People went out in droves this weekend and even stood in line for hours to see the reincarnation of one of Disney’s darkest and most feared villains, Maleficent. The film raked in over $170.6 million during it’s opening, proving that its star, Angelina Jolie, still retains her global appeal despite having been absent from the silver screen since 2010’s The Tourist. The film seeks to tell the recycled untold story of the classic fable Sleeping Beauty and its antagonist, Maleficent -- a miscreant so wicked she curses newborn baby Aurora at her christening. Directed by Avatar’s production designer Robert Stromberg, the film seeks to immerse you so deep into the fairy tale that you forget that it’s live action and begin to think that the world of magic and pixies is real. But does it succeed?
I checked out the film over the weekend hoping to see a modern and mature version (a la Ever After – which I loved) of a movie that scared the crap out of me when I was little. Disney is known for their candy coated narratives for kids but the pure evil antihero, dark undertones and haunting melodies of the original Sleeping Beauty were more in line with the stories of The Brothers Grimm and their Little Briar Rose which the film was based on. I predicted from all of the marketing (heavy on the Angelia, with no explanation of why we needed a new version of this classic) that the movie was going to be 97 minutes of her perfectly arched eyebrow and cold sneer but wondered if she could really carry it. The final verdict? She didn’t need to. The wonderland created by Stomberg steals the show in the first half of the film as Jolie slowly gets her bearings (maybe she was rusty?). We are introduced to the fairyland of “the moors” where all the magical creatures live and are left wondering, “how did they do that?” The marriage between live action and the artistry of CGI suck you in and the story is well on its way before you realize that… “hey, there are other people in this movie besides Angelia Jolie?!”
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Yes, yes there were… but just barely. Elle Fanning plays Aurora, more pawn in the battle between Maleficent and King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) than a real player in the story. Copley as the King was a little over the top, and the storyline didn’t do much to save him. After spending his childhood with her, and seemingly falling in love, young Stefan betrays Maleficent by drugging her and cutting off her wings in order to become king. When Maleficent retaliates by delivering her deadly curse on his newborn daughter, Aurora, King Stefan descends into a ridiculous obsessive state of vengefulness. So much so, that he can’t even go to his dying wife’s bedside because he must sit and have imaginary conversations with Maleficent. He sends his daughter away to be cared for by three pixies (Fittle, Thistlewit and Knotgrass—fun right?) until her sixteenth birthday, hoping that his nemesis will never find her. But no one is more cunning than Angelina… I mean Maleficent and she immediately goes to the cottage where young Aurora lives in hiding.
In act two, we see something that was definitely not in the cartoon version of Sleeping Beauty. What starts out as the fairy queen spying on Aurora turns into Maleficent looking over her. Maleficent’s merciless demeanor and spine tingling cackle are slowly melted away by Aurora’s burgeoning charm. The cutest scene is when toddler Aurora (played by Jolie’s daughter Vivienne Jolie-Pitt) waddles up to Maleficient who says, “I don’t like children.” Some irony there coming from Jolie, mother of seven. Maleficent picks up Aurora and holds her for a second before she sends her back to the cottage. Still holding on to her hatred of King Stefan, Maleficent almost sends 8-year-old Aurora over a cliff. But the once lighthearted fairy queen can’t go through with it. And when Aurora finally visits the moors, the merciless Maleficent is completely won over by her wide-eyed wonder. “I have a plan,” Aurora says. “When I get a little older, I’ll come and live here with you. We can take care of each other.” “Why don’t you live here now?” Maleficent says.
The evil queen and the young princess chillin’ together? This isn’t the sleeping beauty I remember! The story seems even more unfamiliar as Aurora pricks her finger as foretold in the curse and falls into a death-like sleep but the kiss from cute Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) doesn’t wake her up. Say what? Isn’t this true love’s kiss? The story ends and we find that true love isn’t always romantic. Aurora and Maleficent have to team up to help each other defeat the crazed King Stefan and the story is suddenly more Thelma and Louise than the romantic Disney fairy tale we all remember. Overall, I thought the story was a bit choppy and the performances could have been stronger but I wasn’t mad at the effort. Really though, what was disappointing was the lack of maturity in the story. This may be a modern retelling but it’s still one for the kiddies. Should you see it? Sure, but bring your little cousins too.
