She SAID: Co-Wash Goes Commercial

Shahada Karim

Look up ‘co-wash’ on Youtube, and you’ll find thousands of videos dedicated to the subject. The act of washing your hair with conditioner (to retain moisture) is a common practice among those interestedunwash4 in preserving the natural texture and curl pattern of their hair. There have been some attempts to take the practice mainstream… most notably by Wen, but even a slew of celebrity endorsements, infomercials, and an independent salon haven’t really translated in to household recognition and usage.

Plus, there’s a lovely little side-effect of co-washing that seems rarely shared: if you’re going to wash your hair with conditioner, you have to clarify once in a while. Otherwise you eventually end up with a mushy, stinky mess. And funky hair is no fun for anyone.

Enter Unwash, a product line designed to de-mystify the practice of co-washing, and share the benefits of clarifying between washes. The cozy collection offers only three products: A Cleansing Conditioner, A Hydratunwash1ing Mask, and a Clarifying shampoo for those in-between times.

Unwash touts itself as a more ‘civilized’ way to clean and care for hair. The potentially inflammatory choice of words are likely little more than a marketing ploy, since the reality looks more like a sulfate-free creamy cleanser, a standard clarifying shampoo, and a conditioner that goes on thick and full of promise… but rinses a little too clean to qualify for ‘masque’ status.

Most of the ingredients are standard enough. The company goes out of its way to break down every major ingredient in the products. What we found is that there is no magic formula (see Phylia de M) to getting clean and conditoned hair.

One of the most attractive features of the Unwash line is the price point. It hovers firmly in mid range, making it more likely to appeal to textured types of all ages and tax brackets. It’s also fairly easy to use. The lack of extra ‘hair helpers’ makes this line a better choice for low-maintenance wash n’ go types.

It’s also pretty easy to find. We were disappointed to learn that you cannot purchase the products through the website, but there are dozens of locations throughout the United States, according to a handy map on the company site.

He SAID: Disassembling CHAPPIE

Scott F. Evans

Chappie is terrible. Bad films come and go, but Neill Blomkamp’s third feature actually made me angry. I haven’t been this angry at a movie since Lee Daniels’ The Butler. That movie offended me as a Black man and lover of history. Chappie pisses me off as a filmgoer and lover of the genre.

The warning signs presented themselves early on. Chappie’s initial trailerschappie 4 sold it as a new millennium Short Circuit; the adventures of a precious, childlike robot developing humanity  (wrapped in Blomkamp’s distinct visual style). But as the release date drew closer, the advertising suddenly changed. Chappie became a violent, hardcore, futuristic thriller. Something closer in tone to Robocop than the family friendly film that was suggested by earlier promos. What initially looked like confusion on the part of Columbia Pictures’ marketing department was actually a fairly accurate depiction of the final film. Chappie is a complete tonal mess. It fluctuates from cloying attempts at cuteness to graphic violence. This schizophrenia even extends down to its human lead?????????????????s.

Chappie’s biggest name by far is Hugh Jackman. He plays the villainous Vincent Moore. Moore (the creator of a clunky, tank-like assault robot nicknamed MOOSE) is supposed to be an engineer. Unfortunately he chappie 2dresses like a safari hunter and wears a sidearm around the office. Jackman is terrible in this, overplaying nearly every scene he’s in. But to be fair, Moore is written like a cartoon character so maybe the actor is doing the best he can with a lousy script.

The other A-lister is Sigourney Weaver. All told, she’s got maybe ten minutes of screen time and could have shot her scenes over a couple days. She’s not bad, but clearly only in this to add star power and credibility to a film whose real stars are a couple of obscure South African rappers. We’ll get there.

chappie 1Blomkamp favorite, Sharlto Copley, provides the voice and motion-capture movement for the lead role of Chappie. It’s hard to accurately judge his performance because he’s given such awful material to work with. His accent and vocal stylings – coupled with the digitized post production work done to his voice – make much of his dialogue unintelligible. When Chappie gains sentience, he’s like a newborn domesticated animal. He’s taught by his “parents”, rap duo Die Antwoord, to behave like a white person’s idea of an inner city gangster.   So between his timid skittering around and “gangsta swag”, Chappie is easily one of the most annoying figures in recent cinema history, maybe second only to Jar Jar Binks.

chappie 9Dev Patel plays Chappie’s creator, Deon Wilson. In a better movie, he’d be the heart of this piece as he struggles to teach Chappie what it means to be human. But here, he’s completely surrounded by clownish, poorly written characters. He’s overshadowed by Jackman (who’s trying too hard) and the scenery chewing character of Ninja… played by Ninja.

