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.

backseat.jpg

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.

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.

Empire: "Unto the Breach" Review

Empire

Season 1 Ep. 9

“Unto the Breach”

lj_fox_empire_dec14.jpg

“Empire” is back to incredible, unexpected openings! I mean, was this an episode of “24” or “Empire”? Honestly, if this was the ‘90s you wouldn’t have been able to get up for a bathroom break on the commercials. Thank God for DVR! 

If this episode could be summed up in one word, it would be urgency. The urgency that every character had to save the label after Anika crossed Lucious by going to Baretti was palpable the entire episode. With one move from Anika, suddenly Empire Records went crazy. Terminology was used that hadn’t been before, like Lucious belting  out “Lock down the empire!” What is the empire? I don’t know, but it sounded great.

The key to “Unto the Breach” is that we never really find out what Anika said or did, but the entire Empire team knows that she could crumble the business with the information she has. Therefore, everyone scrambles to secure artists already on the roster and gain new ones in an effort to counter whatever Baretti has. 

109Empire109_sc44_0305_f_hires1.jpg

Cookie does what Cookie does and drank an artist under the table to keep him on the roster. She also teamed up with Hakeem to prevent Anika from getting to Tiana in a smooth move that once again highlights the tender, emotional beats in the show that continue to build. In fact, Jamal secured Delphine (Estelle), a major artist who will keep Empire on top, but Lucious had to swallow his pride and work with his son to make it happen. 

Pressure doesn’t help everyone in the family thrive, and Andre cracked under it. Trai Byers finally got to show serious range in his performance all night. The ending was perfect in that even though Empire seems like it will survive, there is a big issue inside named Andre that has to be addressed. We’ll see how they get him the help he needs next episode. It looks like it’s going to be a prescription of Jennifer Hudson!

Cookie Crumbs:

  • Was it just me or did Trai Byers channel the “Denzel Mumble” in the elevator scene?
  • The Cookie/Malcolm connection is growing stronger. He may be breaking his rules soon!
  • Andre may have gone crazy this episode, but mentioning that Lucious chose the son that knows he’s a murderer is key. That’s going to come back in some way.

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.

Empire: "The Lyon's Roar" Review

“Empire”

Season 1 Ep. 8

The Lyon’s Roar

If someone were to ask you, “what’s “Empire” about?” You would automatically answer “It’s about a family...”. The show is centered around the Lyons family, the record label is centered around family, and the IPO is all about family. So “Empire” is at it’s best when it hits familial themes, and this episode certainly did!

Most of the characters are motivated by love. Whether it’s love of money, or family, it’s usually one of the two. Hakeem and Jamal’s brotherly bond is really starting to become palpable. Watching them squash their beef, that stemmed from “Dangerous Bonds”, in the beginning of the episode was a nice moment. It’s the genuine, emotional moments that pull you in to the relationships of the show. So when Hakeem tells Jamal “that was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen” towards the end of the show (we’ll get to why in a second), it almost got a little dusty in my house! 

Cookie  and Hakeem had a break through in their relationship. Hakeem finally said why he was so mad at Cookie. Cookie explained that she didn’t love Jamal more than him, but she just understood Jamal better. It was nice to see them finally working at their relationship. In fact, Cookie read Camilla (Naomi Campbell) and put her in check for messing with her son! 

The Cookie/Lucious affair seemed like it would last at least a few episodes. NOPE! I guess the network said that’s for average shows! One of the things I love about “Empire” is that, while predictable at times, it knows when to go in another direction. Lucious was calculated the entire episode. His dismissal of Cookie was stone cold, especially after she gave him the idea for the legacy album and documentary to help with the dynasty hand off.  Lucious is showing his true colors as we get toward the end of the season. Jamal told Cookie not to love him because “he’s only capable of loving himself”.  

Regardless, Terrance Howard knows how to knock the emotional beats out of the park, helping us to love him and hate him from scene to scene. Lucious didn’t do a good job of juggling both Cookie and Anika. After Anika convinced him to push the date of their wedding forward, she also pushed for him to make the announcement during the all white Legacy party. Of course Cookie wasn’t going to be shown up, and she made sure that Anika knew about her and Lucious’s hook up in the studio that morning. I’m glad that rivalry will keep going!

Jamal came out in style during the legacy white party! He changed the words to “You’re so Beautiful”, which was his father’s song, to fit his personal self expression. Everybody was on board with Jamal’s admission except Lucious. We’ll see how that goes. 

Andre is about to go off the deep end. After being shut out by the board from being made CEO of Empire Records in case Lucious was incapacitated, Andre took it hard. (Lucious’s nay in the vote was a dope scene!) It’s sad enough that he is struggling with his Bi-polar disorder, but he admitted to feeling inadequate in comparison to the rest of his talented family. Those two combinations pushed him to what seemed like a suicide attempt. 

I have to geek out on the production of the episode for a moment. During the all white party, people walked in and out of frame in handheld shots with other characters in a beautiful choreography that supplemented the emotions of the environment. Like opposite ends of magnets, one person would come into the frame and someone would leave. For instance, as Cookie was talking to Jamal, Lucious approached which sparked Cookie’s exit. They also took advantage of the spacing of the room. After Cookie dug into Camilla, the camera tilted up to show Vernon and Andre coming together to talk in the balcony above. We then cut to their conversation. It’s these cinematic touches that “Empire” infuses that make the show great.

Cookie Crumbs:

  • Lucious is really proving to be a racist homophobe to the point that it’s not a good look. How marrying a white woman shows you can’t be trusted is beyond me. I hope they give his character redemption in those areas, or at least dial it back a bit before making him Walter White unloveable.
  • Although “Empire” probably could go on without Andre, he is going to have to get help or he’ll destroy himself. As in, only be back in Season 2 in flashbacks! lol
  • Cookie and Lucious are still destined to be together, and the writers are giving us more rope to be strung along with their relationship. 
  • Anika is about to be outted for her treacherous activity with drugging Elle, likely by Cookie because she wants to be with Lucious deep down and Anika messed up her hard work with that move.
  • Will they kill the whole Jamal's little girl story please!? I mean, these "smart" people don't believe in a paternity test at least? 



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.