MALEFICENT

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55 years ago, Walt Disney released the animated feature Sleeping Beauty. Based on the fairy tales The Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault and Little Briar Rose by The Brothers Grimm, the film told the story of Princess Aurora, who was cursed with a deep sleep that could only be awoken by “True Love’s Kiss”. Maleficent, the flamboyant and fiery villain who placed the curse on Aurora, became Disney’s most iconic baddie—horns, black robe, staff, bright makeup, and all. She’s become so infamous that she now has her own live-action film.  212 239 6210 873

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The film Maleficent is an origin story very similar to the basic outline of the Broadway musical Wicked (without the singing), showcasing the perspective of a villain from popular media. Angelina Jolie is a vision as the title character, marking her first major film role since 2010’s The Tourist. In this new film directed by visual effects artist Robert Stromberg, Maleficent is introduced as a powerful fairy in a magical realm known as The Moors, which borders on a kingdom populated by humans. Early in life, she falls in love with a low-class boy named Stefan, who betrays her to become king (Sharlto Copley). She also becomes a bit resentful of the humans who disrupt her side of the land. As an act of revenge, Maleficent places that curse on Stefan’s daughter Aurora. But as Maleficent watches Aurora (Elle Fanning) blossom into her teen years, she realizes she may be the one to unify both human and the enchanted. Perhaps her heart is not as cold as we were taught to believe?

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Maleficent is not just a clever origin story, but it’s a unique twist to the beloved fairy tale we’re all familiar with. While the dark retellings of fairy tales from recent cinema have been mediocre, the turns in the story and the high-powered action will keep one on the edge of their seat. Some of Jolie’s one-liners and supporting characters like Maleficent’s shape-shifting servant Diaval (Sam Riley) and the bickering pixies (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville) assigned to look after Aurora, deliver short-lived but welcomed comedy. The infant portraying baby Aurora and Vivienne Jolie-Pitt (yes, one of Jolie and Brad Pitt’s daughters) occasionally steals the show with entertaining and immensely lovable cute factor.

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Visually, it truly feels like you’ve walked into Maleficent’s magical forest. The elusive scenery is dreamy, regal, and mysterious. The costuming is divine. Maleficent is bound to be recognized for what it accomplishes in its aesthetics, but it doesn’t overpower the fascinating story that’s behind it, and that’s not the only things that will excite an audience.

While there seemed to be some areas that could’ve been touched on plot-wise, Maleficent is a well-rounded fantasy/adventure film. It embodies a little bit of Disney nostalgia, however, it’s a real winner in adding to the new age of female-centric film genres – where happily ever after may mean something else. Then again, Maleficent isn’t exactly the princess—but her version of Sleeping Beauty is still definitely one worth knowing.

Written By Karen Datangel: A San Francisco girl through and through. She has called the City by the Bay (and its suburbs) home for all of her 20+ years and counting, earned her B.A. in Journalism from San Francisco State University, and proudly wears the colors of the Giants and 49ers. When this budding freelance entertainment/lifestyle journalist and blogger isn’t writing or working at her day job, she’s obsessing over film, pop music, baseball, and cats and impressing loved ones and strangers with her contemporary pop culture knowledge. She also enjoys exploring new hot spots and frequenting familiar places in and around her city as well as others.

Coming Soon… Belle!

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What would it be like to have everything that the average citizen could not have—riches, a prestigious education, a majestic home—yet still not be able to eat with those you call family? If we took a time travel machine and went back to 18th century England, Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay may be able to tell us. Dido’s remarkable story is told through Belle, a new lush period piece directed by Amma Asante and written by Misan Sagay (Whose credits include Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Secret Laughter of Women). An official selection of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, this historical drama has earned raves from critics for outstanding cast performances and an inspiring and socially relevant story.