Epic. This is the one word that encompasses the experience of Fruitvale Station. This film grips its audience from the beginning and is so well developed and directed that it is almost unfathomable that it is a directorial debut and shot on a relatively low budget. As you are pulled into the story by the incredible realism, it almost haunts you to realize that Fruitvale station is based on a true story: A true story that grabbed national headlines and showed America the ugly realities and dangers of racism.
Fruitvale Station chronicles the last 24 hours of Oscar Grant’s life which came to a tragic end on January 1, 2009. Grant, who was 23 years old at the time of his death, is portrayed by actor Michael B. Jordan and Jordan does not fall short in his memorable portrayal. Ryan Coogler wrote and directed the film and at the age of 23, crafting a beautiful screenplay that focuses on Oscar Grant for the person he was, including his flaws. Coogler does not shy away from Oscar’s difficulties with the law and his struggles to achieve more for not only his only life, but the life of his 5 year old daughter Tatiana. Coogler also reminds the audience from the beginning that everything we watch leads up to that inevitable moment on the BART platform. A moment which has been viewed on Youtube millions of times around the world: when Oscar Grant is fatally shot by BART police officer Johannes Meserle. You can’t hide from what is going to happen and as you start to root for Oscar’s flawed but determined character you can’t help but be reminded of the futility of it all.
The film focuses on Oscar’s relationships with his family members, in particular his mother (played by actress Octavia Spencer), his girlfriend Sophina, (played by actress Melodie Diaz) and his young daughter Tatiana, whom he affectionately calls “T.” Viewers of Fruitvale Station are able to see not just the humanity in Oscar Grant, but are also treated to what feels like an authentic tour of life in Oakland, CA. Coogler captures everything from the bay area music and dances, to the characters’ distinct bay area accents and lingo. He cuts no corners: everything is as real as it feels. Long shots and slow pacing help to create tension and a moody vibe as you travel along with Oscar. With a minimal but powerful musical score, the audience sees a young black man trying to right his wrongs and fighting his own demons. Coogler does what is almost impossible: he paints a portrait of a person that we can all identify with in some way, and we want to see succeed in life. Fruitvale Station takes us on an emotional journey that not only gets you to ponder your own ideas about racism and stereotypes, but paints a special portrait of a young man that lost his life too soon, and in its own way gives Oscar Grant the chance to tell his story.
As children, our parents read to us and immersed us in fantastical worlds to lull us to sleep. My mother would read “Where the Wild Things Are” to me. Growing up, we learn that stories can take on many forms, and that sometimes, the most inspirational and uplifting stories are true.
A year ago, fellow USC film grad and friend, Arthur Musah, approached me about partnering on a documentary, One Day I Too Go Fly. Arthur, a Ghanaian, came to America to study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After years of working at Texas Instruments, his desire to share stories with the world brought him to USC. One Day I Too Go Fly, originated out of his need to show the world a new Africa and how foreign students, like himself, adapt to a new culture and find ways to contribute back home. The film would document the lives of 5 African students pursuing their undergraduate degrees at MIT.
I’m not African or an engineer, but this story definitely resonated with me. Unfortunately, I was sure that if I asked any of my friends what they knew about Africa, they’d definitely make a comment about the turmoil and hardships. I wasn’t sure, however, what they could tell me about youth in Africa, what their educational needs were, or what the future of Africa would look like with a booming young population looking to have influence. One Day I Too Go Fly struck me as an opportunity to tell a small part of this story.
This documentary is not going to be a rags to riches tale. Each of the students we are following has a varied background. They hail from Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Tanzania. For some, they are the first in their families to pursue higher education. Others are continuing in the footsteps of relatives before them. The one goal they do share is the desire to make a difference in their communities.