And here we are.

Although Chappie is the defacto lead character, you could argue that the film itself is an ensemble piece. Blomkamp makes the unfortunate choice of making the white South African rap group Die Antwoord main characters in the movie. Ninja and Yolandi Visser play themselves and they are easily the most disruptive, damaging elements in this mess of a project. chappie 3It’s a mystery why Blomkamp gives them so much screen time. They’re not good actors, though Visser comes off stronger than Ninja, but that’s a pretty low bar. Their overall look is distracting and it’s often hard to understand what they’re saying. These are the type of characters that would have been relegated to supporting or cameo roles in a better film. I’ll just assume that Blomkamp’s a super fan, since he took the huge risk of hanging his film on this obscure duo.

There’s also a strong undercurrent of racism in Chappie. In a film set in South Africa, there are no significant Black characters. Blomkamp got away with this in his first feature District 9 because it was a meditation on race. Here, the only major character of color is an Indian and he’s the weakest of the cast. To accompany Ninja’s offensive black affectations, there’s Hippo. The side villain (played by Brandon Auret) is a white gangster who ?????????????????wears what looks like Bantu Knots in the top of his head and dreads down the back. He also runs around shirtless for most of the film and leads a small army of predominantly black drug dealers. In essence, Hippo is Tarzan.  Not to be outdone, Jose Pablo Cantillo plays Die Antwoord’s partner Yankie, also known as Amerika. For some reason, Yankie/Amerika is played as a stereotypical Latino gang banger. He’s such an afterthought that we never find out what he’s doing in South Africa or why he’s mixed up with these comical Afrikaaner criminals.

For a sci-fi film that wants to be thoughtful, Chappie is offensively stupid. It also believes that it’s a heartwarming tale of family and friendship, but features graphic violence, and completely unlikable lead characters. There’s also a third act development where Chappie learns how to transfer human consciousness from place to place with the assistance of a wall of PS4’s. No, really. Not only is that absurd, it feels like Blomkamp and co-screenwriter Terri Tatchell just tacked on that stupid little storyline to give the film an unearned happy ending.

This movie is wack…

However…

CHAPPIE 8Blomkamp is a strong visualist. His camera is a little intrusive at times but the effects are seamless. The ED-209 knockoff MOOSE is exceptionally well designed and deserved more screen time.   I’ll also give him credit for playing with the clichéd man vs machine trope. Terminator, The Matrix, etc all took the same position that sentient robots will lead ultimately lead to disaster. Chappie dares to flip that and states in no uncertain terms that a police robot with AI would be superior, and safer than a human piloted drone like MOOSE. It’s a ridiculous claim and Blomkamp doesn’t explore the idea at all, instead giving us “The Hilarious Adventures of Die Antwoord,  featuring Chappie.”

RATING: Pass (Don’t waste the two hours of your life you’ll never get back)

He SAID: American Crime

Christopher M. Enis

From the the first moments in ABC’s American Crime, you know you’re in for something beyond the standard TV cop show. If the title is any indication, the core elements will be dual; that is, both criminal and american crimeracial.

The series centers around the murder of Matt Skokie, a military veteran living in Modesto (CA)… and the assault/rape of his wife, Gwen. The story isn’t as much about the young Skokies, as it is about the three people who are quickly captured and accused of the crime:

The first two are Mexican gangster Hector (Richard Cabral), and Black drug addict Carter (Elvis american crime 1Nolasco). The third is Tony (Johnny Ortiz), a Latino teenager who’s made a habit of rebelling against his father (Benito Martinez). This crime gets them both caught up in the system and in way over their heads.

On the other side are the victim’s parents, played by Timothy Hutton, Felicity Huffman, W. Earl Brown and Penelope Ann Miller. As the story progresses, all of the parents involved will share some of the same sentiments as we find out who’s really behind this American Crime.

The show’s creator, the Oscar winning screenwriter, John Ridley (who is no stranger to controversial thoughts/opinions on race) doesn’t hesitate to get right down to brass tacks. He shows how the (legal) system swoops in and sucks in the suspects, at least one of whom is almost certainly innocent. The story plays out as an unforgiving, cold, indifferent, and mostly undignified look at what happens when one winds up behind bars and how it affects their families.  For the victim’s families, the grief and outrage is understandable and treated in a dignified manner (even if they’re not always worthy of it).