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In 1779, a painting of two aristocratic young women was hung in the Kenwood House in England. What’s particularly striking about this painting is that it depicts a White person and a Black person standing at the same eye level, and such a painting had not been seen before in England. The Black woman is Dido and the White woman is her cousin Elizabeth. Though there is still more to uncover about Dido in the real world, the painting caused as much of a stir as the woman did herself—just for her mixed-race background, lineage, and upbringing. Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was the illegitimate child of Captain Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode) of the Royal Navy and an African woman. Instead of abandoning her, the Captain brings her into the estate of his great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), who raise her alongside Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon). While Dido becomes well-educated and is treated very well in her household, she is excluded from other activities, notably from dining with her family and being present when guests visit the estate. She is considered too high in class to associate with servants, yet too low in class to associate with those in noble social standing. As she continues to experience this unfair treatment at home and in society, she falls in love with the lawyer John Davinier (Sam Reid), who is considered to be in a class beneath her. Their affair shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice, who is working on a revolutionary case that looks to end slavery in their country.

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The intersection of class and race is part of what makes the subject of Belle so interesting. While Dido is raised in privilege, she does not have the opportunity to experience it fully like Elizabeth does, and when she falls in love, it is looked down upon because of her status as an aristocrat and not as a mixed-race woman. The context involving slavery will make this drama one to see for history buffs and those interested in social justice. Last month, the United Nations hosted a screening of the film and panel discussion featuring Asante, Mbatha-Raw, and others as part of commemorative events on Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade to much acclaim.

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The film also stars Penelope Wilton, Miranda Richardson, James Norton, and Tom Felton. The primarily British cast boasts some of the most well-known talents in the film industry, but Mbatha-Raw (Who starred in the short-lived J.J Abrams-created series Undercovers and appeared in the FOX series Touch alongside Kiefer Sutherland) delivers a stellar performance as the title character. Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune describes the actress as “luminous” and praised that she “more than holds her own” in the role. Of casting Mbatha-Raw, Asante said, “It was very important that we got an actress that you would empathize with, whose predicament you would really understand. She’s so heartfelt in her performance that you can’t help but feel for her.”  In addition to spotlighting a woman of color in a unique leading role, Belle is also directed and written by women of color in Asante and Sagay, truly making this film one to already celebrate.

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Not only is Belle full of heart and soul, but the film is as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside. The stunning and atmospheric landscapes of England are captured with elegance by cinematographer Ben Smithard (My Week With Marilyn). The high-end fashions of the Regency era are recreated by costume designer Anushia Nieradzik, and production designer Simon Bowles recreated the magnificent Kenwood House using various immaculate homes throughout London. Isle of Man and Oxford served as additional filming locations.

Belle is a multilayered motion picture with something for every indie film lover to enjoy. Whether it’s a tumultuous love story, a fascinating historical account, a visually pleasing aesthetic piece, or a riveting tale of overcoming adversity, this is a movie to put on your must-see list. Check it out when it opens in select theaters on May 2, and view the trailer below.

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Written By Karen Datangel: A San Francisco girl through and through. She has called the City by the Bay (and its suburbs) home for all of her 20+ years and counting, earned her B.A. in Journalism from San Francisco State University, and proudly wears the colors of the Giants and 49ers. When this budding freelance entertainment/lifestyle journalist and blogger isn’t writing or working at her day job, she’s obsessing over film, pop music, baseball, and cats and impressing loved ones and strangers with her contemporary pop culture knowledge. She also enjoys exploring new hot spots and frequenting familiar places in and around her city as well as others.

The Other Woman

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A man bringing three women together for all the wrong reasons never felt so right. The Other Woman has drawn comparisons to other female-powered revenge comedies like The First Wives Club and John Tucker Must Die, but doesn’t have the same luster as either film. The Nick Cassavetes-directed comedy induces good laughs here and there, yet recycles the same formulas as similar films. The characters written by rookie screenwriter Melissa Stack and brought to life by an attractive and likable cast also feel cliched. Still, there’s just something that feels so good about seeing ladies sticking up for each other, even when the circumstances are odd.

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The Other Woman first introduces us to Carly (Cameron Diaz), a hard-working and brainy New York City attorney. She finds a special someone in the form of Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who helps provide funding for start-up companies. However, her special someone isn’t all what he seems after Carly unexpectedly comes face-to-face with Mark’s wife Kate (Leslie Mann). Instead of fighting over the man, Carly and Kate develop a very interesting friendship and try to get back at Mark for two-timing the both of them. In the process, they find out there is yet another woman in the equation: Amber (Kate Upton)—young, blonde, voluptuous, and “every wife’s waking nightmare” according to Carly. Amber eventually becomes an ally to Carly and Kate, and so the pair becomes a trio with a mission to sabotage. The leads are backed up by a slew of colorful supporting characters which includes Carly’s sassy secretary Lydia (Nicki Minaj in her film debut), Carly’s wisecracking playboy father Frank (Don Johnson), and Kate’s brother Phil (Taylor Kinney).

