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.

Oculus

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From its sinister, blood-rushing first scene, Oculus manages to spike both your adrenaline and your expectations. Although neither of them stay high for very long, they do manage to plateau before sinking too far.

If you’re hoping for 2014’s answer to Paranormal Activity, you’ll have to look somewhere else. On its own, Oculus is an impressively tense mind bender, with just enough blood and pop-out scares to satisfy without saturating.  Even the usage of recording equipment avoids the feeling of overuse, as it’s expertly woven into a tale of specter-driven murders and childhood flashbacks.

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Having just been released from a mental institution following the traumatic murder of his parents ten years prior, 21-year-old Tim (played by Brenton Thwaites) is reintroduced to the real world via his big sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan sans Scottish accent). Tim, who is no longer haunted by his memories, finds himself suddenly haunted by his sister, who is determined to prove his innocence by destroying the real culprit behind their parents’ death: a nefarious haunted mirror. Tim is reluctant to relive the nightmare of his youth, insisting that he and Kaylie should just move on.

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Kaylie is unshakeable when it comes keeping the promise they made to destroy the mirror when they were “big and strong” enough. At times seeming close to a mental breakdown herself, Kaylie drags her brother back to their childhood home, where she has set up video cameras, lights, plants, and various alarms…all of which are to be used to document proof that the mirror is bad news.

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Director Mike Flanagan keeps your head spinning as the mirror “wakes up” and starts twisting reality for the brother/sister duo. The mysterious entity from within not only manifests as the glow-eyed ghosts of its previous victims, but also makes the characters hallucinate, adding and subtracting to the real world. Kaylie points out that they can’t trust anything- not even the voices on the other ends of their phones can be believed. The mirror further disorients them by forcing them into flashbacks of the time leading up to their parents’ deaths, reinstilling the confusion and terror felt the night of the murders.

Viewers are kept wound tight with suspense, constantly wondering whether a scene is real, or merely a product of the mirror’s devious scheme. And the film deftly handles the tangling of the flashbacks and present day, making it work without seeming cheesy or confusing. A frightening, childish desperation permeates the second half of the movie, and seeps out to infect the audience.

With an ending that will stop your heart, Oculus is an entertaining thriller that is certainly worth watching.

Written by Saxmei Milano: is a twenteen-year-old creative writer who likes tenors, popcorn, and bright lights. She currently lives just outside of NYC with her grandparents and a giant dog. When she is not out talking to strangers, she is usually watching Law and Order: SVU marathons. She loves to smile and make rhymes. Her favorite people are ones with accents (of ANY kind).”

Blue is the Warmest Colour

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It’s rare that you walk away from a romance, and feel something new, something raw. We, as moviegoers, have been trained to accept the same heartwarming clichés, “not-so-surprising” plot twists, the sugar-coated fairy tale ending as a necessary ingredient to the romantic genre. Blue is the Warmest Colour takes this genre, turns it inside out, unravels it, and forces us to reconsider not just the nature of the genre itself, but to wholly reconsider our feelings about love, life and relationships.

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The film centers on Adele (played by Adele Exarchopoulos), a teenage girl living in France whose sexual awakening occurs upon meeting a slightly older, slightly blue-haired, Emma (played by Lea Seydoux). The two exchange glances on the street, which leads to a chance, encounter at a lesbian bar, which then leads to a full blown love affair. At three hours long, the film allows us to see the entirety of their relationship: from meeting the parents, to eventually moving in together, to the day-to-day disasters that make up the fabric of any relationship. While we follow Adele most closely throughout the film, it is their relationship which serves as the focal point of the entire narrative – we watch it pulse, push, and stutter, like a living organism all on its own. Every moment between these two women, whether in bed, eating a breakfast, or simply walking the streets of Paris, serves to build our perception of a love story that is on one hand unique and on the other completely familiar. In this way, the tiniest touches and sparsest conversations between Emma and Adele become fundamental to the suspense of the story, and so we analyze every seemingly small moment between the two. We build stakes which are heavy and weighted with our own fears and anxieties about the impossibility of true happiness, for them or for ourselves.

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A lot has been written about the very explicit sex scenes that accompany the film – and they are, indeed, explicit. One of the more discussed scenes lasts almost 12 minutes and does not shield us from any moment of the intimate, almost animalistic act of Emma and Adele making love. While I would agree that the film is certainly not suitable for young children, or even teenagers (it is currently stamped with an NC17 rating for this very reason), I found these scenes to be necessary elements of this candid portrayal of romance. It would be disingenuous to observe the entirety of a relationship without seeing one of the most fundamental, and universal aspects of intimacy. Sex is important, it always has been and it always will be. While we typically treat sex scenes in films as ellipses; they often suggest what will happen in lieu of showing anything in its entirety, Blue gives us the opportunity to  witness one of the most intimate and purest portrayals of female sexuality. It is raw, primal, exhausting, maybe even pornographic. However, it is above all else, honest. It does not flaunt sexuality for sexuality’s sake, but uses it to help us understand the almost mystical connection between Adele and Emma, and how sexuality is such an essential part of their love, and of ours.