American Crime has been compared to the 2000 film, Traffic and the 2004 film, Crash. While there are some similarities, I feel that American Crime has the potential to be better. The small town locale and racial component points towards similarities in the on-going tensions in Ferguson (MO). That aspect of the story hasn’t been a major part of the series in the first two episodes, but wamerican crime 3ill likely change with the arrival of Regina King’s character, Aliyah Shadeed. She is a driven woman determined to help her brother Carter, and to provide us a polar opposite to the ultra conservative/racially biased Barb.

I think that American Crime, due to its subject matter and adult nature, would have been a much better fit on premium cable. But it still has potential on ABC.  I look forward to see how things develop.

He SAID: Focus

Scott F. Evans

Focus is… ok. It’s not exceptionally good or bad. Even with an R-rating (Smith’s first since 2003), this is another ‘safe’ Will Smith picture.

Focus is a con game film that can’t figure out what it wants to be. The mainfocus story is of veteran con-man Nicky Spurgeon (Smith) mentoring rookie con-artist Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie). But because this film also wants to be a romantic comedy, they start a complicated love affair. I’m not suggesting that con game films can’t have romantic comedy elements or vice versa, but Focus stumbles because it wants to be cute and breezy. That would also be fine, if Focus was a typical four quadrant PG-13 movie. With an R-rating, one expects a film with a certain amount of adult material. An R-rated film about con-artists increases that expectation exponentially. But Focus plays it safe, riding on Smith’s undiminished charisma and laying bets on audiences falling in love with Robbie as well. They got half of it right.

focus4Smith, unsurprisingly, puts in solid work. He’s a strong actor, and could arguably be one of the best of his generation if he chose edgier, less innocuous material. He underplays here, only occasionally falling back into a couple moments of his typical shtick. Thankfully it’s kept to a bare minimum and doesn’t distract.

Robbie’s the weak link. She’s not bad, but Smith practically buries her every time they’re on screen together. She’s a pleasant, but lightweight performer in a role that needs a more substantial presence. She’s utterly unconvincing as even a fledgling con artist. If Focus was just a lighthearted rom-com, Robbie’s cutesy performance would be perfect. But in this world of thieves and their criminal activity, she feels horribly out of place.

Gerald McRaney and Adrian Martinez round out the supporting cast. Like Robbie, these two feel like they’re in different films. McRaney plays Owens, head of security for a billionaire race car owner. McRaney plays the character just right: gruff, suspicious, and highly competent. It’s the kind of role the actor was born to play. Martinez, for some strange reason, plays a Middle Eastern con artist named Farhad. The character’s obviously supposed to be the film’s comic relief, and Martinez goes all out, playing him in the most disruptively broad fashion possible. Just like Robbie, Martinez’ performance would have worked better in another film.

The writer/director team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are fairly solid ??????????????visualists. Focus looks great, and even though some of the performances seem out of place… the acting is sound. Ironically, the problem with Focus, is that it lacks focus. The script is schizophrenic, and can’t decide if it wants to be a romantic comedy or a crime drama. There’s some interesting scenes of the con team pulling off their smaller crimes. But the two main bits — the bigger scams — require such massive suspensions of disbelief that the film almost crumbles.

Beyond technical issues and performances, Focus treads dangerously on a social narrative that puts it firmly on the wrong side of history. Because even though Spurgeon and his crew of lowlife con-artists spend much of the time ripping off (mostly) innocent people, the film still wants them to be likeable. That’s especially troubling in this modern era of identity theft, with hackers victimizing working class people every single day.

RATING: Matinee (for Smith fans)

She SAID: Second Best is First Class

Shahada Karim

The sequel to the sleeper hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is proof positive that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. With the exception of a few awesome parties and one unforgettable dance routine, not much has changed from the original. Even the arrival of Richard Gere (and one hotel patron’s hilarous reaction)…

marigold…isn’t enough to overshadow the stellar performances by the veteran cast of actors.

The original bunch (sans one or two) is back to tough it out at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Thmarigold7ey’ve settled into their lives and are making their way with small jobs that pay just enough to help them get by. The hotel is limping along, but it’s doing just enough for the ever optimistic Sonny (Dev Patel) to start working on an expansion plan.