One Day I Too Go Fly is a living, breathing story. It continues to change as the undergrads grow in Boston and take what they’ve learned back home. In our first year of production, we’ve seen our students struggle through new classes, make new friends, and we’ve even had the opportunity to go back to Nigeria with one freshman, Phillip. Our project is unique in that it spans the students’ entire undergraduate careers. We won’t complete production for 4 years. As a producer, that’s an obstacle. Our costs are relatively low, but we have to be prepared to fund our project through post-production, which could make this a 5 year endeavor. We may not be able to secure firm partnerships until our story is more flushed out—at the two year mark.
On top of all of this, both Arthur and I have full-time jobs. We’re forced to balance the needs of this project with other responsibilities. Thankfully, we have a wonderful team of advisors: Mark J. Harris, an Academy Award winning documentarian, Helen Elaine Lee, a Professor of Fiction Writing at MIT, and Kate Amend, a Sundance Lab Editing Advisor. Our advisors have provided a tremendous amount of knowledge.
As independent producers, we’re tasked with finding funds for our project. We’ve managed to raise over $22,000 on a crowdfunding site thus far. We’ve applied to countless grants and will continue to do so. Festivals have been kind enough to show our teaser, we’ve reached out to the press in an effort to share our story, and when the time comes, we’ll follow through with our outreach plan, seek distribution, and submit to our finished film to festivals. For now, we are growing as filmmakers while we witness our students pursue their dreams.
For more info about One Day I Too Go Fly:
KICKSTARTER LINK: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1820684617/one-day-i-too-go-fly-documentary-production
It’s hard to believe that it has been 25 years since Michael Jackson’s album, Bad, was released. I may have only been a toddler at the time, but this album—and Michael Jackson’s work in general—shaped my understanding and appreciation of music long after its release. I remember my brother doing all of his moves in front of the TV (I gave it a valiant effort, too) and us both using our Sunday school name tags to tape our fingers “like Michael” as young kids in the 90s. His work possessed a timelessness that few others have matched, and I was thrilled to see Spike Lee’s Bad 25 beautifully capture MJ’s one-of-a-kind magic on the big screen.
Created to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Bad album, the dazzling documentary will air on the small screen on Thanksgiving Day. I was lucky enough to be invited to a private screening of the film at Sony Music last week. I sat mesmerized as Spike took us through the making of all eleven tracks of the epic album, ten of which were hit singles (ten!!). Only Michael could have an album where the only track that wasn’t a single featured Stevie Wonder (“Just Good Friends”). The audience is treated to vintage, never-before-seen footage of golden moments throughout the recording of the tracks and the filming of the videos. Stevie Wonder, Martin Scorsese, Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber, Sheryl Crow and Chris Brown are among the celebs that weigh in on Bad’s impact, along with the artists and musicians involved in making the masterpiece. Kanye West shows up periodically for comic relief, and maintains his arrogant rep as he relates every one of Michael’s milestones right back to—you guessed it—himself.
In his signature, raw style, Spike Lee takes the audience on a ride that starts with the making of the title track itself. Decades after the fact, we’re reminded just how huge it was for a singer to have recruited the likes of Martin Scorsese to shoot a music video, or to mix live action and claymation, or to feature nothing but A-list celebs in another video (John Travolta singing “I love you, Liberian Girl,” to Olivia Newton-John, anyone?). Gems like the original (terrible) cover for the album, and hearing that the epic “Liberian Girl” video happened because Michael was too tired at that point to come up with a concept, seeing Michael—in his prime—in action like never before are more than enough to postpone your tryptophan-induced snooze this Thursday and tune in. Plus, the inside scoop from the writers, musicians, dancers and recording staff involved in the project is sure to make arts-lovers giddy.