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Lea Seydoux has always been a favorite actress of mine – and she does not disappoint in her role as Emma. She is driven, sexy, and serious, and her appeal leaps off of the screen immediately. However, it is the newcomer Alex Exarchopoulos who truly stood out. She is so emotionally available that she foregoes her own obvious beauty in favor of emotional and  often ugly extremes. When she cries snot covers her mouth and nose, and her eyes widen with insecurity. When she’s happy she throws her hair up in a messy bun which allows for loose locks to cover her face and neck in a way that’s not aesthetically pleasing, but youthful and real. She is the very image of a young girl in love – outwardly secure and sure of herself, but often with a deeply troubling undercurrent of insecurity that manifests itself in the way she walks, talks, and even glances at others in the periphery.

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The final acts of the film are some of the most poignant, and powerful that I have seen in a long time. They frame everything that has come before in a pragmatic, almost matter-of-fact light that is at once tragic and necessary. The film does not end with ease, neither does it offer up any answers to the lingering questions that we, the audience, may have. It does not even fulfill our desire for a typically happy-ending  Instead, it does what is most valuable – it forces us to reflect, to compare, and to react. It is deeply saddening and incredibly frustrating – it is awkward. It is filled with regret as well as hope. It is beautiful and messy. It is unsatisfying and totally justified. It is just like intimacy. It is, just like love.

Written By: Sarah Dunn who is 25 and has been living in New York City for the past 8 years. A graduate of Columbia Film Studies program, she is a film-fanatic, trailer-obsessed lover of movies, and currently works as a post-production supervisor for Treehouse Pictures. She’s been known to comb through entire TV series on Netflix in a day, knows far too much about feminist film theory, and consistently prefers to dump her M&Ms inside her popcorn rather than eat them separately.

Fruitvale Station

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The howling sound of the BART train produced nostalgic feelings of my childhood growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. The sounds also re-hatched memories of the tragic event on New Years 2009; a tragedy that sparked action, eventually leading to this very film – Fruitvale Station. Opening up with real life cell phone footage from the platform of Fruitvale Station in Oakland CA, the fatal shot that ended Oscar Grants life is fired and the screen goes blank.

The film transitions into the last day of Grant’s life, giving us an intimate picture at the intricacies of the young man whose death shook the nation. In the aftermath of his death, heightened and polarized opinions of the real life man swarmed in the media. Writer and director, Ryan Coogler made sure to introduce the audience to who Grant was beyond the headlines. An exceptional performance by Michael B. Jordan humanized a multi-dimensional Grant. As a Bay Area native within Grant’s age cohort, I could not help but watch the film and think that this could have been my schoolmate, my relative, my friend.

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The essence of life is found in the lives of those we touch. This story was told from the perceptive of the relationships Grant had with the most important people in his life – his daughter, mother, girlfriend, friends, and extended family. The social reality of his character was displayed on screen, helping the audience to connect with him not as a “good” guy, or “bad” guy but as a human being.

On screen Grant affectionately and playfully connects with his daughter, Tatiana – his pride and joy. A Daddy’s girl, endearing moments of the two racing, making funny faces, being comforted when scared, and sneaking her extra fruit snacks showcased the caring father he was. A flashback to Grant’s time in prison also reveals the mistakes he once made that kept him from being the father he wanted so badly to be. It too, showed the pain of his own mother, Wanda, played by Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer, who grew tired of enduring the painful reality of visiting an incarcerated son, and comforting his daughter who could not comprehend his absence. This very flashback reminded Grant of his desire to change his life though he struggled with keeping a job and providing financial support for his family. Trying to keep a lie, we see the attempts Grant makes to right his wrongs.

A family celebration for Wanda’s birthday was the heart of the film, where the most important people in Grant’s life gathered unbeknownst to them, for the last time. Eating a traditional Gumbo dish for New Year’s Eve, the family did what we all do around the holidays-chow down with laughter and fun as their main course. Following, the BART ride to San Francisco was a fun and exciting thrill – slappin’ Mac Dre, a deceased Bay Area rapper, everyone on the train could be heard rapping, “I’m in the building and I’m feeling myself.” Anyone who has ridden BART on New Years knows the magnetic feelings of this party bus that empties into the dynamic streets of San Francisco. It’s was a celebration and Grant and friends did just that!

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One moment can change a lifetime. Throughout the film there were opportunities where one decision might have altered the fatal outcome. The looming hope of an alternate ending was present. However, a scuffle on the BART train led to the event we all hoped to escape – Grant and his friends being held on the platform by police. Even in these last few moments you can see the multi-faceted sides of Grant as he was angered by feeling unfairly targeted, while yearning so badly to get home to his family. By the time audiences witnessed the fatal shot fired, an excruciating pain accompanies. There were no dry eyes in the theater.

Following Grant’s family and friends we all anxiously waited in hope of Grant’s recovery, at Highland Hospital. Any Bay Area native knows the fear that accompanies the cold halls of this well-known trauma center. The audience joined Grant and wanted so badly to see his life work out for the best. This was our son, father, boyfriend, and friend. We had spent the last hour getting up close and personal with Grant and mourned his loss potential. What weighed heavy on our hearts was our knowledge that this was more than a movie; it was real life – a reality we dreaded.

The film closed with its final clip capturing Grant’s daughter at his 2013 Memorial service, reminding us of her immense lost.  A sorrowful feeling was partnered with hope and a call for us to cherish each moment we have with our loved ones because we never know when it will be our last.

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