With the help of Muriel (Maggie Smith), he sets out to make that dream a reality. But ambition and jealousy get the best of him, and soon Sonny’s ‘sunny’ outlook takes a turn. To further complicate matters, Sonny and his fiance Sunaina (Tina Desai) are planning a wedding. True to form (and much like the original), it takes setbacks with the hotel and its remarkable roster of residents, to help bring Sonny and everything aroundmarigold3 him back to center.

Visually, the film does not disappoint. Director John Madden comfortably nestles the actors in the ‘feeling’ of India. Instead of showing us tourist traps and stereotypically acceptable sights in the country… we’re plunged into bazaars, tiny little mechanic shops, and neighborhoods comprised completely of members of a single family. The actors move ‘with’ the scenery, instead of feeling plunked down in the middle of it.

Cinematographer Ben Smithard immerses us in those fragrant surroundings by highlighting bright colors and contrasts in the flowers, food, and clothing that personify the textured tapestry that is India.

marigold4As a story, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel works because it maintains the mantra that life is too short to sweat the petty stuff. The cast behaves and marigold2reacts with a grounded reality that comes with age, and quite possibly, wisdom. Potential drama and  conflict regarding love, loss, and sex are handled with a brutally honest (and sometimes dismissive) nature, that is noticeably absent in most modern cinema. These issues don’t feel shoehorned into an otherwise lighthearted script because they’re never treated with much weight to begin with. Even the restrained and stereotypically British attraction between Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) is properly criticized and resolved before it begins to get on the audience’s nerves. marigold1

Despite obvious efforts to wrap the film into a neat, cheesy little bow… the audience ends up rooting for it. That might be because in the film (as in life) there are no such absolutes as good and evil. The movie goes beyond suggesting, and moves to insisting that as we age, the things we vex about are less important because they become more detrimental to our quality of life. It somehow manages to sidestep being preachy, as it urges us to recognize that life is too short to get caught up in conflict and be miserable. Because – as one character states – there is no time like the present… and there is no present like the time.

marigold5RATING: Matinee

She SAID: Rising Sun

Shahada Karim

Skincare and beauty products from the Eastern Hemisphere are not new… but the concept of importing them has become increasingly mainstream. For decades, many European companies straddled the fence between East and West by releasing ‘Asia Exclusive’ lines in both makeup and skincare. But an increasing number of Asia-based companies are making their way into American households in unexpected ways.

The greatest evidence may lie in the latest offerings from the cosmetics behemotheastmakeup1 eastmakeupSephora, who recently began carrying products from Korean brand Tony Moly. The bright, pop-culture centric pieces are designed to appeal to the young and young at heart. The straightforward nature of every product makes usage a breeze. The price point is attractive too. Most products sit comfortably below the $20 mark, so consumers are less likely to think twice about picking up something cute and functional.

The Korean brand IPKN is decidedly more grown up, with prices closer to well known luxury labels like Chanel and Armani. IPKN (which stands for Independent Professional Knowledgeable New Yorker) focuses more on the serious consumer, who doesn’t mind paying a little more for adult packaging and superior performance. Of note is the Diamond Luxury Lipstick, which delivers superior moisture and color in a single swipe. Application is nearly idiot-proof; you’d have a pretty easy time popping on a quick lip in traffic. Not that we’d recommend anything like that… ever.

If you’re game for an even higher price point, The History Of Whoo offers a selection of eastmakeup6makeup products that are better suited to the vanity than the eastmakeup7makeup back. The Secret Court BB Ball Cream provides a pearlescent  highlight that flatters just about every skin tone. The Secret Court Lip Balm is more treatment than quick fix… the thick texture works best when its patted on, and left to work its magic throughout the night as you sleep. Both come in packaging that has a distinct vintage feel, with gold tones and a floral motif that will send the ultimate girly-girl into celebratory glee.

The Japanese brand Shiseido (which also owns NARS) is no stranger to the US eastmakeup2Market. But the new Maquillage line remains an Asia exclusive. The design-centric line features a full cosmetics collection, from base to lipgloss. The most tenacious makeup junkies have found some of the items on Amazon, but the complete line is only available in Hong Kong and surrounding areas. The crown jewels are easily the Dramatic Mood Veil (blush) in both red and pink variations, and the Dramatic Melting Rouge Lipstick in every color.