Michael Jackson did it like nobody else could, or ever will. Through Bad 25 and its in-depth illustration of MJ's creative process, Spike Lee not only captures his legacy beautifully, he also gives us one more thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Bad 25 will air Thursday, November 22 at 8:30 p.m. ET on the ABC Network. What’s your favorite track from the Bad album? Let us know in the comments!
We recently caught wind of a new fantasy romance film, Beautiful Creatures, slated for release February 13, 2013. The film features newcomers Zoey Deutch and Alden Ehrenreich, in addition to one of our personal faves, Viola Davis. It is a huge departure from the types of movies we've seen Davis in before, but we're interested to see her performance in a darker role.
Set in the South, the supernatural love story is based on the New York Times best-selling novel of the same name. It is the first of a hugely popular series written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, and is described as a hauntingly intense coming of age story about two star-crossed teenage lovers who uncover dark secrets about their families, their history and their town. We're interested to see what it's all about. Take a look at the trailer below and let us know what you think in the comments!
Other than cute dresses and fruity cocktails, there’s nothing I love more in the summertime than a summer blockbuster. Last year’s season brought us mega-hits like Bridesmaids and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but as crazy good as those films were, summer 2012 looks to be even better. There’s a slew of summer flicks on the horizon, but these have me the most excited.
There are plenty of movies in May to catch (The Avengers, Men in Black III, Battleship) but if your pockets are tight, save your cash for Prometheus, which hits theaters in June. The first time I saw this trailer I was struggling to figure out what was going on, but then I caught a glimpse of my favorite eye-candy, Idris Elba, and I didn’t even care. Turns out, Prometheus is another sci-fi/save the planet flick. Helmed by Black Hawk Down director, Ridley Scott, it looks to be a doozy.
Channing Tatum stars in two films this summer: G.I. Joe Retaliation and Magic Mike. Both are likely to show a lot of why we love Tatum – his abs – but if you want something easy on the eyes, plus a little romance and a good laugh, your best bet is Magic Mike. Tatum plays at veteran stripper who takes a younger stripper under his wing. Sound silly? Sure, but Tatum plays a stripper. I repeat. A stripper.
When Seth MacFarlane’s uncensored Ted trailer was released last month the Internets went nuts, and rightly so. Anything starring a pot-smoking teddy bear and Mark Wahlberg looks hysterical. I’m a sucker for Wahlberg’s thick Boston accent, but the MacFarlane writer/director/producer credit just takes my excitement over the top.
Dark Knight Rises
I’ve only been waiting for this film for four years but it seems like it’s been forever. Christian Bale’s back with a voice that’s deeper than ever, but the real creeper in the Dark Knight series finale is villain Bane, played by Warrior star, Tom Hardy. In the sequel, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of Joker was terrifying, but Hardy’s take on Bane looks far more menacing, which is exactly what I want to see.
Starring funnymen Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, upcoming comedy film, The Campaign, will likely be everything the real 2012 presidential campaign is not: raunchy, lowbrow, and hilarious. Ferrell and Galifiankis play two rival Southerners fighting for a seat in Congress. Written by the dudes who penned Eastbound & Down, I don’t expect President Obama or Mitt Romney to borrow anything from this film.
The remake of the 1976 musical Sparkle was highly anticipated before the death of one of its stars, but the passing of the great Whitney Houston has pushed the buzz for this film into overdrive. News about Houston’s tragic death will likely overshadow the rest of the film’s stellar cast (Jordin Sparks, Derek Luke, Mike Epps), but early reviews of Sparkle say the late singer’s performance is worthy of the attention.
As temperatures rise this summer, grab a loved one and head to the movies to see any one of these films. I doubt it’ll happen, but if they fall short of expectations, at the very least you’ll be cool. And if a dark theater doesn’t cool you down, you can always put on a cute dress or grab a fruity cocktail!