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The theme of female solidarity is definitely empowering and sends out a clear message that women shouldn’t be looked to unfairly when it comes to cheating. But as humorous as the movie is throughout, it’s hard to ignore some of the stereotyping of ladies in romantic comedies and film in general: Carly is portrayed as standoffish, Kate is emotionally unstable, and Amber is simply the hot girl. Weirdly, all of the actresses are all well-suited for their roles. That’s not to put any of them down as a film such as this one isn’t meant to be taken that seriously: If you’re going to cast someone to play an obligatory young swimsuit model type, might as well cast Kate Upton. If you need someone to play the bubbly and very chatty woman with a high-pitched voice, might as well cast Leslie Mann, who—by the way—is my personal favorite part of the movie. She plays the hysterical and oddball part so naturally, but as Mark’s wife, her subtlety attracts sympathy for the character in the more serious scenes. The three actresses altogether share an adorable chemistry, and they’re fun to watch in their scenes of bonding (and conflict).

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As a purely escapist film, one shouldn’t expect too much from The Other Woman. It could’ve been a top-quality comedy with a better-developed script, less sloppy editing that doesn’t include useless shots or “blink and you’ll miss it” scenes, and less predictability. The acts of revenge also could’ve used more originality. SPOILER: Putting laxatives into someone else’s drink is so American Pie! What eventually happens to Mark at the conclusion is actually pretty hilarious and the film mostly is fairly feel-good fun. It could’ve been very memorable in a positive way, but it falls short of its potential. Instead, The Other Woman is just another sweet but average girly movie.

As far as comedies, chick flicks, and new movies go, this one isn’t an absolute must-see, but it’s ideal for a hearty girls’ night out or even a very early Mother’s Day treat. It’ll probably be best enjoyed a year or two from now on Netflix or on cable television on a lazy day in. I say feel free to make a date with another movie this weekend.

Written By Karen Datangel: A San Francisco girl through and through. She has called the City by the Bay (and its suburbs) home for all of her 20+ years and counting, earned her B.A. in Journalism from San Francisco State University, and proudly wears the colors of the Giants and 49ers. When this budding freelance entertainment/lifestyle journalist and blogger isn’t writing or working at her day job, she’s obsessing over film, pop music, baseball, and cats and impressing loved ones and strangers with her contemporary pop culture knowledge. She also enjoys exploring new hot spots and frequenting familiar places in and around her city as well as others.

Veronica Mars, She’s Back!

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Not too long ago, we lived in a world where inventors and artists had to fund their own projects and while the labors and struggles shall always remain, there’s at least another option. Online crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have allowed musical albums, video games, theatrical productions, new technologies, and other mediums to come to fruition.

From 2004 to 2007, the teenage detective drama, Veronica Mars, captured the attention of television mystery lovers and developed a devoted following. Created by Rob Thomas, the sophisticated neo-noir UPN/CW series launched the career of Kristen Bell, who most recently voiced Anna in the Disney box office smash Frozen. The show followed Veronica as she cracked cases in her seaside town of Neptune, CA, all while navigating through the complicated high school landscape of cliques, friends, and love. Working alongside her ousted sheriff-turned-private investigator father Keith (Enrico Colantoni) fans became enthralled with other series regulars including Veronica’s love interest Logan (Jason Dohring), her best friend Wallace (Percy Daggs III), her tough biker buddy Weevil (Francis Capra), Logan’s friend Dick (Ryan Hansen), and computer whiz Mac (Tina Majorino).

While Veronica Mars the TV show received critical acclaim during its short run, its overall ratings were low and the series was cancelled in the spring of 2007. However, that did not stop Thomas from dreaming up a feature-length film and continuing the stories of his characters. In 2008, Michael Ausiello reported for Entertainment Weekly that the series’ creator had met with Bell to discuss a potential plot and “the project [remained] high on his to-do list.” As the years went by, rumors and speculation of “will or will it not happen?” continued. Somewhere in that gap, Thomas revealed on the eventual Kickstarter project page that Warner Bros. was unwilling to fund a Veronica Mars film, as the studio was convinced there would not be enough interest in a big-screen feature for the small-screen heroine.

