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.

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).”

Cesar Chavez

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It is quintessential, for the sake of humanity to inform ourselves of the history of our fellow man. Though the world and it’s development has ensued the lives of many, in the recent years we can somewhat rely on the film industry to share the messages of past heroes and heroines.

Cesar Chavez became an migrant farm worker just after completing 8th grade. Having learned very little english as a child you could imagine the level of difficult he experienced in what they considered the Anglo mans world. In 1948 Chavez enlisted in the U.S. Navy, two years later marrying Helen Fabela. They soon after gave birth to eight children, the oldest being Fernando.

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Fast-forward 17 years and Diego Luna’s tribe to the life and works of Chavez (Michael Pena) begins. Relocating his wife (America Ferrara) and children to Delano, California, the uprising of farm workers seeking the simplicities of life, fair wages and safe working environments, marked the start of a peaceful revolution.

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As farmers were barely able to feed their families Chavez along with the helpful partnership of Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson) opened a Credit Union, rationing out money to those in need. Strikes and protest were quickly deemed unacceptable and protection from authorities was offered in the form of a blind eye. The need to establish something greater was unparalleled and soon sparked the creation of the UFW, United Farm Workers.

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Although Chavez’s history as an activist is much bigger then that portrayed in this film, it’s focus was to inform audiences of its beginning. The inclusion of women in this movement was also monumental, while Dolores Huerta was he’s right hand man – we also see Helen Fabela just as involved, although raising the children was her number one priority. There is a notable scene in which she insist on becoming a bigger part of the movement, persisting she be arrested by the authorities, Chavez disapproves almost immediately but Helen pushes back not only by using Chavez’s own words against him but in seeking the support of Dolores. This incident takes place in the presents of friends and family and counters the idealistic status that existed in the Mexican culture between a man and wife.

Centered on the the Delano Grape Strike, including some historical actions of Chavez’s time in leadership, the 1965 walk to Sacramento, the spawning of the word “Huelga” (strike) and his first 26 day fast, the film delivers and step by step outline from the year 1965 to 1970. But what is missing most is a script that truly elects the spirit and persona of Chavez, and how his choices effected his personal life. In any film you are bound to experience at least the tidbits of the latter but in a biopic it is our hope that a few scenes would allow the audience to build an emotional connection with, so to speak, the man behind the mask, or in Chavez’s case the man behind the cause. Looking for a more exclusively defined relationship between he and his wife, there was not a moment that relays how deeply the relationship between Chavez and their son effected her, granted we do see her run out into the street after a few bullying children with a bat but the scene pretty much ends there. While including Chavez’s handwritten letter to Fernando in the film, there is no aftermath that shows whether a reconciliation occurred. Additionally a twist was thrown in the trailer as it gives the impression that Chavez and Huerta at some point have an affair, a concept excluded from the film completely. In the opinion of many the screenplay itself seemed to be lacking, and I would have to agree.

Coming from the background of a person whose only familiarity of Chavez was once getting an extra day off from school, the film is overall informative. I was touched by various moments, and the actors breathed life into the characters as much as the script could handle. Although it was not meant to be epic or a grandiose presentation of Chavez’s life, it was a little step forward for mankind – a way for us connect.

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