I was one of the countless people who witnessed the sheer cinematic bliss that is The Hunger Games over the weekend--and let's just say there's definitely a reason this movie kicked monster ass in ticket sales. Between having read all three of the books by Suzanne Collins and the unrelenting hype surrounding the movie, my expectations were about as high as possible. I was pumped to head to The Arclight and finally see it for myself, and I can't tell you the last time a movie did that to me. I'm happy to share with you that I was not disappointed.
For the uninitiated, here's a brief synopsis of the first installation in the Hunger Games trilogy. The nation of Panem exists in the distant future and is divided into 12 districts, all of which are governed by The Capitol. The people in the districts are kept starving and poor, and those in the Capitol are Oprah-rich. Decades prior, the districts attempted to stage an uprising against the Capitol and failed miserably. As a sort of never-ending punishment and constant reminder of the power the Capitol wields over its nation, it holds an annual event known as "The Hunger Games". And what are they? Well, they're a freakin’ bloodbath. The Capitol goes to each district, tosses the names of all the children aged 12-18 into a big bucket, picks one male and one female in what I nominate as the worst lottery ever, whisks them away from their families, trains them to utilize weapons and then puts them in a sort of controlled forest area and makes them kill each other. The last kid standing is the winner, and he or she will gain notoriety and riches for his or her accomplishment--hopefully enough riches to pay for the lifetime of therapy they're going to need when they return home.
The entire thing is treated as a game in every sense of the word: the battles are broadcast live 24/7, bets are placed on who is most likely to be the winner, “the tributes” (those that are competing) are fed well and groomed to look as attractive as possible in order to gain “sponsors” that can toss them some food or medicine during the games when necessary. The Capitol runs the entire thing from a sort of control room, where they can start fires to drive the tributes in the direction they want them to go or set killer dogs to chase them if people aren't dying fast enough. And you thought Survivor was rough.
We experience this story through the eyes of Katniss Everdeen, a girl who ends up volunteering as the female tribute from District 12 when her little sister's name is drawn. Katniss is already a badass--a girl who uses a bow and arrow to hunt food for her family while others surrender to having to scrounge forever. She and the male tribute from her district, Peeta, are established as star crossed lovers before the games begin, with Peeta confessing a crush on her during a pre-game interview. Their relationship is a focal point of the movie, with him serving as an early ally for her.
Seriously, there's so much more I could say but this is supposed to be a BRIEF synopsis. There's a lot going on in this movie, and that is evident by the hefty 2 hour and 24 minute running time. Luckily, the film keeps the action going at a perfect pace, and you are invested in the story immediately. Perhaps the best compliment I can give it is that it looked exactly like I imagined it in my head as I read the book. Everything from the elaborate costumes to the death-forest to how the characters looked--it all matched my vision to a tee. (While I'm on the subject of characters, can I just throw in a shout out to the eternally beautiful Lenny Kravitz – who plays Katniss's stylist? Does this man bathe in the blood of newborn babies to stay so pretty? Okay, sorry.) The people behind the movie were clearly fans of the trilogy, determined to blow this thing out of the water. They do a great job of building the storyline, devoting the first half of the film to chronicling Katniss's preparation for the games, from seeing her in her element at home, to the point she takes the place of her sister, and then to her time in the Capitol getting acquainted with the people who prepare her to fight. The other half is the actual games, where we watch Katniss's attempt to survive as people slaughter each other all around her. Jennifer Lawrence's interpretation of Katniss is spot on; she does an amazing job of capturing her strength and humanity despite having to kill in hopes of getting back home again eventually.
Will people who haven't read the book be able to appreciate this film? Absolutely. It's a hell of an imaginative story, with a great mix of action, adventure and emotional depth. You're really rooting for Katniss from the get go. I was literally clutch-my-pearls nervous for her as she stepped into that portal to get to the Games. A movie that actually lives up to the hype! Hallelujah! So what are you waiting for? Head to the theater and see The Hunger Games right away. Tell them Amanda sent you. Or, ya know, don't. That might be weird. Have fun!