Fast-forward to March 2013: Thomas and Bell take matters into their own hands and announce a Kickstarter campaign in hopes to finally get that Veronica Mars movie on the big screen. Thomas rationalized the math behind it in his project intro: “The average pledge on Kickstarter is $71. Hell, if we could get 30,000 people to give the average donation, we could finance the movie, particularly if the cast and I were willing to work cheap. The most common donation amount on Kickstarter is $25. Surely, 80,000 of our three million viewers would find that price-point viable!”

But Thomas and Bell got even more than they bargained for, and the results also shocked the rest of the modern world. In less than ten hours, the Veronica Mars movie met its fundraising goal of $2 million through Kickstarter. It also became the all-time highest-funded project in the Film category on the crowdfunding platform and, at 91,585 backers, became the top Kickstarter project with the most backers. And the final amount raised during their month-long campaign, $5,702,153, almost triple as much as their initial goal.

Rewards for backers of this project were as sweet as the project’s landmark success: Backers who contributed as part of lower tiers received exclusive stickers, T-shirts, PDFs of the shooting scripts, movie posters, and DVDs and digital copies of the final film. Backers who contributed higher amounts were treated to very elite perks like VIP seating for the Veronica Mars movie panel at Comic-Con, cast autographs, voice mail greetings recorded by Bell, tickets to the film premiere and other premiere events, and guaranteed opportunities to name characters or be background extras in the movie. The project’s top backer (those willing to dole out $10k) had the opportunity to have a short speaking role in the film as a waiter, as well as a framed copy of their line straight from the shooting script to memorialize the experience.

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At an exclusive screening for select backers at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival, Bell expressed optimism at reprising her role as Veronica even before Kickstarter existed. “I always thought this day would come,” she said in an interview with MTV News. “Maybe I’m crazy, I don’t know. I just was very optimistic about it. I felt like the story wasn’t over, and I’ve wanted a movie since the day the show was cancelled.”

So what will happen in this new story created for the big screen? We won’t give any spoilers, but we do know that Veronica–now a law school graduate residing in New York City–comes back to Neptune for her ten-year high school reunion, as well as investigate a murder case that may or may not involve Logan. Many of the regulars will be back, including Wallace’s roommate Piz (Chris Lowell) and Gia (Krysten Ritter).

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After six years of brainstorming and preparation, a groundbreaking Kickstarter campaign, and under a year of filming and post-production, the Veronica Mars movie was unveiled to the world on March 8 at SXSW. For the rest of us, the film will be released to select cinemas on March 14. Can’t make it to the theater? You can buy or rent it online through streaming services that same day and watch it from the comfort of your home, office, or favorite coffee shop. As if breaking Kickstarter records weren’t epic enough, Veronica Mars will also mark the first time one of Hollywood’s six major film studios will release a film in theaters and for home viewing simultaneously in the U.S..

Shortly after the film met its fundraising goal on Kickstarter last year, Thomas told Entertainment Weekly, “My mind is blown. I’ve been fantasizing about this and had to tell myself, ‘Stop it, Rob, you’re being silly’…and now today has exceeded the wildest pipe dream I let myself entertain.” His words are a true testament to what magic can blossom when stars and fans work together to make things happen. We’re so stoked for the Veronica Mars cast and crew and their legion of Marshmallows! Check out the film and let us know what you think!

Written By Karen Datangel: A San Francisco girl through and through. She has called the City by the Bay (and its suburbs) home for all of her 20+ years and counting, earned her B.A. in Journalism from San Francisco State University, and proudly wears the colors of the Giants and 49ers. When this budding freelance entertainment/lifestyle journalist and blogger isn’t writing or working at her day job, she’s obsessing over film, pop music, baseball, and cats and impressing loved ones and strangers with her contemporary pop culture knowledge. She also enjoys exploring new hot spots and frequenting familiar places in and around her city as well as others.

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