost not worth mentioning but they are both amazing talents.

Cookie and Malcolm’s relationship is starting to kick off strong after last week. As much as Malcolm likes to tout his principles, messing with Cookie is going to come back to bite him. At the end of the day, “Empire” is about Lucious Lyons and I don’t see Malcolm lasting through next week’s two hour finale if it came down to it. 

Camila actually seems to care for Hakeem, or she has a really good scheme planned that requires her saying all the right things. After Lucious offered her hush money and sent her to the airport never to return, she vowed to come back. We’ll see how that turns out.

The majority of the episode focused on Lola. Yeah, Lola. You remember, the little girl whose paternity I’ve questioned since she showed up in “Out, Damned Spot!”. Just as Jamal was starting to write songs about Lola and consider having her live with him, Olivia comes back in town with a crazy ex holding her hostage. Props to Raven Symone’s performance in making us believe he was a scary guy, because outside of some tats he really didn’t do much the entire episode that would cause us to be alarmed. 

After an embittered Vernon leads Olivia and Loco to the Lyon’s estate, crazy pulls a gun on the family, which gets Lucious open and honest. He claims paternity for Lola in an effort to save his son. We’ll see if it’s true or not, but this came as a shock to the family (You guys really thought Jamal was the daddy?) and has created an obvious rift in the family.

Cookie Crumbs:

  • Lucious’ enemies are too many to count right now. Anika, Beretti, Vernon, Jamal, Cookie, Andre, and so on. I’m hoping he takes some kind of a hit in the next episode because his character has earned it. 
  • That’s a wrap on Lola! At least in my opinion. She’s served her purpose in the storyline, but she could appear throughout Season 2.
  • Was it just me, or did you notice the soap opera-esque music that played throughout this episode to build tension? Music has been the core of this show, and I hope they don’t bring that sappy element into it. 

You can buy the hit soundtrack here:

Best Empire Memes This Week:

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.