Gilt LA hosted a screening of the romantic Valentine’s day comedy “This Means War” starring
Chelsea Handler Reese Witherspoon last week. Witherspoon plays Lauren, a single thirty-something who somehow ends up dating two CIA agents (who are partners, of course). The secret operatives, FDR Foster (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy), use their spy gadgets… and their charm to battle for the love of this one lucky lady (have you seen Chris Pine?).
While low on plausibility, this film is full of fun. If the lighthearted boys-will-be-boys banter between Pine and Hardy isn’t enough to keep you laughing, then Chelsea Handler does the job. Her timing in this film is great. She manages to maintain her snarky humor and dry irreverence while aiding the plot lines by feeding horrible dating advice to her friend, played by Reese.
While I did enjoy seeing Reese Witherspoon play a confident, feisty protagonist, I think she was somewhat lackluster in this role compared to the rest of the ensemble. Your attention is more likely to be taken by the high intensity action sequences, Chelsea Handler’s self-deprecating humor, or the antics of our
I really enjoyed the film and I loved Gilt City LA’s take on making movie-going an event again. Guest were invited to enjoy wine and appetizers before the movie and were offered cute little “This Means War” candy hearts. The experience as a whole was lovely. Check out “This Means War” in theater’s Feb 17th and keep your eyes glued to Gilt.com for more deals like this!
The Ides of March might have been written, directed, and produced by George Clooney, but it’s clearly Ryan Gosling’s film. Gosling manages to outshine a cast that includes some of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters (Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, and Paul Giamatti) in this timely must-see political drama about a loss of innocence and shady political campaigns.
This is the former Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer’s third film this year and arguably the best of the bunch. Gosling plays Stephen Myers, a 30-year-old junior campaign manager for Pennsylvania Governor and presidential candidate, Mike Morris (Clooney). The film opens with Morris’ attempts to win Ohio, a must-win for him to snatch the Democratic nomination from his opponent, Arkansas Senator Ted Pullman (Mitchell Mantall). Myers, along with his boss, Senior Campaign Manager Paul Zara (Hoffman), meticulously attempt to maneuver, lie, barter and charm the governor closer to a democratic victory.
Zara willfully spins Morris’ weaknesses into strengths because he knows that a Democratic Party led by the governor will lead to a White House victory. If Morris wins, Zara wins – he’ll be working for the president of the United States after all. Myers, on the other hand, claims to endure the stress of a political campaign because he believes Morris is the only man who can change America for the better.
Sound familiar? That’s because The Ides of March sprinkles campaign rhetoric heard in presidential races ever since sound-bites could make or break a campaign. As a democratic nominee, Morris sounds Obama and Clinton-like in most of the film. Similarly, Myers sounds a lot like the young people who canvassed neighborhoods to get their guy (or woman) in office, except, Myers isn’t like most of those fresh faces. He’s so good his opponents want him on their team, or so he believes. After he begins an affair with a young intern, Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), Myers learns that nothing in the political world appears as it seems. His naivety costs him greatly and can cost the Morris campaign even more. His attempt to lessen the blow to his own career is what makes The Ides of March good.
As an actor, Clooney is able to get performances out of his cast that will cause some viewers to wonder just how far politicians go to get a win. Audiences will likely believe everything they see is possible even while they’re witnessing back-door deals that are so calculating it’s almost difficult to accept that such deals can exist. But in a time where pundits sway voters more than nominees, and our leaders bicker over, well, everything, the pill Clooney asks audiences to swallow isn’t that hard to digest. We know that politicians lie and disappoint us. We know that people compromise their morals to win.
So, in many ways, The Ides of March isn’t new but the cast is worth watching. At one point Hoffman gives a speech about loyalty that is so damn good I would pay another $11.50 just to see that scene alone. Still, this is undoubtedly Gosling’s movie. There’s an incredible shot of him just before the credits roll. He looks straight into the camera, prepping for an interview, and I couldn’t help but sit up in my seat, anticipating his next move. Much like the impact of that scene, I can’t wait to see what this budding actor will give us next.